On Sun, 1 Mar 1998, ajl wrote:
> 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.
Surveying my own private poetic topography of Australia (which country I
have never been to) I would say it were precisely poets like John Tranter,
John Forbes, (maybe Gig Ryan I haven't read enough), and judging from
Laurie Duggan's scabrous urban wit in "The Epigrams of Martial", Laurie
Duggan too, who are so excellent and inventive on "the city". After
all, most Australians do live and work in urbanised areas. Maybe New York
School "laid-back lyricism" might have been an impetus for writing the
particular determinants of the Australian city?
Another poet who hasn't been mentioned, is Ken Bolton, whose poems, as
urban *habits*, are most significant in this regard. Then, Cath Keneally
has this brilliant poem "Around Here" from "Harmers Haven", where the
entirely new literary concept "Surburban Modernity" might spring
to mind, it's a kind of catalogue of houses in the street, where history
is also suggested through references to indigenous (and not) flora
("Tasmanian Blue Gum", "olive tree", "geraniums") in gardens. Perhaps
Suburban Modernity is the New Universal? (gasp).
Ken Bolton's poem "Lecture: Untimely Meditations" seems an excellent &
witty critique on the kind of ideologies underpinning Australian landscape
I always imagined Les Murray
on a tractor
or pushing a one-furrow plough
(this is more likely)
like an enormous bad fairy
behind the people
in a picture by Millet, The Gleaners-
tormenting them with his poetry.
He use to 'intimate'-
is that too light a word - he was more Australian
than the rest of us
and went on a lot-
about his Celtic blood, and
a disappearing Australia.
Ken Bolton's sharp sense of the jargon of authenticity (his casual,
tentative style is the SHARP element) reminds me how to read say a poet
like Geoffrey Hill. (I am not suggesting, of course, that any "pastoral
project" (although isn't it rather "natural realism"?) is "inauthentic",
just that when it purports to define Nationhood, one thinks oh, get real).
I was in London on Saturday afternoon, changing tubes at Victoria Station
(gone to earth?), and six "countryfolk" (there for the march) fell down
the escalator and lay in a big pile-up at the bottom, laughing their heads
off. Perhaps Australian cities don't have undergrounds (do they?), so
writing that city would already be determined by surface transportation.
Raymond Williams' "The Country and the City" is a good read.