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Then this, Dawe’s extraordinary hammer-blow: ” – she’ll only remember how, when they came here, / she held out her hands bright with berries, / the first of the season, and said: / “Make a wish, Tom, make a wish.”‘ There are so many other qualities in that I’d forgotten: the expert use of human dialogue in his poems; a pervasive faith in the human condition; a broad diversification in subject matter and tone that keeps his body of work fresh; and a fearlessness in tackling matters of the human heart.In , editor Thomas Shapcott said Dawe’s work “at once vernacular and expressive of the new, post-war, outer-suburban hinterland.” Shapcott rightly identified that Dawe was capturing a language and a culture previously “untapped”.
Indeed, he was himself arrested at a protest in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, where he was teaching at the time. Herod – lunatic and obsessive builder of monuments, deems “There will be no more / political marches.
Clear the streets / of all whose ideas are not those / of the governing party.
“And Herod said again / There will be peace in all my land…/And the land became exceedingly quiet; / but this was not peace.” It is a quality of Dawe’s work that may get overlooked courtesy of the seeming simplicity of his poems – he is in the grand tradition of being a poet of his time and recording his time, on top of being a writer, like many who have gone before him and will follow him, who asks the most basic human questions about life and death.
Like a bower bird, he will pluck something before him that he finds interesting – be it an item in the news or the politics of the day – and smelter its gold. “The Drifters” is a heartbreaking rendition of a family constantly on the move looking for work.
He was close to a lone voice during the excesses of the government of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen from the late 1960s through to the late 1980s.
Dawe was particularly aggrieved at the draconian legislation that deemed street marches illegal and suppressed free speech.It was one of the most important letters of my life. I reveal this tenuous connection with the poet not out of ego, but as a way of expressing how intrinsic Bruce Dawe has been to this writers’ journey.How his work has mirrored one person’s suburban experience since birth.He added: “We had not heard ourselves so accurately before.” I would go further and say that by capturing the microcosm so accurately, he created the macrocosm.In the small, apparently insignificant detail, emerges a grand picture of ourselves as Australians. As a teenager I read Dawe and he gave me a new way of seeing my surroundings.It was this dazzling omnibus of Dawe that made me want to be a writer.It allowed me to understand that what was around me could be material for fiction. He responded with a lengthy reply of encouragement.In his poem, “Enter Without So Much as Knocking”, he manages in 62 lines to encapsulate one human being’s entire life – from the maternity ward to the cemetery. The old, whom circumstance / Has ground smooth as green bottle-glass / On the sea’s furious grindstone, very often / Practise it to perfection.” This short but powerful poem on ageing and dying ends with Dawe describing senility as “an ironic act of charity”, and with all human identity lost, “we serve / As curios for children roaming beaches, / Makeshift monocles through which they view / The same green transitory world we also knew.” In all its horror the poem is incredibly moving, presenting the grind of life, the bleaching out of what makes us unique over time, to end up a useless plaything in the hands of children.It is the cycle of life and again the destructive passage of time.A child is happy at the prospect of transition, another sad.No one asks why they’re leaving and where they’re going.