University of Queensland Press

Steve Holden’s début novel puts us inside the head of a transsexual mortician living in a small Tasmanian town. It could be a stifling and lonely place to be, but the nameless protagonist draws us persuasively into her world. As a mortician, her job is to disguise death, but as a storyteller she is able to illuminate it for our benefit.

Poet and novelist Ali Alizadeh’s third book of poetry, Ashes in the Air, reclaims some themes from his earlier poetry collection, Eyes in Times of War (2006). Autobiographical sequences once again interweave with accounts of recent wars and oppression. Alizadeh also explores some ...

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Australians quite like the idea of freedom of speech, except in almost any situation you can think of. We hold that speaking freely is acceptable and commendable except when it is rude, upsetting, unpatriotic, in poor taste, or blocks the traffic.

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How effective is a voice of reason in a climate of fear? In his introduction to this book, Professor Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University says that he is ‘incorrigibly optimistic’ about the role of education in assisting us to make wise decisions about our future. Over the past twenty years, he has written twelve books, including A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis (2005) and Living in the Hothouse: How global warming affects Australia (2005), forty-five book chapters, more than thirty journal articles and six hundred columns for various publications. That work has been written for the general public, not just the scientific community.

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Parts of Us by Thomas Shapcott

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April 2010, no 320

This is Tom Shapcott’s thirteenth individual collection of poetry (two Selected Poems have appeared, in 1978 and 1989) in a writing life that – at least for his readers – began with the publication of Time on Fire in 1961. It continues something of a late poetic flowering, which, to my critical mind, began with The City of Home in 1995. All in all, Parts of Us is no disgrace to its twelve predecessors.

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‘I never thought Australia needed culture of any kind,’ drawls Barry Humphries in Not Quite Hollywood, Mark Hartley’s recent documentary on Australian ‘trash’ cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. Perverse aesthete that he is, Humphries cannot resist the idea that lack of refinement might be a sign of vitality: ‘Culture is yoghurt, isn’t it, or mould? It grows on decaying things.’

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In these litigious days, should I declare a tenuous bias in favour of David Brooks (whom I know not at all)? According to an extensive list of previous publications, which includes poetry, short fiction, essays and one earlier novel, he has devoted several editorial enterprises to the poet A.D. Hope. I too admired Hope, for his passionate admiration for Russian literature, which he sometimes lectured on and which made him a complimentary examiner of my own PhD thesis. Otherwise, the slate is blank: I tried to locate Brooks’s previous novel, The House of Balthus (1995) as preparatory reading for this review, but the local library system could not help.

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The Best Australian Poems 2007 edited by Peter Rose & The Best Australian Poetry 2007 edited by John Tranter

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December 2007–January 2008, no. 297

Given the Howard government’s recent proposal to include the compulsory study of selected aspects of Australian history for secondary school students, perhaps it is time for more educators to follow the lead of Nicholas Jose and others in urging that Australian literature occupy a more prominent place in the school curriculum. Literature – and poetry in particular – does not have the political buzz that history possesses (especially since the recent ‘history wars’ have worked their way into public discourse), but there is a need for some healthy consciousness-raising about the flourishing state of Australian writing, which is often better understood beyond our shores than it is at home.

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Peter Skrzynecki’s substantial Old/New World comprises selected work from his eight previous collections plus a new collection. From it we could extract his autobiography. We find the youthful son of Polish migrants; his growing awareness of his migrant ‘otherness’; his employment as a teacher in New England; the birth of his first child; the ageing and death of his parents; his passage through middle age and growing sense of his own mortality. Halfway through, ‘Letters from New England’ posits the poet as ‘the stranger from Europe’ – a surrogate title for this often moving compilation. Skrzynecki’s Polish parents came to Australia from Germany in 1949, and exile, for their four-year-old son, would be a recurring theme.

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A review is more like a conversation than an overview from an Academy, and conversations often start with a salient point leading on to judgement. I suggest readers of David Malouf’s new collection should turn straight to page twenty-five and encounter a spray of short poems, titled ‘Seven Last Words of the Emperor Hadrian’ ... ... (read more)