Susan Sheridan reviews 'Thea Astley: Selected poems' edited by Cheryl Taylor

Susan Sheridan reviews 'Thea Astley: Selected poems' edited by Cheryl Taylor

Thea Astley: Selected poems

edited by Cheryl Taylor

University of Queensland Press, $24.95, 176 pp, 978072259791

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 a style that can drive you crazy. So it’s no surprise to learn that Astley served her writerly apprenticeship in poetry, in the arts of verbal play and condensation of meaning.

As a young woman she wrote a good deal of poetry, some of it appearing in school and university magazines, and in newspapers, but much of it never published. In this intriguing volume, editor Cheryl Taylor has selected 116 poems, representing about half the extant range to be found in the Astley archives. The earliest was published in the Courier-Mail when she was eight years old, the latest while she was teaching at Macquarie University in the 1970s.

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Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan FAHA is Emeritus Professor in the School of Humanities at Flinders University in Adelaide. Her latest book is The Fiction of Thea Astley (2016). Earlier books include: Nine Lives: Postwar Women Writers Making Their Mark (2011), Christina Stead (1988), Along the Faultlines: Sex, Race and Nation in Australian Women’s Writing 1880s to 1930s (1995), and Who Was That Woman? The Australian Women’s Weekly in the Postwar Years (2002); as editor, Grafts: Feminist Cultural Criticism (1988), Debutante Nation: Feminism Contests the 1890s (1993) with Sue Rowley and Susan Magarey, and Thea Astley’s Fictional Worlds (2006), with Paul Genoni.

Published in November 2017, no. 396

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