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Geoff Page. 60 Classic Australian Poems. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2009 [Book review]

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-05-22, 04:27 authored by Robert Savage
2009 has seen the publication of a number of volumes which take stock of our nation's literary heritage, seeking to shape the mass of writing produced in Australia or by Australians into something approaching a national canon. Of course, canon-building exercises are as contestable as they are useful; indeed, they are arguably useful to the same extent that they call forth contestation of the authority they claim for themselves. Thus the most ambitious of these efforts, the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (Allen & Unwin, 2009), has recently come under fire from some of our cultural luminaries for its inclusion of documents that may be of historical interest, or reflect a currently fashionable political cause, but are of questionable literary value – a letter from Bennelong to Lord Sydney's steward requesting stockings and handkerchiefs being one example. The same criticism could hardly be made of Geoff Page's anthology, which betrays his decades of experience as a high-school English teacher in its disarmingly old-fashioned selection criteria: "The poem must be: a. emotion- ally moving (often with moral implications); or b. memorably entertaining" (13). This essentially revisits Horace's injunction that a poem should in- struct and delight, and it is the chief merit of this anthology that it does both.


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Book review