Judith Bishop reviews 'The Gang Of One: Selected poems' by Robert Harris

Judith Bishop reviews 'The Gang Of One: Selected poems' by Robert Harris

The Gang Of One: Selected poems

by Robert Harris

Grand Parade Poets, $26.95 pb, 224 pp, 9780994600226

In a letter to a friend, American poet James Wright reflected on the meaning of a Selected Poems for a peer he considered undervalued: ‘It shows that defeat, though imminent for all of us, is not inevitable.’ He quoted Stanley Kunitz, whose Selected was belatedly in press: ‘it would be sweet, I’ll grant, after all these years to pop up from underground … The only ones who survive … are those whose ultimate discontent is with themselves. The fiercest hearts are in love with a wild perfection.’

Robert Harris’s ‘ultimate discontent’ and his poetry’s survival seem to prove the point. There is a certain irony to the publication of The Gang of One: Selected Poems twenty-six years after Harris’s death at the age of forty-two. The attention that the poet gave to other lost voices has come full circle to his own. He was a former Navy seaman who wrote a long poem on the wartime loss of the HMAS Sydney. One of his best-loved and award-winning sequences, the brilliant ‘JANE, Interlinear’, ‘translates’ the historically marginal story of Lady Jane Grey, crowned queen of England for nine days. With The Gang of One, Harris’s poetry is lifted back into daylight, set again in the hands of the readers who knew him, and those of us who didn’t. It takes an uncommon kind of care to memorialise the otherwise lost: a sensitivity and resistance to the injustices done to people and places by time and indifference. Such care is evident in the fact that this publication was assisted by donations from more than ninety people, including a roll-call of Australian poets.

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Published in August 2019, no. 413
Judith Bishop

Judith Bishop

Judith Bishop lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has studied in the United States and Britain. She is Director of Linguistic Services at a multinational language technology company. Her poems have won many awards, including the Peter Porter Poetry Prize (2006, 2011), an American Academy of Poets University prize (2004) and the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship (2002-2004). Her translations from French poets (Philippe Jaccottet, Gérard Macé) have appeared in Australian and international journals. Her first book, Event (Salt, 2007), won the FAW Anne Elder award and was shortlisted for the CJ Dennis Prize, the Judith Wright Calanthe Award, and the ASAL Mary Gilmore Prize. She has recently published a second collection, Interval (UQP, 2018).

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