Best Australian poetry 2011

The latest version of the annual Black Inc poetry anthology, The Best Australian Poetry, has been finalised and will be heading into print shortly. And, yes, yours truly has a poem in it, which originally appeared on Jeremy Balius' site, The Diamond and the Thief. The poem gets a different title in the anthology, but the rest of the words and lines are as is.

This year's editor, John Tranter, says in the foreword (one presumes): ‘What a rich, strange and diverse lot these poems turned out to be … I suspect that these baroque and potent imaginings can only have come into existence as fragments of dreams or nightmares.’

This focus from the editor indicates that this year's anthology won't just be the sameold sameold. A look at the list of contributors also indicates that the spread of poets offers more of the newer and more innovative writers on the scene, as well as a number of anthology regulars. The anthology also picks up on work that has either been published overseas or was fresh but unpublished, an organisational model that can give a sense of what is happening now in a broader, more realistic, sense. The other, now defunct, annual anthology issued by UQP for a number of years modelled itself on the US Best American series which only took poems published in journals for the year in question. This meant that the UQP book would always miss work that did not appear in Australian literary journals. In the 21st century when publishing models have changed and online international venues are often where the more interesting work is being featured plus the focus of many Australian-based poets being not so parochial, this was starting to look very old school.

Another reason I am looking forward to seeing the poems that John has chosen is that we are being flooded with conservative (ie. trying to conserve, as well as the more perjorative sense of that word), historically and generationally focused anthologies which, it seems, almost deliberately ignore the fresher and more exciting work happening now. They seem to be caught up in some kind of mid 20th century idea of canon-making which I suspect even the Americans and Brits have left behind. Apart from anything else, there are so many poets now doing many different things with language that to pretend that a couple of, in most cases, old blokes, have some magical insight into what is 'best' in all of this, is faintly ludicrous.

I've said a bit more about this as part of a recent interview Mike Brennan published on the Poetry International website. And I speak as an anthologist. All an anthologist or editor can or need do is provide a focus, rather than make exclusive or hierarchical claims, which only sets you up for failure. I realise in the Black Inc case, and UQP's before, that the 'best' thing is a marketing strategy. It is an unfortunate one, but JT's apparent focus on (to quote the publicity blurb): "the vigorous, varied and interesting poems of the last year ... the phantasmagorical ... that range from the playful to the melancholy by way of exuberance and satire" certainly makes the 2011 annual seem like a poetry book worth reading.

Notwithstanding that, wouldn't it be great to have a couple of varied contemporary Australian anthologies edited by younger female as well as male poets, or a mix of generational and practice perspectives. And what about an anthology edited out of Australia or NZ that had an international focus on a specific form of poetry but came from here, not out of the north. OK, tell me I'm dreamin.


David Prater said…
Nice post Jill, I wrote something similar yesterday but it lacked the real gist of what you're saying here. I agree that the whole 'Best' concept does wear thin after a while - anthologies like Out of the Box or the recent Australia/Ukraine project (or even, dare I say, Oz-Ko) seem more interesting and vital models to me, mostly because they're not trying to present themselves as the best of anything - just, simply, very good and exciting and new poetry.
Jill Jones said…
Thanks Davey. I think this is the important point - that editors present what is good, new, interesting, surprising, fresh, etc. The old model doesn't work. Four of these kinds of conservative anthologies in as many years - please, let's move on. Rather projects like OOTB, your work on OzKo, the Motherlode anthology, also what Kit Kelen is doing with translation, and other projects that I know are in the wings - these are more interesting and useful and not just another rehashing of old ideas. I'm sure readers want more ...
Anonymous said…
Thanks for this post Jill, nice to mix ideas about.

In 2004/6 when I was still living in central coastal Queensland, I tried to float the idea (with some other poets) to develop a regional anthology. An anthology which gathered up poets who wrote from outside of the mainstream of cities and support structures.

So many poets in Australia who are not connected by the common ground of anything other than their isolation from other poets.

I've some self interest :) having lived in regional 'isolation' in Queensland and now Tasmania for over 30 years. Maintaining a writing practice outside the standard or main stream cultural centers is often difficult yet defining for a poet and regional poetry is not just about landscape and place.

The work is so often other than that and the more compelling and persuasive. Agendas, ideas, just throwing it out there as something which hasn't been done, and perhaps
should be at some point in time.


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