Croggon was born
in Transvaal, South Africa, and has three children. Alison Croggon
moved as a child to England in 1966 and to Australia in 1969, growing
up near Ballarat and later moving to Melbourne. She trained as a
journalist on the Melbourne
her work includes
poetry, plays, libretti, translations,
editing, criticism, an adult novel and fantasy novels for young adults (The Riddle, The Gift). Her
first book of poems,
This is the Stone,
1991 and won the Anne Elder and Dame Mary Gilmore Prizes that year; she
has also published Pharaohs
and Attempts at Being
opera The Burrow,
by Michael Smetanin, premiered at the Perth Festival in 1994 to
critical acclaim and had seasons in Sydney and Melbourne. Her play Lenz was premiered
at the 1996
Melbourne Festival, produced by the Mene Mene Theatre Company. She has
completed the libretto for a second opera with Michael Smetanin, Gauguin. She was
poetry editor for Overland
Extra (1992), Modern
Writing (1992-1994) and Voices (National
Australia, 1996) and was founding editor of Masthead
magazine. In 2003 she was the organiser of the Australian wing of Poets
Against the War, collecting poems which were delivered to the Prime
Minister Mr Howard in protest against the impending war against Iraq.
She has received a
from the Australia Council to write full-time in 2004 and 2005.
webpage is at www.alisoncroggon.com
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Cringing about the culture
Literature: Alison Croggon on Australian writing
Alison Croggon won’t be reading any Australian poetry for the
Writers Festival. She will be reading work by the political activist
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. His work, she enthuses, is tremendously
sensual and surreal.
Poets in South America are very popular. Croggon says there is poetry
in every culture. But when asked about the poetry in the Australian
culture she turns her head, looks up to the ceiling, looks down at the
ground and says ‘Oh well...’
In 1991, Croggon created a storm as a theatre critic for The Bulletin.
Carrillo Gantner, the
then artistic director of The Playbox, was so incensed by her
condemnation of several plays that he banned her from the Malthouse
Theatre. Accusations flew, stories were written and a playwright even
took legal action against her.
version of events next to Croggon’s under the headline
Croggon. The poet, playwright and author was gaining notoriety, not for
her work but for her judgment of others, including, such descriptions
as ‘a slow lobotomy’ and ‘mercifully
The Croggon view of our culture is damning. Banal. Theatre is banal.
Books are banal. Inward looking. Self-referential.
‘It’s like being in a bell jar in a whole lot of
stale air,’ she says.
‘There is no reference to anything outside ‘this
You don’t have to think then, you don’t have to
respond, you don’t have
to be excited by anything.’
Croggon glances from left to right uneasily. It’s almost like
bear to think about Australia’s cultural situation. But she
about it easily.
‘Australia is interesting because, relatively speaking,
had a few very great poets. People like Judith Wight and Les Murray,
Francis Webb. Tremendous poets. But poetry culture is awful,
awful. It’s so dull.
‘I had to judge the Premier’s Literary Awards one
year,’ she says. ‘So
I read about 40 books of poems. I was in a bad mood for three months.
Except for a few, I gave up reading Australian poetry a long time ago.
I read all these books and I couldn’t understand why they
Very inhibited, very conservative and very trapped.’
Croggon isn’t convinced about the Australian perspective and
significance. ‘What is it? What is it?’ Emigrating
with her English
parents from South Africa via Europe at the age of seven, she is an
Australian but baulks at the continual conferencing about the
of being an Australian’.
‘What you get in so much Australian writing is all this stuff
Australian we are and how we have to be Australian. Instead of getting
on with more interesting questions... I bet Francis Bacon never sat
down wondering if he was British and what that meant.’
The dissatisfaction Croggon expresses in an almost exhausted fashion
doesn’t translate in print as an unbridled joy to be dinkum.
as though she has been stifled. Poetry books and novels have been
published, prizes awarded, she has contributed to anthologies and
written libretto for operas (most recently Lenz
But her willingness to articulate an artistic frustration
interpreted as bitter despair. It’s debate she is after.
Croggon doesn’t really care how others view her, she has
friends (‘you can’t do anything on your
own’) who are more interested
in supporting each other than assimilating into the culture of their
Croggon started writing poetry ‘quite seriously’
when she was 10. One
of the poems in her book, This
, was written as a child.
‘There is an essential voice that carries through. But I
everybody from Tennyson to (T.S.) Eliot. More recently, I started
reading a lot of poets in translation including Neruda and a whole lot
of South American, Spanish poets.’
There is a tinge of her colleague Barrie Kosky in Croggon.
Both talk in extremes with damning intellect, and they don’t
But with Croggon there is less theatre in the delivery. Croggon says
her piece quietly, but with a righteous determination.
‘I disagree with Barrie but I admire him,’ Croggon
says. ‘He was one of
the very few people when all of that shit (over her reviews) was
happening to get up and defend me. He is curious and interested. You
don’t have to agree with what he does to think,
‘Here is someone who
wants things to move and not to be this awful boring
Croggon says we live in a dishonest culture. ‘To take the
thing; you find to your despair that any kind of healthy public debate
is completely impossible. I noticed when Barrie did his speech
attacking a whole lot of things (to do with arts festivals). I read it
and thought, ‘on ya Barry, you are one of the few people with
to talk about what is seriously wrong about the culture’.
Then I saw
the context in which it was published - ‘enfant terrible
shocking what Barrie says’. It was either completely ignored
Bored or not, Croggon likes living in Australia - ‘my
she says in a self-mocking manner. But to agree that her choice is to
live here doesn’t negate her objections to the state of the
barrage concludes with a heartfelt lament - her view that important
artists such as Les Murray and Patrick White are best known outside of
‘Everybody talks about Murray’s political
standpoint... seldom Murray’s
poetry and why it’s interesting and exciting. He is a
figure. Patrick White is the same, he is a very sad example of trying
to be a writer in Australia. You should be reading his novels, not who
he is abusing.’
In that context we shouldn’t be reading about Alison Croggon.
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