Australian Poetry

What do we do, where do we go to get beyond the routines of the self and the paradoxical alienation it produces in both ourselves and in others? Is it possible to break down the shell of separation and deal with others from a perspective that is neither ‘self- or need-observed’? These are the questions that occupy Bruce Beaver in many of the poems in this collection, and one that he traces through an engaging variety of forms and themes.

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When I visited Bruce and Brenda Beaver in their Manly flat it was a sparkling day. The water of the Harbour was glittering, and the pines on the foreshore were stirring only slightly in the breeze. But, however soothing the weather, I was nervous. For me, Bruce Beaver is huge, a poet of the first order, and his extraordinarily difficult life, the periods of debilitating sickness and the various almost mythic stories that attach themselves to his history, all added up to make me feel very nervous indeed.

And his wife, Brenda had made it very clear that my being able to come to see him was a privilege. She protects him fiercely, with constant courage, and if I hadn’t read Bruce Beaver’s superb love poems to this woman, I would have been even more nervous when my companion and I knocked on their door.

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Dispossessed by Philip Hodgins

by
April 1994, no. 159

With unsentimental compassion and irony, Dispossessed tackles the weighty topic of the rural crisis. In a sense the title of Phillip Hodgins’s verse novella gives too much away, casting a deliberate shadow over all that follows. Yet the manner in which Hodgins spins his yam is constantly engaging.


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Despite the protestations of my close friends I choose to regard myself as a normal person. Only at certain times of the year do I realise how tenuous are my links with the mundane world.

One of these trou­blesome occasions is when I prepare my income tax form.

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Well I’m damned! Ern Malley of all people! It’s been fifty years since I last laid eyes on him. Seeing him again recalls my vanished youth as nothing else could. Angry Penguins, Cecily Crozier’s valiant Comment magazine, the ‘social realists’ upbraiding everyone like so many Marxist Savonarolas, the Jindyworobakians quarrelling with the ‘cosmopolitans’, the Contemporary Arts Society quarrelling with itself – stirring times! But Ern was the epicentre of our cultural storm in a teacup.

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This is a powerful and accomplished anthology. The fiction, poems, and autobiographies of thirty-seven women writers offer a collection where the individual pieces coalesce into much more than the sum of the parts.

The editors have chosen writing from a field of over 350 manuscripts, seeking that which challenges and revises dominant versions of national identity.

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In Boundary Conditions, Jennifer Strauss, taking her title from the Eisenhart poem of that name, points to the centrality of Gwen Harwood’s concern with ‘those littoral regions where the boundary terms that define themselves on either side of us also overlap and interact'. It is here, she claims, that ‘our most intense experiences, for better or worse, occur, and it is here that she correctly and perceptively locates Gwen Harwood’s major preoccupations as well as her recurrent images and settings.

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One of the strengths of this, K.F. Pearson’s second collection, is the range of the poetry it contains: both geographical – from Adelaide (and suburban Adelaide at that) through Polynesia to the Arabian Gulf; and historical – moving between the present and Quattrocento Italy.

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He described himself as a ‘no-hoper’ (he died in a mental hospital in the poverty of his poetry and Catholic faith). These days, the label ‘a poet’s poet’ is sufficient to scare off anyone interested in approaching a body of work that is both substantial and challenging. With the publication of this annotated collection, containing most of Webb’s known poetry and extracts from his verse dramas, it is just a little dispiriting to see Webb’s work acquire a whiff of canonical sanctity. A short, cautious introduction by the editors Michael Griffith and James McGlade concludes with the respectful praises of five eminent Australian poets, as if a show of hands from the panel of distinguished experts were enough to explain anything of the enigma of Frank Webb to someone coming across his work for the first time. I think he deserves more. In an age where packaging plays such a conspicuous role, it is time to rescue Webb from the shrine of Tradition and to make an effort towards attracting new readers to a poet who magnificently defies idle curiosity.

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In his Canberra 1913–1950 Jim Gibbney summarises the indecisions which accompanied the establishment of a site for Canberra around the turn of the century. When finally, in De­cember 1908, Yass-Canberra was decreed the Seat of Government, it brought to a close nearly two decades of hesitation – at least Australia knew where the Federal Capital was to be situated, if not what kind of city it was to be.

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