Young poets at home in land of the free verse
JOHN Leonard is one of the few publishers left in Australia with a belief in poetry. Since 2006, he has published work from seasoned voices including Vincent Buckley (edited by Chris Wallace-crabbe), Peter Steele and Mark O’connor, along with newer poets such as Dan Disney and Elizabeth Campbell.
This anthology of seven youngish poets —- the age range is 28 to 35 — showcases a lively Australian verse.
Certainly, the poems collected underscore how traditional forms have knelt to the dominance of free verse. Poetry that comments on the personal mythologies of the poets may disengage readers, and there some of that here.
In his lively and assertive preface, Leonard writes that there is a ‘‘ fair amount of puffery’’ in the poetry industry. Read this as indulgent lauding over trifling ability. He attempts to set a benchmark: all the poets in this anthology have published their second
of volume of verse or are at the point completing their second manuscript.
Given this serves as a kind of quality control, it is unusual that Leonard feels he must offer a defence of free verse: ‘‘ The dance of free verse has always been consciously reassessed and reinvigorated by its best writers in succeeding generations.’’ Robert Frost was of a different mind. His withering return of serve, "I’d as soon as write free verse as play tennis with the net down", is perhaps out of play in this company.
The seven poets — Campbell, Bonny Cassidy, Sarah Holland-batt, L. K. Holt, Graeme Miles, Simon West and Petra White — dance on common ground: how to quantify contemporary experience and explore its emotional seepage.
Collectively, their poems are full of youthful energy and the vibrant language of a restive generation trying to make its mark. There is also more than a little resonance of Michael Dransfield’s quip: ‘‘ To be a poet in Australia is the ultimate commitment.’’
But if youth’s remit is to question, then Campbell takes up the challenge in Inferno: ‘‘ What is a soul made of/ when it is made? Each soul an image/ of its poet, test-run.’’ There’s a similar searching in Longitude