THE HEADLONG TRAFFIC : Poems and Prose 1997 to 2002, by Bruce Dawe

THE HEADLONG TRAFFIC : Poems and Prose 1997 to 2002, by Bruce Dawe

Michael Gilchrist

A Collection of Poems and Prose 1997 to 2002
by Bruce Dawe

(Melbourne, Pearson Education, 2003, 98pp, $24.95. Available from general bookshops)

Bruce Dawe, along with Les Murray, is Australia's best-known and most distinguished contemporary poet. AD2000 has premiered several of his religious poems over the years, some of which were later included in published compilations.

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.

Following the earlier collection of Dawe's poems (1990-1995) titled Mortal Instruments, which was reviewed in AD2000, comes a welcome sequel covering the period up to 2002. As with the earlier publication, The Headlong Traffic includes Dawe's ironical commentaries on a host of subjects encompassing current affairs (September 11, East Timor, etc) and aspects of Australian culture.

For readers of this journal, there are also several of Dawe's more overtly religious poems along with biting responses to social injustice, such as "Ill Fares the Land ..." on the fall-out from globalisation:

Here a textile factory closes
And its business moves off-shore
- Just another nameless victim
Of a 'necessary' war.

There, another dole queue's forming
As the latest dolorous sign
Of a welfare-bill that's booming
And a workforce in decline.

Shuffle off a hundred thousand
In the clothing industry
- 'Market forces' have no margin
Set aside for misery.

Can we match those footwear sweatshops
In Bangkok or famed Cathay?
If not, then let's all be barefoot
Slaves at forty cents a day.

"Australia Year Zero" is a devastating critique of today's abortion/euthanasia culture while "Temple Incident" connects the New Testament account of Jesus driving out the money-changers with today's market manipulators. A particularly touching poem is "Jesus Singing", based on Matthew 26:30: "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives":

"We've seen the angry Jesus in the temple
Drive out the money changers, yes, and yet
How rarely have we seen the same Lord singing
As He often did, before Mt Olivet ...".

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. As a former teacher myself, I would recommend their use in this regard, as well as for edification and enjoyment.

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