In the Photograph
Giramondo, $26.95 pb, 144 pp
For a long time, Australia has had a conservative poetry culture. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when modernist poets in Europe, Asia, America, and – somewhat belatedly – the United Kingdom revolutionised international literature, Australian poets continued writing mainly conventional verse.
Modernism brought poetry and prose together as more or less equal partners. Notably, in France, these developments were foreshadowed by the 1842 publication of the book of proto-prose poetry, Gaspard de la Nuit: Fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot, by Aloysius Bertrand. The modernist order was subsequently ushered into France through the publication of works such as Charles Baudelaire’s ground-breaking prose poetry collection Le Spleen de Paris (1869), and two radically brilliant collections of prose poetry and poetic prose by Arthur Rimbaud: Une saison en enfer (1873) and Illuminations (1886).
These works spread like a slow earthquake across the international literary world, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, a politically and culturally backward Australia felt barely a ripple. Then, after the catastrophe of World War I and surrealism’s arrival in the 1920s, many Australian poets decided that the unconscious mind and surrealism’s tenets were undeserving of serious attention.