A pair of

Ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

ON page 31 we have pub­lished a poem, Re­view, by Janita Cun­ning­ton that has a lit­tle story be­hind it. Our po­etry edi­tor, Jaya Sav­ige, says Cun­ning­ton’s sub­mis­sion came with a note: she had been pub­lished in The Aus­tralian in the 1960s and re­cently had taken up po­etry again, in her se­nior years. Jaya con­tin­ues: ‘‘This poem is in my opin­ion an ab­so­lute cracker. Its met­ri­cal fa­cil­ity and over­all style are rem­i­nis­cent of early Ju­dith Wright, and the sec­ond part is es­pe­cially stun­ning.’’ And there I was think­ing it only got a guernsey be­cause the poet can­nily ti­tled the piece af­ter the news­pa­per sup­ple­ment now in your hands. I do like the poem, too, par­tic­u­larly the line about the high-tension wires ‘‘low-hum­ming, quick­ened by anx­i­ety’’. BOOKS that made me cry, part two. A while back I men­tioned that Elis­a­beth Beres­ford’s Awk­ward Magic was one of two books that made my younger self shed a tear or two. The other was The Death of a Wom­bat, a bush­fire al­le­gory by Ivan Smith, ac­com­pa­nied by draw­ings and paint­ings by Clifton Pugh. First pub­lished in 1972, this re­mains one of my most cher­ished books. So it was not with­out some trep­i­da­tion that I pulled it from the shelves one re­cent night to share it with my al­most-sev­enyear-old co-reader, Syd. I knew he would like the grip­ping, po­etic story of how var­i­ous an­i­mals re­spond to a fire, and ap­pre­ci­ate Pugh’s beau­ti­ful art­work, but I was wor­ried he’d find it too sad. Once the blaze starts (‘‘The thun­der has be­gun! A eu­ca­lypt ex­plodes and there is the first tem­ple of flame . . .’’) we know the wom­bat has no chance, that his des­per­ate ‘‘wad­dle and crump’’ flight to­wards the river is hope­less. ‘‘The fire, a half-mile be­hind, the river 90 yards ahead . . . no odds for a wom­bat.’’ And when his death comes, it is hor­ri­ble. Syd did find it sad, as I still do. But he was fas­ci­nated by the story, es­pe­cially one as­pect (and I was the same as a boy), the fact only one animal sur­vives: the dingo. And how does it save it­self? By do­ing the op­po­site of all the other an­i­mals: it runs into the inferno, and through it. For days af­ter­wards, Syd asked me ques­tions such as: Would a chee­tah/wolf/tyran­nosaurus run into a fire or away from it? Other read­ers have seen the story as a po­lit­i­cal para­ble, with the ‘‘cun­ning and un­con­quer­able’’ dingo com­pared with JFK. As Smith writes in his in­tro­duc­tion: ‘‘It might be bet­ter not to men­tion some of the names linked with the kan­ga­roo and the koala.’’ The former runs and runs and runs but even­tu­ally goes up in flames and the lat­ter, doomed by in­flex­i­ble spe­cial­i­sa­tion, burns where it sits. Far be it for me to draw any con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal par­al­lels there. TODAY, June 16, is Blooms­day, the date on which the ac­tion, such as it is, un­folds in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Cel­e­bra­tory pints of Guin­ness will be raised the world over. In my neck of the woods, Blooms­day comes to Bondi beach in a day-long event or­gan­ised by the fun-lov­ing folk from the Univer­sity of NSW’s John Hume In­sti­tute for Global Ir­ish Stud­ies. There will be Ed­war­dian dress-ups, read­ings from Joyce by var­i­ous well-known en­thu­si­asts, a screen­ing of Nora, the 2000 film about Mrs Joyce, and much more. De­tails: http://jhigis.arts.unsw.edu.au. I DON’T know if quite as much stout will be flow­ing at this event, but the Aus­tralian Book­sellers As­so­ci­a­tion annual con­fer­ence, which starts in Sydney on Sun­day, cer­tainly will be grap­pling with ques­tions of Joycean com­plex­ity as par­tic­i­pants try to work out how to sell more books in present mar­ket con­di­tions. De­tails: www.aba.org.au/aba-con­fer­ence.

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