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This review is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

WHISTLERS Chris Wallace-Crabbe, The Amorous Cannibal (Oxford University Press) £4.50 pb.
Ken Taylor, A Secret Australia: Selected & New Poems (Rigmarole Books, Melbourne) $7.95 pb.
John A. Scott, The Quarrel with Ourselves & Confession (Rigmarole Books) $7.95 pb.
John Millett, Come down Cunderang (Poetry Australia 99/South Head Press)

Something wryly appropriate has happened to Chris Wallace-Crabbe. In 1961 he contributed a famous essay to Meanjin Quarterly in which he diagnosed habitual irony as having been the principal ailment of Australian poetry in the 1950s, and now here in his latest collection we discover a man of ironic Fifties poise, middle-aged and knowing, assuredly dedicated and sincere but unable even to use the word 'heart' without a deprecatory shrug. An Australian Fifties word like 'reffo' is built into an affectionately ironic portrait of an aunt, final lines often sound weary ('Fortinbras is still on sabbatical leave', 'Catherine's long thigh is getting stroked') and the fifth of a series of squibs seems uncomfortably apt: 'No-one speaks rudely, bar when pissed,/our verse is bourgeois-formalist.' A Peter Porterish post-Spengler poem called 'The Fall of the West' jokes about 'Boog who devised the manila folder' and 'Kogo, inventor of scissors'; echoes are consistently sarcastic, whether of Henley ('I seem to have eaten the future,/hilarious, unbowed') or of Christ ('to him which hath some gravy/shall gravy be given forever'); and the same self-admiring spirit of over-the-top fun which prompted Christopher Reid to give his bird-catching cat a 'foolish, fat, feathery, false moustache' produces Wallace-Crabbe's autumn leaves that 'glide glumly groundward' in a spirit of alliterative excess which seems to have little point. The Amorous Cannibal is competent, sophisticated and witty, and unfortunately both tiresome and forgettable. I was reminded of a comment by Professor Eugene Kamenka, writing on the notion of Australian culture ...


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