Peter Goldsworthy, doctor and poet, is a writer of significant style and concision. This new selection of his lyric poetry lives up to its jaunty, graffitied, lavender cover; it bespeaks lightness. And lightness is damned hard work. You don’t get there just by smiling and going to book launches.

The New Selected Poems bears out my harvested sense of his zest and pith. If Andrew Marvell had ever got into free verse, he would surely have delighted in Goldsworthy’s fancy footwork. He could have chuckled at such moments as ‘I prefer late friends / to burn in furnaces, / and not to visit in the night’, or ‘Arithmetic divides / and rules the world’. And he would have registered the gentle undercurrent of sheer mortality that runs bubbling along under the later poet’s unbuttoned ease.

Indeed, Andrew’s Metaphysical chums might have had much in common with Goldsworthy’s habits of mind, above all with that way of thinking that treats science or mathematics as a source of merrily dangerous language games. He now writes one suite of reflections on chemistry and its elements, another around the colours of the spectrum, those wonderful qualities that beguiled most of us in childhood, not to be explained away by physics classes. And when confronted by infinity he can say:

Number eight has fallen on its side,
an hourglass whose clock has stopped,
keeled lengthways, at attention,
like a Guardsman grown faint
with waiting for the count

Reading such lines, one travels easily back to ‘The Definition of Love’, with its famous parallel lines and teased lovers.


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    Peter Goldsworthy, doctor and poet, is a writer of significant style and concision. This new selection of his lyric poetry lives up to its jaunty, graffitied, lavender cover; it bespeaks lightness. And lightness is damned hard work. You don’t get there just by smiling and going to book launches ...

  • Book Title New Selected Poems
  • Book Author Peter Goldsworthy
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Duffy & Snellgrove, $22 pb, 148 pp, 1 875989 90 0
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Who is, or rather who was, André Gide? I ask this because a distinguished editor warned me, on hearing that I was about to review Robert Dessaix’s enticing new book, that nowadays nobody would remember who Gide was. Ah, the years, the years!

It was another story in the time of my youth. When I was playing out my student days, you couldn’t help knowing about Gide. He was part of the flavour of the time, like Woolf and Auden, Camus and Faulkner. When you were solemnly Kafking or Lorcing over coffee, he was part of the stuff of conversation. But in different ways: my closest undergraduate friend was absorbed by the lyrical Gide, by La porte étroite (1909) and La symphonie pastorale (1919), whereas I liked the hard modernism of Les caves du Vatican (1914) and Les faux-monnayeurs (1926), particularly the latter. Above all, I have been fascinated for decades by the very last sentence of that book: ‘I shall be curious to know Caloub.’ The proleptic Caloub has kept on haunting me, not least because this is such a cagey way to end a novel, looking forward to the New Wave filmmakers. After all, our appetites are not always satisfied by closure. As readers we can enjoy the sense of something still throbbing at our nerve-tips.

Another matter all this brings to mind is proper conduct with the titles of books that one has read translated into English: should we call this novel The Coiners, after all? Or even, to pick up John Hollander’s old point about the definite article, Coiners? Again, which titles are they that one feels like keeping in the parent language, rather than knowing them readily by their making over into our own tongue, Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme (1839) mainly goes that way, for example, but not Camus’s The Outsider (L’étranger, 1942).


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    Who is, or rather who was, André Gide? I ask this because a distinguished editor warned me, on hearing that I was about to review Robert Dessaix’s enticing new book, that nowadays nobody would remember who Gide was. Ah, the years, the years! It was another story in the time of my youth ...

  • Book Title Arabesques
  • Book Author Robert Dessaix
  • Book Subtitle A tale of double lives
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Picador, $49.99 hb, 310 pp hb, 9780330424059
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Relations between the public arena and the private are what the novel is all about. This loose, generous prose form was developed in early-modern Europe to enable a vigorous bourgeois imagination to ask the question: what is public, in fact, and what is private. If this could no longer be determined by titles and duties, properties and subservience, countesses and clowns, a kind of unrolling narrative had to evolve which was capable of asking all the psycho-political questions. And the genre has come a long way, has taken on many forms, along with many fields of information. Modern fiction is full of frisky factions.

To nobody could these reflections be more appropriate than to Frank Moorhouse. From his early chain of stories, The Americans, Baby, he has been asking awkward questions about the raw, chafed edge of public and intimate, in a shallowly modem world which calls for deep enquiry. A story like ‘Del Goes into Politics’ brings together the angry political divisions of the 1970s with a young woman’s coarsely sexual awakening. What is more, he has long been able to write un-sensationally about bisexual characters: about the secret world of the senses, to use a phrase which touches upon his Everlasting Secret Family.

From early on, Moorhouse chose to adopt a very plain prose style. He took on board the very dangerous influence of Hemingway and other American plainsmen, at best to good effect. His uninflected prose has proved to be a way of coping with the postmodern and Vietnam War years, since it can register the near-meaninglessness of daily juxtapositions; it can set the far beside the near, the political alongside the genital. It can also come up with stark near-sentences like, ‘The urge to fall into the black abyss’ or ‘But not glamorous’.


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  • Custom Article Title Chris Wallace-Crabbe reviews 'Dark Palace' by Frank Moorhouse
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    Relations between the public arena and the private are what the novel is all about. This loose, generous prose form was developed in early-modern Europe to enable a vigorous bourgeois imagination to ask the question: what is public, in fact, and what is private ...

  • Book Title Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse
  • Book Author Frank Moorhouse
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Knopf, $39.95 hb, 678 pp, 0 091 83676 X
Brunette or shocking white, these wallabies
have their own special nook nearby,
under that blackwood.
                                          Why just there,
I ask myself: no particular foliage
has given a verbal meaning to the spot.
Something about bone-dry shadow under those boughs
appears to murmur clan or family. Yes,
I know that sounds kind of patronizing,
but when these animals go through their routines
we can see a social order clear as day.
First, and utterly visible, there’s
the milkwhite mother with joey in pouch,
moth-brown in hue, as are all
the rest of this little clan, one of them plainly
a mum too, with her teenager.
Some littoral nights, three tidy wallabies
sleep beside Blanche under the darksome tree,
loitering there – if we don’t jerk into view. Then
suddenness sends them bounding off downhill,
except for the white one.
                                             Yes, she’s at home.
You could say she’s got the game by the balls,
a calming mother, white as vanilla snow.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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  • Custom Article Title 'Demurely' by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
  • Contents Category States of Poetry - Poems

In memory of Graham Little

I scribble in cafes, which inspire
                  The forms in which I’m able:
Although invited, I‘ve declined
                  A pizza at that table
For here my good friend slumped, and died
                  On the inert terrazzo.
I sit across the room, turning
                  Perhaps a little pazzo,
Having been eastward yesterday
                  To a further funeral
In a verdure suburb; yet
                  I hardly knew at all
What people do, who live out there,
                  Whether they’re all alive.
Well, back I stay, to write in some
                  Benignly urban dive.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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  • Custom Article Title 'At Table' by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
  • Contents Category States of Poetry - Poems
Below great ears like galleon sails
hangs an off-grey trunk – odd word –
more than the puny dangling tail
marking this leatherjacket.
So much overcoat in our tropics, then?
But why is any creature as it is?
The ark’s gangplank must have been sturdy,
shipping creatures from those Turkish hills
before due discipline on deck. Sailing,
the very devil: not a Tasmanian one,
since that’s not in the book, those
bitter creatures dying in their south.
But then we consider the fateful tusks,
in some departed species upside-down
we are told. It’s not a fairy story.
Lumbering, munching, these can also gallop
and then the planet shakes like a dish of jelly.
Threatened jumbo touches all our lives.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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  • Custom Article Title 'Heidi-Ho' by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
  • Contents Category States of Poetry - Poems
All those hominids stood around to watch,
scratching their heads and hairy armpits.
So like them it was,
                                     well, sort of
but ever so puny, while more or less rosepink.
Was this bod something to do with a future?
Maybe the rich grasses and coconuts
had a kind of blessing to grant him;
nightshade and garlic somehow able
to shield him from the big cats’
                                     ravenous prowling.
They wondered what it could possibly
grow into, from this pipsqueak. But something
or other was in the balmy air.
They didn’t have a word for gods,
not the merest monosyllable,
but alien shaggy spines
were kind of tingling there, like electricity.
Male or female, the lumpen hominids
didn’t want to attack this new thing
of unattractive flesh.
                                     Perhaps you could feel
it was filled with
what they would come to call a magic spell,
harsh millennia later on.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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  • Custom Article Title 'Creature' by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
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Ah, the ever-lyrical, even if
stared into from a cabin up above:
snowy cloud-sonata which then
recedes into softness
with its airy iceberg flocks
can be the stuff of verse or
counterpoint, say, but can’t
feed serious fiction for
the yarnspinner has to eat
the heavy middle of our sandwich
rampaging all the way from
Baghdad Prepares for Attack
to an ashtray smell or
puckered brocade on a chair.
Novels know everything
But only if they turn out any
good, solid. While that white
cumulo-nimbus plays here
an almost sturdy part in
unpeeling our transience,
at least for a poet’s paperbark.
My sweetly musical
short fuse recedes again
into the shuffled stuff of dream,
no matter what rough beast
arrives to trash our ghosts
and blow the very legs
off our indolence.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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  • Custom Article Title 'Nuages' by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
  • Contents Category States of Poetry - Poems

Chris Wallace-Crabbe AM is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry. His most recent books of verse include The Universe Looks Down (2005), and Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw (2008). He is Professor Emeritus in Culture and Communication at Melbourne University. Also a public speaker and commentator on the visual arts, he specialises in ‘artists’ books’. Read It Again, a volume of critical essays, was published in 2005. Among other awards he has won the Dublin Prize for Arts and Sciences and the Christopher Brennan Award for Literature. His latest book is Rondo (2018).

Poems

'Demurely'

'At Table'

'Heidi-Ho'

'Creature'

'Nuages'

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  • Custom Article Title About Chris Wallace-Crabbe
  • Contents Category States of Poetry - Poets

The legendary Dylan has now been dead for a century and his fumy glitter has probably faded a little. But then, how far do any poets these days really have glamour to show for themselves, no matter how hard they drink? Very few, in the Anglophone world at least: there’s nobody around like Wales’s roaring boy.

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  • Custom Article Title Chris Wallace-Crabbe reviews 'Dylan Thomas' by William Christie
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Book Title Dylan Thomas: A Literary Life
  • Book Author by William Christie
  • Biblio Palgrave Macmillan, $87.50 hb, 243 pp, 9781137322562
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