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The Best Australian Poetry 2003.

The Best Australian Poetry 2003. Martin Duwell, Bronwyn Lea, eds. St. Lucia, Australia. University of Queensland Press (ISBS, distr.). 2003 (released 2004) xvi + 125 pages $20. ISBN 0-7022-3420-6

THE SELECTION OF FORTY POEMS BY FORTY POETS that comprises The Best Australian Poetry 2003 draws from poems published in Australian print literary journals and newspapers in 2002, fifteen of which are represented. The book has already been reprinted, suggesting a readable, appealing anthology helped along by the inclusion of internationally known writers Les Murray, John Tranter, and expatriates John Kinsella and Peter Porter. Most poems are only a page or two in length. Despite the collection's title, I doubt that this method of selection has allowed inclusion of the very best Australian poetry of that year. However, there are no shoddily conceived poems, even if several are rather long for what they try to do, while a few exude a sense of a writer working hard to make a publishable artifact. Nevertheless, the volume is a useful, concise introduction to contemporary Australian verse.

Martin Duwell's selection criteria ("emotional statements," "disjunctive" works, "linguistically intense," memorability) result sometimes in a plethora of metaphors--though who could resist "Once my foot was like a cube of sugar?"--and works that are in general rather conventional in what they say and how they say it. One striking feature of the collection is its lack of overt Australian-ness, despite titles like "Sydney," "Melbourne Pavement Coffee," "Five Poems from a Good Wheat Paddock Spoiled," and "Dingo Trails." The final selection, for example, offers what could be read as a rather somber view of the modern Aussie psyche: "To breathe. / Occasionally depleted, even brutal, / staring at the garden with an ashy heart."

The anthology's strength is the range of types of poems, from John Mateer's performance-style praise song to Nelson Mandela, to "disjunctive" poems owing something to postmodernism (most successfully in Kinsella's "Lyrical Unification in Gambler"), to Robert Adamson's lyrical "Elegy," to the measured tones of Albiston's "Apostrophe" to a Poetry that must always disappoint our hopes.

The work that remains most memorable is Talbot's selection "The Resurrection at Cookham," skillfully matching the tone of Stanley Spencer's painting and conveying Talbot's (and Spencer's) sense of "How could it be? How could the horror-feel be fled / from death & corruption?"

The Best Australian Poetry 2003 has ample references to each poem's provenance, plus notes by authors--which, some say, cannot alter how the poem on the page communicates with the reader.

Bernard Gadd

Papatoetoe, New Zealand
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Author:Gadd, Bernard
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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