Geoff Page

Writers who move in mid-career from one literary genre to another often encounter resistance. Some turfs are well guarded. They can also misapprehend the new form they are planning to join. John Upton, who for almost thirty years has been a successful playwright and screenwriter, has made the difficult move seamlessly in this first collection of poems.

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Seeing people who remind you
just a little of the dead
is always mildly disconcerting –

something in the face, the gait,
the shoulders from behind,
those likenesses that don’t surprise

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‘Lending printed eloquence to a poem’ comes from ‘Alas’, Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s elegiac tribute to Seamus Heaney. There is eloquence aplenty in this fine collection of more than a hundred and twenty poems edited by poet Geoff Page, someone who understands that eloquence speaks in many tones and in various formal structures. This variety is generously represented here, even if, as a result of Page’s allegiance to ‘a broad church’ of Australian poetry and his wish to represent its full range of tendencies in a way that will speak to a congregation of ‘average reader[s]’, the collection treads lightly in the realm of experimental or avant-garde poetry.

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Evan Jones’s Selected Poems is more than timely: its author was born in 1931. In an introduction (or ‘Personal Appreciation’), fellow Melbourne poet Alex Skovron complains that ‘Evan’s work has not always received the attention it deserves, especially in recent years’. It is worth pausing a moment to consider why this should be so.

Jones i ...

Just over fifty years since the death of the great American poet William Carlos Williams, it is pleasing to see so much of his spirit still alive in Cameron Lowe’s third collection, Circle Work. Williams was often short-changed by poets who, mistakenly, thought his short, ‘photographic’ poems easy to imitate. Lowe, by contrast, fully understands the importance of close observation and imagination. He understands, too, the necessity for skilled syntax and how a poem may consist wholly of details which are not in the least ‘poetic’.

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Todd Turner’s first collection, Woodsmoke, evolves intriguingly. It starts in the ‘anti-pastoral’ mode founded by Philip Hodgins. Here the poet, long since relocated to the city, looks back with tellingly evocative detail but a divided sensibility on the life he (it’s normally a ‘he’) has now abandoned.

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Radiance by Andy Kissane

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August 2014, no. 363

Andy Kissane’s fourth collection, Radiance, is a heartening answer to those who, like publisher Stephen Matthews, lament that ‘many modern poets choose to shroud their work in point-scoring obscurity at a time when clarity and accessibility might encourage more people to read poetry’. Kissane doesn’t address this issue directly, but his book is an important negative instance.

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Personal Weather by Peter Bakowski

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May 2014, no. 361

Personal Weather is Peter Bakowski’s seventh collection, yet he remains impossible to categorise. His is a distant relative of Ken Bolton’s conversational style, while also a close cousin to central European poetry. His poems can be three-page narratives or urbanised haiku. Above all, Bakowski is a poet of wonder – wonder at the contradictions and complexity of life as it passes him by. He is also very personal, both in his use of the autobiographical ‘I’ and in his idiosyncratic takes on more objective material.

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Twenty pages from the end of his New Selected Poems, Geoff Page imagines being ‘an heir of Whitman’, and muses that ‘I think I could turn awhile and write like the Americans, / they are so at ease in their syllables, irregular as eyelids, / various as the sea’. These lines are so cleverly Whitmanesque that the idea seems momentarily plausible. Only an astute reader will stop to think that the sea is hardly various at all – and how irregular are eyelids? Page’s poem, we might realise by this stage of the book, is presenting wry, understated humour, and this is one way in which he seems a deeply Australian poet, utterly unlike the Americans.

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Mark Dapin’s anthology, From the Trenches, is a timely but not opportunistic book. At more than 400 pages, it is long enough to suggest the sheer scale of the war and its centrality to European (if not world) history ever since. It samples all the relevant genres (letters, memoir, journalism, fiction, poetry) and offers a multiplicity of viewpoints (senior ranks, subalterns, NCOs, privates, and nurses). The book is not simplistically pro- or anti-war, but its overall message is unmistakable. The whole enterprise was a huge and bloody mistake, stupidly prolonged by inadequate politicians for more than four years.

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