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This review is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

REJECTING OBSCURITY Mark O'Connor, The Fiesta of Men (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney), $11.95, $5.95 pb.
Gary Catalano, Slow Tennis (University of Queensland Press) $9.95
Cornelis Vleeskens, The Day The River (University of Queensland Press) $9.95

Australian literature has in some respects gone about its business of coming of age in ways that remind us of American literature a century earlier. There is the same lingering tendency to think London the true capital of English-language literature; the USA sent Henry James as its ambassador, Australia sent Clive James. At the same time, gaucherie ripens into a slightly self-congratulatory confidence in one's own superior virtue: Australia sees in herself today innocence, true democracy, and a proper valuation of individual initiative, as the USA did a century earlier. This involves simplifying not only Britain but all of Europe, which is seen as carious with history, morally surfeited on experience: the customary locus of this view is Rome, in Henry James and Edith Wharton, now in Mark O'Connor. O'Connor's 'Rome, Layer by Layer', which takes epigraphic wisdom from Bob Dylan, has this to say about the Forum:


The swamp city rises on stilts, on two millennia
of building rubble. Its catacombs were less
excavated than built over; and the Forum's
a marble-paved flood-plain. Virgil imagined it
a field of lowing cows - they have grazed
enough there since, though Da Vinci found it
a brisk swine market and sewage dump.


Peter Porter too can sound like a guide-book in his Italian poems, but Porter has the intellectual equipment to present persuasively the passion that informs his travel, while O'Connor sounds as if he mugged ...


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