Archive

It is 116 years since Charles Harpur, Australia’s first poet of real eminence, died with his own collection of his works unpublished. Except for a couple of small selections – the most recent of which, made by Adrian Mitchell in 1973 and containing only about 120 pages of the poetry, was the most comprehensive – and the infamously corrupt 1883 ‘collection’, it has remained so. This has been a blot on the reputation of Australian critical and academic workers and a loss not only to Australian literature but to Australian history. Now Elizabeth Perkins, of the English Department of James Cook University, has handsomely remedied a long injustice.

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Australian involvement in World War I has in recent years attained a high profile in books, film and television. The trend has been to demythologise the legends of heroism and courage associated with war, and the theme often adopted is the rapid and brutal transformation from naivety to understanding of how baseless the myth was. Although this might be considered well covered ground, Geoff Page in his first novel, Benton’s Conviction, has returned to the war setting. However, because he concentrates on an aspect which hitherto has not been fully explored, and sustains the work with deft prose, Page has succeeded in producing a novel of originality and consistent interest.

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From the very beginning of The Rearrangement the reader is involved in themes which will play repeatedly through the poems: learning, knowledge and memory, and the way in which these work to satisfy, or frustrate, a metaphysical sense of order, even truth. 

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Lyn Jacobs reviews 'Blue Notes' by Laurie Duggan

Lyn Jacobs
Friday, 12 June 2020

This collection of poetry is similarly accommodating. It is shaped by four quite different tonal movements: ‘All Blues’ (eight lyrics closely observing the ‘still life’ within season, art-work, society and self), ‘Trans-Europe Express’ (a travelogue of past times and places where conscious reflection momentarily counters the movement and cross-currents of historical process), ‘Dogs’ (where Diogenes’ cynicism is invoked to ‘lower the tone’, reminding me of the blues singer’s injunction to ‘laugh just to keep from crying’) and ‘More Blues’ (where episodic vistas of ‘blue hills’ unfold from Tailem Bend to Mount Segur). The collection ends with a nine-part retrospective called ‘The Front’ which is partly about the art of making poetry or music in the face of ‘prevailing imagery’. Here a littoral between performance and reputation is reached as today’s determined play with a language is set against inherited ‘fixed ideas’.

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The prospect of reviewing a ‘Survival Manual for Live Poets’ was daunting enough, but became positively intimidating when I came across its author’s views on critics. Critics, he says, are like leeches and there’s only one way to deal with leeches: ‘take a small stick and insert it into the ... anus of the leech, pulling the leech back over the stick like a condom, impaling it, inside-out, like a shiskabab, ready to heat’.

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This is a first novel from Alexander Buzo, the playwright of the 1960s and 1970s who gave vitriol a new status in the Australian vernacular and who, through characters like Coralie Landsdowne (Coralie Landsdowne Says No) and Edward Martello (Martello Towers), raised pretentious speech to new levels of social acceptability. In a published comment on audience reception to Martello Towers, Buzo describes Edward Martello as ‘an educated ‘rake’, who is, in keeping with the style of the play, articulate beyond the grounds of naturalism’ and concludes, ‘Still, as long as they’re enjoying themselves’. Defensive disclaimers from writers hint at a nervousness which must, eventually, find its way into the writing usually in the form of overkill. The worst recent example of this is the introduction to Clive James’s Brilliant Creatures in which a rather affected statement of pre-emptive failure is intended to head the critics off at the pass if they were to do anything as unkind as suggest that the work was any more frivolous than intended by its author, who, of course, intended it to be.

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John Mclaren reviews 'Good Mates!' by Paul Radley

John McLaren
Friday, 12 June 2020

Paul Radley’s novels are about loss and growth. The first, the prize-winning Jack Rivers and Me, showed how ‘Peanut’ was forced to shed his imaginary companion as a part of his joining the world of school. My Blue-Checker Corker and Me dealt with a twelve-year-old boy’s reaction to grief at the loss of his racing pigeon. Now, in his latest, he takes us through five years in the lives of two mates from just before they leave school until one of them dies in the mud of New Guinea. The setting of the novel is again his fictitious township of Boomeroo, but the time is now the late thirties and first years of the war.

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Peter Thompson reviews 'A Secret Country' by John Pilger

Peter Thompson
Friday, 12 June 2020

The morning ABC radio program AM is not a book program. But occasionally we’re pleased to take the opportunity to broadcast the story of a new book, particularly when it comments on Australian public affairs. When John Pilger’s A Secret Country was published, AM ran an interview with the author which was unusually long for us, some five or six minutes. The response was remarkable. In my two years as presenter of the program, I can’t recall as much listener interest in any item, judging by the number of telephone enquiries about the book we received in subsequent days.

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At a time when novels by women must run the gauntlet of feminist criticism it is surprising to find one which is prepared to discuss love and female dependence without any deference to feminism. Natalie Scott makes it clear that her heroine lives in ‘liberated’ times but she insists that the need for love remains a fundamental human weakness or strength. Furthermore, she is not afraid to link a woman’s desire for beauty with her need for love. The traditional feminine concern for beautiful things and personal beauty becomes in The Glasshouse part of a search for completeness, though the other interpretation – that it is evidence of feminine materialism and obsession with security – is also acknowledged. At the same time, Natalie Scott’s writing is careful, considered, occasionally witty, and always finely crafted. Her narrator, Alexandra Pawley, convincingly conveys the attitudes of an intelligent and well-groomed woman who desperately wants to form her life into a beautiful pattern.

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One of the truly astonishing accounts to emerge in Munster’s account concerns another US president, John F. Kennedy, whose press secretary, Pierre Salinger, forged a cable in Murdoch’s name to kill a Murdoch report of an off-the-record talk he had with the president. The cable, sent through State Department channels, was signed ‘Murdoch’.

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