Anthology

For those who haven’t yet discovered the riches of New Zealand poetry, this anthology should provide an appetite-whetting introduction. Edited by one of New Zealand’s finest poets, the late Lauris Edmond (1924–2000), it bears the stamp of a thoughtful mind and a judiciously discriminating sensibility, evident in her own work as in her selection from that of others. For she has neither lost her nerve and opted out of inclusion nor claimed any undue space. Yet her own work is central to the nature of the volume. When I came to write this review, after reading steadily from page one to page 257 and closing the covers, I knew that there were certain phrases, images and poems that had struck root, were memorable for me, and were shaping my responsiveness to the volume. Interestingly enough, I didn’t always remember which poet was responsible – for the structure of this anthology (of which more later) is such that it is an anthology of poems first, and poets second.

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Sisters by Drusilla Modjeska

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September 1993, no. 154

A few years ago, there was a great song on the radio, a song about remembering riding with an assortment of brothers and sisters in the back seat of the car. I don’t even recall the name of the song, much less the name of the band, but there was a line in the chorus that used to wipe me out: ‘And we all have our daddy’s eyes.’

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The editors of Who Do You Think You Are? cheerfully point out the imprecision and contradictoriness of the second part of their title. ‘How can you be born in Australia and also be an immigrant? If you were not born in Australia but came here at an early age, how can you be second generation?’ Nevertheless, they have chosen to regard the linguistic slipperiness and confusion inherent in the term ‘second generation immigrant’ as being appropriate to the social reality of those to whom it refers. The thirty-five contributors are therefore predominantly women who were born in Australia of immigrant parents or who came to Australia at an early age.

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Patrick White Speaks edited by Christine Flynn and Paul Brennan

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September 1989, no. 114

In the early 1970s, Patrick White began to achieve a new public identity. His support for the fight to save Centennial Park from Olympic developers, his endorsement of the Whitlam government, and, of course, his receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973 transformed a writer aiming ‘to people the Australian emptiness in the only way I am able’ into a personality able to persuade (and irritate) merely by his presence. The outsider suddenly became an insider – in 1973 he was ‘unanimously chosen’ as Australian of the Year – and, to his mingled dismay and delight, he discovered that Australia was already peopled.

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Expressway edited by Helen Daniel

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August 1989, no. 113

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then Helen Daniel came up with a wonderful recipe indeed. Invite thirty-odd prominent Australian fiction writers to respond to Jeffrey Smart’s 1962 oil-on-plywood painting, Cahill Expressway, hung in the National Gallery of Victoria. Some declined, but twenty-nine accepted, and Helen Daniel can take great pride and satisfaction in regarding herself as a ‘privileged host’ indeed. This is truly a magic pudding of a book.

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Reading Kevin Child’s book, Men on Women, creates the irresistible temptation to answer on behalf of the women. I can imagine them offering the following kind of replies to their sons and lovers.

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The Half-Open Door edited by Patricia Grimshaw and Lynne Strahan

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November 1982, no. 46

The title of The Half-Open Door implies questions relating to the lives of modern professional women in Australia, and bears on the current attention, political and academic, being given to women’s matters. These questions are made explicit in the book’s Preface, which asks why women enter the demanding areas of the professions and the arts, and why so few achieve positions of high status in these fields. Contemporary evidence, formal and informal, of the ambiguity of opportunity for women in Australia is commonplace. For instance, the typical composition of academic humanities departments is like that in which the reviewers work: sixty-four per cent of the student body yet only twenty per cent of the full-time academic staff are female. Why the door – which was opened relatively early for women in Australia by university admittance, emancipation and equal job-opportunity –remains half-closed is a question that needs to be asked. Regrettably, this volume goes only half-way to suggesting an answer.

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