Poet who had to be a printer

Kenneth Slessor, Smith’s Weekly 8 October 1938

WORKING 12 hours a day for eight days in the bedroom of a flat, littered with paper and type on chairs, couches, and window-sills, pushing an ink-roller over type face 2,720 separate times, fitting paper into a hand-press, rolling it, and taking it out’again’ 340 times a day for eight days on end, Ronald McCuaig, a Sydney writer, has just finished: the private publication of his book of poems, “Vaudeville.”

McCUAIG had to work 12 hours a day for eight days in this way because seven Sydney printers had already refused to accept responsibility of printing his book for him.

In the teeth of this discouragement, McCuaig has proved that a poet can be practical enough to snap his fingers at printers and publishers. The book is out – and it really is a book – in spite of them.

Reproach To Australia

It is a strange reproach to Australian letters that “Vaudeville,” the most remarkable book of Australian poetry produced this year, should have been brought into the world in the second bedroom of a Potts Point flat.

The view taken by each of the seven printers approached by the author was that the book might possibly contain words or ideas wicked enough to involve them in police-court proceedings.

The chucklebeaded deeds of Australia’s literary policemen have already made the Commonwealth a joke in other countries – as in the cases where Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis was hauled before a police-court magistrate, and similar police action was threatened against the “Art in Australia” volume of Norman Lindsay’s drawings.

Censorship Vagaries

Officialdom’s vagaries of this kind seem to have dazed printers where they flinch at the possibility of even the most hypothetical risk. On the ground that the first printer approached had found what he considered “immorality” in McCuaig’s poems, the other six refused to do the printing, though several of them admitted that they couldn’t see any “immorality” themselves.

This is where most poets would have retired to a grot. McCuaig, however, refused to be beaten. He bought a proof-press, an ink-roller, and some ink, arranged for paper, and had the handset type, packed precariously in cardboard, sent to his flat at Potts Point, where be stacked the pages up on the bow window of his livingroom. Then, in the second bedroom, he set to work to print his book. He had never printed before, and he isn’t particularly anxious to do it again; but the book, as issued last week, is a credit to his toil.

Looking at “Vaudeville,” “Smith’s Weekly” finds it bard to understand the commercial printers’ objections. There is certainly nothing “immoral” in McCuaig’s poems. There is passionate and sincere realism, and there are good, cleancut English words, beautifully used. People who think that “privately published’: means pornography will be bitterly disappointed. The book puts McCuaig at once into the front rank of Australian poetry.


Kenneth Slessor, Smith’s Weekly