A pair of

Ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

DAILY read­ers of this news­pa­per may have seen a story I wrote on Septem­ber 13 (a Black Fri­day for some) about a pla­gia­rism scan­dal in­volv­ing New­cas­tle-based poet An­drew Slat­tery. The award-win­ning poet ad­mit­ted he had been insert­ing lines from other po­ets — in­clud­ing fa­mous ones such as Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski and Sea­mus Heaney — into his own work. (He also ‘‘bor­rowed’’ from prose writ­ers, in­clud­ing Ro­ma­nian Emil Cio­ran, which I men­tion in pass­ing be­cause I have such fond mem­o­ries of my younger self read­ing On the Heights of De­spair.) Slat­tery said he was striv­ing for a cento for­mat, where the works of other writ­ers are in­serted into new po­ems, but I sus­pect this was a half-hearted de­fence, and cer­tainly it was one no one was buy­ing. Ul­ti­mately, he ad­mit­ted he had done the wrong thing. The story sparked a vig­or­ous de­bate in po­etry cir­cles and the wider lit­er­ary com­mu­nity. In a long and stim­u­lat­ing ar­ti­cle on the Over­land web­site, Justin Cle­mens makes many good points, in­clud­ing one that im­me­di­ately oc­curred to me: how did Slat­tery’s de­cep­tion go un­de­tected for so long? How did prize judges, of­ten po­ets them­selves, not spot lines from Heaney, say, in Slat­tery’s work? ‘‘. . . all the judges and edi­tors and aes­thetes . . . have been left with po­etic egg on their faces,’’ Cle­mens writes. Slat­tery was widely pub­lished, in­clud­ing in this news­pa­per. ‘‘The vic­tims,’’ Cle­mens ob­serves, ‘‘have come from all colours of the po­lit­i­cal and aes­thetic spec­trums. It seems Slat­tery has taken in al­most ev­ery­body, from in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous po­ets . . . through aca­demic spe­cial­ists and jour­nal edi­tors and me­dia hacks, not to men­tion a more gen­eral and dif­fuse read­er­ship.’’ The con­tin­u­ing fall­out from this af­fair has ex­posed some toxic un­der­cur­rents in the Aus­tralian po­etry scene. You can bet your bot­tom dol­lar the work of a lot of po­ets has been run through on­line search en­gines since Black Fri­day, be­ing checked for pla­gia­rism. You can also wa­ger with con­fi­dence that some of the peo­ple do­ing the check­ing are fel­low po­ets. How many po­ets this makes ner­vous is some­thing I do not know. If you missed my orig­i­nal story, you can find it, and also Cle­mens’s piece, on my pro­fes­sional Face­book page, which I’ve been mean­ing to men­tion for a while. This is a pub­lic page so you don’t have to be my ‘‘friend’’ to look at it. www.face­book.com/stephen­romei ALSO on my Face­book page is an in­ter­view I did this week with New Zealand writer Eleanor Cat­ton, short­listed for the Man Booker Prize for The Lu­mi­nar­ies, re­viewed on this page by Kirsten Tran­ter. Cat­ton was a de­light to meet. The big Booker news is that the prize may be open to Amer­i­cans from next year. I won­der if this will in­duce Philip Roth out of re­tire­ment? RICHARD Flana­gan’s pow­er­ful new novel The Nar­row Road to the Deep North is his most per­sonal to date. Its cen­tral char­ac­ter, Dor­rigo Evans, is a Weary Dunlop-type fig­ure. The author’s fa­ther, Arch, was a sur­vivor of the ThaiBurma Rail­way, an ex­pe­ri­ence he re­lived, if that is an ad­e­quate word, in The Line, a 2005 mem­oir co-au­thored with his other writer son, Martin. We have an ex­tract of Flana­gan’s novel on page 20. It’s just a taste of a com­plex and pro­found work that is about war, hero­ism, hon­our and death, but is also con­cerned with much more: love, be­trayal, re­gret, iden­tity, na­tion­al­ism, myth-mak­ing and cap­i­tal-H his­tory. All I can say is, read it. Flana­gan will talk about the book and sign copies at a Bris­bane Writ­ers Fes­ti­val out-of-sea­son event on the evening of Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 3. This is a tick­eted event: de­tails www.bwf.org.au

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