Book Reviews


Michael Farrell Reviews Philip Hammial

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Poems don’t need condescension any more than we do. If we pick up a book and the poems come to life only at a certain page, maybe it’s our brain that needed a refresh. Philip Hammial is certainly up for a refresh of everyday culture: of foodie-ness, for one, such as in the high school project scene of ‘The Float’, where food is garbage and his art teacher gives him an A; or the vegetables of death in ‘The Vehicle of Precious Little’. There are enough stories in his poetry – represented here through a selection from twenty-five collections – to replace a whole bookshelf of novels.

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Brigid Magner Reviews Gregory Kan

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

This Paper Boat by Gregory Kan
Auckland University Press, 2016

Iris Wilkinson (also known as Robin Hyde), a pioneering poet, novelist and journalist, has influenced many New Zealand writers since her death in 1939. Hyde’s writing has been extensively mined by scholars – especially her diaries and letters – due to their immense readability and colourful subject matter, including details of her struggles with mental illness, her love affairs and her two children born out of wedlock. This Paper Boat is an homage with a difference. Gregory Kan, a young New Zealand poet whose background is Singaporean, traces his own history through that of Wilkinson.

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Phillip Hall Reviews Connie Barber, Meg Mooney and Jenni Nixon

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The Edge of Winter, by Connie Barber
Ginninderra Press, 2015

Being Martha’s Friend, by Meg Mooney
Picaro Press (an imprint of Ginninderra Press), 2015

swimming underground, by Jenni Nixon
Ginninderra Press, 2015

These three poets, who exist outside university creative writing and humanities faculties, have ‘chosen’ a publisher independent of Australia Council arts funding and have been somewhat neglected by critical attention and awards recognition. All three poets collect richly lyrical and narrative poetry that praises the natural world and interrogates different aspects of our ability to live in it respectfully. All three collections are beautifully presented and feature stunning cover artworks that reveal each poet’s preoccupations and intentions.

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Review Short: Mike Ladd’s Invisible Mending

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Invisible Mending by Mike Ladd
Wakefield Press, 2016

Adelaide poet, Mike Ladd, is best known for his long-running Poetica program on the ABC’s Radio National (eighteen years all up before its casual destruction in 2014). The breadth of taste and openness to a wide range of influences Ladd displayed in Poetica is also to be found in Invisible Mending, his first poetry collection since Transit in 2007.

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Michael Aiken Reviews Duncan Hose

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

An abundance of impudence

Bunratty by Duncan Hose
Puncher & Wattmann, 2016

The bio of Duncan Bruce Hose describes the Australian poet as coming from ‘the softslang line of the chansonnier, whose reference points range between Trefoil Island, Melbourne and Coney Island.’ In Bunratty, his third collection, that ‘softslang line’ delivers a suite of deftly composed (post)modernist folk songs, characterised by a highly idiosyncratic orthography and a preoccupation with sex and booze.
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Review Short: Love, Sex and Death in the Poetry of Bolesław Leśmian, Translated by Marcel Weyland

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Love, Sex and Death in the Poetry of Bolesław Leśmian
by Bolesław Leśmian
Translated from the Polish by Marcel Weyland
Brandl & Schlesinger, 2015

In this new collection of translations, Marcel Weyland acquaints contemporary readers with Bolesław Leśmian (1877-1937). The book makes us witness to the self-construction of an early twentieth century ‘outsider’ poet who won’t hesitate to invite you into his world. Weyland has taken up the heady task of translating a poetry that is difficult in its original form. Leśmian is celebrated for his creative morphing of language, playing with rhythm, and inventing of words in Polish.
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Caitlin Maling Reviews Alison Whittaker

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Lemons in the Chicken Wire by Alison Whittaker
Magabala Books, 2015

Gomeroi poet Alison Whittaker’s debut collection Lemons in the Chicken Wire is a necessary addition to contemporary poetry. Deftly handled at both the level of the poem and the book, Whittaker’s work introduces us to the worlds of queer Aboriginal women living on the rural fringe of New South Wales.
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Review Short: Dennis Haskell’s Ahead of Us

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Ahead of Us by Dennis Haskell
Fremantle Press, 2016

‘Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything,’ wrote C. S. Lewis in a work of prose, published soon after his wife died. Under such conditions poets are apt to explore their grief by way of lyricism, and, while it is uncommon in the Australian context, recent years have seen several international male poets producing collections in just these circumstances. From the United Kingdom, for instance, we have Douglas Dunn’s Elegies and Christopher Reid’s A Scattering, and, from the United States, Donald Hall’s Without.
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Review Short: Gina Mercer’s weaving nests with smoke and stone

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

weaving nests with smoke and stone by Gina Mercer
Walleah Press, 2015

Gina Mercer’s latest collection, weaving nests with smoke and stone, is a delicate assembly of sights and sounds, visually rich and focused on the natural. Mercer’s repetition of the word ‘fossick’ throughout the collection aptly summarises the poetic processes involved. This is a collection of quick, searching movements. Lyrically deft, musical and richly preoccupied with natural elements, the poems construct meeting points for nature and humanity, ceding more and more with each piece along the way.

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Dominique Hecq Reviews Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du Mal

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du Mal
Translated by Jan Owen
ARC Publications, 2015

Les Murray endorses Jan Owen’s translation of Charles Baudelaire’s Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) on the book’s back cover: ‘Jan Owen’s Baudelaire brings the French conjuror closer to me than any version I’d ever read.’ Although we could take umbrage to the term ‘conjuror’ being used in relation to Baudelaire, it is, on closer reflection, quite apposite. In fact it may apply to the French poet as well as his Australian translator, for both are magicians in their own way. Given Baudelaire’s impact on Anglophone poetry, poetics, and criticism, he needs no introduction to many readers of Cordite Poetry Review.
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Phillip Hall Reviews Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow by Suzanne Falkiner
UWA Publishing, 2016

Suzanne Falkiner describes her aim in writing this biography of Randolph Stow as being ‘to contextualise the [literary] works within the broad arc of Stow’s life’. She notes that Stow’s desire for an ‘authorial invisibility – and an accompanying silence – extended to a desire for a chameleon-like camouflage in his personal life’. This camouflage included a retreat from Australia and ‘from the world of published books, in a gradual progression towards silence and into a richer inner landscape’. But, Falkiner shows, this ‘richer’ inner life was always plagued by depression (and one serious suicide attempt), a one-time addiction to prescription drugs, a very complicated (dependency) relationship with alcohol, a fear of madness and a failure to establish long term sexual relationships and to acknowledge and accept his sexuality.

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Andy Jackson Reviews Mary Cresswell and Natasha Dennerstein

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Fish Stories by Mary Creswell
Canterbury University Press, 2015

Anatomize by Natasha Dennerstein
Norfolk Press, 2015

In a recent essay for the London Review of Books, Ben Lerner provocatively suggested that the reason that we dislike poetry (as Marianne Moore does in her infamous ‘Poetry’, which begins ‘I too dislike it’) is that all poems are failures. Each poem is an attempt to translate experience, research, idea or desire into language, and in that leap something is invariably lost – and, I would say, gained – because success is not the polar opposite of failure, but its way of proceeding. The success of a collection of poetry depends upon how the poet, rather than denying this inevitable ‘failure’, acknowledges and incorporates it.

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