Other Anglophone Poets

This list reflects personal likes and is not supposed to be exhaustive. This accounts for a number of missing persons, famous and otherwise. Treat it as a series of suggestions, no more. It will expand and contract as my tastes change, or as new things come to my notice. Go here for a list of recommended outlets for Australian books.

CANADA

David Wevill: Firebreak (Macmillan, London & Toronto; St. Martin's Press, New York, 1971, o/p); Where the Arrow Falls (Macmillan, London & Toronto; St. Martin's Press, New York, 1973, o/p); Other Names for the Heart: New and Selected Poems 1964-1984 (Exile Editions, Toronto, 1985. 137pp, pb, C$11.95); Figure of Eight: New Poems and Selected Translations (Exile, 1987. 90pp, pb, C$12.95), Solo With Grazing Deer (Exile, 2001. 119pp, pb, C$19.95); Departures: Selected Poems (Shearsman Books, 2003. 144pp, pb, £9.95 / $15.95).

David Wevill is Canadian by nationality but was born in Japan, lived in Burma and the UK for some time and has lived and worked in Texas for more than 30 years. I like all of his books, but these are the ones I would start with, Other Names being, so far, the best overall guide, and Figure of Eight's new poems representing the strongest individual collection. Arrow is an absolutely magical volume, with a range and ambition that must have frightened his UK publisher back in 1973. Solo demonstrates that Wevill is still writing poetry that has something to say to the new century.

Shearsman Books published Wevill's Departures: Selected Poems in April 2003 (2nd edition, 2013), but that has not displaced the excellent earlier volumes. The three Canadian books listed here are still in print and non-Canadians can most easily obtain them via Amazon's Canadian offshoot. The Macmillan volumes are only available through second-hand dealers.

NEW ZEALAND

Allen Curnow (1911-2002): Early Days Yet. New and Collected Poems 1941-1997 (Carcanet, Manchester, 1997; pb 258pp, £14.95); The Bells of Saint Babel's. Poems 1997-2001 (Carcanet, Manchester, & Auckland UP, Auckland, 2001. Pb, 62pp, £6.95).

Curnow was by common consent New Zealand's finest poet of the 20th Century. These two books, which together represent a kind of Collected Later Poems plus a Selected Earlier, show categorically why his reputation was so high. He was hard to pin down, his style moving restlessly as he got older, and he was always prepared to try new things. I can't think of a viable British comparison, and perhaps there is none. In any event, Curnow's work is very solid indeed & deserves to be in any collection of 20thC poetry in English.

Bill ManhireCollected Poems (Carcanet, Manchester & Victoria UP, Wellington, 2001. 303pp, pb, £12.95).

With the passing of Curnow (see above) the mantle seems to have passed to Manhire, or so I understand the official view in New Zealand. I've actually not had the book long but am impressed with the work. The Antarctic Poems are deeply impressive and the other work shows a finely-honed poetic intelligence at work. Manhire also writes novels and dramatic works.

Gregory O'Brien: Malachi (Little Esther Books, Adelaide, 1993); Days Beside Water (Carcanet, Manchester; Auckland UP, 1994); Afternoon of an Evening Train (Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2005).

I actually read O'Brien before either of the two big names mentioned above, and was really impressed with the Carcanet / Auckland collection, finally tracked down after spotting his work in an Australian magazine. He is a poet of impressive range and inventiveness. Malachi is a book-length narrative poem that I have greatly enjoyed. He is also a talented painter, judging by his covers for these books as well as the Manhire collection shown above. In addition, he has co-edited a very interesting anthology of New Zealand poetry, which I've included at the end of the anthology page. The more recent VUP collection is the finest collection of O'Brien's shorter poems that I've yet come across.

C.K. SteadCollected Poems (Carcanet, Manchester, 2009. 552pp, pb, £18.95).

A deeply impressive volume which allows British readers to get a handle on a poet who should be better known here. His reputation as a novelist probably exceeds thht for his poetry, and maybe even for his critical work, but this book demonstrates how wrong that is. A large-format book, and satsfying both to hold and to read, this is a volume to which I shall be returning often.

AUSTRALIA

Robert Adamson: The Clean Dark (PaperBark Press, Sydney, 1989. 93pp, h/c & pb); Waving to Hart Crane (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1994).

The Clean Dark is very much a book concerned with place and landscape, and exemplifies an Australian tendency to engage with the land. The Crane volume is much sparser but still an invigorating read. There is at least one subsequent collection that I haven't seen, but Adamson is a serious poet who should be better known outside his homeland.

Judith Beveridge: Wolf Notes (Giramondo Publishing, Sydney, 2002. 124pp, pb, A$22).

This is Judith Beveridge's second collection but I've not seen the first one. Wolf Notes is an immensely assured volume, which contains a remarkable sequence of great power, 'Between the Palace and the Bodhi Tree', concerning the wanderings of Siddharta before he achieved enlightenment. The language is taut and compressed, and richly expressive. In some ways it's a quiet book, and I'll admit that it took some time before its greater pleasures were revealed, but this is a book to keep for a long time, and to keep re-reading.

Ken Bolton: Selected Poems 1975-2010 (Shearsman Books, 2012, paperback, 212pp, £12.95); Selected Poems 1975-1990 (Penguin Australia, 1992. 186pp, pb, out of print); Untimely Meditations & other poems (Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, 1997. 168pp, pb). 

The Penguin seems to be out of print but was a great introduction to a poet we non-Australians should know better. The Shearsmanvolume now fills that gap, and expands the selection. Obviously indebted to the New York School (versions one and two), Bolton's long-lined demotic poems fuse narrative drive with a splendid vein of humour, and show a very caustic observer at work. Hugely entertaining.

M.T.C. Cronin: Notebook of Signs (Shearsman Books, 2007. 112pp, pb, 8.5x5.5ins, £8.95 / $15); <More or Less Than> 1-100 (Shearsman Books, 2004. 140pp, pb, 9x6ins, £9.95 / $15.95); beautiful, unfinished (Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2003. 103pp, pb, £8.95 / $12.95); Everything Holy (Balcones International Press, Temple, TX, 1998. 83pp, pb, o.o.p.);

Margie Cronin writes a lot and has authored a number of books already. Her work ranges from the direct, light poems of My Lover's Back (UQP, Brisbane) to the more exploratory volumes shown here. Her work demands attention and deserves it; her productivity rate will cause suspicions in some quarters but I would suggest you roll with it and enjoy the fun; it's quite a ride. More or Less Than is a compositional tour-de-force, where poem 1 has one line, poem 2 has two, and so on up to poem 50 with fifty lines; then it goes back down again from 51 to 100, finishing with a single line, the poems in each half mirroring each other. The subsequent Shearsman collection: 4 mini-collections in one set of covers shows another side of the poet's art.

Laurie Duggan: Compared to What: Selected Poems 1971-2003 (Shearsman Books, Exeter, 2005. 224pp, pb, £11.95/US$20); The Ash Range (Picador Australia, Sydney, 1987, out of print; 2nd edition: Shearsman Books, Exeter, 2005. 248pp, pb, £12.95/US$21); New and Selected Poems 1971-1993 (University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1996. 186pp, pb, A$29.95); Memorials (Little Esther Books, Adelaide, 1996. Pb, 105pp, A$14.95); Mangroves (University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 2003. 186pp, pb, A$25); Crab & Winkle (Shearsman Books, 2009, pb, 180pp, £10.95); The Pursuit of Happiness (Shearsman Books, 2011, pb, 80pp, £8.95); Allotments (Shearsman Books, 2014, pb, 72pp, £8.95).

The Ash Range is an extraordinarily ambitious poem in verse and prose, which splices in photos, newspaper cuttings, journal entries to form a kind of mythic history of Gippsland, an area of southern rural Victoria. I hesitate to refer to it glibly as an Australian Paterson, but it has that kind of ambition. And Gippsland is a lot more attractive than Paterson, NJ. Compared to What is an updated Selected and makes a good introduction to Duggan's work. Memorials is a long poem in six sections, and a very fine book indeed. The last individual collection, Mangroves presents work before Duggan gave up on poetry in the 90s plus new work after his re-engagement with it. I for one am happy that he's back, and the quality of the new work shows that this restless spirit still has much to give us. Australian readers will be well-served by the three titles shown above, but both the Shearsman titles will be available from specialist outlets such as Collected Works in Melbourne. Crab & Winkle was the author's first book since he settled in the UK, and shows him engaging with the local landscape and scene in Kent and London.

 

Clive FaustMetamorphosis from the Adjacent Cold (Origin Press, Boston, 1980); Leavetakings (Origin Press, Kyoto, 1986. chapbook); Sleeping it Off (Origin Press, 1992); Cold's Determinations. Selected Poems (University of Salzburg Press, Salzburg, 1996. 126pp, pb).

You will note that none of these books were published in Australia, despite the author's residence in Bendigo. There are a couple more chapbooks I have not seen, one at least of which was published in the UK. Cid Corman has supported Faust for some time as can be seen from Origin's involvement, and it is a tribute to Cid's unfailing eye for talent that this should be so. The Salzburg volume (which has a useful introduction by the author, and a preface by David Miller) should still be available in the UK and ought to be in any self-respecting poetry collection, Australian or British. A rare talent.

John Forbes (1950-1998): Collected Poems (Brandl & Schlesinger, Rose Bay, NSW, 2000. 264pp, pb).

Sad that this is a monument, but it is, and a very fine book it is too. Witty and learned, the language of these poems owes more to O'Hara and the New York School than it does to typical British models and that befits the Australian period that spawned him, which demonstrated a veritable explosion of post-modern talent. This is one of the best books of the last few years. A pity it's not distributed in the UK.

Martin Harrison: The Kangaroo Farm (PaperBark Press, Brooklyn, NSW, 1997. 79pp, pb); Wild Bees: New & Selected Poems (Shearsman Books, 2008. 168pp, pb, £10.95/$18.50).

I know nothing about Harrison other than the information on the cover of this book, which is that he was born in England and lives in Sydney. The poems in this volume are quite superb evocations of places and landscapes, long-lined and tautly constructed. A deeply impressive book. PaperBark published another volume, Summer (81pp, pb, A$25) in 2001, which I don't appreciate quite as much as this one. Wild Bees makes an ideal introduction to the poet's work, and includes a large number of poems from The Kangaroo Farm.

John Kinsellathe silo: A Pastoral Symphony (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, WA, 1995).

This was later republished in the UK by Arc, and in my view is Kinsella's best single volume, a series of poems rooted in his native rural Western Australia.

Anthony Lawrence: New and Selected Poems (UQP, 1998. 335pp, pb); The Sleep of a Learning Man (Giramondo Publishing, Sydney, 2003. 122pp, pb, A$22)

The UQP book is an impressive collection, albeit more conservative in tone than the things I usually like. The narratives, such as Blood Oath, can be extraordinary; the lyrics are controlled and invariably beautiful. The recent Giramondo collection shows him developing his style further, refining it: this is poetry of a stylish maturity. All round, a splendid writer who should be better known beyond the antipodes. I note that Arc are promising a major Selected for the UK market, which is encouraging.

Emma LewAnything the Landlord Touches (Giramondo Publishing, Sydney, 2002. 92pp, pb, A$20; Shearsman Books, 2006, pb, £8.95/US$15)

The author's second collection, this is a quite extraordinary book. In terms of style, Ms Lew's estranged narratives seem to owe something to Jorie Graham, and perhaps a little (perhaps through Graham) to Ashbery. The driving factor in these poems is a florid and beautiful surface texture: wonderfully memorable lines, epiphanic in nature, set off unexpected trains of thought, with surrealist twists. The narrative voice sounds convincing but it's also an 'other', and the narratives strike out in the most unexpected fashion, to zones where most poets fear to go. A splendid book, all round.

Gig Ryan: Manners of an Astronaut (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1984. 80pp, pb); The Last Interior (Scripsi, Melbourne, 1986. 34pp, chapbook); Excavation (Picador Australia, Sydney, 1990. 68pp, pb), Pure and Applied (Craftsman House & PaperBark Press, 1998. 91pp, pb), Heroic Money (Brandl & Schlesinger, Sydney, 2001. 66pp, pb, A$21.95).

This lists all but the author's first book, which I have not seen. She is every inch the ideal modern poet, her antennae picking up the oddest verbals from the atmosphere and combining them with a wonderful sense of sound and order. Inexplicable for me that she has never been published in the UK, but then she'd make most of our Bloodaxe princesses look decidedly colourless. Only the last two volumes listed are likely to be available, and might be obtainable from Peter Riley's mail-order service, which has been known to get PaperBark editions. Heroic Money builds on the earlier work and is another fine achievement.

John A. ScottSelected Poems (UQP, 1996. 281pp, pb).

Another fine Australian poet unknown in the UK. Scott has experimented with a number of forms including the poetic prose narrative and this extensive selection is a very thorough guide, so much so that a new reader probably does not need the individual volumes. Shearsman Books published his translations of Emmanuel Hocquard. His recent work has been confined to fiction, so far published only in Australia, but also worth investigating.

John Tranter: Selected Poems (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1982. 176pp, pb, out of print); Under Berlin (UQP, 1988. 119pp, pb.); The Floor of Heaven (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1996. 138pp, pb); Late Night Radio (Polygon, Edinburgh, 1998. 92pp, pb); Heart Print (Salt, Cambridge, 2001); Studio Moon (Salt, Cambridge, 2003); Urban Myths: 210 Poems (Salt, Cambridge, 2007).

Restlessly inventive poet and editor of jacket, the online magazine. The Floor of Heaven is a sequence of four interlinked narrative poems, something which we'd be unlikely to find an innovative UK poet doing, and Late Night Radio remains an excellent guide to what he was up to in the mid-90s. Very fine work throughout all of these volumes. Studio Moon is the most recent, and is a fine collection. The large Selected, Urban Myths is an excellent all-round introduction to his work.

CARIBBEAN

(Edward) Kamau Brathwaite: The Arrivants—A New World Trilogy (Oxford UP, 1973. 275pp, pb); Mother Poem (Oxford, 1977); Sun Poem (Oxford, 1982); X/Self (Oxford, 1987)—these three also available as Ancestors (New Directions, NY); Middle Passages (Bloodaxe, Newcastle, 1992).

There are other collections, but these strike me as the most important. The first trilogy was a major event in English literature, quite frankly, although no-one seems to talk about it now. The Ancestors trilogy seems to me to be less 'important' but is still a major achievement. Since then Brathwaite's work has continued to develop in interesting ways and his forms have become very unpredictable. A much more interesting writer than his fellow West Indian Derek Walcott, and not one to be classified easily. He would be more at home in the US these days, I should think, than in a conservative UK which would not react positively to his questing spirit.

David Dabydeen: Slave Song (Dangaroo Press, Sydney & Coventry, 1984, out of print); Turner: New and Selected Poems (Cape, London, 1994, out of print).

Dabydeen is a Guyanese poet, who writes both in standard English and in creole. Slave Song consists of creole monologues of great power, disturbing in the way that they call up the colonial slave experience, making the reader participate rather than observe. Some of this book turns up, along with parts of Coolie Odyssey (a volume I've not seen), in Turner, where the title poem is a 40-page narrative about a slave ship. Dabydeen, also an accomplished novelist, here writes a powerful narrative verse that seems beyond his British contemporaries.

Derek Walcott: Midsummer (Farrar Straus & Giroux, NY; Faber, London, 1984); Collected Poems 1948-1984 (Farrar, NY; Faber, 1986).

Yes, yes, Nobel Prize, etc. And, yes, collections subsequent to the prize have tended to be disappointing, especially the overblown, would-be magnum opus Omeros (1990)—though many people disagree with me on that, it must be admitted. The Collected does however show Walcott's qualities to the full, and I particularly like the vast autobiographical narrative of Another Life. Midsummer is a fine volume and is listed here separately because, for some inexplicable reason, the Collected drops 20 of its 50 poems. Of the subsequent volumes, all are worthy of attention, and White Egrets is the pick.