Still Life: Art and Nature in Vivian Smith’s Poetry
Vivian Smith's poetry occupies an ambiguous position in Australian literature: it is highly regarded, but intermittently discussed. Perhaps some critics continue to find Smith's formalism anachronistic, an indication of how 'progressive' notions of poetry can in themselves be anachronistic or parochial. To see Smith's formalism as making his poetry merely controlled is equally superficial. As his criticism and translations demonstrate, Smith has an inclusive and informed interest in the poetry of Australia, America, Britain and Europe, and his non-sectarian style of anthologising makes him one of Australia's most important anthologists. This openness makes Smith difficult to pigeon-hole, and something of a critical challenge. In any event, diverse critics have recognised Smith's importance: James McAuley, Kenneth Slessor, Les Murray, Bruce Beaver, Elizabeth Perkins, and Jennifer Strauss, among them. The issue may simply be one of production. Smith's oeuvre is not large (nor, incidentally, are those of many of the poets he admires, such as Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, and Kenneth Slessor), and the long gaps between collections may mean that he drops out of sight a little. With the publication of his New Selected Poems it is time to re-attend to his work.
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