Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An Anthology of Christian Australian Poets

~Peter Stiles (Dr.)

Poetry composed by Christians in Australia is suffused with the many of the same shades, stances and savours that inevitably inhabit any verse written in this vast, enticing, yet often inhospitable continent. From the earliest days of European settlement (the First Fleet arrived in 1788) there has been a constant struggle to adapt to an environment where drought, bushfires, a lack of reliable fresh water and relentless sunlight have made any attempt to recreate the verdant fields of England difficult, if not impossible.

An understandable response to this problem has been to stay on the fertile coastal plains and nearby mountain ranges (on both the East and West coasts) and it is here that the big cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have developed. The silent, formidable interior of Australia (which is largely desert) has turned human attention towards the more welcoming coastal areas, where there is a greater sense of moderation, ease of activity and recreational pursuits to be had. Australians have largely turned their backs on the brooding interior of this Great South Land.

Australians love to frequent the liminal world between land and sea, and with good reason. It is a country that is blessed with arguably the most beautiful beaches in the world. They stretch for hundreds and hundreds of miles, with endless reaches of fine, golden sand. Thus, a striking feature of poetry written in Australia is a preoccupation with coastal landscapes. It is evident in some of the poems included in this issue of ‘Stonework’. Most Australians are Pacific rim dwellers who look outward, rather than inward.

The harshness of the environment has also bred a strong individualism and self-dependence in the Australian psyche. This has developed over centuries and is reflected in the Australian attitude to religion. Religious conviction has always been a personal matter, and a cheerful agnosticism is common. Unlike the United States, which has been blessed with a strong Christian heritage and many excellent Christian colleges (Houghton College included), Australian education has been largely secular at a tertiary level. Only recently has the evangelical Christian constituency seen the value of the Christian tertiary college.

So, while Australia has produced many great novelists, playwrights and poets, it has not been de rigueur to be explicitly Christian in the way that so much American writing unashamedly is. Australia did not have the Pilgrim Fathers. It began, rather, as a penal settlement for English and Irish miscreants. Some of that acerbic distaste for the Christian faith of the establishment still persists in Australian cultural expression today. But, to use an aquatic analogy, the tide is turning. Some of the finest poets writing in English are Australian, and some are now unashamed about engaging with spiritual themes and issues. Les A. Murray and Kevin Hart come to mind in this regard.

The sheer size and isolation of the Australian continent, the distances between major cities and the relatively small number of Christians involved in serious writing, have meant that for the most part their craft is a fairly solitary exercise. It is not unlike the predicament faced by the majority of creative people in Australia (visual artists and musicians included). To find encouragement, affirmation and a sense of community they often have to travel overseas. Many of the great works about Australia (for example, the novel ‘Cloudstreet’, by Tim Winton) were written outside Australia. Many writers go overseas and never return.

But Australia is a uniquely beautiful and diverse country, with flora, fauna, and a special freshness and appeal that are impossible to find anywhere else in the world. Like all creative people, Christian poets writing today owe so much to the sense of peace, security and stillness that the Australian environment provides. If God is to be found in the silence of a dark forest, under a clear desert sky at night, by walking barefoot on an isolated beach in the salty air, or sitting by a cool rainforest waterfall, then He is to be encountered in Australia. It is a country that is replete in natural beauty.

The poets represented in this issue of ‘Stonework’ are just that, representational. There are many others who could have been included. But I am confident that readers at Houghton College and elsewhere will derive much satisfaction from this selection. Kevin Hart, James Harrison, Ivan Head, Karen Knight, Andrew Lansdown and Peter Stiles provide a good sample of what it means to be a Christian poet in Australia.


Biographical Notes:
Kevin Hart is considered by many as one of the major living poets writing in English. He has published several significant volumes of poetry, criticism and philosophy. At present he is Notre Dame Professor of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
Karen Knight has been widely published both overseas and within Australia. She has been the recipient of several awards and three writer’s grants from Arts Tasmania, where she lives.
James Harrison is Head of Theology at the Wesley Institute in Sydney. His book, ‘Paul’s Language of Grace in the Graeco-Roman World’ ( 2003 ) won a major international award.
Ivan Head is an Anglican Priest and Warden of St. Paul’s College at the University of Sydney. His poetry collection, ‘The Projectionist’, was published in 2004.
Andrew Lansdown has published several books of verse, plus short stories and fantasy novels. He is currently a Baptist Pastor in Western Australia.
Peter Stiles has published poetry, articles and reviews within Australia and the United States. He is the Australian representative for the Conference on Christianity and Literature.