IT IS ALL a matter of personal preference, but at the Billabong, when the mood demands bleak and alienated verse, it is Alan Ginsberg’s epic Howl that is hauled first off the bookshelf. On last night’s Q&A, which borrowed the sour cream of Australia’s literary establishment from the Melbourne Writers Festival, they dragged out Omar Musa, who treated ABC viewers to a performance of something called “slam poetry”. This involved the staccato spewing of angry couplets, some of which rhymed, and all delivered with an aggrieved surliness. By the time the show finished, if you had not already despaired for Australia’s grant-fed culture club, Musa would have sealed the deal. Read your Ginsberg, children, because even a fourth-rate imitation of the American master’s stream of cascading consciousness will be enough to get you lots of luvvie-fest invitations and close-ups on the telly.
With hope for the written and recited word all but expired, the letters page of this morning’s Australian brought unexpected consolation in the shape of a letter from a Mr Bruce Dawe, of Caloundra, Qld.
JAMES Dunstan (Letters, 29/8) is quite right. Julia Gillard has risen to her level of incomptence as Prime Minister. As a performer in the house she was impressive; as PM, disastrous.Dawe is a bona fide poet, one whose perception of his native land and wary affection for its peculiar little ways goes some considerable distance beyond adolescent truculence. Here is his best-known work:
Every organisation can point to similar examples of this paradox: a good teacher, for example, may become a lousy school principal, since the qualities called upon at one level are not necessarily transferred to the other level. And a principal whose only remaining principle appears to be to hold on to office at whatever cost to herself (and her country) makes one shudder for the profession.
Bruce Dawe, Caloundra
(For Big Jim Phelan)
When children are born in Victoria
they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
having already begaun a lifetime's barracking.
Carn, they cry, Carn … feebly at first
while paretns playfully tussle with them
for possession of a rusk: Ah, he's a little Tiger! (And they are …)
Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game
they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming
towards the daylight's roaring empyream
Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture,
they break surface and are forever lost,
their minds rippling out like streamers
In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice
like the voice of God booms from the stands
Ooohh you bludger and the covenant is sealed.
Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat,
they will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints
and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven,
And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team's fortunes
- the reckless proposal after the one-point win,
the wedding and honeymoon after the grand-final …
They will not grow old as those from the more northern States grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter-time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,
That pattern persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons,
enabling old-timers by boundary fences to dream of resurgent lions
and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present,
So that mythology may be perpetually renewed
and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god
in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing
But the dance forever the same - the elderly still
loyally crying Carn … Carn … (if feebly) unto the very end,
having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation
Is it any wonder we seldom hear of Dawe these days on their ABC?