The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry Part 1 (18th Century)

I recently received a book called “The Penguin anthology of Australian Poetry”. I am Australian by the way and currently living in Australia. However I typically read “Western canonical” literature because I perceive Australian culture a bit depressing, without many role models or inspiration.

This book has rekindled my interest in Australian culture. For a while there I though the culture didn’t really exist other than sport, feminism and negative reactions to many sentiments, but hearing the impressions of the first generation of settlers has given me the experience of Australian culture that I was looking for.

It’s almost as if from the start, Australia was perceived as a dismal place to go. It was where the convicts were sent. Whereas America is where opportunity seekers went. The editor points out that in the 1700’s a lot of the poetry was written “back home” to England, as if they were reporting back to where the heart was. I sensed this as well.

Also it was pretty enchanting to read Aboriginal poems from those days, although much of it was depressing and about being killed.

There was one uplifting one about a daisy. The former Englishman poet finally found a daisy that was like the ones back home and was so enchanted about it he wrote a poem. It was so far the only flower that he’d seen to be the same both here and there. I guess he was missing home as well.

The visual image I received was that it was a very dreary environment (with many inexplicable animals). In truth though the weather here is a lot better than in England, sunnier at least. The attitude sounds as if they were in some depressing camp that didn’t have any amenities and they didn’t want to be there or even to explore much really.

Interesting that they pretty much mentioned only convicts and lawyers coming over. I suppose those lawyers were the beginning of our “elite” and the source of many place names.

Roughly half of the poems or even more are by women so far, although I think that’s because the editor’s very progressive (and also far-left leaning based on the introduction). It is interesting though because lately I’ve become convinced that it’s the most feminist country in the world.

It’s fascinating to think that what I just read was the beginning of Australia. The emotions of it. The sense of it being a blank slate, far away from any action. I feels like I spoke to and saw through the eyes of the people who were the source of Australia’s culture. How things are now (which is difficult to define) is in many ways explained by how it started in the first generation.

It reminded me that I did experience Australian culture growing up. The poems reminded me of a historical kinda feeling I got in primary school. Back then I felt part of the culture, that it was me as well. At some point that feeling stopped, maybe from travelling or internet. This book of poems has helped me reconnect with what Australian culture is and showed me why it’s like that. I look forward to reading the next sections of poetry from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Complete Poetical Works by Edgar Allen Poe

edgar allen poeEvery now and then life teaches you a lesson which provides you a big step forward. It can seem so simple and straight forward that you wonder why you never thought of it before. In this case I had. It just goes to show that sometimes you just have to wait until you’r ready and then the time will come.

What I’m talking about is the realisation that I was dulling my senses and my willpower with online content. The earlier in the morning I would log on, the more power I would leak and the less productive that day would be. So yesterday I decided not to log on at all. This morning it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to abstain from using it. And what happened? I read classic literature for 3 hours and actually enjoyed it. In short breaks in between I would pace around. I felt dirty, empty. Now what am I doing though? Sitting in a park actually enjoying sitting still and doing nothing. I feel completely different. Better dressed than normal by a long shot. Importantly I went out and did the thing that all of yesterday I “couldn’t do”.

It just goes to show that there are blurred lines between inner strength and intelligence. Often when one understands specifically how they’re weakening themselves, they can focus their efforts into an action with high yield results.

One simple hint, remember to smile. When you are cutting out the creature comforts that usually make you feel good inside, you probably will feel empty and have that severe countenance which can seem unfriendly.

As for Edgar Allen Poe’s writings, they are superb. Very easy on the eyes. Never have I enjoyed poetry more although that might have a lot to do with the context of my life and not the poetry itself. I found that the poems don’t flow with stopping and starting but rather flow in even time like a song and it doesn’t even matter if you tune out momentarily because you just tune back in and realise that you’re still getting it.

The writings are widely varied in style. There is prose, plays, essays and a diverse array of poetry. Some of it is (almost beyond) epic in scope and some of it is very familiar.

My expectation was that he would be very macabre, ghoulish. Once I heard that he is the founding father of the gothic or emo subcultures. The raven is probably his most famous work and that’s quite ominous but I would say that it’s by no means reflective of the rest of his body of work. He would later explain that the melancholic lamentations of a widower about their dead beloved was the single most poetic thing possible.

As someone that’s new to poetry; this was the first time I felt distinctions emerging in my understanding of it. I have a more definite image in my mind about the quality that certain poems have and I like. I used to fumble with words like mystical to describe certain stanzas of Yeats or Frost for example. Dreamlike, ancient, visual, emotive, otherworldly, mysterious, magic, pagan, gemlike – it seemed to be all of them at once. The word I was grasping at was actually: poetic. Poetic is its own quality which is all of those things and more. And I absolutely love it because it is by its nature out of grasp, subtly between the words and the soul.

Whilst admirable in quality, I found Poe’s earliest poems slightly boyish and his latest poems a bit irrelevant. My favourites tended to be ones written (I assume) in his prime years – intensely striving or romantic. Some of them I found incredibly relevant and will be memorising.

“Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem… Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.”