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This review is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

ANTIPODES IN SHOES David Malouf, Selected Poems (Angus & Robertson) $Aus12.95
Peter Goldsworthy, This Goes WithThat: Selected Poems 1970-1990 (Angus & Robertson) $Aus12.95
Jan Owen, Fingerprints on Light (Angus& Robertson) $Aus12.95
S.K. Kelen, Atomic Ballet (Hale & Iremonger) $Aus12.95
John Kinsella, Eschatologies (Fremantle Arts Centre Press) $Aus14.95
Sudesh Mishra, Tandava (Meanjin Press) $Aus12.95

David Malouf's fame as a novelist has outstripped his reputation as a poet; so this Selected Poems is a timely reminder that, as he nears sixty, he is in fact one of Australia's finest poets. The novelist's strengths of portraiture, narrative and mise en scéne are naturally in evidence. The first poem describes the boy's fear of his grandmother, of 'the stiff, bejewelled fingers / pinned at her throat or moving on grey wings / from word to word'. In another, unbending Sister Martin, his piano teacher, cracks her ruler across his knuckles; with perfectly judged wordplay he decides, 'What I have kept / of time, your time (four shillings an hour), is this.'

If his grandmother's 'bejewelled' fingers are 'pinned at her throat' (and not a brooch), the deflection of the expected alerts us to one of Malouf's most successful rhetorical ploys. One poem remembers that, during his wartime boyhood, his mother sold fox-furs:

[… ] and Brisbane ladies, rather the worse for war, drove up in taxis wearing a GI on their arm and rang at our front door.


The expression 'the worse for wear' is displaced; but 'the worse for war', which at first glance seems both an engaging wordplay and the more delicate, discreet phrase, in fact has the effect of drawing attention to what might morally be meant by 'worse'. The transferral becomes the more suggestive when the word 'wear' reappears at the end of the line in ...


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