- Homer Street, by Laurie Duggan. Giramondo. $24.
It's been just on 50 years since Laurie Duggan first appeared on the Australian poetry scene with his minimalist, and often ironic, commentaries on Australian suburbia and landscapes, along with his relaxed knowledge of art and the work of other poets.
For some time he lived in England but now, since 2018, he has returned to his home country.
Homer Street is a reasonably typical Duggan collection, comprising mainly a continuation of his well-known "Blue Hills" sequence, an addition to his "Allotments" sequence and a third series, "Afterimages", focused on art.
There is also a short sequence addressed to John Forbes (1950 -1998).
In a note, Duggan describes himself as a "minimalist with content" though the latter can be minimal indeed, albeit witty.
The most extreme example of this is the title "Paul Klee" which is followed by the single line: "is the key".
Several of the poems in "Afterimages" are ekphrastic; most attempt to cut through to the "essence" of the artist's work.
They range extraordinarily - from Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Nicolas Poussin to Brett Whitely and Dorothy Napangardi.
The Napangardi and Whitely poems both finish forcefully.
"On a white wall, somewhere else maps itself out / and the daylight streets are not the same." (Napangardi), and "tear a canvas / install a light behind it // the source of everything / a hole in the arm". (Whitely).
It's in the John Forbes sequence that we glean an indication of why Duggan decided to come back from England.
In #2, the poet's comments are atypically direct: "the superstructure of class / showing through the fake edifice of 'merit', / all that bedrock pomposity / and servility ..."
No less acidulous is Duggan's home-grown reference to the putative rivalry between Les Murray and John Forbes:
"Elsewhere in that hinterland / from his throne (a collapsed sofa) / 'the greatest poet since Yeats' / dismissed you (after your death) as / a 'minor poet' with amusing moments".
It's a little sad to see how, in the minds of others, such prickliness can outlast the lives of the protagonists themselves.
These days, Duggan may well be at his best in epigrams such as "Allotment 120" ("rain holds off, / holds on. / you too, old son") and several more in the short sequence "Dogs".
Among these is "The misanthrope": "He liked people who liked people / but he didn't like people" and "Roadside Memorials": "even the dead / are victims of fashion // the once loved defined / by what they once liked".
- Geoff Page is a Canberra poet.