Wallace-Crabbe, Chris(topher Keith)

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WALLACE-CRABBE, Chris(topher Keith)

Nationality: Australian. Born: Richmond, Victoria, 6 May 1934. Education: Scotch College; University of Melbourne, Victoria, B.A. 1956, M.A. (Lockie Fellow) 1964; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (Harkness Fellow), 1965–67. Military Service: Royal Australian Air Force, 1952–53. Family: Married Sophie Feil; one son and one daughter. Career: Junior technical officer, Royal Mint, Melbourne, 1951–52; journalist in Victoria, 1953–54; clerical officer, Gas and Fuel Corporation, 1954–55; teacher, Haileybury College, Brighton, Victoria, 1957–58. Senior lecturer in English, 1968–76, reader in English, from 1976, since 1988 professor of English, and since 1989 director of the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne. Visiting senior fellow, Linacre College, Oxford, 1983–84; visiting professor of Australian studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988–90. Awards: Farmer's prize, 1969; Grace Leven prize, 1986; Dublin prize, 1987. Address: 910 Drummond Street, North Carlton, Victoria 3054, Australia.



No Glass Houses. Melbourne, Ravenswood Press, 1956.

The Music of Division. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1959.

Eight Metropolitan Poems. Adelaide, Australian Letters, 1962.

In Light and Darkness. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1964.

The Rebel General. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1967.

Where the Wind Came. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1971.

Selected Poems 1955–1972. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1973.

Act in the Noon. Melbourne, Cotswold Press, 1974.

The Shapes of Gallipoli. Melbourne, Cotswold Press, 1975.

The Foundations of Joy. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1976.

The Emotions Are Not Skilled Workers. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1979; London, Angus and Robertson, 1980.

The Amorous Cannibal and Other Poems. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985.

I'm Deadly Serious. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

For Crying Out Loud. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.

Rungs of Time. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Selected Poems, 1956–1994. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Whirling. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Recording: Chris Wallace-Crabbe Reads from His Own Work, University of Queensland Press, 1973.


Splinters. Adelaide, Rigby, 1981.


Melbourne or the Bush: Essays on Australian Literature and Society. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1973.

Toil and Spin: Two Directions in Modern Poetry. Melbourne, Hutchinson, 1979.

Three Absences in Australian Writing. Townsville, Queensland, Foundation for Australian Literature Studies, 1983.

Poetry and Belief. Hobart, University of Tasmania, 1990.

Falling into Language. Melbourne and New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.

Editor, Six Voices: Contemporary Australian Poets. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1963; Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1979.

Editor, The Australian Nationalists. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1971.

Editor, Australian Poetry '71. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1971.

Editor, The Golden Apples of the Sun: Twentieth Century Australian Poetry. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1980.

Editor, Clubbing of the Gunfire: 101 Australian War Poems. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1984.

Editor, with others, Multicultural Australia: The Challenge of Change. Newham, Victoria, Scribe, 1991.

Editor, with Kerry Fattley, From the Republic of Conscience: An International Anthology of Poetry. Flemington, Victoria, Aird Books, with Amnesty International, 1992.

Editor, Author, Author! Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Editor, with Hal Bolitho, Approaching Australia. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard Chair of Australian Studies, 1998.


Critical Studies: "A Modest Radiance" by E.A.M. Colman, in Westerly (Nedlands, Western Australia), 1969; "To Move in Light: The Poetry of Chris Wallace-Crabbe" by Peter Steele, in Meanjin (Melbourne), 1970; "Transition and Advance" by James Tulip, in Southerly (Sydney), 1972; "Stop Laughing, This Is Serious" by Jennifer Strauss, in Townsville, 1990; "Leisure and Grief: The Recent Poetry of Chris Wallace-Crabbe" by David McCooey, in Australian Literary Studies (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 17(4), October 1996; interview with Paul Kane, in Antipodes (Austin, Texas), 12(2), December 1998; in In Other Words: Interviews with Australian Poets, by Barbara Williams, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1998.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe comments:

(1985) My early poetry explored the nature of social order and of intellectual coherence in a world in which religious sanctions seemed irrelevant; my concern at this stage was to make poetic structures that testified to the strength that was inherent in human reason and (hopefully) to humorous resilience as a way of meeting the contradictions of experience. Later, finding my early poetry rather too stiff, rigorous, and explicit, I came to seek more supple rhythms and more autonomous images—a poetry that was more fully charged with the physical world. And a poetry that questioned the English language.

Over the past few years I have increasingly been trying to come to terms with violence: political, personal, and intrapersonal. I am interested in the paradox that we tend most profoundly to worship vitality for its own sake, while we are bound at the same time to deplore such vitality as manifests itself in the form of violence. Poetry, like other constructive activities, issues from forces that are potentially destructive. The self, when it is most vital, is not reducible to a moral agent. These are the central concerns that I have been trying to dramatize in my recent poems. At the same time, inevitably, my poetry has been growing less formal, less architecturally shaped, and more sinuous, more shifting, more various in its effects and directions. Psychomachia concerns me greatly, especially in its lyrical forms.

My current attitude to poetry is best summed up in A.D. Hope's haunting line "What questions are there that we fail to ask?" That, and my sense that the language I use subverts itself, but not nearly so fast as it subverts me. My latest poems, family romances of mental structure, play out despairing comedies with words that keep falling away. How, but with wit, can one survive as "the gene's blind way of making another gene"? And another lyric answers, "Ah, that would be telling / Just as he always does."

*  *  *

Chris Wallace-Crabbe's volume of poems The Music of Division confirmed the promise first indicated by the appearance of his work in Australian literary journals beginning in the early 1950s. This work was unusual in an Australian context in that it avoided the overindulgence and exuberance normally associated with a young writer. The Music of Division exhibited a coolness and a quality of apparent detachment that looked forward to the early 1960s rather than back to the more romantic 1950s of Australian poetry. In this first volume the most notable poems are based upon observation of political forces, particularly as they implicate individual personalities in the tension between public and private responses. This preoccupation is developed and expanded in later books such as In Light and Darkness and The Rebel General and is perhaps taken to its furthest stretch in the prizewinning long poem "Blood Is the Water," included in the volume Where the Wind Came.

Such a continuous preoccupation with and development of the themes of power and political motivation have, interestingly enough, led Wallace-Crabbe away from an earlier detachment to an increasing relaxation and a sense of full humanness in his writing. He himself has written, "After stoical-formalist beginnings, I seek a poetry of Romantic fullness and humanity. I want to see how far lyrical, Dionysian impulses can be released and expressed without loss of intelligence." His Selected Poems 1955–1972, published in his fortieth year, would seem to mark a significant watershed in his work. It is worth noting that this volume commences with a series of "Meditations," which imply that the poet is reaching out in new directions, perhaps more fully exploring the vein of lyricism that has glittered tantalizingly throughout the volumes that preceded it and are abridged into it. The almost ruthless severity of the abridgment still indicates, however, that Wallace-Crabbe exercises a powerful and severe intelligence in the organization of his compositions.

After publishing his collection The Emotions Are Not Skilled Workers in 1979, Wallace-Crabbe in the early 1980s appeared to fall back into a generational gap, his work apparently overshadowed by that of a newly maturing generation that included John Tranter and Alan Wearne, poets who found different solutions to the subjects of political and social interaction so clearly at the center of Wallace-Crabbe's poetic concerns. But in his collections The Amorous Cannibal and I'm Deadly Serious, both published in England rather than Australia, Wallace-Crabbe reestablished his personal voice with a new precision and élan. Perhaps in addressing himself to a larger English-speaking audience he found personal quiddity to be as important as lean, precise observation. Certainly in these newer poems the old public/private, Dionysian/Apollonian tensions persist, but they do so in terms of a more relaxed, even sensuous delight in the uncanny way language invents us. The result loses none of the large-scale view but rather enhances it through a sort of integration with a vernacular never before quite so accepted or so well placed. Prior to the publication of his Selected Poems, 1956–1994 by Oxford University Press in 1995, his two previous collections, For Crying Out Loud and Rungs of Time, consolidated this sense of newfound creative energy and ways of balancing urbanity and knowledgeability with an attentive eye for the enjoyableness of things as well as their awfulness. The later Whirling (1998) seems to generate a further momentum, but the profound elegy "A Threshold for My Son" throws its shadows over the book, tempering its robustness with an underlying vulnerability.

—Thomas W. Shapcott