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This review is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

AUSTRALIAN VERSE: TRIUMPHS AND INANITIES JOHN FORBES, Damaged Glamour (Brandl & Schlesinger) $16.95 (Aus)
ANDREW SANT, Album of Domestic Exiles (Black Pepper) $15.95 (Aus)
FAY ZWICKY, The Gatekeeper's Wife (Brandl & Schlesinger) $15.95 (Aus)
JEAN KENT, The Satin Bowerbird (Hale & Iremonger) $16.95 (Aus)
PETER BARKOWSKI, The heart at 3 a.m. (Hale & Iremonger) $14.95 (Aus)

Long before the publication of his final book, Damaged Glamour, John Forbes (1950-1998) had developed a style and idiom unmatched in Australian poetry. Although many critics have linked his seemingly free-wheeling work to the poets of the New York School - particularly O'Hara and Ashbery - Forbes is a more fastidious poet than the Americans. His lines are well-controlled and often chiselled, and there is little of O'Hara's purposeful chatter or Ashbery's sweepingness in his poems. But like O'Hara and Ashbery, and other New York School poets such as Koch, Forbes does not shy from introducing elements of popular culture or chummy sentiment into his poetry. His preoccupation with Australian life - its politics, paradoxes, inanities and triumphs - and his insightfulness make him an astute and relevant social critic, a stance illuminated and enriched by the poise of his poetry.

Experimental yet aware of tradition, intellectual yet emotive, intelligent yet resistant to rational intelligence, Forbes's work operates at various loci and therefore offers different things to different readers. His poems do not describe or narrate; rather, they initiate series of thoughts and observations that operate against predictability and complacency. Many of these poems employ internal rhyme to great effect, and the best demonstrate the wisdom of Schopenhauer's statement that all art aspires to the condition of music. Forbes seems to intend his poems to be read as we listen to music - not solely for content or self-expression, but for the beauty and intelligence of thought, ...


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