Selected Writings

This collection of Peter Ryan’s writings, Lines of Fire, is no grab-bag of oddments. The pieces included here are given an impressive unity by the author’s imposition of his presence, by his trenchancy, elegance of expression, a desire to honour the men and women of his younger days and to excoriate a present Australia in which too many people wallow in ‘an unwholesome masochistic guilt’. The finely designed cover shows a wry, ageing, wrinkled Ryan smiling benignly over his own shoulder, or rather that of his younger self, in uniform, in late teenage, during the Second World War. What happened in between is richly revealed in the elements of Lines of Fire.

... (read more)

I guess every reviewer comes to a book with expectations, especially when the author’s reputation precedes him or her. On opening this collection, I knew that Les Carlyon (who died in 2019) wrote well. I remember my parents reading him in The Age and murmuring approval of his lyrical style and, sometimes, the content. I knew he loved horses, the track, and the punt. To me these were disappointments to overlook: I have hated horse racing since I was a kid driving around with my grandfather in his Datsun, windows up and the races on. My grandfather never wound down the windows, presumably so he could hear the call: perhaps it was the lack of fresh air that poisoned me against the sport. And I knew that Carlyon had written huge tomes on war and the Australian experience: Gallipoli (2001) and The Great War (2006) won acclaim, sold well, and left some military historians with reservations about his scholarship. My expectations, mostly, were realised. I sped through A Life in Words, encountering witty and whimsical delights along the way.

... (read more)

Jennifer Maiden’s first books, Tactics (1974) and The Problem of Evil (1975), introduced a fantastically complex and enquiring poetry, with strangely fragmentary assemblages of character wrought from conflict. Both books were partly inspired by television’s gory nightly footage of the Vietnam War ...

... (read more)

Thea Astley had a way with words. Her novels are studded with arresting metaphors, atrocious puns, hilarious one-liners, arcane words, technical terms from music, geometry and logic, religious and literary allusions. Her verbal pyrotechnics can be dazzling and infuriating, in equal measure: as Helen Garner once wrote, it is ...

... (read more)

Paul Muldoon’s friend and mentor, the late Seamus Heaney, once remarked that reading Muldoon was like being in a room with two informants: one a compulsive liar and one who always tells the truth. The trick, Heaney suggested, is ‘trying to formulate a question that will elicit an answer from either one that can be reliably decoded’.

Muldoon’s poems a ...

This manifesto for free verse comes from a poet whose associates at the time included Harold Monro, Richard Aldington, and D.H. Lawrence in London, Harriet Monroe and Louis Untermeyer in New York, Natalie Clifford Barney in Paris. Anna Wickham (1883–1947) mixed with the modernist writers and artists of her time on both sides of the Atlantic and was widely admired for her early books, The Contemplative Quarry (1915), The Man with a Hammer (1916), and The Little Old House (1921).

... (read more)

Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Jan Owen

by
January-February 2016, no. 378

The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal, 1857) is the most celebrated and most influential collection of verse in the history of modern French poetry. Its author, Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), is seen as the embodiment of a sensibility we regard as 'modern'. T.S. Eliot called him 'the greatest exemplar of modern poetry in any language'.

Ba ...

Philosophers fear many things, as do economists, lawyers, politicians, and electricians. But there is one thing philosophers fear which is special to their profession. It is the question, asked as it might be at a dinner party or in a taxi on the way to the airport, ‘What is it that you do, exactly?’ with perhaps a somewhat intimidating emphasis on the word ‘exactly’. Often – too often – we philosophers take the easy way out. We reply that questions like: Does God exist? Is there an objective basis to morality? Is a commitment to equality simply a commitment to equality of opportunity? What makes a society a just one? are, we can all agree, important questions, and that they are the kinds of questions philosophers concern themselves with.

... (read more)

In appraising the poet Peter Porter, David Malouf writes that ‘the world we inhabit is a vast museum – call it History, or Art, or the History of Art. For Porter, the exhibits were still alive and active.’ So it is with Malouf himself: his world includes Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the awful and bloody twentieth century, a Brisbane childhood, and much more – including an abiding intellectual embrace of great writers and great writing.

... (read more)

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 ...

Page 1 of 2