In a preface to The Collected Blue Hills (2012), Laurie Duggan inquires into the nature of the work: “What is it? Well, it’s not really a ‘long poem’; it’s too intermittent and occasional for that. The only generalization that could be made about it is that it all happens in Australia, though some of the things that happen involve looking at art and listening to music made elsewhere” (5).1 Criticism of Duggan’s poetry has typically been framed in terms of its attention to place,2 and while this essay continues in that tradition, it also presents a temporal reading, encompassing both the work’s overall structure and its individual poems. In doing so, it pursues the implications of Duggan’s two limiting claims just quoted, one concerning the work’s relation to time, the other to place, and to nation specifically. In contrast to Duggan’s remarks, the work’s being both a long poem and “intermittent and occasional” are not understood to be exclusive. These qualities do, however, make it a long poem of a less usual kind, its claim deriving more from the length of the intervals between the poems than from the poems themselves, more from the length of time within which the work was written and published than from its number of lines or pages—and, indeed, The Collected Blue Hills, at ninety pages, is a relatively slight volume. The first section of this article argues for closer attention to be paid to Gwen Meredith’s radio serial Blue Hills as an intertext and a formal model for Duggan’s long poem. Following this, notions of “atmosphere” in the later poems of the series are explored. The final section focuses on Duggan’s engagement with visual art in the series, leading into a discussion of his writing of history and his connection to an Imagist/Objectivist tradition, which would take as an ideal “direct treatment of the ‘thing’” (Pound 251). In this final section, it is asked how this series of poems—one which never uses the word “Australia”3 but is by its own empirical method of it—may be seen to complicate notions of a national imaginary, and to support J. M. Arthur’s contention that “Australia” be understood as in process, a verb rather than a noun (7, 54).
"Across Time: Laurie Duggan’s Blue Hills,"
Antipodes: Vol. 31:
2, Article 18.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/antipodes/vol31/iss2/18