The ABR Podcast

Best known for films such as Robocop (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), and Showgirls (1995), the Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has made his name as a provocateur whose lurid social satires are infused with campy violence and heady eroticism. Having tackled the American military-industrial complex and the Las Vegas sex industry, Verhoeven now takes on an even bigger institution: the Catholic Church. His new film, Benedetta, charts the fallout from the liaison between two young nuns in a seventeenth-century Italian convent. In this week’s podcast, listen to Miles Pattenden read his review of the film for ABR Arts. As Pattenden notes, ‘those who buy their tickets for the soupçons of Sapphic frottage are unlikely to be disappointed’.

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American poet Tracy K. Smith was the twenty-second Poet Laureate of the United States, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her 2011 volume Life on Mars. Such Color is a collection of her best poems from her wide-ranging career, before culminating in a selection of newly published poems. In Felicity Plunkett’s review, she considers the breadth of Smith’s oeuvre and the undercurrent of water throughout, writing: ‘Smith’s image of creative marine energy recalls Sylvia Plath’s image of words’ “indefatigable hooftaps”, echoing as they carry meaning outwards. In Plath’s case, as in Smith’s, one direction is seawards.’

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‘I would like to write about dominance, revulsion, separation, the horrible struggles between people who love each other,’ wrote Helen Garner, foreshadowing How to End a Story, the final instalment of her published diaries, following Yellow Notebook (2019) and One Day I’ll Remember This (2020). While the first two volumes spanned eight years apiece, How to End a Story spans only three. Starting in 1995, shortly after shortly after the release of Garner’s The First Stone, it details the dissolution of her marriage to another writer, V. As Lisa Gorton notes, this volume differs from its precursors both in tone and focus: ‘This one is as compelling as a detective story. This one is edited with the sense of an ending.’

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‘I would like to write about dominance, revulsion, separation, the horrible struggles between people who love each other,’ wrote Helen Garner, foreshadowing How to End a Story, the final instalment of her published diaries, following Yellow Notebook (2019) and One Day I’ll Remember This (2020). While the first two volumes spanned eight years apiece, How to End a Story spans only three. Starting in 1995, shortly after shortly after the release of Garner’s The First Stone, it details the dissolution of her marriage to another writer, V. As Lisa Gorton notes, this volume differs from its precursors both in tone and focus: ‘This one is as compelling as a detective story. This one is edited with the sense of an ending.’

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Melbourne’s Moreland City Council recently agreed to adopt a new name, after petitioning by Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung community leaders and prominent local non-Indigenous representatives. The petitioners argued that the name ‘Moreland’, adopted in 1839 by Scottish settler Farquhar McCrae, derived from a Jamaican slave plantation. Renaming the council was an opportunity to bring about greater awareness of both the global legacies of enslavement and the history of Indigenous dispossession. In this week’s episode, Samuel Watts reflects on the politics of memorialisation and its impact on public conceptions of history.

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In today’s episode, listen to the shortlisted poets for the 2022 Peter Porter Poetry Prize – Chris Arnold, Dan Disney, Michael Farrell, Anthony Lawrence, and Debbie Lim – read their poems. This year, our judges Sarah Holland-Batt, Jaya Savige, and Anders Villani had 1,330 poems to assess. In their comments, they write: ‘The five accomplished shortlisted poems each share a narrative bent, a focus on form (four out of five are stanzaic), and a capacity to startle and surprise with vivid imagery, linguistic torque, humour, and juxtaposition.’

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For nearly forty years, Joel and Ethan Coen – à la the Coen brothers – have been inseparable, operating as a directorial dyad since their 1984 début Blood Simple. But the recent release of The Tragedy of Macbeth, directed solely by Ethan Coen, marks the first solo venture by one of the brothers. In today’s episode, Tim Byrne reads his essay 'Coen it alone', a deep dive into the Coen brothers’ universe. As he writes, 'It seems a good time to drill down into the brothers’ quintessence: what is a Coen brothers’ film, and what could or should we expect from a Coen brother film? Is the zygote finally subdividing?'

Tim Byrne is a freelance writer and theatre critic for Australian Book Review and Time Out Melbourne. He is currently working on a novel.

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As momentum builds for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, it is timely to reflect on the career of William Cooper. A Yorta Yorta elder and founding secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League, Cooper gathered support for Indigenous representation in parliament and for voting and land rights during the interwar years. Historian Bain Attwood’s new book tells Cooper’s story but resists the biographical impulse that would separate the man from his social milieux. In today’s episode, Professor Emerita Penny Russell reads her review of Attwood’s portrait of this remarkable man, whose eloquence has left only a scant textual record. What survives reveals a figure ‘always driven by a profound vision of justice and moral uplift’.

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The late Gillian Mear’s two governing passions were horse-riding and writing – passions that came together in the fiction for which she is best-known, such as Ride a Cock Horse (1988) and Foal’s Bread (2011). Mears’s life – from her childhood in rural New South Wales to her recourse to alternative therapies for her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis – has now been pieced together by Bernadette Brennan in Leaping into Waterfalls: The enigmatic Gillian Mears. In today’s episode, Brenda Walker reads her review of Brennan’s biography, which she describes as ‘a mighty and populous canvas’, charting the course of ‘a writer who took note of everything: parents, siblings, friends, lovers’. 

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The French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour is one of the world’s most iconoclastic thinkers, and has recently turned his attention to the relations between human activity and the natural world. In his new work After Lockdown: A metamorphosis, Latour takes pandemical lockdowns as a provocation for a ‘philosophical fable’, in which the return to normalcy allows for a transformative re-encounter with the Earth as a work millennia in the making. In today’s episode, listen to Paul Muldoon read his review of this genre-crossing work, a work of which even the ‘Brothers Grimm would be in awe’. Paul Muldoon is Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Monash University.

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