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Martin Duwell

Alan Gould’s writing career began in the early 1970s when he was one of the ‘Canberra Poets’. This substantial selection covers thirty years and clearly shows both the achievements and the limitations of his work: I think the former outweigh the latter. One of the strengths of his poetry is a consistent vision; thirty years gives the opportunity for that to be explored in all its ramifications. The centre of this vision is history or, in its unintellectualised form, the past. Almost all the poems relate to this in one way or another. Even the later poems of humour or love or the waiting for a child’s birth are framed by the overriding meditation on the past, so that, though they are expressions of an intimate personal life, it is one conducted on the surface of the immense, slowly changing patterns of history.

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To celebrate the best books of 2004 Australian Book Review invited contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors included Dennis Altman, Brenda Niall, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Morag Fraser and Chris Wallace-Crabbe.

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Avenues & Runways by Aidan Coleman & Throwing Stones at the Sun by Cameron Lowe

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December 2005–January 2006, no. 277

Each of these three books is its author’s first, and each carries a cover endorsement by two distinguished poets. You can tell a lot about the books from looking at who endorses whom before you need even to read one of the poems.

The rear cover of Aidan Coleman’s Avenues & Runways (endorsements by Kevin Hart and Peter Goldsworthy) describes him as an imagist. Whatever the exact significance of that term, there is no doubt that this poetry belongs to the class that has slight outward show and rich implications. And the pleasure of reading them is the shuttling between the two. There are at least two important requirements here: the surface has to be elegant and engaging without being slovenly or cute (ah, if you only knew what treasures I conceal!); implications must be intense and never clichéd.

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Kathryn Lomer’s Extraction of Arrows is a fine first book. It is more unified than most, but with a varied enough poetic base to make one interested in the poems that Lomer will write in the future. Its essential feature is a tight focus on the self; as lyric poetry should be, it is ‘self-centred’, without any of the pejorative overtones of that phrase. At almost all points, we are aware of the poet herself, a body existing alongside a compendium of moods, experiences and emotions. It is a carefully observed body, especially in a poem such as ‘Linea Nigra’, which begins:

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As one of the few Australian poets with an extensive publishing history overseas as well as in Australia, John Tranter suffers from the problem of what might be called parallel publishing. His UK books are often built out of selections from his Australian books. Just under half the poems in his new book, Studio Moon (published by Salt, and distributed in Australia by the Fremantle Arts Centre Press), have appeared before, notably in At the Florida (1993). But the best from that book has been chosen, the new poems are exciting, and the result is a book that manages to be simultaneously powerful, entertaining and revealing.

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By and Large by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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September 2001, no. 234

Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s new book, By and Large, is, despite its hundred pages, a thinner book than most of his recent volumes. The familiar features are there: a baroque and intense intellectual ambit combined with playfulness; a deep love of the sharp ‘thinginess’ of the world combined with a love of the expressiveness of the words we use to contain it; and, last but far from least, enjoyable phrasemaking. It is just that, in By and Large, the reader’s pleasure seems more attenuated.

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Selected Poems: A new edition by Gwen Harwood, edited by Greg Kratzmann

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July 2001, no. 232

Although her work is often surprisingly varied, there is no doubt that when you read a Gwen Harwood poem you enter a highly distinctive poetic world. If it comes from her first twenty-five years of productivity, there is a good chance that you will be in a landscape of psychic melodrama. Everything will be liminal. The setting will be a sunset, the late sun will be flaring a dangerous gold on some intertidal stretch, the protagonist will have awoken from a menacing dream or, pace Kröte, be moving backwards and forwards across the threshold of one. The history of her poetry may be the way this scene increases in intensity as the voices that communicate in dreams increasingly come from figures in Harwood’s own past.

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Producing a new Selected Poems is always an opportunity for poets to re-evaluate the shape of the history of their work, just as it gives readers another extended exposure to the poems themselves. In the case of Robert Adamson, Mulberry Leaves: New and aelected poems, 1970–2001 is not the first opportunity: there are two earlier Selecteds. The first (Angus & Robertson, 1978) was probably too early and, instead of selecting, rewrites and reorders, so that all Adamson’s work seems to be directed to Cross the Border, surely his least successful book. The second (UQP, 1990) is a much more formidable volume and an extensive enough collection to adequately represent the things going on in the first twenty years of the career.

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Selected Poems by John Tranter & Flowers of Emptiness. by Rudi Krausemann

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September 1982, no. 44

I’m a speedy reader, a rapid degutter of poems, yet it took me days to read John Tranter’s Selected Poems. This poetry is so packed with meaning, with metaphor, so inventive, intelligent, and funny it’s impossible to hurry. It left me, though I’d read most of it before, wishing for a Complete Poems to fill the gaps.

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