BY PHOEBE ADAMS
A two-volume anthology of POETRY IN AUSTRALIA (University of California, $10.50) has been compiled by T. Inglis Moore, professor of Australian literature at the Australian National University in Canberra, and the poet and critic Douglas Stewart. Rather predictably, Mr. Stewart deals with contemporary poetry in one volume and Professor Moore deals with everything else in the other. Despite a lack of either great names or technical surprises (who needs technical experiments when the problem of dealing with words like “lubra” and “corroboree” is enough to occupy any poet’s inventive impulses for years?), these two books are interesting. There is little poetry in the collection which is either intensely personal or seriously concerned with matters of public importance. There are ballads about bushrangers and stockriders: if they sound like Kipling, that is his fault — he evidently knew the work of Adam Lindsay Gordon. There are comic pieces, like the tale of the cook who “had a single virtue and its name was rabbit pie,” and genteel heroics on cattle drives and mail wagons. The second volume reveals that Australian poets have recently been trying to convert the figures of bullock drivers, swagmen, and aborigines from local folk-hero images to symbols of a more general human significance. This is an attempt that an outsider, with an eye clouded by the mysteries of bunyips and mopokes, can hardly judge fairly. I believe these poets are succeeding, but I’d be more certain if their editors had provided a glossary. And I believe that the stand of Australian poets is still, in general, reserved, wary, that of observer rather than participant. An anonymous balladist once spoke for his whole tribe in a miniature masterpiece:
Me and my dog
have tramped together
in cold weather
and hot.
Me and my dog
don’t care whether
we get any work
or not.
ANTHONY C. WEST’S new novel, THE FERRET FANCIER (Simon and Schuster, $4.95), describes the experiences, often embarrassing but never really troublesome, of an Irish boy of thirteen or so who is discovering sex and thought simultaneously. Mr. West’s descriptions of the Irish countryside are very well done, but his theme has been so overworked in the last thirty — no, forty — no, fifty years that neither setting nor symbolic ferrets can make it anything but hackneyed.
PAULINE KAEL, whose written and broadcast opinions constitute the book called I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $6.00), is extraordinary among film critics in that she lias actually made films and managed a theater that showed films. This is rare equipment in a profession whose members generally appear to be hasty demotions from the police beat. In addition to real knowledge of her subject, Miss Kael has wit, enthusiasm, a hot temper, and a strong distaste for the follies of her colleagues. No reader is going to agree with Miss Kael’s judgment on every movie she discusses, but somewhere in the book, every reader will find her eloquently lambasting one of his enemies.
A biography of the late Prince Aly Khan hardly seems a cultural necessity, but granted the job is to be done at all, it could hardly be handled with more discretion and good sense than it is in ALY (Random House, $4.95) by LEONARD SLATER. Beginning with the admission that Aly Khan’s reputation as a collector of women is the principal reason for writing a book about him, Mr. Slater proceeds with the chronicle of loves known and nameless, and dutifully considers all the suitable explanations for his hero’s habits, from antique (he liked women) to avant-garde (he was a homosexual at heart). There is one explanation, however, that Mr. Slater has overlooked. Aly could not manage the family affairs, because his father, the indestructible Aga Khan, did that. He had no need to make money, for the family was already ridiculously rich. He could hardly take up politics, being a citizen of no country, and social advancement is not possible to one born both royal and divine. In short, there was nothing for a man of spirit to do, in Aly Khan’s circumstances, except chase women.