Australian Poetry

Heide is the final instalment of an epic trilogy that began with 24 Hours (1996) and was followed by Fitzroy: A biography (2015). It also marks a departure for π.O. In this third volume (the only one in the trilogy not to be self-published), the unofficial poet laureate of Fitzroy turns his attention away from the migrant and working-class characters of his beloved suburb toward the names that line the bookshelves and gallery walls of the nation’s most august institutions.

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Ashbery Mode edited by Michael Farrell

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November 2019, no. 416

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)

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In her latest collection of poems, Empirical, Lisa Gorton demonstrates – definitively and elegantly – how large, apparently simple creative decisions (employing catalogues or lists; quoting from the archive; engaging in ekphrasis or description) can produce compelling and complex poetic forms.

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In a letter to a friend, American poet James Wright reflected on the meaning of a Selected Poems for a peer he considered undervalued: ‘It shows that defeat, though imminent for all of us, is not inevitable.’ He quoted ...

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Andy Kissane, who (with Belle Ling) shared the 2019 Peter Porter Poetry Prize, is one of Australia’s most moving poets. He is unfailingly empathetic, a master of poetic narrative – and of the ‘middle style’ where language is not an end in itself but an unobtrusive vehicle for poignancy (or, occasionally, humour or irony). The Tomb of the Unknown Artist ...

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Original voices are always slippery to describe. The familiar weighing mechanisms don’t work very well when the body of work floats a little above the weighing pan, or darts around in it. As in dreams, a disturbing familiarity may envelop the work with an elusive scent. It is no different for poetry than for ...

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Blakwork by Alison Whittaker & Walking with Camels: The story of Bertha Strehlow by Leni Shilton

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April 2019, no. 410

Alison Whittaker’s début collection, Lemons in the Chicken Wire (2015), introduced a genuinely new voice to Australian poetry: that of a Gomeroi woman, a Fulbright scholar, and a poet who can bend and blend forms with the best of them. Her second collection of poems, Blakwork, places her firmly in both the ...

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There has been a long and often troubled history of poets writing novels and novelists writing poetry. The skills needed are very different and equally hard to learn. Few writers have made equal careers in both. If they do, it’s usually the novels that receive most attention ...

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Judith Rodriguez, who died in November 2018, was a champion of other people’s causes: the right to be heard, the right to freedom from persecution, the right to refuge when such freedom is denied. She was also a champion of poetry and gave generously of her time and energy to fighting its corner ...

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Feeding the Ghost 1: Criticism on contemporary Australian poetry edited by Andy Kissane, David Musgrave, and Carolyn Rickett

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January-February 2019, no. 408

Perhaps the most encouraging sign in this Puncher & Wattmann collection of critical essays on contemporary Australian poets is the prominent ‘1’ on its front cover, promising that this will be the first in a series. Given that last year’s Contemporary Australian Poetry anthology by the same publisher featured more than two hundred poets ...

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