This trail collects a range of items to enhance readers' engagement with Race against Time.
– Part One provides an overview of Race against Time, its author Lee Cataldi, and Cataldi's publishing output.
– Part Two highlights the influence of the Australian landscape and of the Warlpiri people on Cataldi's poetry.
– Part Three focuses on Cataldi's poetic style.
– Part Four places Cataldi's poetry within the context of the 'Generation of '68' poets.
– Part Five offers suggestions for wider reading.
– Part Six provides tips for further research.
Click on the hyperlinks below to visit AustLit records and external references. Some of the critical works and other resources are available online.
'Race against Time vigorously and clearly apprehends the facts of mortality while eschewing the conceit of human centrality. Even if hardly prolific, Lee Cataldi is nonetheless one of our wisest and most striking poetic voices, evoking a spontaneous, unforced engagement with life and death'. (McLaren, Greg. 'Race against Time.' Southerly 58.4 (1998): 219.(...more)
Born of Anglo-Australian and Italian parents, Lee Cataldi was briefly interned during World War II due to her father's Italian heritage. When her father took out Australian citizenship and joined the air force, Cataldi and her mother moved to Mosman to stay with Cataldi's maternal grandparents. The family shifted to Hobart in 1948 where Cataldi attended the Friends' School.
Cataldi undertook a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney; she graduated with Honours and the University Medal in 1962.
Lee Cataldi has published three volumes of poetry. The first, Invitation to a Marxist Lesbian Party (1978) was published by Wild and Woolley in Sydney. The next two books, published roughly a decade apart, are The Women Who Live on the Ground: Poems 1978-1988 (1990), covering the years 1978 to 1988, and Race against Time (1998).
Since 1998, Cataldi has occasionally published individual poems in journals such as Social Alternatives and Overland. From this relatively small output, Cataldi’s poems continue to be widely and regularly anthologised. She has been included in several anthologies of women’s writing, from Mother I'm Rooted: An Anthology of Australian Women Poets (1975) to Motherlode: Australian Women's Poetry 1986 - 2008 (2009); she appears in standard collections such as The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (1991) and Australian Verse: An Oxford Anthology (1998); and her poems are represented in themed anthologies such as The Sting in the Wattle: Australian Satirical Verse (1993) and Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets (2009). Cataldi's poem 'Gay Liberation', from her collection Invitation to a Marxist Lesbian Party, became the title poem for Edge City on Two Different Plans: A Collective of Lesbian and Gay Writings from Australia (1983).
Cataldi’s one other monograph publication is Warlpiri Dreamings and Histories: Yimikirli: Newly Recorded Sayings from Aboriginal Elders of Central Australia (1994), a book she co-edited and co-translated with Warlpiri woman and Western Desert artist Peggy Rockman Napaljarri. The stories in the collection were collected orally from Warlpiri woman in language and then translated into English.
See the link below for more information on the Warlpiri people and their art.
Kelly Gardiner's MA thesis Poetry, Politics and Place: Black and White Perceptions of Modern Australian Poetry 1965 – 1990 explores 'the influence of landscape on the development of modern Australian poetry and cultural identities'. It looks particularly at the ways 'Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal poets have perceived and described the land' and how their 'distinct visions can be traced to the relationship that each culture has with the land; the inter-relationships between the cultures; and the structural and psychological links between the poet and the landscape he or she is attempting to understand and describe'.
In a section headed ‘Poets & Witnesses’, Gardiner contends that 'several landscape poets have given voice to some of the most compelling social currents in Australian society ... They include: Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lionel Fogarty, Judith Wright and Lee Cataldi.’
Gardiner argues that Cataldi's 'evident ideological framework, and experiences of living and working with the Warlpiri people in Central Australia, have enabled her to find ways of writing about both country and inhabitants without resort to the discourse of Aboriginalism.' Together with Wright, Cataldi stands out in Gardiner's mind as a non-Indigenous poet 'whose understandings of the issues surrounding land and landscape are more closely aligned with the positions taken by the Aboriginal community and the writers who work to express its politics'.
Gardiner, Kelly. Poetry, Politics and Place: Black and White Perceptions of Modern Australian Poetry 1965 – 1990. Available online here.
A Four Corners television report, titled Going Back to Lajamanu and first broadcast in September 2009, looked at the effects of the bi-lingual education program at Lajamanu School. Cataldi was involved with the program for eight years and the report includes an interview with her.
A transcript of the Going Back to Lajamanu feature is available here.
Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future tells the story of an intriguing collection of Indigenous artworks created by Warlpiri people in Australia's Northern Territory in the 1950s and beyond. The exhibition, running from 15 August 2014 to 31 May 2015, comprises 'important early works from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies' and was 'produced by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the Australian National University and Warlpiri communities'.
Please note that the exhibition pages on the museum's website include 'images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples'.
In his review of Race against Time, 'The Sky Existed With or Without Observation, poet and critic Greg McLaren writes that 'there is a deep and developing spiritual awareness and presence in Cataldi's work'. He continues: 'Cataldi's world is conditional, impermanence recognised as an inherent feature of "reality".' This sense of transience, and even 'unease', 'feeds into Cataldi's spiritual concerns' and is particularly evident in Race against Time's opening section, headed 'faith, hope and other poems'.
These elements of impermanence were also noted by Noel Rowe in chapter five of Modern Australian Poets, 'The Crossroads of Language', where he commented on Cataldi's earlier work The Women Who Live on the Ground. Rowe said that the poems in that collection often featured a 'moment of disintegration', but those moments were then transformed into 'occasions for change, clarification and liberation' (47). In Rowe's view, this form of poetry 'is particularly sympathetic to issues such as the conversation between cultures and the marginalisation of women, especially Warlpiri women’ (47).
'Lee Cataldi's books are 'exquisitely sensitive and utterly without excess. Excess can be delicious, but so can spareness, especially when paring back reveals vitality of no less spacious quiet and perception'. This quote is from Felicity Plunkett's 2001 review of Race against Time. Plunkett's observation of Cataldi's 'spareness' is echoed by other commentators including poet, academic and editor Judith Rodriguez. (Rodriguez prefaces her remarks on Race against Time by noting that she selected Cataldi's book for Penguin's Australian Poetry series – a series that began with Cataldi's The Women Who Live on the Ground.) Rodriquez notes that every line in Race against Time's poems has a 'stripped urgency. On the page, they refuse to fill space; they are spare, delicate, tough creations'. The poems convey the 'daring of minimalism'.
This spare and minimalist appearance is picked up by Noel Rowe in Modern Australian Poets. Much of Cataldi’s work, says Rowe, ‘occupies the page in a manner which reinforces its preference for uncluttered, unconstricted attitudes, its refusal of a more shaped, architecture verse’ (52).
In 1979, Makar Press published an anthology of poems, edited by John Tranter, under the title The New Australian Poetry. The collection gathered a grouping of poets known, loosely, as the 'Generation of '68'. This group is the subject of Fiona Scotney's PhD thesis The New Australian Poets: Networks and the Generation of 68. Scotney writes that Tranter, who championed the 'new poetry' label, saw the 'Generation of '68' as having 'a shared generational experience, a common rejection of the majority of Australian poetry hitherto' and as being contributors to 'the remaking of the Australian poetry landscape in the decade following 1968' (xi-xii).
One notable feature of the anthology is the scant representation of women poets – Vicki Viidikas and Jennifer Maiden are the only female inclusions. Tranter has suggested, in a wide-ranging and long-term interview with John Kinsella, that there were fewer women than men poets whose work developed in the 'Generation of '68' because 'the heavy social, cultural and educational pressures through the first half of the [twentieth] century, and especially in the 1950s, produced a generation of young Australian women who saw their role in life as domestic, co-operative, non-competitive, and supportive of men’ '(John Tranter: Interviewed: In conversation with John Kinsella, in Sydney and via email 1991, 1995, 1999' ).
Scotney, however, draws attention to the women poets who, by Tranter's definition, were part of the 'Generation of '68' but who are not represented in The New Australian Poetry. They include Pamela Brown, Joanne Burns, Susan Hampton, J. S. Harry, Kate Jennings, Dorothy Porter, Jennifer Rankin, Robyn Ravlich, Gig Ryan and Lee Cataldi. 'These women', says Scotney, 'were writing and publishing during the same period as the generation of 68 and most published collections of poetry in the 1970s’ (151).
For further insights into the representation of women – and multicultural and Indigenous writers – in poetry anthologies, including the 1974 collection Applestealers and Kate Jennings's Mother I'm Rooted: An Anthology of Australian Women Poets (1975) – see Mark Roberts's discussion in 'Towards a New Diversity: Martin Johnston and the New Australian Poetry.' Island 58 (Autumn 1994): 60-63.
The Australian Poetry Library (APL) provides 'access to a wide range of poetic texts as well as to critical and contextual material relating to them, including interviews, photographs and audio/visual recordings.' (Australian Poetry Library website.)
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