Thea Astley: Selected poems
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.