Ali Alizadeh Reviews ‘The Best Australian Poems 2012’

17 December 2012

But these indirect, figurative illustrations of the vanished event (of ‘another day’) are themselves negated or, in Alain Badiou’s sense, cancelled with the speaker’s direct, self-interrogative questions in the next three lines, which indicate that this poem is not simply an exercise in cryptic minimalism, prior to a breathtaking Mallarméan invocation of the infinite in the poem’s last line:

              – how many lies
have you lived? How many dinners tossed
back with the scrape of your chair?
Listen – the birds are settling in the trees.

The Best Australian Poems 2012 includes many equally outstanding pieces such as (in their counter-alphabetical order of appearance in the book) ‘Clayton’s Law of Amor Fati’ by Ann Vickery, ‘The Ecstasy’ by Petra White, ‘Night Feed’ by Maria Takolander, ‘Atlantic City’ by Josephine Rowe, ‘Room of Clouds’ by Claire Potter, ‘In the Serious Light of Nothing’ by Peter Minter, ‘Lesson’ by Emma Lew, ‘Negative Breathing’ by Jill Jones, ‘A Certain Type of Poem’ by Andy Jackson, ‘The Paul Revere Girls’ by Duncan Hose, ‘The Quattrocento as a Waltz’ by Sarah Holland-Batt, ‘Sometimes I wonder What’s Going On’ by Matt Hetherington, ‘Two Zone Weekly’ by Liam Ferney, ‘Lindfield Tempat (1980s)’ by Jeltje Fanoy, ‘Living’ by Pam Brown, ‘Bonds’ by Cassandra Atherton, and ‘Juvenilia’ by Louis Armand, among others.

I did not find the same levels of precision and sophistication in some of the anthology’s longer pieces. (With the key exception of Lisa Gorton’s elegant ekphrastic piece, ‘The Triumphs of Caesar.’) Since the anthology’s editor is, of course, himself the author of a number of important long, narrative poems (such as those collected in his 1992 book The Floor of Heaven) I wonder if it could be that Mr. Tranter, in a perfectly well-intentioned effort at asserting the significance of the epical and the long poem (an intention stated in the anthology’s introduction) has perhaps been a little too generous in his inclusion of the longer pieces, particularly since most of the longer poems are written by rather recognisable writers.

Irrespective of the merits of this observation, I would have personally preferred to see poems by the great contemporary Australian poets who, for whatever reason, are not featured in the anthology (M.T.C. Cronin, Lionel Fogarty, Justin Clemens, Kent MacCarter, John Mateer, Michael Brennan, Samuel Wagan Watson, Jordie Albiston, Bronwyn Lea, David Prater and Elizabeth Campbell, among others) in place of quite a number of pages being devoted to the anthology’s longer poems.

I would like to end on one of the anthology’s key strengths – in addition to featuring excellent poems by the well-known poets mentioned in the first part of my review, the anthology also includes many terrific poems by writers whose works were unknown to me prior to reading Best Australian Poems 2012. Among these are Robin Wilkinson’s delightfully witty and insightful ‘Melbourne colour 1’; the moving and melancholy ‘Bodies’ by Sarah Rice; the refreshing and absurdist ‘The Man I’d Like To Be’ by Greg Piko; the fusion of cultural commentary and rich lyricism in ‘Venus’s Flower Basket’ by A. D. Phatak; and Ken Chau’s genuinely humorous two-line piece, ‘Chinese Love Poem’, which I’d like to quote in its cheeky entirety: ‘Your eyes slant / towards mine.’

I am delighted that the charge of elitism levelled at a previous anthology edited by Mr. Tranter – by a reviewer who wrote, here in Cordite Poetry Review, that the older, 2007 anthology should be retitled ‘The Best-Known Australian Poets’ as it features so many of the old names – does not apply here. The new anthology includes many new or newer voices, and John Tranter is to be congratulated for editing a generous and enjoyable collection.

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About Ali Alizadeh

Ali Alizadeh is a Melbourne-based author and scholar. His literary interests include Marxist theory, Horror, Continental philosophy and history. Among his favourite authors are Shirley Jackson, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Richard Matheson, Alain Badiou, H.D., and Bertolt Brecht. His books include the collections of poetry Towards the End and Ashes in the Air, the novels The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc and Transactions, and a work of aesthetic theory, Marx and Art. He is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne.

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