Young po­ets at home in land of the free verse

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Christopher Bantick

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

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