Poetry

The haunting of Gwen Harwood

Stephanie Trigg
Thursday, 19 November 2020

What is the relation between poet and critic? No, not a topic for yet another tedious and oppositional debate at a writers’ festival. Rather, a question about the nature of oppositions, and the possibility of disrupting, or even suspending them, in the varied and delicate acts of literary criticism. Let me frame my question even more precisely: who is the ‘Gwen Harwood’ to whom I refer when I write about the poetry of a women who in recent years has become increasingly public, celebrated and accessible?

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Postcard confessions: On Gwen Harwood

Gregory Kratzmann
Thursday, 19 November 2020

Gwen Harwood’s poetry has been the subject of an increasing number of essays and articles during the last decade; in the last twelve months three books have appeared (written by Alison Hoddinott, Elizabeth Lawson, and Jennifer Strauss) and a fourth (by Stephanie Trigg) is on the way. All of this industry, as well as the publication in the Oxford Poets series of a Collected Poems, is to be welcomed; few would deny that Gwen Harwood’s work deserves all the attention it gets, particularly as it continues to surprise and delight.

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This is John A. Scott’s sixth collection of poems since 1975. The volume is slim but not thin. Each poem encompasses its observation, reflection, or moment from which departures are measured, as the positives and negatives of ‘delicious solitude’ are weighed. Amid urban blues, bar-speak, team games and the distorting foci of others’ projections, the ‘predicate adjective alone’ evokes either dignity, pathos, or something in between. Scott considers the prospects.

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Michael Heyward reviews 'The Cloud Passes Over' by Robert Harris

Michael Heyward
Thursday, 19 November 2020

This book signals a dramatic shift in the poetry of Robert Harris. His three previous books – Localities (1973), Translations from the Albatross (1976), The Abandoned (1979) – were born out of an intense and self-propelling passion for the glitter and the glow of words, the power they have to transform reality through a kind of internal poetic combustion. This was a poetry laden with abstraction and with quasi­surrealist imagery, heavily influenced by the French symbolists, by American poets like Robert Duncan, and in particular by the Australian poet Robert Adamson. Some of it stands up pretty well, though there was always the tendency for the verse to veer out of control, overblown and unfocused in the headiness of its phrasing.

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‘I could give ’em / enough social comment to fill a car park’ proffers the narrator in ‘Busking’, halfway through Tim Thorne’s I Con. In many ways, this book delivers on that promise. Thorne’s targets include war, colonisation, inequality, political deception, capitalism and celebrity. One moment he juxtaposes Dannii Minogue’s career with descriptions of police brutality; the next he bowls a bouncer at former Australian cricket captain Kim Hughes for touring South Africa during the apartheid era.

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Melissa Ashley reviews 'Folly & Grief' by Jennifer Harrison

Melissa Ashley
Monday, 02 November 2020

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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Anthony Lynch reviews 'To Sculpt the Moment'

Anthony Lynch
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Despite the deadly title, this anthology of twenty-eight poems from the 2008 Newcastle Poetry Prize is replete with gems. Assembled from 423 entries by judges Jan Owen, Philip Salom, and Richard Tipping – effectively the anthology’s editors – it is a brilliant sampler that few anthologies can match for the legroom offered to the longer poem and poetry sequence.

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Tony Page’s Anh and Lucien is an intricately plotted verse novel set in French Indochina during World War II. It centres on an unlikely same-sex love affair between Lucien, a colonial bureaucrat, and Anh, a young Vietnamese communist who supports Ho Chi Minh’s independence movement.

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Along with regular features, this bumper edition of the Poets’ Union journal, Five Bells, includes the proceedings of festival discussions in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth: sixteen strongly argued, well-crafted papers by some of Australia’s best poets, variously considering the state of Australian poetry now. For all the individual interest of these papers, this collection’s strength lies in the way they set up parallels and contradictions, working together like a long, amiable argument.

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If any volume of Selected Poems must be in part the autobiography of an imagination, it is subject to the vicissitudes and ironies which attend all autobiography. One gazes at it and finds familiar lineaments, but one also finds mobilities and stands made more evident than a more partial acquaintance can show. The very title is a warning that the whole story –whatever that might be – is not to be found here: a ‘Selected Poems’ is the outcome of recurrent options.

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