Poetry

Katherine Gallagher, who has lived in London since the 1970s, has now published six books of poetry, all but two of them with British or American publishers. This book selects poems from her earlier books, together with twelve new poems. As a whole, it gives the sense of a writer’s development over a period of thirty-five years, with some slight shifts of style over that time.

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Jill Jones reviews 'Pirate Rain' by Jennifer Maiden

Jill Jones
Monday, 06 July 2020

Jennifer Maiden is a great experimenter – in a specific sense. In a 2006 interview in The Age she said: ‘I have always found poetry a useful tool for tactical and ethical problem-solving … I suppose it’s a laboratory for testing out ideas.’ Maiden works from an ethical stance, but not, as some critics and readers have assumed, a facile leftist one (whatever ‘left’ means in the twenty-first century). The poems in this latest book are mainly discursive, and many address political situations, issues and, more specifically, public figures and personae.

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It is 116 years since Charles Harpur, Australia’s first poet of real eminence, died with his own collection of his works unpublished. Except for a couple of small selections – the most recent of which, made by Adrian Mitchell in 1973 and containing only about 120 pages of the poetry, was the most comprehensive – and the infamously corrupt 1883 ‘collection’, it has remained so. This has been a blot on the reputation of Australian critical and academic workers and a loss not only to Australian literature but to Australian history. Now Elizabeth Perkins, of the English Department of James Cook University, has handsomely remedied a long injustice.

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From the very beginning of The Rearrangement the reader is involved in themes which will play repeatedly through the poems: learning, knowledge and memory, and the way in which these work to satisfy, or frustrate, a metaphysical sense of order, even truth. 

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‘The constant loss of breath is the legacy.’ So wrote poet Ali Cobby Eckermann in 2015 for the anthology The Intervention. The eponymous Intervention of 2007 in the Northern Territory was, in the long history of this continent, the first time that the federal government had deployed the army against its own citizenry. As I write this review, in the United States police are using tear gas, traditionally reserved for warfare, against those protesting the worth of black life, while the president flirts with the idea of calling in the military. Some of us gasp in shock. Some, in suffocation.

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Lyn Jacobs reviews 'Blue Notes' by Laurie Duggan

Lyn Jacobs
Friday, 12 June 2020

This collection of poetry is similarly accommodating. It is shaped by four quite different tonal movements: ‘All Blues’ (eight lyrics closely observing the ‘still life’ within season, art-work, society and self), ‘Trans-Europe Express’ (a travelogue of past times and places where conscious reflection momentarily counters the movement and cross-currents of historical process), ‘Dogs’ (where Diogenes’ cynicism is invoked to ‘lower the tone’, reminding me of the blues singer’s injunction to ‘laugh just to keep from crying’) and ‘More Blues’ (where episodic vistas of ‘blue hills’ unfold from Tailem Bend to Mount Segur). The collection ends with a nine-part retrospective called ‘The Front’ which is partly about the art of making poetry or music in the face of ‘prevailing imagery’. Here a littoral between performance and reputation is reached as today’s determined play with a language is set against inherited ‘fixed ideas’.

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The prospect of reviewing a ‘Survival Manual for Live Poets’ was daunting enough, but became positively intimidating when I came across its author’s views on critics. Critics, he says, are like leeches and there’s only one way to deal with leeches: ‘take a small stick and insert it into the ... anus of the leech, pulling the leech back over the stick like a condom, impaling it, inside-out, like a shiskabab, ready to heat’.

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Yoogum Yoogum is the second collection of verse by a young Queensland Aboriginal whose earlier volume, Kargun, did not get a great deal of attention when it was published in 1980. Fogarty’s themes are ones increasingly heard in contemporary Australian writing: the historical dispossession of the Aboriginals, the present decay and demoralisation of Aboriginal society, white greed and exploitation, the primacy and potential of the land as a key to fulfilled life, the plight of (Aboriginal) women, the pathetic dispossession of Aboriginal children, solidarity in the cause of redressing the wrongs to Aboriginals, the fundamentally positive values of Aboriginal society, the possibilities for solidarity with other groups in the struggle for social justice.

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The Survival of Poetry

Peter Porter
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

Some years ago I wrote a poem called ‘A Table of Coincidences’, which contained the lines: ‘the day Christopher Columbus discovered America / Was the day Piero della Francesca died.’ This is a verifiable fact, unless changes in the Western calendar have altered things. Clearly, I was being sententious and reactionary: the ancient good of the world and its new doubtfulness seemed to start on the one day. A hostile reviewer pointed out that every date in the world is the anniversary of some other date, and poured scorn on my notion by suggesting that a momentous event like the Armistice in 1918 might share a date with the invention of Coca-Cola. But we still honour anniversaries, and I am only too conscious of the 365 days that have passed since 11 September 2001.

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Bev Roberts reviews 'Selected Poems' by Gwen Harwood

Bev Roberts
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

One afternoon at the recent Melbourne Writers’ Festival I noticed that, while adulatory throngs surrounded Elizabeth Jolley and Thea Astley, another notable member of our literary matriarchy, Gwen Harwood, sat quietly outside in the sun, deep in philosophical discussion with a younger poet. This is a comment on the differential status accorded to fiction writers and poets, but also on the relatively self-effacing Gwen and her presence or place in the literary world.

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