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This article is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

Enormous Air: Modern Australian Poetry John Lucas

The Bloodaxe Book of modern Australian Poetry edited by John Tranter and Philip Mead £10.95.

To an outsider there seem to be two ways of making sense of Australian poetry. One is to see it as a ceaseless war between ruralists and poets of the city. The other is to regard it as a prolonged struggle between traditionalists and modernists which, although still going on, has largely been decided in favour of the latter. There may even be a third story: of the battle between the cities: Sydney versus Melbourne. Melbourne has the edge in journals (Scripsi, Meanjin, Meridian) but Sydney might still claim to be Australia's most vital centre of cultural life. Hence, perhaps, the joke I heard from a Sydney cabbie. Question: 'What's the one thing Melbourne has that Sydney lacks?' Answer: 'An inferiority complex.' Like all good jokes there's a measure of truth in this. At all events, the battle between traditionalists and modernists seems to have been fought more ardently in Sydney than elsewhere and Sydney is the city that Les Murray, that ardent celebrant of rural, outback Australia, loves to hate.

Murray is undoubtedly a poet of international stature. Yet to think his name spells Australian poetry is as lazy as it's irresponsible. The problem of course is that he work of so few other Australian poets is readily available in the UK. All praise to Carcanet for publishing him in England. Praise, too, to Bloodaxe for having brought out ...


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