David Malouf and the Poetic: His Earlier Writings
Cambria Press, 2017
*This book is in the Cambria Press Australian Literature book series (Series editor: Susan Lever).
This study examines the earlier writings of celebrated Australian writer David Malouf, who was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the inaugural Australia-Asia Literary Award, and the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.
This book investigates his earlier writings to uncover what the terms "poetic," "poetic imagination" and "inner and outer ways" imply for his development as a writer. Making use of some of his correspondence, diaries, and drafts of work-in-progress, Yvonne Smith takes into fuller account the way his works relate to each other and to the circumstances in which they were written.
By investigating what "poetic imagination" might mean across the first decades when he was finding his way into a writer's vocation, this sturdy reaps fresh insights into the nature of David Malouf's creativity--its tensions, struggles and moments of breakthrough, as well as its potential limitations. Finding what he could not do (or did not want to do) shapes strongly what he wants to achieve by the mid 1980s when his published works are becoming better known.
Such considerations are touched on in earlier studies, yet have been sidelined by more recent criticism informed by postcolonial perspectives, debates about myths of origins and other Australian nation-based agendas. That Malouf has played a part, not only as a writer but as a public intellectual, in what Brigid Rooney terms his "consistent cultivation of nation" adds to this trajectory in his literary career. However, there has been less attention to Malouf's development as a writer--its transnational dimensions, for instance, as he finds his vocation through hybrid family cultures and living for many years between Australia and Europe. It is helpful that discussion is increasingly balanced by broader views of what "Australian" literature might encompass, of global connections in "worlds within" national narratives, together with consideration of notions of "world literature" and a fluid "transnation" that exceeds boundaries of the state.
In each chapter of this study, Malouf's works are discussed in relation to the context in which they arose. His diary from early 1981, included as an Appendix, and published here for the first time, gives insight into the range of poems and prose he may be working on at the same time, and hints at where his feelings for new works originate. The broad lines of his development as a writer are presented through the lens of his abiding curiosity and engagement with the world through his experience of language and imagination.