David McCooey

This book of essays by the vegan-anarchist-pacifist poet John Kinsella on the relationship between political activism and poetry raises two big questions: how do we live in modernity? and what is it like to live beyond the mainstream? The first question lies behind the great cultural movements of the West, from Romanticism to postmodernism. Whether writers have embraced modernity or rejected it, they have long struggled with the very conditions that brought literary culture into existence. The utopian possibilities of modernity have always been in conflict with modernity’s material realities.

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100 Australian Poems of Love and Loss is the companion volume to Jamie Grant’s 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know (2008). The title of the new anthology shies away from its predecessor’s imperative mode, but remains a marketer’s dream. What is poetry about if not love and death? What is poetry’s purpose if ...

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A Cool and Shaded Heart by Noel Rowe & Ethical Investigations by Noel Rowe

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March 2011, no. 329

Noel Rowe, poet and critic, was something of an enigma to me. It is hard to believe that he was still in his thirties (just) when I met him in 1990 at the University of Sydney, he a lecturer, I a postgraduate student. Noel seemed to have an enormous wealth of experience, though he was never showy with it ...

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It is a critical truism, if not a cliché, that poetry estranges: it makes things strange, so that we can see the world and ourselves afresh. Defamiliarisation, the uncanny, even metaphor, are all fundamental to poetry’s estranging power. Unsurprisingly, madness, vision and love have also long been poetry’s intimates, each involving the radical reformation – or deformation – of ‘normal’ ways of seeing the world. One might describe poetry as surprisingly antisocial, since poets have from ancient times been associated with social isolation, distance or elevation, as well as with madness.

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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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Vertigo edited by Jordie Albiston & Awake Despite the Hour by Paul Mitchell

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October 2007, no. 295

Reading Paul Mitchell’s second book of poems during a bout of insomnia seemed apposite not only because of its title but also because Mitchell’s poetry occupies a strange middle place, somewhere between dream and reality. Awake Despite the Hour illustrates Mitchell’s interest in occupying both the ‘real’ (politics, family and the quotidian) and the extramundane (imagination, the surreal and the metaphysical).

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John Kinsella’s new memoir, Fast, Loose Beginnings, may have been published by the august publishing house of Melbourne University Publishing, but it is nevertheless a garage-band of a book. It is, as its title signals, both fast and loose. Its rhythms aren’t always graceful, and its timbres aren’t always smooth. You can almost hear the hum of the amplifiers. The poet Jaya Savige, in his review of the book for the Sydney Morning Herald, commented on the book’s lack of polish.

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Space edited by Anthony Lynch and David McCooey & Island 105 edited by Gina Mercer

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October 2006, no. 285

The American poet William Carlos Williams often admitted how much he owed to the ‘little magazines’ that first published him. As they lapsed in and out of existence, he regarded them all as essentially the one publication and was grateful for the lifeblood they gave his (at first unpopular) writing. It is to be hoped that Australian literary magazines of various political shades and aesthetic proclivities, from Quadrant to Overland, are doing something similar. Indeed, when so much else is in flux in the publishing world, it is amazing how enduring Australia’s top literary magazines have been, despite their often small subscription lists. Even Island magazine, which is something of a junior compared to Meanjin, Southerly, and Westerly, has been around for twenty-seven years. Space: New Writing, on the other hand, has just appeared in its third number. To judge from the best material in the current issues of both magazines, Australian literary culture is not being ill-served here. If not everything is of equal interest (how could it be?), there is plenty of satisfaction to be had in both.

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A laughing man, according to Flaubert, is stronger than a suffering one. But as Craig Sherborne’s extraordinary new memoir of childhood and youth shows, the distinction isn’t that simple. There is much to laugh at in Hoi Polloi, but this is also a book suffused with pain and suffering ... 

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If I hesitate to declare delight in Blister Pack, David McCooey’s first volume of poetry, it may be because McCooey himself casts a shadow over the word in ‘Succadaneum’, a sequence of sardonically sad glimpses of the failed love that constitutes the theme of Part II of this collection – ‘Delight, it turns out, / is a lawyer / staying back at work / kicking off her shoes / and opening a bottle of red’, abandoning clients’ disasters to files ‘locked / in metal cabinets’.

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