Sometimes Gladness: Collected Poems 1954 to 2005, by Bruce Dawe

Sometimes Gladness: Collected Poems 1954 to 2005, by Bruce Dawe

Michael Gilchrist

A comprehensive collection of Bruce Dawe's best poems

Collected Poems 1954 to 2005 (6th edition)
(Pearson Education Australia, 2006, 337pp, $29.95.
Available from Freedom Publishing)

Bruce Dawe needs no introduction to long-time readers of AD2000. Many of his delightful, often cheeky poems - but all with an underlying seriousness - have appeared in this journal. (Search for them here) His send-up of the hymn, ‘Come as you are’, prompted a stream of letters to the editor in 2004.

The present collection gathers together the pick of Bruce Dawe's prolific fifty year output, grouped chronologically and handily indexed according to themes and poetic forms. The themes include city, suburbs, family, friends, reflections, war, dreams and questions, and elegies. There seems to be a poem for every topic and occasion.

While the vast majority of the poems are not overtly religious, many have a religious flavour. The dedication of Sometimes Gladness to Saint Maximilian Kolbe confirm's the author's underlying spiritual purpose.

Underdog's champion

In an earlier review of Dawe's The Headlong Traffic: Poems and Prose 1997 to 2002, I wrote, ‘Like Barry Humphries at his best, Dawe captures the distinctive quirks of Australian everyday life and culture through his down-to-earth, easy- flowing colloquialisms and observations. Unlike much modern poetry, his writing is always accessible and frequently very amusing ...

‘One doesn't need to be a literary specialist or a devotee of poetry to enjoy Dawe's writings. They would be admirably suited to secondary school classroom use in a wide range of subjects as springboards for discussion and exemplars of the poetic art’.

Bruce Dawe's poems champion a wide range of underdogs and bring the high and mighty down to size, with inflated egos amusingly punctured. In ‘Pigeons Also Are a Way of Life’, a city councillor is mocked for his petty-mindedness while the quasi-religious status of scientists and medical specialists who play God in regard to human reproduction are sent up in ‘Mary and the Angel’. The following lines are typical of Dawe's irreverent style.

And Dr Gabriel answered, Because you shall experience through
tubal ligation
an inconceivable joy which shall liberate your body
from the bondage of your gender.

And Mary said to Gabriel, But what if later
I should choose to take a partner?

And Dr Gabriel answered, Then you shall be given
hormones to encourage
and a no-risk laparoscopy, and your ovum will be placed
in a little petri dish for your spouse to fertilise.

And we shall then evaluate the three healthy embryos
for genetic abnormalities, to be frozen and then stored ...

Among the poems with religious themes are ‘My Experience of God’, ‘The True Believers’, ‘And a Good Friday was had by All’, ‘At Mass’, ‘Beatitudes’ and ‘The Christ of the Abyss’.

Fellow poet Les Murray referred to Dawe's work as ‘wonderfully pitched so it will speak to people of little education or great education’ with ‘a perfectly judged middle voice.’

Sometimes Gladness may not appeal to everyone's taste or sense of humour, but for those who can connect with Bruce Dawe's down-to-earth approach, this latest collection contains a wealth of food for thought on serious social and religious issues.

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