Monkeys and Leopards

Toby Fitch

I’m chuffed that Southerly has asked me to take on the role of poetry reviews editor. There are a couple of reasons for appointing a reviews editor dedicated to poetry: 1) to relieve some of the editing and commissioning burdens that fall on David Brooks, Elizabeth McMahon and Kate Lilley, and 2) to invigorate the poetry reviews section of the journal by commissioning more reviews.

The aim now is to have as many new Australian poetry releases reviewed as possible. The most anticipated books will receive our attention, of course, but I also plan to expose readers of Southerly to many poets’ first collections, and to collections that might go unnoticed.

No journal or magazine in Australia is able to be so comprehensive, but Southerly’s dual publishing method — in the printed journal and in The Long Paddock online — should allow for an attempt at the very least. The Long Paddock could even become a resource of and for Australian writers. That’s something both David Brooks and I would like to see.

I’m endeavouring to match books to appropriate reviewers (see Kate Livett’s blog posts below for her fitting thoughts on the topic), but when it comes to Australian poetry, let’s face it, there are cliques and coteries, and it’s a small industry (if I can call it that). So I have no choice but to encourage the rabbits to review the monkeys, the monkeys to review the elephants, and the elephants to review the dinosaurs, etc. And I’m happy with that, being a monkey myself, but we need to transcend the comforts of pack mentality. The more chameleons the better.

I’m seeking outsiders too — academics and specialists, jackals and leopards — to review books whenever possible, especially for translations and genre-based poetries. As a caveat: we’re not interested in hatchet jobs, in back slapping (though picking the fleas off another poet’s back is OK), or in reviews that have gnawing ulterior agendas. Objectivity, positivity, and constructive criticism go without saying.

We’re also keen to find new reviewers — fawns and fledglings — new voices in criticism. It’s important to have multiple and changing perspectives on what makes poetry.

I’ve so far commissioned a couple of dozen books to be reviewed. Some of these reviews have already been written and will be published in forthcoming issues. Corey Wakeling will bring a fresh perspective to Gig Ryan’s New and Selected. He’ll also reveal the “lyrebird cons” in One Under Bacchus by Duncan Bruce Hose, a somewhat overlooked collection of poems. Sydney City Poet Kate Middleton will compare and contrast two very different poetry/art anthologies about birds. Sarah Holland-Batt will do a combined review of two, so far highly-regarded, first collections by Cameron Lowe and Claire Potter. And David Musgrave will chime in on the debate over the Gray and Lehmann anthology, Australian Poetry since 1788. There are too many to mention, but other reviews in the works include:

– Craig Powell on Francis Webb

– Bonny Cassidy on Jaya Savige

– Pam Brown on Louis Armand

– Andy Carruthers on Geoff Page and Catherine Vidler

– Elizabeth Campbell on Mal McKimmie

– Duncan Bruce Hose on Benjamin Frater

– Kate Middleton on Cate Kennedy

– Michelle Cahill on Elizabeth Campbell

– Judith Beveridge on Peter Porter

– Greg McLaren on David Musgrave and Tracy Ryan

– Sam Moginie on Ken Bolton

– Nicolette Stasko on Joanne Burns and John Mateer

– Ramon Lopez-Castellano on Peter Boyle’s translation of Jose Kozer

– Michelle Borzi on a selection of Puncher & Wattmann books

– Michael Farrell on Pete Spence

– Martin Harrison on Simon West

And there will be a few surprises, so keep an eye on The Long Paddock and on each of Southerly’s forthcoming editions. And if there’s a poetry book you think should be reviewed, or that you would like to review, or that’s soon to be released (there are plenty of interesting forthcoming titles from Giramondo, Puncher & Wattmann, Vagabond, UQP, John Leonard Press, Five Islands Press, etc.) don’t vacillate. Email me:

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