Pardington Still Life

Fiona Pardington, Still Life with Wild White Roses, Photographic Beaker and Pomegranates in a cut Crystal Bowl, 2013 Inkjet print on Epson Hot Press 310gsm cotton rag, courtesy {Suite} Gallery.

The day after the Australia Day public holiday has traditionally been the point at which most Australians reluctantly acknowledge that the holidays are over and it’s time to re-set life to normal programming. Kids start heading back to school, the cities’ CBDs re-populate with suits and shoppers, and the nation’s highways and byways resume their peak-time crawls.

We’re back at work this week too and, as the first issue of the Sydney Review of Books for 2015 has been taking shape, we have been contemplating the coming year in publishing. Given the recent speculation about titles and leaders at the national level we think it’s only fitting that we begin the year by nominating our ‘captain’s picks’ for 2015 — a list that reads like a roll call of contemporary literature’s knights and dames.

On the local front, look out for new fiction from Amanda Lohrey, Krissy Kneen, Lisa Gorton, Steve Toltz, Marion Halligan, Frank Moorhouse, Tony Birch, John Birmingham, James Bradley, Mireille Juchau, Charlotte Wood and Geraldine Brooks. Also expected are new poetry collections from Lucy Dougan, Michael Farrell, Robert Adamson, David Brooks, Caitlin Maling and Les Murray, who will out-do himself with not one but two new volumes.

Turn to the international catalogues and your heart will quicken too. Toni Morrison, Milan Kundera, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kate Atkinson, Jane Smiley, Andrew O’Hagan, Amitav Ghosh, Irivine Welsh, Hanif Kureishi, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Anne Enright and Jonathan Franzen will all publish new work this year. Franzen’s novel will be one of the last to be published – it’s not expected until September – but his well-oiled publicity machine is already whirring. The famously anti-eBook, anti-social media, anti-most-things-digitally-networked novelist has already been tipped as a Man Booker contender. (A tad premature, methinks.)

For those with an interest in the visual arts, go-to website Artsy has collated its annual must-see international exhibitions for early 2015. Sadly there are no listings for Australia, but if you can plan an itinerary that covers Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Helsinki then you might just catch the lot.

The SRB will continue to publish long-form critical essays on Australian and international books throughout 2015. In coming weeks, we will be featuring contributions from Stephanie Bishop on Ben Lerner’s latest novel 10.04, Matthew Ricketson on political journalism, Helen Trinca on the Australian media, and Francesca Sasnaitis’ review of Paddy O’Reilly’s allegorical novel The Wonders. Look out too for forthcoming articles on Peter Carey, Naomi Klein and James Bradley, among others.

This week we celebrate the return of the SRB with two substantial essays on the subject of poetry. The first is Guy Rundle’s critique of James Booth’s major new biography Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love. Larkin’s private life and opinions have become the subject of controversy in recent decades and Rundle, a longstanding Larkinian, welcomes Booth’s ambition to repair some of the damage done to the poet’s reputation and to bring us back to the poetry itself, even though he remains sceptical about the overall success of the attempt. Turning to Larkin’s poetic legacy, Rundle argues forcefully that the poet’s public image as a fogeyish Little-Englander has obscured some of the radical nature of his work — specifically, its often unrecognised fascination with Being, which not only elevates Larkin’s poetry above that of his contemporaries, but suggests a surprising affinity with Continental philosophy.

Our second essay marks the welcome return of Critic Watch. In ‘The Poet Tasters’, Ben Etherington surveys the Australian poetry scene, undertaking a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the state of Australian poetry criticism. Embarking on a comprehensive survey of all poetry reviews over a twelve month period, he considers the ways in which the internal dynamics of the poetry scene are both concealed and revealed in the public critical discussion. The standard of poetry criticism in Australia, Etherington argues, is generally high. But that is not to say that the critical culture is not without its shortcomings:

No one believes that most Australian poetry volumes are a couple of edits or a tempered excess away from being a perfect version of themselves, but this is what, en masse, the reviews tell us. A biddable reader will have the impression that all debutants are ones to watch; that, three volumes in, all poets have consolidated their style; and that after five or more volumes they are accomplished and take their place in the nation’s poetic story. The quantum of praise does not add up.

In keeping with the poetry theme, From the Archives this week looks back to two reviews from the period under scrutiny in Etherington’s essay. ‘Precarious Images’ is Lisa Gorton’s characteristically astute assessment of the work of one of Australia’s most eminent poets, Robert Gray; while David Musgrave’s ‘Fasten Your Seatbelts’ takes an appreciative look at Alan Wearne’s most recent collection Prepare the Cabin for Landing.

Our image this week comes courtesy of New Zealand-based, multi-award winning photographer Fiona Pardington. Still Life with Wild White Roses, Photographic Beaker and Pomegranates in a Cut Crystal Bowl, with its sense of beauty, collapse and decay, has an almost Keatsian quality. Later this year, Susan Best will curate an exhibition of Pardington’s work alongside Rosângela Rennó at the University of Sydney Art Museum.