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Letters to the Editor

by John Carmody, et al.
July 2023, no. 455

Letters to the Editor

by John Carmody, et al.
July 2023, no. 455

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Fickle testimony

Dear Editor,

I was surprised that neither Kate Lilley, in her warm tribute to the late John Tranter (ABR, June 2023), like Philip Mead in his detailed Sydney Morning Herald obituary (8 May), mentioned the ‘poetry wars’ between Tranter and Les Murray in the 1970s, which were so bitter that, at the last moment, Murray even withdrew from an Academics and Writers conference (at the University of New South Wales) because Tranter was scheduled to speak on the following day.

When I wrote to them a few years ago asking about the true basis of that ‘war’, both poets flatly denied all recollection of any such thing. Testimony, plainly, is fickle and fallible.

John Carmody


Barry Humphries in full flight

Dear Editor,

I am grateful to Peter Tregear for his tribute to Barry Humphries (ABR, June 2023).

I first saw Humphries in Adelaide in 1960, when Edna Everage was a much gentler character. My favourite was and remains Sandy Stone, who was so laid-back in his chair and slippers that I didn’t think he would get up again.

The last time I saw Humphries was at Australia House in 2019 at a University Alumni event. It was rumoured that Humphries would attend, but there was no sign of him until the vice-chancellor was halfway through his speech. The double doors of the room were suddenly flung open and there was Humphries, in hat, coat, and scarf. He pushed his way through the standing crowd and positioned himself halfway between the audience and the vice-chancellor. Unannounced, he interrupted the vice-chancellor and broke into a speech as Barry Humphries that had us all in stitches for thirty minutes. As he spoke, he patrolled the front row of people, who feared they might be picked on by Edna. Humphries exhausted himself and stopped. He had a quick word with the vice-chancellor, spoke calmly to a few members of the audience, and left through the same double doors that hadn’t closed.

I will miss him.

Dennis Muirhead (online comment)


Beyond the lane

Dear Editor,

Oxford is a favoured setting for novels exploring tensions between town and gown (from Jill Paton Walsh’s renovations of Dorothy Sayers’s texts to R.F. Kuang’s more recent dismantling of power in Babel), but Pip Williams’s depiction of The Bookbinder of Jericho (reviewed by Jane Sullivan in the May issue) embraces issues of language and loyalty that troubled an ancient walled city, and not simply a district in a university town, in a country fractured by class, education, repressed aspiration, and diminished opportunity.

At its heart is a love story that celebrates a gift of creation in one man’s restoration of women’s words arbitrarily censored. The bookbinder who sorts, repairs, and steals fragments of revered texts in order to read the byways of a world beyond the ‘lane’ that is Oxford, is an agent registering change at a place and time of world crisis, where words have irremediably tipped order into chaos. Beyond the grand rhetoric, where the limbs of compatriots and enemy are being amputated or the horrors of witness transcend speech, mute silence shouts. Williams’s text is metaphoric, an evocatively nuanced investigation of the power, eloquence, saving grace, and inadequacy of the languages of the world’s words. But Williams implies that the narrow boat, with its remnant but resilient human cargo fighting to stay afloat, offers a potential for recovery in the face of change.

For its kindness and acuity, this generous book will undoubtedly be rightly treasured.

Lyn Jacobs

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