Ivor Indyk: Provincialism and Encyclopaedism

As a term, provincialism invariably gets a bad press. It is associated in most people’s minds with narrow-mindedness, ignorance, belatedness and even foolishness. But there is one quality which is characteristic of the provincial, which is undeniably positive – this is the capacity for wonder. Wonder is an expansive emotion – it sees the detail in its amplitude, and a world in the detail, so that everything is implicit in the one thing, and that one thing, however remote, offers access to all things. Les Murray, the ‘subhuman redneck’ poet, is the most avowedly provincial poet in contemporary Australian literature. His poetry exhibits this expansive quality to an encyclopaedic extreme. This paper considers the relation between provincialism and encyclopaedism in his writing, to the point where it reaches the very edge of things, and still seeks to imagine beyond.

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