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May 31st 2016 print

Roger Franklin

Clive James: The Screwing of Les Murray

Describing the coterie of grant dispensers who have de-funded Quadrant, James sums up the arts bureaucracy as 'a haven for progressive intellectuals self-tasked with the mission to redistribute the money of taxpayers, who might waste it, among creative communities, which are sure to'

clive jamesIn The Guardian — the British edition, but not easily found in the masthead’s local variant — readers will find Clive James’ wry thoughts about the Australia Council’s decision to strip Quadrant of the pittance we formerly received. For the record, last year’s grant was $45,000, which may seem like a decent piece of change until you look at the largesse lavished on the sorts whose views and opinions do not raise eyebrows at Balmain dinner parties. Think here of the $90,000 awarded some years ago to offended Bolt case litigant Anita Heiss and the $40,000 to naked art lover and cutesy-woo scribbler Benjamin Law, who may well have had an inkling that the cash was on the way. Anyone with a few minutes to spare can check the Council’s search engine to see who else has been invited aboard Luvvie Inc’s gravy train.

One name you won’t find on the Australia Council’s register of mendicants is Les Murray, Quadrant‘s poetry editor.  The $45,000 Quadrant was denied, as editor-in-chief Keith Windschuttle explains,

“has always gone to the writers of Quadrant’s literary content, that is, our poetry, short fiction, book reviews and essays on literature, film, theatre and the arts. We had to account for every dollar of this expenditure. The Australia Council did not fund our opinion pieces, political commentary, printing, Quadrant Online, or Quadrant Books.”

In other words, the Australia Council has de-funded the man critic Stephen Romei described as “long considered our leading candidate” for a Nobel prize. Clive James observes in The Guardian (UK)

As poetry editor of Quadrant, [Murray] publishes all the serious poets in Australia, myself included. But now he, and we, find that the Council has denied Quadrant its small grant. The reasons for this might well have something to do with Murray’s antiquated insistence that those he publishes must show some sign of skill. This elitist criterion highlights the question of what can be done for the country’s abundant supply of poets who not only have no skill at all, but sincerely think that, were they to acquire any by accident, it would inhibit the free flow of their imaginations.

But the Council has thought of them by giving a huge grant to an outfit calling itself the Red Room Company, whose proclaimed mission is “to make poetry a meaningful part of everyday life”. One of Red Room’s initiatives was billed as Toilet Doors Poetry, featuring six poets reading their work in “a cubicled reading space built for the occasion”. But the bit of Red Room’s prospectus that caught my eye was this: to help poets, it has paid the bill for “creative opportunities” not only “across Australia” but “beyond our shores”.

Zowie! My application for an offshore grant will be on its way tomorrow…

As Quadrant turns to supporters and subscribers to make up the funding shortfall — please donate via the form below — it is interesting to note that Overland, a journal of the left, has done very well indeed from the latest round of grants, scoring an increase per year of $20,00 for a total allocation over four years of $320,000.

There is one word for this: disgrace.

As poet and Quadrant contributor  Joe Dolce was advised several years ago by Overland‘s then-poetry editor, Peter Minter,

… that as of 2014 he will not be publishing ANY poets who publish in Quadrant and that he doesn’t ‘wish to have any association with the authors of a journal edited by Keith Windschuttle.’ His ‘New Year’s Resolution’ apparently.

Uh oh! I guess that means no Xmas cards for Les Murray, Sharon Olds, Jennifer Compton, Clive James, Christopher Koch (RIP), Rod Usher, Christopher Heathcote, Lin van Hek, A. D. Hope, Barry Humphries, Dan Guenther,  Cally Conan-Davies, me and hundreds of other Australian and international writers who appear in Quadrant.

This probably also explains why Mr Minter has rejected every poem I have submitted to him over the past two years.

Mind you, Minter had other things on is mind. As the joint recipient of a $30,000 Australia Council grant with the same Anita Heiss mentioned above, Minter was beavering away as co-editor of Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature.

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