Toby Davidson

Since his first collection, Letter to Marco Polo (1985), Adam Aitken has been at the forefront of the diversification of Australian poetry as it moved, slowly but irreversibly, to incorporate multicultural and transnational voices. Aitken has always been a world citizen. He was born in London in 1960 to an Anglo-Australian father and Thai mother, with his childhood thereafter spent between the United Kingdom, Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia. As a young man, he attended Sydney University and embarked upon a long career as a poet, editor, and teacher which was recently recognised with the 2021 Patrick White Award.

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Beneath the Creator’s reach, the Golden Ratio / of tourist thrum stirs guards to the mike. / Silenzio. Silence. No photo. No video.

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Toby Davidson’s first collection, Beast Language, was published nine years ago. That feels surprising: its freshness then makes it feel more recent now. Much of the movement in that book is present in his new collection, Four Oceans (Puncher & Wattmann, $25 pb, 93 pp), literally so, as we begin with a long sequence aboard the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney. It’s his younger self again, leaving home for the ‘eastern states’, but with an esprit de l’escalier twist, as that younger self gets to see and describe everything with the eye and language of the older, freer, more assured Davidson.

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‘Poetry is a long apprenticeship,’ says Toby Davidson at the start of his first collection. He is certainly a poet who has mastered far more than the basics. Beast Language is only seventy-seven pages long, but feels far more substantial. Davidson has travelled a long way: from west coast to east, from novice to scholar ...

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The deeply troubled Francis Webb, a magician with language, is still one of the two or three most remarkable poets Australia has produced, if nation-states can be said to produce creative artists. His life proved dark and painful, wherever he was located, but he worshipped language, in parallel with his worship of the Christian trinity ...

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Richard Walsh – former OZ co-editor, A&R, ACP and PBL director – has proven again that he has keen eye for what fixates Australians. To be remembered is of course an enduring human obsession, while the ability to send off (or send up) a friend or family member is more often an afterthought, a stepping into the breach.

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