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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

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Subject:

Re: Australian Poetry

From:

ajl <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

ajl <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 1 Mar 98 10:08:02 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Peter Riley's line ..."the embattled sectarianism of British poetry"
certainly applied to Australian poetry in the late Sixties and Seventies,
when it was highly political; when the young, American-influenced poets
of Sydney and Melbourne fought to free themselves of a conservative,
relatively risk-free writing and publishing community. There was blood on
the floors at poetry readings. Passions and tempers ran high. A meeting
of "Poetry" magazine was in tatters after it was stacked and Robert
Adamson voted in as President of the Poetry Society. The magazine became
New Poetry, with Adamson as editor, and is still regarded as one of the
most influential Australian journals ever. Reading any issue highlights
its eclectic, international contents and fierce editorials. Of course, as
Peter says, there are still rivalries and ambitious poets - as we know,
the writing and publishing of poetry creates an intense, competitive
field where tempers flare in reviews, in public, and via email. So
concentrated is our genre that something's got to give - and it does, on
many levels.

Times have changed. The majority of Australian poets do, as Riley
suggests, work within their own set boundaries, writing out of a need to
communicate ideas and styles without "belonging" or identifying to a
particular "school." Of course, certain poets identify with others
because of similar influences, ages, etc, but it's wine now, not blood on
the reading tracks.

I'm interested to note that Peter has mentioned and grouped six poets:
John Tranter, Gig Ryan, Robert Adamson, Tracy Ryan, Gwen Harwood and the
late John Forbes. Tranter, Gig Ryan, Adamson and Forbes are seen as being
among those who helped free Australian poetry of its conservative
bindings - these poets influenced a generation of new writers and are
continuing to do so. They are also good friends, and are often mentioned
in the same breath. This is not coincidental. Gwen Harwood, who died a
couple of years ago, influenced these four poets as she did, I'm sure,
Tracy Ryan. But they should not be seen as the main marker-lights for
what's happening down here. They are luminous and far-reaching, yes, but
so are Geoffrey Lehmann, Judith Beveridge, Dorothy Porter, Dorothy
Hewett, Fay Zwicky, Peter Boyle...........

Australian poetry is blooming. There are no "clubs", "clans" or "old
school ties". This absence of political or influence-driven grouping
means a watering-down of palpable energies, but it hasn't stopped the
flow. Sadly, Australian poetry publishing is swaying at the edge of the
abyss. In 1993 there were a dozen or more mainstream publishers. In 1998,
there are four or five. As you can see, there aren't going to be many
manuscripts accepted over the next few years.

Australian poets are largely driven by a sense of landscape; as are, I
believe, a lot of poets in the U.K. and U.S. Whether this landscape is
physical or emotional - or both as in Kinsella's pastoral project, Robert
Adamson's River Poems, or Judith Beveridge's meditations on birds and
animals. The traditional "Bush Ballad" has been gutted and buried, though
its remaining practitioners will take up fencing pliers at that statement.

Last point: From my experience in schools, universities, poetry readings
and general discussions, many of the younger, newer poets coming onto the
scene simply don't read contemporary Australian, European or American
poetry. It's disturbing but forgivable when the work of some of our best
poets is not known overseas. It's frightening when a twenty year old who
has published in mags & journals has never heard of Robert Adamson. Is
this a trend in the U.K? I'd be interested to hear what's happening.


Anthony Lawrence
















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