It takes many types to make up the poetic landscape in Australia, and Bruce Dawe is one of the unique characters in that landscape.
His latest collection forms part of the University of Western Australia Publishing’s (‘UWAP’), Poetry Club, their first release being four books and all of them have been reviewed here. As per most of my recent Australian poetry reviews I have contacted the poet to conduct and interview and in Bruce Dawe’s case I was hoping to get an understanding from an ageing man about the progression of poetry in Australia over the last 60 or so years (Dawe was born in 1930) but my attempts at depth were in vain.
To start off with Bruce Dawe is, in his own words, “a PCP (pre-computer-person), so these answers will come courtesy of my wife, Liz” not the same person who receives a credit for typing in his collection “Border Security” (that’s Mary Coffey). He was also not that willing to share a whole lot, but I believe the simplicity and shortness of his replies gives an insight into his character and also into his poetry so I have chosen (as always) to publish my email interview verbatim.
The collection itself is not really my style of poetry with poems about Australian Rules Football matches “The Cup and The Lip”, walking the dog “Dog Heaven”, knitting, simply “Knitting”, or a poem titled “Considering Clouds on a Sunday Morning”, these examples, titles only show you that the collection has a very earthy, suburban, battler feel.
How do we sum up just how much we owe
To those who care for us when we are down,
When nights are long and days just come and go
And the sick body bids the spirit frown?
– taken from “Caring”
“Caring” the poem an “appreciation of my experience as a patient at Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, August 2008”
The least favourite of mine from the first four books in the Poetry Club collection, I can fully appreciate that there would be numerous Bruce Dawe fans out there who would relish a new collection, and can understand that this style of honest “battler” Aussie bloke poetry is something people appreciate. Unfortunately it’s not my thing. Therefore I will leave my comments short and head straight over to the interview – apologies for the curt, short replies
Q. You show that the everyday can be poetic, in this specific collection we have broad subjects such as an AFL match, walking the dogs, can you explain how you identify with something being poetic and how that translates into the urge to write?
I don’t ponder over the possibility of the poetic – I have never had a distinctive view of the term.
Q. Even though the title of this collection is from one poem, a number of your works contain “borders”, for example blocks of land, how did you choose the title of this collection?
Like most people, I see ‘borders’ everywhere in the world: social, political, personal. I watch the TV show Border Security regularly, aware of how often people seek to redefine or challenge borders.
Q. Rather than a sequence of poems this book appeared to me as a collection, how do you order the poems in a collection of this sort?
I don’t choose the final poems for a collection, believing I’m often ‘too close to the scene of the accident to be objective’ – I get a trusted (ie unbiased professional) friend to make the final choices.
Q. Referring to “Employment Problem” have your legs returned to employment?
‘Yes. The legs are okay again. Bursitis is slowing them up a bit, despite acupuncture.
Q. You’ve probably been asked this many times before, however I’m interested in your sequence of “careers”, how does one move from the RAAF to poetry?
I joined the RAAF because being a postman (on a walk round) took up a lot of the day (sorting at 6.00am, on the round until 10.30; back again at 2.00pm until 4.30pm…). What the RAAF gave me was time to study – not being much of a drinker. Uni study was a good discipline for me in my spare time.
Q. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?
I’m reading possible texts for my next U3A course – Mythology. I teach new texts every year, thus retaining most of my U3A students who are like a third family. I’ve taught U3A now for over twenty years, before that I taught for 20 years at tertiary level.
Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?
I’ve worked (over several years with a fellow dramatist) on various versions of my two political verse plays (published originally by Picaro Press): Blind Spots (Gillard/Rudd) and Kevin Almighty (guess who!).
As always I thank the poet for his time in answering my questions. I am hoping to run with an interview after approaching a more experimental poet in the coming weeks, stay tuned.