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January 23rd 2014 print

Patrick McCauley

From Bad To Verse

Want to make it as a taxpayer-subsidised poet, or perhaps you fancy becoming a novelist destined for school reading lists? Better make a point to get in sweet with the left, which dominates the boards and festivals and always makes a point of looking after its own, merit and quality be damned

monkey moneyI suppose most poets will pimp their poems to whoever will publish them in the hope that the poem will speak for itself, and it’s better to have a poem amongst the mad chaos of global/Australian poetry than not. Still, I think Joe Dolce’s claim to be a lefty after Quadrant has given his eclectic verse so much passage, is a triumph to the inclusive nature of classically liberal thought. Nevertheless, his quirky, in-your-face need for free speech has managed to elicit from Peter Minter, Poetry Editor for Overland, a written statement that he will not publish Quadrant poets.
It is almost a relief, finally, to have something in writing that spells out what has been going on for decades.
The left operate in gangs of different, obscure and exotic minorities, and it enforces the law of guilt by association. In short, they punish consorting. It is as primitive a law as that of payback, yet has been shaping Australian literature and Australian poetry since the introduction of taxpayer-funded writers, artists and poets, and it has been accelerated by the explosion of the creative-writing industry, which houses historical novelists and all sorts of others, including global-warming and animal-rights polemicists.
Australian literature and poetry are reeking with politics, with the distribution of taxpayer-funded grants as corrupt in its own way as the culture of Australia’s unions. Out there on the left, it is a dog-eat-dog world where who you know will get you to a conference in Canberra or land you what are often big dollars to write a book.
Which books get on the schools’ booklists through the Australian Teachers Union, do you imagine? Which books and which poets are put on the University readings lists, do you imagine?
Les Murray is one of the few who crosses the Rubicon. Poetry and literature in Australia are entombed in a dreadful, seething, politically correct, left wing orthodoxy funded by the taxpayer. The camp followers troop from writer’s festival to writer’s festival, forever hooting to each other in their compassion poems spoken in a code to ward off those not of their tribes.
Minter is prepared to banish a significant group of poets (both global and Australian) merely because they have published in Quadrant. He will not even read their poems, even if some are good poems and one or two perhaps magnificent works of art. These poems would be sacrificed, erased from Australian anthologies before they have even been published. The poetics of Peter Minter would discourage many Australian poets and erase what he considers right-wing poetry. He compares Quadrant poets to the Nazis, just as he believes that Australian history can be compared to the Holocaust. Yet, at the same time, Peter Minter decries the ‘erasure’ of Aboriginal poets from the Geoffrey Lehman and Robert Gray anthology of Australian poetry.
So one can see that it is editors like Peter Minter and his Overland colleagues, Jeff Sparrow and  Alison Croggon, who are shaping Australian poetry and literature by including some and excluding others without consideration of the quality of their work. Their process seeks equality and equity by discriminating in favor of ‘the compassionate’ and ‘the correct’ and against what they consider to be the ‘right wing’. A vortex like this over a period of time produces a mediocrity and orthodoxy amply evident in each and every issue of Overland and at least half a dozen others like, for example, Meanjin.  All are all remarkably similar: Australia-hating, humanity-hating, negative and visionless. It is a dreadful orthodoxy.
In 2012 Peter Minter was the judge for the Blake Prize for Poetry, run through the NSW Writer’s Centre. As I was already aware of Minter’s poetics and politics  I entered my poem under the pseudonym of Mick Ringiari. It was shortlisted  and they sent me a form to fill out for publicity which included a question asking whether or not I was an Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander. I decided to declare my pseudonym at that stage in case there was any controversy, as the voice of the poem could be taken as that of an Aboriginal person. Anyway the poem did not win, but was later published by Quadrant and elicited quite a bit of positive comment on Eureka Street. So the poem had arrived.
Yet, now that Dolce has exposed the blatant and unrepentant prejudice of this significant Australian poet, judge and editor, a gatekeeper without doubt, I can’t help wondering if that poem by Mick Ringiari might not just have won if I had declared Mick to be Aboriginal.
Patrick McCauley is a poet and frequent Quadrant contributor