Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Poetry Library (online)

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson, circa 1902. (Presumed Public from the Sydney University library, via Wikipedia)

It seems appropriate now, when I’ve been exploring the iPad app for TS Eliot‘s The waste land, to introduce the Australian Poetry Library website that was launched in late May. Essentially a digital library, it contains over 42,000 poems from over 170 poets. That’s a pretty good start, particularly when the poets range from pioneers like Henry Lawson to current poets like Les Murray, Tracy Ryan and Alan Gould (whose novel, The lakewoman, I reviewed recently).

The home page is clean and bright, if a little busy. Here is the main content (of which some is dynamic ensuring new content for each return visit):

  • Talking poetry: a selection of poems. Click on a poem and you are taken to a page for that poem where you can hear it read, and follow further navigational links. When I looked at it today, two of the six poems were by Gould, and one was by Rosemary Dobson whose late husband used to work in the office next door to mine (way back when). These readings must surely engage more people in poetry.
  • Featured glossary term: a definition of a poetic term – sestina when I looked – plus the opportunity, a click away, to explore the glossary further. I can see myself checking this out in future.
  • Features: a selection of poets. Click on a poet and you are taken to his/her page containing an image; a biography, bibliography and a further reading list; and a list of poems that you can click on to read. I would love it if the further readings – particularly journal articles – were hyperlinked to the full content, but I didn’t find any that were. I expect copyright is an issue.
  • Review: a review of a poem
  • Poems: a couple of poems from the site
  • Themes and occasions: a list of categories to help find poems on likely topics such as Animal poems, Anniversary poems, Love poems and so on. A nice idea.
  • Poetic forms: a list of forms and styles, such as Iambic Foot, Haiku, that can be clicked on for a definition. (Strangely, the clicked-to page contains some empty clickable headings for titles, surname, and first name, as well as the definition.)
  • Search

There are also useful menu bars/tabs. The main one for the site contains the following self-explanatory options regarding the content: Home, Poets, Poems, Guest collections. The other is geared to the users of the site: For teachers, Glossary, Poetry resources, FAQ and My selections. Overall, the site is easy to navigate, and should appeal to (and be useful for) the general public, educators and students, and the poets themselves.

So that’s the rundown. It’s a lovely site. I checked for several poets and most of them were there – with access to extensive lists of their poems. For Geoff Page, whose verse novel The scarring I reviewed here, there are 857 poems. That alone would keep me well occupied for the next little while! But, not all poets are there. Bruce Dawe and Kevin Hart, for example, are not. Chances are, as the FAQs tell us, this is because permission was not given (by the poet, or the publisher, or whoever owns those rights) to reproduce the poems. This is a POETRY not simply a POET site, so providing the poems is integral – and must have been a challenge to negotiate. The site does, however, allow for some monies to be paid to the poets, when visitors to the site choose to download their “My selections”.

There is an issue though regarding updating. According to the FAQs, no more poems are being added at present. They say: “It is intended that subject to funding, the editorial team will open the site for inclusion of more poetry”. This runs a little counter to the media release on the site’s launch. It says: “The site will continue adding new poets as well as critical and contextual material including interviews, photographs and audio/visual recordings which will be a boon for students, teachers and other researchers.” Hmm … according to this release, the project received the highest ever ARC Linkage Grant for a humanities project and yet, ongoing funding is clearly an issue. I do hope that this great start is not all it is!

And now, just because I do like a bit of nonsense, and because this poem is about poetry and is out of copyright, I’m going to end with “Who wrote the Shakespere plays”, by W.T. Goodge (1862-1909):

No lover of poetry, I,
For the qualification is lacking,
And indeed it were vain to deny
That I couldn’t tell Browning from Blacking.

But Shakespere’s the author, I’ll vow,
And nothing my faith can be shakin’,
For it would be ridiculous, now,
If we talked about “Lamb’s Tales of Bacon”.

With thanks to Lisa of ANZLitLovers for drawing my attention to this site.

7 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Poetry Library (online)

  1. Ah, I was going to ask if Geoff Page was in this! I’ve also been mulling over the option of hearing poetry read, and i’ve actually decided that that’s not really a selling point for me. While I do think that the Fiona Shaw version of The Waste Land is brilliant, mostly I prefer to read silently, in my head, with my own intonation and perceptions of the “sound”…

    • Well you’d agree with Guy who said in a comment on The waste land that he’s not a fan of poetry readings. I like the Eliot app where I can read as I listen. But I do also like to get lost in the words myself at times.

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  3. Regarding adding future poets and poems, while we don’t have ongoing funding we are using the feedback mechanism of the site to compile a list of poets for future addition. Suggestions are coming from the poets themselves, and from poetry lovers!
    And we’re still adding more audio, video and photographs as they are provided.

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