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It is always a pleasure to be introduced to an experienced writer with whom one is unfamiliar, and the opportunity to read a SELECTED POEMS is especially welcome. COMPARED TO WHAT is prize-winning Australian author Laurie Duggan's twelfth collection, and it contains more than 200 pages of work distilled from over thirty years of publishing. Whatever else can be said about this handsomely produced volume, it is certainly a worthwhile monument to decades of achievement, and the sheer breadth of styles displayed makes it a book worth reading.

Throughout the book there are memorable lines and images, like this section from LOUVRES:

	The art of mixing ochre, a series of patient filters
	then the map, a shoreline limned
	pale close features, darker distance,
	often only a thin line, veneer of settlement
	typed names in small print, voices
	hung in the air.
Or this one from the same poem:
	Water itself:  iridescent layers
	not the stable reality but
	reflection on reflection,
	depth on depth,
	a myth of surface  the painting
	one of many spaces before which
	figures shift, shading, complicating,
	moving on.
But even in this latter segment one of the book's chief weaknesses can be detected its profound indebtedness to other writers, particularly Ezra Pound (recall Pound's famous 'ply over ply' image from CANTO IV). Some of the poems, especially the earlier ones, address this matter of literary influences explicitly, including the debt to Pound, whose CANTOS clearly dominate much of Duggan's work. This is a healthy attitude for a writer to take better to acknowledge one's inheritance than try and submerge it. Yet at times, the paralleling of the earlier writer's work is so close in manner that absence of those other features which characterize Pound's verse literary and linguistic brilliance, subtle culturally-attuned observation, historical verisimilitude and poetic euphony tell against Duggan. That is, adherence to his favourite model, laudable in most respects, is not itself enough to confer admirableness upon much of what is carried out in the master's name. For example, the selections from Duggan's long poem THE ASH RANGE 1984-1986, a book-length piece for which he was awarded the Victorian Premier's New Writing Award, echo the rhythms of the shipping forecast:
	west of the cross, Centaurus; further west
	Ara, the Altar, Scorpio and red Antares,
	Pavo, Indus, Capricorn Grus, Toucan,
	and Bunjil?

	the divde shifts to the south,
	and the Mitta
	     steals the Tambo headwaters
	boathooking at Tonigo Gap.

	Downstream, the Tambo braids;
	long strips of rubble;
	and at the mouth of the Mitchell
Henry James's notorious criticism of Flaubert's MADAME BOVARY as being a self-consciously constructed masterpiece, seems to me to be applicable at times to COMPARED TO WHAT. There is a portentousness about some of the poems which damages their effectiveness through an over-estimate of how much pleasure or interest the reader can gain through sharing relatively 'closed' experiences. If such a strategy works in Pound's verse it does so because of the Pound-mystique associated with it; or rather, it is something for which the reader is amply prepared beforehand. Coupled with this tendency is Duggan's willingness to include pieces which seem distinctly like workshop impromptus, like this one entitled MASHED POTATOES, quoted here in its entirety:
	Sittin' here alone
	no place to go
	listenin' to myself
	on the radio.
It is hard to see how this particular cream has risen to the surface.

Anyway, for all its idiosyncrasies, COMPARED TO WHAT contains a lot of writing that can be read for enjoyment, and some which might be studied as part of the heritage of Modernist literature. Like his mentors Pound and William Carlos Williams, Duggan shows evidence of many moods and many modes in his verse, and his poems sometimes show those rare qualities of excellence which only dedication to the craft can achieve.

reviewer: John Ballam.

A documentry collage of poetry and prose in elegy for Gippsland, the region of rural Victoria, Australia, where Laurie Duggan's forebears lived. THE ASH RANGE uses diaries, journals and newspaper stories as sources to produce a coherent sense of landscape and people and was originally published in Australia. The book, divided into chapters, reads so coherently as a whole, quoting is made awkward. It also has a wry sense of observation. In a land gradually peopled by white settlers farming cattle and sheep along with stores selling provisions and beginning to cluster into towns, a newspaper dated 17 September 1853 notes,

....So little did the present Government know of the locality, that at a recent land sale, they had sold the site of their own Court House, without knowing it...
But even by 1901, pollution's a concern,
The discolouration of the water in the Tambo River is said to be caused by operations carried on by the Jirnkee Company at Tongio West, which has a giant nozzle at work washing away the creek. If such operations so far away from the Bruthen are destroying the stock and domestic supply of water in the river it is time our shire councillors made themselves heard on the matter. A few foreign capitalists can, with the aid of wretching mining laws, set themselves about destroying a heritage that a wise Providence provided for man and beast.
People are affected too:
A man named Duggan was arrested by Constable Richardson at Grant a few days ago under the Vagrancy Act. He is somewhat silly and labours under a strange hallucination, viz. that there are but six men on earth who are to go to Heaven, and that he is included in the six. He carries with him a map, a geography, and a grammar in his swag, together with a bucket and five billies. He has been in Beechworth gaol upwards of five years on and off for vagrancy. It is strange that a man of this kind has not been committed to an asylum before now. Constable Richardson proceeds to Bairnsdale with him on Monday next, where he will present him on a charge of lunacy.,
A labour of love, not one admired for the effort and painstaking time taken, but for the results: a readable documentary of Gippsland with a broad appeal. Congratulations to Shearsman for reproducing this book.

reviewer: Emma Lee.