John Leonard ed. ‘The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry’ in SMH

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Less groundbreaking but no less welcome is John Leonard’s The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry.

As well as pre-eminent anthologist, Leonard is the founder of John Leonard Press, a fine small poetry press for which he is commissioning editor.

I don’t have a problem per se with the fact that all 16 poets of that press are included in the new anthology (Farrell and Jones include their own work in Out of the Box) but the emphasis on the younger John Leonard Press poets means that other excellent, emerging, non-Jon Leonard Press poets – such as Lisa Gorton, Felicity Plunkett and Judith Bishop – are, unfortunately, ignored.

Otherwise, Leonard’s choices are judicious. He is perhaps at his best in finding the startling poems that others have missed, such as Kevin Brophy’s ‘What I Believe’, one of the anthology’s highlights. There is little to complain about with his selections, though the absence of Jennifer Maiden and the inclusion of 10 pages of poetry by Vincent Buckley (another John Leonard Press poet) are a little surprising.

Leonard’s anthology compares interestingly with John Kinsella’s recent The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry. Leonard is generally more at home with the intensely lyrical than Kinsella but Leonard’s inclusion of  П.Ο. and ‘The Bastard from the Bush’ (an obscene anonymous poem of the late 19th century) shows he is open to many registers and approaches.

Anthologies aren’t about “getting it right” (as in the “right” poets and poems) but about getting it interesting and giving fresh perspectives. Both these anthologies do those things elegantly, showing the variety and power in Australian poetry.

David McCooey

The Sydney Morning Herald

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