David McCooey reviews 'David Malouf and the Poetic: His earlier writings' by Yvonne Smith

David McCooey reviews 'David Malouf and the Poetic: His earlier writings' by Yvonne Smith

David Malouf and the Poetic: His earlier writings

by Yvonne Smith

Cambria Press, US$114.99 hb, 304 pp, 9781604979367

Plenty of novelists begin life as poets. Few, though, have managed to maintain their status as poet–novelists quite so impressively as David Malouf. But even Malouf, in his ‘middle period’, more or less dropped poetry for his ‘big’ novels – The Great World (1990), Remembering Babylon (1993), and The Conversations at Curlow Creek (1996) – before a late return to poetry, kicked off with Typewriter Music (2007). Perhaps appropriately, the last novel that Malouf has so far published, Ransom (2009), is based on a poem: Homer’s Iliad.

All of this suggests that Yvonne Smith, in this welcome study of Malouf’s early writings, has picked up on a pertinent theme (‘the poetic’) to apply to her subject. Smith’s study covers Malouf’s juvenilia, but is primarily concerned with the first part of his professional career, from his début poetry collection, Bicycle and Other Poems (1970), to the collection of autobiographical essays, 12 Edmondstone Street (1985). The prose fiction of that period ranges from Malouf’s first novel,  Johnno (1975), to the collection of stories Antipodes (1985). After something of a slow start – Malouf struggled with the writing of Johnno for more than a decade –the late 1970s to the mid-1980s proved to be extremely fertile, with seven books appearing in as many years.

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David McCooey

David McCooey

David McCooey is a prize-winning poet and critic. His latest collection of poems, Outside (2011), was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards, and was a finalist for the 2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature's 'Best Writing Award'. His first collection, Blister Pack (2005), won the Mary Gilmore Award and was shortlisted for four major national literary awards. McCooey is the deputy general editor of the prize-winning Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (2009). His album of 'poetry soundtracks', Outside Broadcast, was released in 2013 as a digital download. He is a professor of literature and writing at Deakin University in Geelong, where he lives. His forthcoming poetry collection, Star Struck, will be published in late 2016 by UWA Publishing. His website is: www.davidmccooey.com

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