Flat White

Ignorant new puritans are out to purge our poetry

11 April 2021

6:04 PM

11 April 2021

6:04 PM

It was the by-line that caught my eye “The whole canon is being erased”, or at least that’s how I first read it. It actually read ‘The whole canon is being reappraised: how the #MeToo movement upended Australian poetry”

It’s not often poetry gets into the press and when it does it’s normally for something terrible, like slander, or someone’s run off with someone’s work or worse. So it was with some trepidation that I pushed off from the shore of the first paragraph, compass firmly adjusted to Guardian reality.

The article is based around input from two poetry politicians, Jacinta Le Plastrier (poet, editor, publisher and CEO of Australian Poetry, the peak body meant to represent poets and poetry nationally) and first nation poet Evelyn Araluen.

The opening is fairly standard fare, Le Plastier says

There’s a huge rise in First Nations writers and women, queer and nonbinary poets who are writing about the body but also colonial assault, rapaciousness and trauma.


However it’s not long before my reading journey comes to a shuttering holt:

Both Le Plastrier and Araluen directly link this shift in Australian poetics to the spaces created by the #MeToo movement, and specifically to the 2018 publication of Kate Lilley’s autobiographical collection, Tilt (Vagabond). Just as significant were the allegations of abuse and sexual exploitation, made by Lilley and her sister Rozanna, about their mother, poet Dorothy Hewett, and numerous figures – among them Bob Ellis, Martin Sharp and David Hamilton – in Australia’s feted bohemian artistic circle of the 60s and 70s, or the “generation of 68”.

Huh? What has Dorothy Hewitt and “her artistic circle” got to do with the generation of 68?

A quick google search brings up: 

The generation of 68a contested label applied to a loose group of Australian poets who began writing and publishing in the late 1960s.

The truth is Dorothy Hewitt was never considered central to that generation because she started writing much earlier. The other names mentioned; Martin Sharpe, Bob Ellis and David Hamilton weren’t poets and weren’t in any way associated with that grouping.

Unfortunately, these facts alone may not be enough to prevent these ideological simpletons from dragging the whole generation to the bonfire.

The movement (towards reappraisal) hasn’t just affected what and how we read. “It’s also going to change what’s being archived, what’s kept on library shelves, what’s digitised. It’s really profound,” says Le Plastrier.

I’m not sure if I should take that as a threat or a promise. Either way this is truly frightening coming from the editor, publisher, and CEO of Australia’s peak poetry body. You might expect a more rounded, full 360-degree view of the OZ poetrysphere — as would be worthy of a truly representative national body. Instead the message is laced with resentment, exclusion and frankly revenge. 

“That whole canon is being reappraised,” says Le Plastrier “I know a young non-binary poet who just removed all of that generation’s (generation 68’s) work from their shelves!”

So there! All that self-righteous censorious rage triggered and fuelled by what? a complete untruth?  And as for the unnamed, aforementioned, non-binary poet I’d say you’re a dead-set hero/heroine (the non-binary equivalent?) – to all book-burning fascists everywhere!

Le Plastrier goes on: 

Similarly, can you possibly read someone like Ted Hughes without a completely changed lens given the information that’s come out recently about his relationship with Sylvia Plath?

Recently? I mean Plath died in 1963 and since her death and the posthumous publication of “Ariel” she has become an absolute icon of feminist literature. You could fill an entire library with the publications which dissect her and Ted Hughes’ relationship, and after consuming that you could watch at least one Hollywood movie and numerous documentaries that cover the same territory. My point here is, there’s nothing particularly new or startling in any of this.

Before moving on to the rest of the article though,  I want to return briefly to that supposed water-shed moment that both Arandal and Le Plastrier, identify as pivotal in unleashing this urgent book burning, sorry, “cultural reappraisal”.

At the outset, I want to say that my comments here are in no way meant to excuse or to diminish in any way the harm and trauma that may have resulted from the alleged behaviour revealed in Kate Lilley and Roxanne Lilly’s books. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge here that this really wasn’t a “speaking truth to power” moment in the classic  #metoo sense of that term.  

More accurately it was a “speaking truth to dead persons” moment. The individuals named at the time, and renamed in this article, have all passed away and the one alleged rapist poet that was alluded to is apparently still living,  and apparently still unnamed and still too powerful to touch. 

I get it.  The costs of legal indemnity are far cheaper via the dead persons route.  Then again, the dead aren’t here to defend themselves or to seek redemption (another word long deleted from the woke dictionary).

Evelyn Arlene’s contribution to the article runs along similar lines; hatred and resentment steeped in toxic generalisations:

For Araluen, Australian poetry has long been full of writers that “glorified [white] men who drank themselves to death and treated women like shit”.

There you go, I knew race would have to come into it eventually. White men treat women like shit and only white men drink themselves to death. Got it. And according to Araluen the rest of us dumbfux just idolise them…

I’ve been really struck by how many otherwise progressive people don’t see an issue with glorifying those figures.

Which figures exactly? It’s not clear.

Isn’t there just an outside possibility that some readers were able to separate the person from the work, and still found something enlivening in their poetry. Is it just possible that you’ve generalised a whole generation from the alleged behaviour of one or a few individuals? Endless possibilities unless your mind is a steel rod bolted to the deck of a failed political system.

But despite all that negative drift Stephanie Convery who wrote the piece finishes with hope and dare I say it… future redemption.  Like the ending of some age-old morality play, the heroic, noble and oppressed prevail over the wicked drunken white demons. 

It’s in the ruins of those Australian literary mythologies – the tarnished history of a previously lauded cultural coterie – that a new chorus of voices, not all of them young, has found the space to draw breath.

What a lark! What a load of old cobblers! How can I say this any clearer, Dorothy Hewitt’s so-called “bohemian artistic circle” WAS NOT and never will be the generation of 68 and the only thing that’s being tarnished in this article is your reputation.

So this is what the Australia Council funds these days — book burnings and witch hunts.  This is what the fully-funded CEO of Australia’s National Peak poetry body is applauding: the effective censorship of Australian poets and Australian poetry in 2021. Of course, we must remember that for the woke crowd, censorship is holy; especially when it’s necessary to protect readers from unsafe poets and the harm their work causes. 

This is what censorship does, it infantilises the audience and makes them subservient to the judgement of the supposed more knowledgeable, more educated arbiters of moral purity. I for one do not need Le Plasterer, Araluen, or anyone else to tell me what constitutes good work or what i can read, or what should be archived or for that matter what should go onto the shelves of my local library. 

The meat of the matter here is, who decides? What’s in and what’s out, what’s for the bonfire and what’s for the delete all button.

One thing I definitely do not need is to be spoon-fed my cultural sustenance by self-righteous brain-dead cultural Marxists like this poet and this esteemed CEO. 

Instead of presenting a full 360-view of what’s out there in the  OZ poetrysphere, Australian Poetry thru its CEO has made it crystal clear what they are offering; a confected safe space away from a supposedly hostile, racist, white g-pop. A perfect echo chamber dedicated to the glory of their own moral superiority, accessible only to those other truly woke individuals who want to offer abeyance at the throne of their self-righteousness and importance. 

In other words, the roughly 10% who vote progressive. A hundred per cent of taxpayers hard-earned going to fund what is essentially an exclusive club; or as the article puts it “the community”.  

Le Plastier couldn’t be clearer, if you don’t fit their woke, exclusivist, self-righteous agenda then you may-as-well pick up your marbles and stay away. Just count yourself lucky we don’t come round to your crib, remove your books from your shelves, delete you from our archives and disappear you in an acid bath of our righteous anger.

When I started to air my views on this article a friend pointed out that canons and artistic/literary generations are always being reappraised, which she thought wonderful. Each new generation bringing a new lens and important conversations continue. Yes, it’s a good point, but when the new generation is coming at you waving little red books and screaming profanities. It’s difficult having a conversation with someone who”s shouting in your face. Harder still while locked out of the guarded citadels of OZ Poetry Inc.

So yes, read this article and weep! Not for the “wistful nostalgia” of a time past or the generation that the article speaks of, but for the fact that these self-righteous woke puritan cultural vandals are now at the helm of our peak cultural bodies and they’re coming for your bookshelves.

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