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Anders Villani

Early in Joel Deane’s third novel, the point of view shifts from the first to the third person as the narrator, Patrick ‘Pin’ Pinnock, reflects on a moment in boyhood, standing atop a diving board at night.

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parallel equators by Nathan Shepherdson & camping underground by Greg McLaren

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January-February 2024, no. 461

'Poems reawaken in us,’ writes James Longenbach, ‘the pleasure of the unintelligibility of the world.’ They do so via ‘mechanisms of self-resistance’: disjunctive strategies that work, for Longenbach, to ‘resist our intelligence almost successfully’. What ‘almost’ means here is, of course, a matter of taste – and style. Nonetheless, this Romantic mandate – that poems achieve clarity by integrating opacity – invites a question fundamental to poetics: how much resistance is too much, or not enough?

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'Wallpaper', a new poem by Anders Villani.

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Shannon Molloy’s 2020 memoir, Fourteen, recounted a childhood and adolescence of grisly homophobic violence. Yet many readers of that book – a bestseller, adapted for the stage and optioned for a film production – may find You Made Me This Way noteworthy in part because it reveals what Fourteen left out: the sexual abuse Molloy suffered, beginning at age five, at the hands of an older boy. This omission underscores one of the book’s central theses, that on average male victims of child sexual abuse find it harder than female victims to disclose their experiences. A conditioned reticence with grave implications – ‘[t]here is death in secrecy’. Molloy’s book, a hybrid of autobiography and journalism, takes socially important steps in assessing – and humanising – these implications.

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Trauma is often said to be unspeakable. There are various reasons for this. Pain and shame are silencing, as are implicit forms of censorship (of the kind scorning trauma literature, for instance) and explicit injunctions against speaking (from perpetrators, enablers, or the law). But it is also the case that trauma doesn’t inhere in language. Trauma lives in the limbic system, which is that of the fight, flight, or freeze response, and which is necessarily more immediate than language processing. After all, when your life is under threat, it’s not words you need, but action.

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Mirabilia is the plural form of the Latin mirabile: wonderful thing, marvel. Since the publication of her first book, Press Release, in 2007, Lisa Gorton has cultivated such a voice in Australian poetry. Mordant political wit, formal and thematic bricolage, a liquid control of the line, and the ability to trace patterns across the strata of history and society – to rove between time and the timeless – have long characterised Gorton’s oeuvre. She showcases the full complement of her gifts in this wondrous and disquieting new collection.

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Pyre by Maureen Alsop

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August 2022, no. 445

‘Every sacred language,’ writes Octavio Paz, ‘is secret. And conversely: every secret language … borders on the sacred.’ In the liminal Pyre, poet Maureen Alsop traverses – and erodes – this secret/sacred border, which is also the border of life and death, ‘the valley between our language’ (‘North Channel’). Each of the book’s section titles is a variation on ‘Selenomancy’, defined on the contents page as ‘a divination by the observation of the phases and appearances of the moon’. That Alsop titles multiple poems ‘Sky An Oar’, moreover, betrays the purpose of these divinations: to reach the other side, the ‘village across the waters’ that ‘burned all night’ (‘Witness’). The collection’s challenge, which it mostly meets successfully, is to remain on the compelling side of hermeticism.

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Running time by Emily Stewart & Inheritance by Nellie Le Beau

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June 2022, no. 443

The lyric subject, literature’s most intimate ‘I’, has vexed critics for centuries. Is it the poet? Is it a fiction, a device? Or is the relation between author and speaker, as Jonathan Culler suggests, ‘indeterminate’, such that ‘any model … that attempts to fix or prescribe that relationship will be inadequate’? Two new award-winning Australian poetry collections offer fine-grained considerations of personhood and the poem’s capacity to represent it.

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When life hides behind the mulch / of what lives, can they expect more / than this refusal to hold each other in the open?

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Prose Poetry: An introduction by Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton

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May 2021, no. 431

It speaks volumes that almost a century and a half after Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen announced the modern prose poem, James Longenbach influentially defined poetry as ‘the sound of language organized in lines’. An otherness, bordering on illegitimacy, pervades what Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington argue is ‘the most important new poetic form to emerge in English-language poetry since the advent of free verse’. The book vindicates this claim. No less compelling, however, is the way the prose poem, long defined in negative terms, here becomes the whetstone over which old assumptions – about the prosaic, the poetic, and the daylight between the two – are run to a fresh sharpness.

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