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Geoff Page

Who’s Who in Twentieth-Century World Poetry edited by Mark Willhardt and Alan Michael Parker

May 2003, no. 251

In his foreword to this reference work, Andrew Motion says that such books ‘exist to provoke argument’. In their preface, editors Willhardt and Parker suggest that ‘to compile such a volume as this may seem absurd; to do so successfully may be impossible’. Forewarned is forearmed, it would seem.

Despite all this, the book is useful – about the only adjective to which a reference work should reasonably aspire. Of course, it may also seek to construct an honour roll for posterity or update the canon. Or it might simply be part of a continuing battle for ‘cultural space’. In many ways, reference works like this are the counterpart of anthologies, which are also reviewed in terms of ‘who’s in and who’s out’.

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The Sixth Swan by Diane Fahey & Fiery Waters by Robyn Rowland

March 2002, no. 239

Since 1982, Robyn Rowland has published three poetry collections at roughly ten-year intervals. She has also been an eminent, sometimes controversial, academic. Her poetry must have been a release from the stylistic and emotional restrictions of her academic work.

Fiery Waters, her new collection, is a leisurely and deeply felt progress across most aspects of a middle-aged woman’s life. Both sensual and sensuous, it is concerned with the ‘real world’, whether in apparently autobiographical poems of love and loss or in her more political poems against injustices here and overseas.

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Mark O’Connor is a poet who has been in the news lately. Following in the steps of the ancient Greek poet, Pindar, he was appointed (by the Australia Council) as ‘official’ Olympic poet – though it seems inevitable that much of his work will concern only the Olympic flame on its way to the Games and the events to be seen on TV since neither SOCOG nor the Australia Council saw fit to give him a journalist's pass. Unfortunately, all this Olympic fuss has tended to obscure his work of three decades up to this point, a journey well represented in his recent The Olive Tree: Collected poems.

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As with the dozen or so collections of Geoff Page’s poetry that have preceded it over almost thirty years, Collateral Damage can be opened at random with the certainty that something impressive will be there. One of the most striking characteristics of his published work is its consistent high quality.

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It is a truism that poets don’t need to write their autobiography. Roland Barthes, with his ‘death of the author’, may have thought otherwise but in Barbara Giles’ new book, Poems: Seven Ages, published in her eighty-seventh year, there is no mistaking the autobiographical core.

Though neither the title nor the blurb suggests it, Poems: Seven Ages is really a ‘selected’. Giles has gone back over her four earlier books, chosen what she (or perhaps her editor, Judith Rodriguez) thinks are the best poems and arranged them in chronological order according to subject, rather than date of composition or publication. Thus we have sections corresponding with her childhood in England, her earlier married life, her mid-life preoccupations, and the poems on women’s ageing from which she has been most anthologised.

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Australian involvement in World War I has in recent years attained a high profile in books, film and television. The trend has been to demythologise the legends of heroism and courage associated with war, and the theme often adopted is the rapid and brutal transformation from naivety to understanding of how baseless the myth was. Although this might be considered well covered ground, Geoff Page in his first novel, Benton’s Conviction, has returned to the war setting. However, because he concentrates on an aspect which hitherto has not been fully explored, and sustains the work with deft prose, Page has succeeded in producing a novel of originality and consistent interest.

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