The recent death of Les Murray can be likened in its significance to the passing of Victor Hugo, after which, as Stéphane Mallarmé famously wrote, poetry ‘could fly off, freely scattering its numberless and irreducible elements’. Murray’s subsumption of the Australian nationalist tradition in poetry, including The Bulletin schools of both the 1890s (A.G. Stephens) and 1940s (Douglas Stewart), has delineated an influential pathway in our literature for more than fifty years. Yet the death in 2017 of the American poet John Ashbery might be viewed as equivalent in its effect, given the impact of his work on several generations of local poets, which has in many respects constituted a counter-stream to Murray’s often narrowly defined nationalism. Ashbery’s voice has been infectiously dominant in English-language poetries over several decades, in a manner similar to T.S. Eliot’s impression on poets of the earlier twentieth century. Critic Susan Schultz, the publisher of this volume, has charted the dynamics of its transcultural influence in her aptly titled collection, The Tribe of John (1995).
John Hawke is a Senior Lecturer, specialising in poetry, at Monash University. His books include Australian Literature and the Symbolist Movement, Poetry and the Trace (co-edited with Ann Vickery), and the volume of poetry Aurelia, which received the 2015 Anne Elder award.
From the New Issue
The Surprise Party: How the Coalition went from chaos to comeback by Aaron PatrickReviewed by Shaun Crowe
Future Proof: How to build resilience in an uncertain world by Jon CoaffeeReviewed by Tom Bamforth
Travels with a Writing Brush: Classical Japanese travel writing from the Manyōshū to Bashō edited by Meredith McKinneyReviewed by Barry Hill