The Best Australian Poetry has been going strong since 2003. Anthony Lawrence chose the poems for the 2004 edition, John
Tranter for 2007, and Alan Wearne in 2009. For a while there were even two
competing “best” anthologies in
Reading last year's "best of" poetry anthologies (both in their second year) offers numerous moments of sharpness, insight, surprise and more. The richness of these two very different books no doubt stems from the fact that far from being ill, "Australian poetry has never been more alive", as Anthony Lawrence, the guest editor of The Best Australian Poetry 2004, rightly puts it.
Of the two anthologies, UQP's The Best Australian Poetry 2004 is the more strictly demarcated in editorial terms. It is comparable in format to the long-running American series of a similar name, with one poem per poet, each poem previously published in a magazine or newspaper. Australian poems published overseas are not eligible (rather harsh for the North American journal of Australian literature, Antipodes).
Lawrence's witty, engaging introduction suggests something of his poetic tastes: an attraction to the everyday, a passionate regard for the particular, a valuing of rhetorical power. He can theorise, too, and his observation that the alignment in some Australian poets of postmodern influences with "a lyrical, accessible vernacular" is compelling. The combination of craft, openness and challenge can be seen in most of Lawrence's excellent choices.
These range from Robert Adamson's delicate anti-war poem, Flag-Tailed Bird of Paradise, to Elizabeth Campbell's homage to an anonymous medieval scribe, Letters to the Tremulous Hand. Both show the degree to which highly charged lyricism can engage with politics, history and ideas.
Lawrence is also attracted to sequences, which gives this year's collection a greater sense of scope than last year's. The sequences by Laurie Duggan, Kathryn Lomer, and Peter Boyle and M.T.C. Cronin are all excellent. Lawrence also includes a generous 10-page selection of Luke Davies' astonishing Totem Poem, which appears in his book Totem, one of the most extraordinary books of Australian poetry in recent times and winner of last year's Age Book of the Year.
-- David McCooey, The Age (January 8, 2005)