John Leonard, “The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry” (2009)

Puncher Anthol One attractive feature of this new anthology is that it is arranged backwards from the present; it gave me at least some new perspectives on familiar and  less familiar territory. It is also pleasing to hold and read. Puncher & Wattmann is a comparatively new publisher whose Harbour City Poems I enjoyed last January.

Poet Adam Aitken, who is included in the new anthology, reviewed The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry back in January.

A very handsome and high quality production from Puncher and Wattman. Edited by John Leonard, and at 471 pages, it’s impressive in many ways.

While I am glad neglected poets like Dipti Saravanamuttu anf Pi O are included, and my recent poem S21 is included, and lots of new poets too, there are of course some disappointing absences – no Pam Brown or Joanne Burns, no Jill Jones, no Michael Farrell or Peter Minter, no Kate Fagan. No Laurie Duggan or Ken Bolton!!! No Antigone Kefala. What about Ouyang Yu?

Perhaps large canonical anthologies need to be at least 500 pages to be truly representative of contemporary poetry, and Leonard acknowledges the limitations of space and personal preference. He also encourages readers to look at other anthologies available now. It is interesting to compare an anthology put together by committee, the Macquarie PEN for example, with this one. Clearly though, Leonard’s anthology is designed to reprint many "old classics" (for example poems by Murray, Wright, Gwen Harwood etc) so that they are available for study in schools, and that is a conservative principle which despite good intentions will inevitably limit the representation of more recent innovation and experiment. Interestingly, despite the weighting towards the classics, there are almost as many poets born after 1970  as there are poets born in the 60s. Poets born in the 40s 50s take up a lot of pages. It is a personal question for me, a 1960 child, as to why my generation seem under-represented compared to the 70s/80s generation. I have no answer to this.

I am yet to lay my hands in the Macquarie PEN Anthology. I suspect when I do it will be the only book I borrow that week from Surry Hills Library!

Let’s take now an older poet whose work I knew of but have never much noted: “Frank Leslie Thomson Wilmot (6 April 1881 – 22 February 1942), who published his work under the pseudonym Furnley Maurice, was a noted Australian poet, best known for To God: From the Warring Nations (1917).”

He wrote some now forgotten children’s verse:

nla.aus-an4911308-s36-v

He also wrote in 1917 a very angry poem about conscription.

Nursery Rhyme

One year, two year, three year, four,
Comes a khaki gentleman knocking at the door.
"Any little boys at home, send them out to me
To train them and brain them in battles yet to be."

When a little boy is born feed him, train him so.
Put him in a cattle pen and wait for him to grow.
When he’s nice and plump and dear, and sensible and sweet,
Throw him in the trenches for the great grey rats to eat.
Toss him in the cannon’s mouth, cannons fancy best
Tender little boys’ flesh that’s easy to digest.

Mother rears her family on two pounds ten a week.
Teaches them to wash themselves, teaches them to speak.
Rears them with a heart’s love, rears them to be men.
Grinds her fingers to the bone, and then… what then?

But parents who must rear the boys the cannons love to slay,
Also pay for cannons that blow other boys away.
Parsons tell them that their sons have just been blown to bits.
Patriotic parents must all laugh like fits.

Rear the boys for honest men and send them out to die!
Where’s the coward father who would dare raise a cry?
Any gentleman’s aware folk rear their children for
Blunderers and plunderers to mangle in a war!

Five year, six year, seven year, eight.
"Hurry up you little chaps, the captain’s at the gate!"

That is a cut-down version. Leonard has published the full poem, which I had never seen before.

He was also a bit of an environmentalist.

Progress

By Frank Wilmot

THEY’VE builded wooden timber tracks,

  And a trolly with screaming brakes

  Noses into the secret bush,

Into the birdless brooding bush,

  And the tall old gums it takes.
       

And down in the sunny valley,

  The snorting saw screams slow;

O bush that nursed my people,

O bush that cursed my people,

That flayed and made my people,
       

  I weep to watch you go.

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