Poetry

The assertion that ‘love is strong as death’ comes from the Song of Solomon, a swooning paean to sexual love that those unfamiliar with the Old Testament might be startled to find there. Songwriter and musician Paul Kelly has included it in this hefty, eclectic, and beautifully produced anthology of poetry, which has ‘meaningful gift’ written all over it. 

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Having spent two decades or more writing massive verse novels – The Nightmarkets (1986) and The Lovemakers (2001, 2004) – it may seem that Alan Wearne, with his latest book of poetry, The Australian Popular Songbook, has finally returned to smaller forms and, as suggested by the title, a more lyrical idiom. But, as always with Wearne’s work, things aren’t that simple. The smaller forms were already present in the verse novels in the form of sonnets, villanelles and other verse forms buried in the sprawling architecture of the works’ narratives. The ‘lyrical idiom’ of The Australian Popular Songbook is ambiguous at best, offset as it is by Wearne’s characteristic attraction to the dramatic monologue, satire, vernacular culture and wrenched syntax.

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Kevin Brophy reviews 'Night Parrots' by John Kinsella

Kevin Brophy
Friday, 20 December 2019

Lasseter, it has been said, was a strange man, admired for his unusual and innovative ideas. He told a story of being caught during a storm in Central Australia: he put all his clothes in a hollow log, stood naked until the storm passed, and was then able to don his dry clothing. Though some claim that Lasseter was at Gallipoli, he did become the source of another great Australian myth of failure.

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James Jiang reviews 'Heide' by Π.O.

James Jiang
Monday, 16 December 2019

Heide is the final instalment of an epic trilogy that began with 24 Hours (1996) and was followed by Fitzroy: A biography (2015). It also marks a departure for π.O. In this third volume (the only one in the trilogy not to be self-published), the unofficial poet laureate of Fitzroy turns his attention away from the migrant and working-class characters of his beloved suburb toward the names that line the bookshelves and gallery walls of the nation’s most august institutions.

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Rosemary Sorensen reviews 'Boat' by Ania Walwicz

Rosemary Sorensen
Thursday, 12 December 2019

The kind of writing that is to be found in Ania Walwicz’s collection Boat is the kind that angers many people. Eschewing punctuation as benevolent and therefore inferior signposts to meaning, Walwicz’s prose is uncompromisingly difficult. Plot is virtually absent. Syntax defies convention. The ugly, both visually and verbally, is preferred to the beautiful.

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Con the Fruiterer bears the same relation to Australia’s Greek community as the Melbourne Moomba procession does the Eight-Hour Day. Doubtless, there are Hellenic-Australians who relish the performance of whatever WASP funny-man plays him; some Australians are known to approve lovingly of Sir Les Patterson, but at least Barry Humphries always belongs to the nationality he portrays. What really propels Con is that Aussies feel he talks (and therefore thinks and probably acts) funny. It’s all an Edwardian ‘Coon Show’, with Mr Bones and Mr Interlocutor, 1980s style. The kind of society which tolerates this phenomenon with yawn-inspiring regularity (and terms it comedy) might be the subject for any number of sociology essays. Let’s hope that poets never attain the status of Con and his kind, though it’s a fair bet that poets find people far funnier than any comedian.

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Peter Craven reviews 'The Clean Dark' by Robert Adamson

Peter Craven
Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Robert Adamson has as secure a reputation as any poet in this country apart from Les Murray. He rose to prominence in the latter part of the 1960s at the same time as John Tranter, but his affinity was not with the New York poets like John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, but with the poets of Black Mountain: Charles Olson, Gary Snyder, and, most particularly, with the late Robert Duncan.

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Gerard Windsor reviews 'Maestro' by Peter Goldsworthy

Gerard Windsor
Friday, 06 December 2019

The current literary enterprise of this country is greatly indebted to Peter Goldsworthy. Yet his name is not one of those that trip off the reflex tongues of journalists, and not only journalists. He has only recently started to appear in the anthologies. He is granted all of two lines in Ken Gelder and Paul Salzman’s jerky traverse of our recent fiction. Yet his accomplishment in a diversity of genres is unique.

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Another poet might invoke Edmund Burke’s famous treatise on the Sublime and the Beautiful as a piece of phraseology or a pleasing adornment, but with John Kinsella, such a title is dead serious. Elliot Perlman’s superb novel Seven Types of Ambiguity (2003) ingeniously makes the reader think of William Empson’s, and the idea of plural signification it evokes, but not instantly to reread it. Kinsella’s use of Burke’s title prompts one to reread the original – ideally, in a Kinsellan métier, on the internet, late at night. Additionally, the ‘shades’ in Kinsella’s title is an important supplement – shades as variations, colourings, but also shadows, undertones.

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The recent death of Les Murray can be likened in its significance to the passing of Victor Hugo, after which, as Stéphane Mallarmé famously wrote, poetry ‘could fly off, freely scattering its numberless and irreducible elements’. Murray’s subsumption of the Australian nationalist tradition in poetry, including The Bulletin schools of both the 1890s (A.G. Stephens) and 1940s (Douglas Stewart), has delineated an influential pathway in our literature for more than fifty years. Yet the death in 2017 of the American poet John Ashbery might be viewed as equivalent in its effect, given the impact of his work on several generations of local poets, which has in many respects constituted a counter-stream to Murray’s often narrowly defined nationalism. Ashbery’s voice has been infectiously dominant in English-language poetries over several decades, in a manner similar to T.S. Eliot’s impression on poets of the earlier twentieth century. Critic Susan Schultz, the publisher of this volume, has charted the dynamics of its transcultural influence in her aptly titled collection, The Tribe of John (1995)

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