Gould, Alan (David)

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GOULD, Alan (David)

Nationality: Australian (emigrated from England, 1966; granted Australian citizenship, 1986). Born: London, England, 22 March 1949. Education: Woolverstone Hall, Suffolk, 1960–66, Canberra Grammar, Canberra, Australia, 1966–67; Australian National University, Canberra, 1968–71, B.A. (honors) 1971; Canberra College of Advanced Education, 1974, Diploma of Education 1974. Family: Married Anne Langridge in 1984; two sons. Career: Driver handyman, Canberra, 1972–74; relief teacher, Canberra, 1975–90. Since 1975 writer, Canberra. Awards: New South Wales Premier's prize for poetry, 1981; Best Book of the Year, Foundation of Australian Literary Studies, 1984; Banjo award for fiction, Australian National Book Council, 1992; Phillip Hodgins memorial medal, 1999; Royal Blind Society Audio Book of the Year, 1999, for The Tazyrik Year. Agent: Margaret Connolly, 37 Ormond Street, Paddington, New South Wales 2021, Australia. Address: 6 Mulga Street, O'Connor, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia.



The Skald Mosaic. Canberra, Open Door Press, 1975.

Icelandic Solitaries. Brisbane, Queensland University Press, 1978.

Astral Sea. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1981.

The Pausing of the Hours. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1984.

The Twofold Place. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1986.

Years Found in Likeness. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1988.

Formerlight (Selected Poems). Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1992.

Momentum. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1992.

Mermaid. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1996.

Dalliance and Scorn. Canberra, Indigo, 1999.


The Man Who Stayed Below. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1984.

The Enduring Disguises. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1988.

To the Burning City. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1991.

Close-ups. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1994.

The Tazyrik Year. Sydney, Hodder Headline, 1998.

The Schoonermaster's Dance. Sydney, Harper Collins, 2000.


The Totem Ship. Sydney, Duffy and Snellgrove, 1996.


Manuscript Collection: National Library, Canberra.

Critical Study: "The Canberra Poets: The New Australian Poetry" by Kevin F. Pearson, in Poetry of the Pacific Region: Proceedings of the CRNLE/SPACLALS Conference, edited by Paul Sharrad, Adelaide, Centre for Research in the New Literature in English, 1984.

Alan Gould comments:

As might be expected from a poet who also writes novels, a good deal of my poetry is novelistic in character, presenting a setting, an interaction of people, an era, a story.

I have been interested in those moments where a person gains an overview of their own time, is able to place it within the context of a larger time. Thus many of my poems have historical settings—the Norse explorations of Greenland and North America, the period of the last sailing ships, and so on.

The idea of character intrigues me, that which makes an individual distinct and, at death, irrecoverable, that which makes a stranger act but an acquaintance unfold.

*  *  *

Alan Gould's early chapbook The Skald Mosaic not only used the heroic history and skaldic tradition of his mother's Iceland but also signaled his involvement with a significant 1970s Canberra group. Assembled loosely at various times around the magazine Canberra Poetry and the hand-set Open Door Press were David Brooks, Mark O'Connor, Kevin Hart, Philip Mead, and Gould. All have made their mark as writers, and three are academics with critical influence. O'Connor weds biology with verse. Gould alone, however, a successful novelist for the young and for the general reader as well as a poet, has achieved the versatility of the full-time writer.

The Skald Mosaic forms a substantial middle section of Gould's Icelandic Solitaries. The work's elemental, sometimes violent spareness is thrown into relief by the longer-breathed lines and rich vocabulary of other poems celebrating places (Bangkok, Belfast, the Australian Monaro) and the past, with a leaning to the Viking past ("Rus ship-burial on the Volga," "Akureyri"). (For many years Gould's hobby has been building models of sailing ships.) The intersection of place and history is Gould's subject, and he moves from early characters' loves and rages to honoring a literary figure in "Homage to Joseph Conrad" and to different locations for canvases, as in "Wagram 1809" and "News of the Surrender." Less classifiable in context, though pointing both to an influence and to a later direction, is "Prayer," whose short lines, skillful rhyming, and gliding motion recall Auden's lyric mode (for example, "Lay your sleeping head….").

Astral Sea develops early themes, with a powerful series characterizing the lives of known Viking explorers and settlers. Here, in a further group on ports, wrecks, and exiles, and in "The Songs of Emyr," which includes ghazels and the particularly fine sestina "Marco Polo Remembers the Province of Kamul," Gould uses a new freedom with language to explore and interpret the informed interest that underlies many of his best poems. The following lines are from "Leif Eriksson":

   So he sailed on hearsay, brought home the New World …
     those hills
   enclosed him in sweet arms, exquisite hills
   clothed in birch and tamarack, though world
   trembled grape and whortleberry, and in
   the river salmon fat as the thigh of a man
   swam to the finger. That he did not fail
   to see advantage there is known. Less known
   what sent him back to father's and the known
   acreage, turned him Christian to win bare hills
   for God, why five years on from that he fails
   all further notice. A son; who into Dad's world
   of grudged approvals, leapt like a warning, a man
   'shrewd and vigorous', at Reykjavik striding in
   concrete, horizon-owner. Perhaps. But in
   the gaze of his headstrong elder that stride is known.
   I see them circling warily, man
   and child and man and man. It is not hills
   prompt their loyal quarrel, but moment, the world
   tugging weakening roots ….

Gould's fascination with the high seas and with great marine exploration continues with the sequences "The History of Shipping" and "The Great Circle," which work ambitiously in a lofty vein in a variety of forms. The following is from "The Atlantic":

   …flying fish that leap from the sea-dazzle onto the   white
   paper where Parkinson's pen moves like a lure,
   to this high south, where the far peaks of the Tierra del
   Fuego stream their white sub-zero scarves …
   We are present, you are present, for presence is increase
   and increase of horizons in a time and across all
   times; it is our human difference.
   The Pacific attends you, the first shimmer of a vast
   idea, enclosing its mesh of systems and
   populations; sail to the southward, toward our

At the same time Gould cultivates a private, quieter, questioning vein for his "Five Verse Letters" (one each to Hart, the Meads, and Murray) and even a roistering playfulness for talk of school days and for the bucolic "Chatting up the bottle" and "Getting the old man home."

The most impressive of Gould's later work seems to assume the cloak of Les Murray without, so to speak, the nobbling and gnarling. He conceives new company and geographies: realizations of life in the context of race and time ("The Observed Observer") and the earth's aspect from above and clouds ("Flying over the Australian Alps," "High Cloud Conversation"). Several of his poems on workers take a Murray-like delight in the jargon of jobs ("Electrician," "South Coast Mechanic"). Gould is capable of biting satire, as in "Darling I run them like a smart boutique; / surprising the profits that accrue from their chic," from "Her Stable of Poets," and of poems that grindingly cow or capitalize on popular fears ("Pliers," "Wisdom Teeth").

In its final sequence, "The Calms," the 1996 volume Mermaid reinforces Gould's preoccupation with the age of sail. Subtitled "An Illustrated Sequence," it has fourteen lovingly drawn black-and-white illustrations, by the poet, of sails, rigging, masts, and almost unpeopled decks. The poems themselves provide the portrait studies.

An all-arounder with reserve powers, Gould has to a degree been saved by his novel writing from the touting of the poetry scene. His craftsmanship and thoughtfulness exact more than just respect, and a touch of coldness in his rhetoric cannot conceal a writer of unusual purpose, sensibility, and intelligence.

—Judith Rodriguez