Poetry

The Butterfly Effect is a travel guide to the inner sanctum of lesbian sensibility. The title of the work comes from the last line of the first poem, ‘Strange Tractors’ (which was selected in The Best Australian Poems 2006): ‘chaos in the shape of two vulval wings, the butterfly effect.’ The butterfly effect is also a concept from physics, where the flap of a butterfly’s wing on one side of the planet can cause storms on the other.

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Geoff Page’s latest poetry collection is a wide-ranging survey of some of the issues affecting contemporary Australian life. Underpinning Page’s poems of cafés, apartments, classical music, outback murders and domestic violence is a meditation on approaching mortality and the very idea of belief. In Page’s previous collection, Darker and Lighter (2001), the troubling nature of belief was hinted at in ‘Credo’: ‘The dark-night-of-the-soul-agnostic / prefers the right to doubt. / The world’s too much beset by those / who know what they’re about.’ Five years later, Page’s reflections on belief and the loss thereof return like echoes from a bell. In the fine poem ‘At Tosolini’s’, Page contrasts the diners’ penchant for coffee with the sound of bells ringing at a nearby church: ‘The sound of bells in autumn air / has long since been a thing / that we can never quite believe / and yet we don’t despair.’ Page’s use of the inclusive pronoun ‘we’ assumes much, and perhaps speaks for those who no longer believe.

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Picnic is probably Fay Zwicky’s most confident collection. In it she renounces certain kinds of brilliance for a freer and more open style of poetry – what she calls in one poem ‘the grace of candour’. It is a style that approximates moral qualities: honesty, direct ness, kindness to strangers. And it is in fact such moral qualities that give force to this collection

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Folly & Grief by Jennifer Harrison

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October 2006, no. 285

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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Critics often comment on the ‘shape’ a poem makes – not the concrete form of the words on the page, but the poem’s conceptual trajectory, the statement, development and resolution (or lack thereof) of its central theme. What is most striking about Robert Adamson’s first collection of poems published in North America, The Goldfinches of Baghdad, however, is the shape the collection makes as a whole ...

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Biplane Houses by Les Murray & Collected Poems by Les Murray

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June-July 2006, no. 282

Perhaps only John Shaw Neilson and Judith Wright have brought an equal sense of place to Australian poetry: the sense of place as a fact of consciousness with geographic truth. But in his latest collection, Biplane Houses, Les Murray considers more airy habitations – flights, cliff roads and weather – and the collection has a matching airiness that is only sometimes lightness ...

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When John Tranter reviewed Jennifer Maiden’s first collection, Tactics (1974), he noted its ‘brilliant yet difficult imagery’ and a style ‘so idiosyncratic and forceful in a sense it becomes the subject of her work’... 

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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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The Sydney poet Bruce Beaver died in February 2004 after a long struggle with kidney failure that kept him on dialysis for more than a decade. He was seventy-six years old. Beaver was seen as a sympathetic older figure by many poets of my generation, born a dozen years later. I met him when I was in my twenties, and found him to be a generous friend. When the poet Michael Dransfield, younger still, called on him in the early 1970s, it was a natural meeting of minds. In one poem in The Long Game and Other Poems, Beaver says that ‘poor Dransfield draped / me with a necklet of dandelions / once and kissed my forehead / in what must have been / a satirical salute’. I have a feeling that the salute was heartfelt, but Bruce was painfully modest.

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A biographer follows the life of a chosen person or a chosen group or people, or perhaps a particular scene or epoch. An autobiographer, like a snail outed by the Sun, looks back at his or her tracks and tries to explain how he or she got this far, possibly hinting at vindication or in more extravagant mode, self-immolation. Unfortunately I am a poet, and a prose writer only to earn a living. My field is verse, but l am involved on a daily basis with literature in diverse forms, especially journalism, broadcasting, and reviewing. I believe also that I am a secret biographer and autobiographer, as so much of the poetry I write and read shadows the functions of biography.

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