2011 has but a few hours left in its sail…. it has been the most amazing year of my life – the incredible response to the Ocean Hearted Flood Relief Fundraiser, winning The Johnno, turning 40, the birth of T.H.E. Nunn to name a few milestones – and now I am looking forward to diving headlong into 2012. But before the new year kisses us sweetly, let’s take a look at one last book from this year. And in doing so, I will leave the last word to Zenobia Frost.
Thirty Australian Poets
Edited by Felicity Plunkett
Available widely and online at Penguin Books Australia
Writing in The New Australian Poetry in 1979, Tranter described the “Generation of ’68” — a wave of “mainly young” Australian writers experimenting with and against conventional modes of poetics. What Tranter called his “half-serious theory” informed the selection process for this new collection, edited by Queensland poet Felicity Plunkett, which celebrates the diverse, vital voices of contemporary Australian poetry.
Thirty Australian Poets gives us a much richer view of national poetic voice than we’ve had access to in the past. Even in Tranter’s ’79 collection, only two female poets featured — with no Indigenous voices at all. 18 writers in Thirty Australian Poets are female. Les Murray commented in 1968 that “women are writing less well because feminism is there to absorb the energies that otherwise would have gone into literature” (see Tranter’s In Praise of Poets with PhDs ), as if (women) writers have a finite imagination. Many of the poets within these pages are also academics, critics, musicians, screenwriters and editors (along with practising any number of pursuits external to writing), disproving the myth of a writerly starvation economy once and for all. Furthermore, the 30 poets as a whole represent multicultural Australia, featuring both Indigenous writers, such as Samuel Wagan Watson, and — as David McCooey writes in his introduction — poets with “non-Anglophone backgrounds, such as Ali Alizadeh and Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers.”
On a more personal level, Thirty Australian Poets signalled the first time in a year or more that I’d devoured a whole poetry collection in one sitting. I felt privileged to discover poets I’d never read before — Emily Ballou (whose The Plums I return to again and again), Kate Middleton, and Simon West, for instance — alongside familiar voices. I particularly enjoyed that, rather than eschewing traditional modes (closed forms, uniform metre) entirely, these writers more often metamorphosed them, releasing their words from the shackles of strict formalism. If this collection represents a new generation of Australian poets, they are weaving and re-weaving a tapestry of poetics as complex, strong, and infinitely re-formable as a spider’s web.
Zenobia Frost is a Brisbane-based writer and critic whose poetry has appeared in Cordite, Voiceworks, Overland, and Small Packages. Her chapbooks include The Voyage (SweetWater Press 2009) and Petrichor (2011), a self-published collaboration with Jeremy Thompson. She recently placed 3rd in the 2011 John Marsden Awards for Young Writers. She is otherwise occupied with making the perfect cup of tea.