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Movies are often criticised for their lack of fidelity, for not keeping faith with their sources, especially novels, their audience, or their glorious antecedents. Infidelity is also a key plot device, especially of genre films: melodrama, comedy, crime, even the western. We keep going back to the movies partly because they don’t give us what we want. The New York poet Frank O’Hara suggests this in ‘An Image of Leda’, his breathless adaptation of the myth of Leda and the Swan as an allegory for watching films:

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You are going to Singapore, they said. Yes, but which way? was the natural response. If I’m flying to the island-city, my flight should take in something with a more exotic range of scenery, perhaps even a sniff of nature. Birds and stuff. So the painter and I decided on Portugal: and why not throw in Spain? My own travels had never taken me further than Catalonia, which so determinedly is, and is not, Spain. Off, then, for the long flight west with good books and red wine; en route I looked down on Cairo for the first time in my life. The Ptolemaic map of lights spread out as though forever.

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As mouths go, it must be one of the most fabled of the century past. The lips, as widely parted as they could be, suggest the contours of a distended heart. There is an upper gallery of teeth, slightly imperfect, and glazed by spittle mingling with the crystal darts and droplets of a powerful jet of water issuing relentlessly from above the face. A mottled tongue is ...

I’ve been trying to place love
in the exhibit for inspection
but there are fees to be perfected.

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How good is Shaw Neilson? The question has hung around ever since A.G. Stephens, publishing the poet’s first book, Heart of Spring, in 1919, prefaced it with comparisons to Shakespeare and Blake and declared this unknown to be the ‘first of Australian poets’. The claim provoked competitive jealousies in a possessive, parochial literary world and reviewers responded by insinuating doubts. The question remains: is Neilson the greatest Australian poet? For those who want literature to be a horse race, it is unsatisfactory that there is no declared winner, brandishing medal and loot. Neilson loved horses but he disliked the hold that the sporting mentality had over his fellow Australians – especially men. Yet like most writers he was anxious about his standing and, in his perfectionist’s concern to put his best foot forward, he probably contributed to his readers’ uncertainties. Difficulties with his singularity as a poet were compounded by Neilson’s circumstances, particularly the bad eyesight that made him dependent on others in preparing final versions of his work. That was part of a more general dependency on editors, critics, and supporters who had their own ideas of where they wanted to take him

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It isn’t difficult to establish conversational tone in writing. And since a column about language and usage ought to be a conversation, we’ll go for that tone. Let’s start with a workout for a current, overused device. There’ve been three of them before this sentence: four now. You’ll find them if you look (Five.) Yes, we’re looking at the conversational contraction, and it’s time to stop counting.

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Readers will notice major changes in this second issue of ABR for 2001. The cover looks notably different, courtesy of Chong, Text Publishing’s inimitable designer. I was delighted when Chong offered to redesign our cover. Our changed masthead seems sensible, for the magazine is known widely as ABR, after all. Readers can expect more design changes in coming issues.

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It’s funny about Australia and me. For the first thirty years of my life, I longed to get out of it, and now I can never wait to come back! I have lived in England for forty-two years. I have a marvellous marriage, an English son, three English stepsons, fourteen English grandchildren, and a host of devoted English friends. I love England, the countryside and the changing seasons, from the film of green announcing spring to the glory of autumn and the magic of seeing the bones of the landscape through bare trees in winter. The sound of English birds thrills me. Were I banished, the recollection of the ‘chukka-chukka’ of pheasants (all right, I know they were originally Chinese!) going up to roost would reduce me to tears.

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Living the queer life in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney, it is hard not to become complacent, smug even. Like a magnet, Sydney draws lesbians, gays, bisexuals, queers, you name it, from all over the country. If you’ve grown up in rural Victoria, moved to Melbourne after compulsory schooling, and then fifteen years later have hit a certain mid-gay-life ennui, where else is there to go?

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Coming upon the fertile fields of Mildura after miles of dry Mallee shrub you have the sense of entering an oasis. For a writer, arriving at the Mildura Festival elicits a similar response: here, at last, is a place to be refreshed and fed, metaphorically and literally. It is a friendly and delicious affair, where writers are fêted because their work is valued and where enjoyment seems raised to a fine art. If ever writing was thought to be food for the mind, then here food for the body is regarded as spiritual nourishment as well.

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