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Selected Writings

According to his author’s note, Rain Towards Morning is ‘a definitive book’ of the poems Robert Gray wishes to preserve. Nameless Earth (Carcanet, 2006) is the most generously represented of Gray’s previous eight books. This is followed by his mid-career volume Piano (1988) in which he first began to publish a range of poetry with tight rhyme schemes and controlled rhythms. More than a third of the poems Gray has chosen for Rain Towards Morning are these formal or semi-formal compositions, indicating that he wishes to showcase this aspect of his work. Fewer poems have been chosen from his free verse books Grass Script (1978), The Skylight (1983) and Afterimages (2002), arguably his best books.

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Across Australia today, exciting work is being done to strengthen and renew Aboriginal languages and their deep associations with Country. In those parts of the continent where the history of dispossession has been most traumatic, language regeneration calls for research and reconstruction, for the rediscovery of the old words for places, features, and life itself. Gregory Day’s new book is a distinguished and discerning quest for the lore and language of his beloved place.

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This collection of Peter Ryan’s writings, Lines of Fire, is no grab-bag of oddments. The pieces included here are given an impressive unity by the author’s imposition of his presence, by his trenchancy, elegance of expression, a desire to honour the men and women of his younger days and to excoriate a present Australia in which too many people wallow in ‘an unwholesome masochistic guilt’. The finely designed cover shows a wry, ageing, wrinkled Ryan smiling benignly over his own shoulder, or rather that of his younger self, in uniform, in late teenage, during the Second World War. What happened in between is richly revealed in the elements of Lines of Fire.

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I guess every reviewer comes to a book with expectations, especially when the author’s reputation precedes him or her. On opening this collection, I knew that Les Carlyon (who died in 2019) wrote well. I remember my parents reading him in The Age and murmuring approval of his lyrical style and, sometimes, the content. I knew he loved horses, the track, and the punt. To me these were disappointments to overlook: I have hated horse racing since I was a kid driving around with my grandfather in his Datsun, windows up and the races on. My grandfather never wound down the windows, presumably so he could hear the call: perhaps it was the lack of fresh air that poisoned me against the sport. And I knew that Carlyon had written huge tomes on war and the Australian experience: Gallipoli (2001) and The Great War (2006) won acclaim, sold well, and left some military historians with reservations about his scholarship. My expectations, mostly, were realised. I sped through A Life in Words, encountering witty and whimsical delights along the way.

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Jennifer Maiden’s first books, Tactics (1974) and The Problem of Evil (1975), introduced a fantastically complex and enquiring poetry, with strangely fragmentary assemblages of character wrought from conflict. Both books were partly inspired by television’s gory nightly footage of the Vietnam War ...

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Thea Astley had a way with words. Her novels are studded with arresting metaphors, atrocious puns, hilarious one-liners, arcane words, technical terms from music, geometry and logic, religious and literary allusions. Her verbal pyrotechnics can be dazzling and infuriating, in equal measure: as Helen Garner once wrote, it is ...

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Paul Muldoon’s friend and mentor, the late Seamus Heaney, once remarked that reading Muldoon was like being in a room with two informants: one a compulsive liar and one who always tells the truth. The trick, Heaney suggested, is ‘trying to formulate a question that will elicit an answer from either one that can be reliably decoded’.

Muldoon’s poems a ...

This manifesto for free verse comes from a poet whose associates at the time included Harold Monro, Richard Aldington, and D.H. Lawrence in London, Harriet Monroe and Louis Untermeyer in New York, Natalie Clifford Barney in Paris. Anna Wickham (1883–1947) mixed with the modernist writers and artists of her time on both sides of the Atlantic and was widely admired for her early books, The Contemplative Quarry (1915), The Man with a Hammer (1916), and The Little Old House (1921).

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Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Jan Owen

January-February 2016, no. 378

The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal, 1857) is the most celebrated and most influential collection of verse in the history of modern French poetry. Its author, Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), is seen as the embodiment of a sensibility we regard as 'modern'. T.S. Eliot called him 'the greatest exemplar of modern poetry in any language'.

Ba ...

Philosophers fear many things, as do economists, lawyers, politicians, and electricians. But there is one thing philosophers fear which is special to their profession. It is the question, asked as it might be at a dinner party or in a taxi on the way to the airport, ‘What is it that you do, exactly?’ with perhaps a somewhat intimidating emphasis on the word ‘exactly’. Often – too often – we philosophers take the easy way out. We reply that questions like: Does God exist? Is there an objective basis to morality? Is a commitment to equality simply a commitment to equality of opportunity? What makes a society a just one? are, we can all agree, important questions, and that they are the kinds of questions philosophers concern themselves with.

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