Australia strikes back

Les Murray

  • Snakecharmers in Texas by Clive James
    Cape, 373 pp, £11.95, July 1988, ISBN 0 224 02571 6

Among Australians, there are punishments for making one’s career abroad, just as there are for living and writing at home. Few of these punishments have come Clive James’s way. His poetry used regularly to be left out of Australian anthologies, but that is an old bad habit we may have grown out of by now. Mr James’s name attracts far more affection than odium, and he gets away with astounding things on his return visits. I have, by way of the tube, witnessed his telling a whole large roomful of sleek women journalists, in Sydney, that the gulf between intellectuals and the general public is wider in Australia than in any other Western country. So it is, but this isn’t normally a permitted observation: our intellectuals by and large hold themselves to be more of the people than the people itself. However, just as Miss Greer is the Germaine of her generation, so Mr James is the Clive – and here he was in person. So stilled and luminous with sexual speculation were those Sydney journalists they didn’t seem to realise, or to mind, that he was talking about themselves.

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