Black Pepper

The Hanging of Jean Lee is the third verse novel I have reviewed recently, except that this one is closer to the verse documentary.

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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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Stephen Edgar, over the past two decades or so, has earned himself an assured place in contemporary Australian poetry (even in English-language poetry more generally) as its pre-eminent and most consistent formalist. His seemingly effortless poems appear in substantial overseas journals, reminding readers that rhyme and traditional metre have definitely not outlived their usefulness.

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Sarah Day’s début collection, A Hunger to Be Less Serious (1987), married lightness of touch with depth of insight. In Towards Light & Other Poems (Puncher & Wattmann, $25 pb, 108 pp, 9781925780024), Day continues this project in poems concerned with light, a thing presented as both ...

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150 Motets by Homer Rieth

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April 2013, no. 350

Although the Melbourne publisher Black Pepper has a stable of major Australian poets (Stephen Edgar and Jennifer Harrison among them), it is also a house that likes to take chances. The favourable reception accorded Homer Rieth’s 359-page epic poem, Wimmera, in 2009 was defin ...

How to review a book that includes, as major characters, Simpson and his donkey, the Dig Tree, and a bus that may or may not be a tram?

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Folly & Grief by Jennifer Harrison

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October 2006, no. 285

Folly & Grief, Melbourne poet Jennifer Harrison’s third collection, reads on one level as a playful enquiry into the centuries-long association of folly with innovative live performance. Lizard men abseil down gallery walls; an extreme body artist creates a living sculpture of bees; a ventriloquist’s dummy stirs to life; New Age travellers toss firesticks, knives and chainsaws high into the sky. While the danger lurking in such displays is often what retains our interest (‘He juggles a chainsaw … even the fine patinating rain / feels like sprayed blood on my face and lips’), Harrison is equally concerned with the challenging apprenticeships these unusual skills demand. The road to becoming a master entertainer is explicitly connected to the craft of writing: ‘a juggler first conquers clumsiness / then writes the same poem, over and over.’

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Dear B by Jennifer Harrison

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July 1999, no. 212

Since the publication in 1995 of her first collection, Michelangelo’s Prisoners, Jennifer Harrison has continued to impress readers and to broaden her repertoire. Her fourth collection in as many years, the intimately entitled Dear B, consolidates her reputation and demonstrates sufficient difference and intensity to satisfy admirers of this sensitive, likeable poet.

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