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This review is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

AUSTRALIAN MYTHOPOEIA Dorothy Hewett, Alice in Wormland (Bloodaxe) £6.95 pb
Les Murray, Dog Fox Field (Carcanet) £6.95 pb

Apart from three brief pages of new poems, Dorothy Hewett's Alice in Wormland is a selection from four books previously published by small presses in Australia: Windmill Country (1968), Rapunzel in Suburbia (1975), Greenhouse (1979) and Alice in Wormland (1987). Hewett, born in 1923, is best known in Britain for her autobiographical novel Bobbin Up (1959), published here by Virago in 1985, and her autobiography Wild Card (1990). She is also a playwright.

Hewett weaves her faults so fully into her strengths that disentangling them is next to impossible. The obsession with fairy tale and myth which underpins her most successful work produces poems that are downright bad ('Green Jack & Mother Gloom', 'Psyche's Husband', 'The Labyrinth'). The attachment to writers of signal status results in the prosy, unpurposed and second-hand ('Madame Bovary', 'The Mandelstam Letters') or indeed single lines or rhetorical effects that are directly borrowed without very much justification. (Eliot, for instance, is present in the 'O O O' of 'Living Dangerously' and in the opening words and cadence of 'Legend of the Green Country': 'September is the spring month bringing tides [...]' In fact, 'The Waste Land' is palpably the largest single influence on Hewett's poetic imagination, and it has made her derivative.)

The book is still worth buying for 'Legend of the Green Country' and for the seventeen-page selection from the original Alice in Wormland (though best of all, I suspect, might be to get hold of that original, from Paper ...


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