Reprint: An Australian Anthology: Mediocrity in One Volume

"The Wide Brown Land." a New Anthology of Australian Verse, chosen by Joan Mackaness and George Mackaness (Sydney: Angus and Robertson); 4/6.

This anthology is striking evidence of the poverty of literary criticism in Australia. An anthologist must be, to some extent, a critic, for his choice is an expression of taste and his anthology a guide to reading. One looks for standards from an editor of poetry. The poet may publish whatever he cares to; the task of the anthologist is to select from the mass of verse such writing as is worthy of republication. Perhaps not more than 5 per cent, of the work here collected would find a place in any English anthology of verse. But criticism in Australia has been lamentably indulgent, evading its responsibility with the specious argument that because Australian writers have not had time to write good poetry they should be excused for writing bad poetry.

"The Sick Stockrider," the only poem of Gordon's included in the anthology, belongs to the history of land settlement rather than to the history of poetry! It is a sketch in galloping anapests; not a poem. Yet it is incomparably better than much of the verse in "The Wide Brown Land," for it has the saving grace of rough vigour. If Gordon did not write like a poet he certainly felt like one. But why Zora Cross should be represented by six poems when a writer of the stature of C. J. Brennan is allowed only two poems is Incomprehensible. Nor is there any critical justification for four sets of verses by Myra Morris when a writer of the delicacy of Kenneth Slessor is allowed only one poem - and that, a poor one. Miss Mackaness, one of the editors, has reprinted two of her own verses and five of Louis Lavater's, but Furnley Maurice, who does take poetry seriously, is dismissed with two. The book is full of such critical inconsistencies and errors.

The guiding principle of selection, notably in contemporary work, seems to have been the pretty. Such lines as--

Buy a bobbin!
There goes Robin
Tying time to a daisy's yoke!

which are from one of Zora Cross's poems, may be quoted as an illustration. That is not poetry; it is word-spinning. Many of the other verses are conventionally descriptive; not accurately descriptive, which is a virtue, although not the complete function of poetry. Poetry should interpret some aspect of life by its appeal to the mind and the senses. By that rough standard most of the work here republished stands condemned. The delicate work of Shaw Neilson, the austerity of Brennan, the fantasy of Hugh McCrae, and the ardent spirit of Mary Gilmore are obscured by the depressing mediocrity of the book as a whole.

First published in The Argus, 23 February 1935

Note: you can read the full text of Gordon's poem, "The Sick Stockrider".  The Melbourne critic Nettie Palmer wrote a letter to the editor of The Argus, the following week, commenting on this review.  That letter will be reprinted here next Wednesday. 

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 9, 2009 11:07 AM.

Empty Sky was the previous entry in this blog.

2009 Nobel Prize for Literature is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en