The Moment Made MarvellousEditor Thomas ShapcottUniversity of Queensland Press 1998Retail PriceAustralian Verse - An Oxford AnthologyEditor John LeonardOxford University Press 1998Retail Price

As has become standard practice, the first thing I do when I log on to my computer, is check the E-mail. Even if it is four thirty and the sun shines onto my screen, the E-mail gets read through coffee steam and blurry morning eyes. A post from the Poetics List informs me of a netcast on my desktop and listen as these fellow poets discussed the performance of poetry, the publication of poetry and reading their own work as they spoke. Sippingcoffee, listening and watching these people embrace issues and experiences of interest to me, experiencing the dawning, it was great. I thought, well yes there is something special about this technology, that I had done without in the past but that will not let me go forward without it.

Back to the task at hand, a review of two anthologies of Australian poetry. The editors, Thomas Shapcott and John Leonard, both well-known figures in the Australian poetry industry, Shapcott as a poet, reviewer, editor, literary critic, arts administrator(National Book Council), public servant(Head, Literature Board), honourary Doctor of Letters, and presently Professor of Creative Writing at Adelaide University, and Leonard a teacher, an academic and compiler of anthologies.

How do we review collections of poetry in this age of interconnectivity and interactivity? By what standards will these two anthologies be received in the new millenium? And what purpose do anthologies have in defining a culture, what use do they have to their Australian culture? What does an anthologist's selection say about a nation, what story does it want to tell?

In artistic computer-land, or cyberspace, the three key areas of inquiry seem to be interface, navigation and content. Interface is a complex web of metaphors for the various interactions of the user with the medium, or how the human-computer interaction is represented, it embraces issues of design, look and feel and deeper theoretical issues of what human is, and what collectively, as humans, we are. Navigation usually involves issues of userability, user choice, functionality, intuitive training and empowerment of the user - the vehicle which enables the smooth journey. The content is the thing that maintains the interest of the user, informs the user, stimulates the user, invites input from the user, immerses the user in virtual environments and questions the purpose and nature of its own being. The notion of interactivity spans interface, navigation and content.

What happens when we look at these anthologies in these terms?

If we compare the interfaces of the books, we see that the Shapcott anthology, The Moment Made Marvellous, appears small in size but heavy, being physically smaller than a conventional paperback of poetry, thicker and hard covered. The sepia pages and brown paper dust-cover gives it a nostalgic feel. The gold lettering adds to the importance of the object. The words printed on the back cover when considered as another design element of the interface indicate this is a celebratory book of some importance, as do all the other elements. The title is celebratory, the subtitle(subtext) tells us it is a celebration not of Australian poetry but UQP poetry.

However the smaller sized pages meant that poems, I believe written for a single page by their authors, were forced to be spread over two pages, breaking the concentration and the flow of the reading.(I counted twelve poems that ended with one or two stanzas on their own on a second page, twelve out of thirty nine poems in section one.) On picking it up I can remember feeling deceived by its weight, that I had beencheated out of something.

Leonard's Australian Verse - An Oxford Anthology, on the other hand, looks and is, larger and heavier than a regular collection of poetry. This interface creates the feel of a solid educational publication, an authoritative volume. The interface says this book is for the scholar. Oxford or Oxford University Press is mentioned eight times on the front and back covers. On the front cover(and reproduced in a smaller size on the back cover) a static stable broad Moreton Bay Fig, like the tree of knowledge, is foregound centre-stage, and the city blurred and chaotic in the background. The words on the back cover set out a "scientific" approach detailing date of each poem, footnotes to explain unfamiliar words and phrases and "brief biographical notes to assist in locating the poet in his or her place in time." The words are carefully chosen to imply fairness in the selection, (i.e. gender, cultural and political equality.) The interface says this book is what Australian poetry should be; post-colonization Australian poetry that is rooted to early convict days and by implication to England, via poets Murray, Harwood, Wright, Hope and Slessor. The academic credentials of the author are stated as well as the extensiveness, thoroughness and the broadness of the selection.

The interface has told us something about these anthologies even before we have read one single poem.

Navigating the selection the two anthologists have set out for us, Leonard takes us backward in time and orders his selection by birthdate of the poet, whilst Shapcott takes us on a thematic journey through each of six sections of the book. Of course the reader is free to navigate the selections in whichever way they want.

The problem with Leonard's chronological navigation is that when progressing to an author you go backwards in time, then you are presented with the poems of the poet from their early work to their latest work, progressing forward in time, then backward in time to the next poet. Perhaps if the poetry had been listed in a backward chronological order moving backward in time would have been a smoother journey.

The cultural implications of the journey are problematic also. Whilst gender equality seems to have been addressed, the lesbian poet is obviously lesbian by her verse, as is the aboriginal obviously aboriginal, the non-anglo celtic australian poet obviously non-anglo celtic, the drug poet obviously the drug poet etc.. The poets and their poems presumably included to imply political correctness or something that can be easily deconstructed by a class of year elevens or twelves to be politically correct. However, many others may see Australia constructed differently.

Leonard's journey leads us down that rural Australian romantic red dirt road that says the heart of Australia is in the country, where simple men and women strive against nature and adversity to create a wholesome and healthy nation. That track also leads us to a convict ship and by implication back to mother England. Even amongst the contemporary poetry there is a sprinkling of red dirt.

Shapcott's journey is a trek across surfaces. And on taking this journey I found too much poetry that was just mapping surfaces, describing landscapes, like a melways street directory, tied to flat surfaces, not occupying spaces but tracking lines across charts, plotting courses through familiar topography. The first two sections were like walking all over Queensland, then train, plane and aerogramming all over the world. But I didn't really take off until I read David Malouf's poem "The Crab Feast". Suddenly I was flying in some space somewhere off the paper, beyond the printed word, a sensation I often get in cyberspace and at live poetry readings.Another thing about Shapcott's and Leonardís anthologies is that women are better creators of spatial poetry than men. Zwicky, Maiden and Porter stand out as creating space not place.Leonard's anthology made me feel as though I was floating to the ground as I was going backwards in time, being set in space by Rebecca Edwards, Corul Hull, Ania Walwicz, Jordie Albiston, Gig Ryan, Fay Zwicky, John Forbes, Alan Gould and Kris Hemensley. After them it's a bumpy ride, one poet you're up/out/somewhere-in- some-other-space, the next poet you are jolted back down to the ground. Maybe because these poets are urban contemporary and are not so tied to the landscape, or perhaps they no longer feel it necessary to define their physical terrain, or maybe they have experienced cyberspace too, or as the cyberfeminists say, women have always inhabited and explored that other space, the virtual space between the lines on the page. Perhaps what these anthologies tell us is that Australian poetry has been, for too long, in the control of men.Leonard's anthology tries to tell us where our poetry has come from whilst Shapcott attempts to tell us where our poetry is going. The future of poetry is the long narrative verse poem according to Shapcott. The logical conclusion of which would seem that the poem is becoming the novel, the poet the novelist. I do not find this cause for celebration. So what about the content of these two anthologies, the poetry. I have discussed interface and navigation but said very little about the poetry. Well, of course it's all good, and I encourage everyone to read these anthologies as a starting point in understanding Australian poetry. Then seek out the work of the individual poets and determine your own literary canon.

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footnote 1.

 At 4 a.m. this morning, i was awoken by my lover getting back into bed. she had just finished writing a lecture, obviously restless from our earlier torrid lovemaking, she left me snoring and satisfied, and penned her presentation. I say penned but really I mean computered, or more specifically world wide webbed her lecture on animation for students of writing for the web. Aroused by her return and inspired by her achievment, it was my turn on the computer, it was me that was restless and motivated by deadline. It was her turn to sleep, and to snore. back

 footnote 2

 A mediated email discussion list of the University of Buffalo's Electronic Poetry Centre.back

 footnote 3.


 footnote 4.

 I have embraced the computer as a tool and since entering cyberspace the way I think, see, hear, feel, experience more traditional forms of media has changed. I view familiar forms through the newly acquired experience of the web, as if i have established a new perspective to observe a world i once knew. I read/experience published poetry in a new way.back

 footnote 5.

 On picking it up I can remember feeling deceived by its weight, that I had been cheated out of something.back

 footnote 6.

  Navigating these two anthologies was accomplished on two levels, navigation through the individual poems and through the selections.back

 footnote 7.

  And Leonard would deny the influences of European avant-garde poetry movements, rhythms and structures introduced into our poetry by indigenous and non anglo-celtic poetic traditions, the street-talk influence of American beat poets, the entertainment value of visiting Russian, American and English poets, the influence of "internationalisation" of Australian verse by Adamson and Tranter and the cool school of 68, the electronic experimental sound poetry movements of Scandinavia and Europe, the projective verse of Olson, Creeley and the black mountain school, the South American visual poets, the English rant poets, the post-modern L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, and the Australian performance poets of the seventies, eighties and nineties. He also steers clear of the phsychological explorations in Australian poetry and the mapping of the emotions and interpersonal relationships of which poets like Shapcott, in his day explored, and people's relations to their own bodies which has been an intense area of investigation for so many women writers throughout this century, and of most writers at present. Even the question of what it means to be an Australian is not challenged in Leonard's selection but rather his selection tells us what he thinks an Australian should be. This book will be of most use to those teachers who share Leonard's romantic narrow anglo-centric vision.back

 footnote 8.

  The microsurfaces inhabited by small creatures, landscapes experienced, traversed and mapped,(Brisbane and Queensland feature predominantly), body surfaces, dark internal surfaces, political and social landscapes, and finally an attempt to map where poetry has arrived at the close of the second millenium or just 55 years since the dropping of the first nuclear device. back

 footnote 9.

  Since experiencing cyberspace I see more clearly poetry that is tied to a surface, that does not create a space, other than the one it describes, in the reader's head. It is as if I read poetry and can see the space around some poems but others appear flat.back

 footnote 10.

  It is my opinion that Australia's most prominent poets are moving to the novel because there is no longer a market for Australian published poetry outside of poets and teachers of poetry. UQP has suspended its Australian Poetry List, it is in financial crisis, and I would have thought not in a position in the late nineties to be so extravagant in celebrating the fact that in the seventies and early eighties it was experiencing a boom in poetry publication.back

 footnote 11.

  And if you want to see what the poetry of the future looks like, plug yourself into the internet and type the names of these Australian poets into a search engine, Gary Zebington, Teri Hoskin, Simon Pockley, Dave Sag, Ngapartji Virtual Writers, Meredith Kidby, Corul Hull, John Tranter, cyberpoet@slv, Steven Herrick, Susan Hawthorne, Andrew Bulhak, Laura Jordan, Yolanda Astuy and Sally Harbison in Geekgirl, thalia and pi-o, Richard Tipping, McKenzie Wark, Hazel Smith and Roger Dean, and my name, komninos.back

Komninos Zervos BSc(Hons) MA(Creative Writing), is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland.
He is a Lecturer in CyberStudies at Griffith University, Gold Coast.

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