Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Most diaries contain more than writing. An intimate journal might also have a loved one’s hair, ribbon or other keepsake. The more pedestrian might have business cards, ‘to do’ lists and newspaper clippings. In the case of creative writers, their diaries can become repositories of observations, one liners, thoughts, early drafts of poems, and even visual prompts which operate as an eclectic resource of ideas for future poetry and plots. They are part diary, part aide-memoir, part scrapbook, and part commonplace book.

Nothing better illustrates this than the diaries of Professor Emeritus Chris Wallace-Crabbe, a former Director of and now Professorial Fellow at the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne. A poet, anthologist, editor and literary critic, his extensive literary archive includes dozens of diaries kept over the past 40 years.

Item 1

Journal 1965 — to America, Travel diary/notebook, 1965–1966, opened at 28 Feb 1966 where he describes an evening at Yale University in honour of the poet, essayist and critic Randall Jarrell who died the previous year. The entry (and the following pages) reports his talk with Robert Lowell and the latter’s view of Australians R. D. FitzGerald, Sidney Nolan and Alec Hope.

Item 2

The New York Notebook Thanksgiving, 1987 and Boston/Cambridge to April 1988, opened at entries for late February 1987 covering typical detail about lunches and direct quotes (Morag Fraser and Frank Jackson), current reading, and newspaper ‘crazy headlines’ (‘SNEEZING CAN INCREASE THE SIZE OF YOUR BUST...’).

Item 3

Journal — B January 1972 — opened at undated entry headed ‘[For my novel]’ and describing plot outline triggered by receipt of ‘Campy postcard’. Glued on page opposite is postcard of nativity scene.

Item 4

Diary/notebook 1974–1975, opened at page with newspaper cutting and entries for October 1974 beginning ‘Melbourne or the Bush has been published at last: a great relief after all my anxiety over the wavering fortunes of A&R under the sin- ister guidance of Gordon Barton. It looks a very slim little book, but it reads quite well, and good prose is, after all, the main thing. That, and some spark of imagination’.

Item 5

May–September 1973, Diary/notebook, opened at page of miscellaneous notes, including ideas for poems about Gallipoli, a list of current reading, and quotations including transcription of extract from Virginia Woolf’s Growing observing that, ‘Diaries and letters almost give an exagger- ated, one-side picture of the writer’s state of mind’.

Item 6

Meanjin Quarterly 2/1970, opened at a Louis Kahan portrait of Wallace-Crabbe and the beginning of Peter Steele’s commentary on his poetry ‘To move in Light’.