David Malouf

13 Jul


There are some pretty amazing thinkers in the Catholic Church, which I must recognise despite my reservations — some of them shared, I should add, with many Catholics. Take “Poetry and the language of faith in Australia” by Father Anthony Kelly, CssR:

…a splendid passage from David Malouf’s novel, The Great World. The good Mr Warrender has died. He had been a poet of some standing. At his funeral, there was a third speaker, a young academic who had written on Warrender’s poems, who reflected on the hidden dimensions of anyone’s public life, especially that of the poet:

He was speaking of poetry itself, of the hidden part it played in their lives, especially here in Australia, though it was common enough — that was the whole point of it — and of the embarrassment when it had, as now, to be brought into the light. How it spoke up, not always in the plainest terms, since it wasn’t always possible, but in precise ones just the same, for what it deeply felt and might otherwise go unrecorded: all those unique and repeatable events, the little sacraments of daily existence, movements of the heart and intimations of the close but inexpressible grandeur and terror of things, that is our other history, the one that goes on, in a quiet way, under the noise and chatter of events and is the major part of what happens each day in the life of the planet, and has been from the beginning. To find words for that; to make glow with significance what is usually unseen, and unspoken too — that, when it occurs, is what binds us all, since it speaks out of the centre of each one of us; giving shape to what we too have experienced and did not till then have words for, though as soon as they are spoken we know them as our own.

I cannot imagine finding a more compressed exposition of the meaning of poetry. The young academic concerned, having delivered himself of this memorial speech, disappears totally from the scene! Well, he left something good behind. More to the point, what we have here is an indication of the philosophy of life and literature that have made Malouf the artist he is. There is quite a nest of evocative terms and phrases in this passage: the hidden place of poetry in Australian life, the artfully allusive character of poetic idiom, its concentration on ‘what it deeply felt’, and what could not be recorded in any other way. He instances these as the unique irrepeatable events of life, ‘the little sacraments of daily existence’ — note how he glances toward a Christian language at this point — and then, the movements of the heart, and intimations of what is so close, but inexpressible in its grandeur and terror. All in all poetry speaks from and to that ‘other history’, the depths of life that hold ephemeral events of our world together. The right words for that other dimension binds us together, since it speaks from the centre of each human being, to give shape and form to our deepest experience. The passage referred to is, in effect, a prose poem about poetry; and you can easily see how a whole book could be written bringing its elements together.

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I encountered that in my search for more information on David Malouf’s The Great World (1990) which I am reading at the moment, one of the most profound Australian novels I have ever read.

I can recall being in the same room as Malouf on at least one occasion at Nick Jose’s place, and I have seen him from time to time around the traps. But I have always been too shy to approach him. A shame, perhaps, because he really is a very fine writer. He did win the first International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1996, the largest and most international prize of its kind, involving libraries from all corners of the globe, and open to books written in any language.

Nick I of course met through M.

It is a touch ironic, but Nick has just taken up a time teaching writing in Adelaide, and has taken some of my offcast books on the subject with him, M having passed them on to him, with my blessing of course.

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Posted by on July 13, 2005 in Australia and Australian, book reviews, Christianity, Fiction, literary theory/criticism, OzLit, reminiscing, Top read, writers


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