Vale Bruce Dawe

Bruce Dawe died on Wednesday, aged 90. He was one of Australia’s most loved poets, and one of the most accessible. During the Vietnam War, his poems ‘Weapons Training’ and ‘Homecoming’ made a big impression on me.

This is one of his poems from the 1990s that strikes a chord with me as one of the privileged ones who has water to wash my hands, a home to stay in, and a faltering NBN to keep me in touch with friends.

You and Sarajevo
for Gloria

Hearing the sound of your breathing as you sleep,
with the dog at your feet, his head resting
on a shoe, and the clock's ticking
like water dripping in a sink
– I know that, even if reincarnation were a fact,
given the inherent cruelty of the world
where beautiful things and people
are blasted apart all the day long,
I would never want to come back, knowing
I could never be this lucky twice ...

Added later: Sue at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog has blogged at more length about Bruce Dawe, and there’s a write-up in the Sydney Morning Herald at this link.

11 responses to “Vale Bruce Dawe

  1. It’s an odd thing to say because he was a good two decades older than I am, but he was the voice of our generation because he cared about the things that we cared about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In Japan I met a woman who was a near neighbour to Bruce – somewhere north of Brisbane – the Sunshine Coast! I wrote a note of my appreciation for his work – his anthology “Sometimes Gladness” published 1978 (and dedicated to The Blessed Maximilian KOLBE – died Auschwitz 1941 – I saw the cell he was in when there just last year in April)was a set text HSC level in English back in the 1980s+. Bruce wrote back – sent a message back…

    I relished his “easy does it”:
    I have to be careful with my boy.
    When he says tree it comes out hazy
    very green and friendly and before I’ve got
    the meaning straight he’s up there laughing in it,
    or working on the word for aeroplane …
    I have to be careful with my boy,
    that I don’t crumple his immediate-delivery-genuine-fold-up-and-extensible world
    into correct English forever, petrify its wonder
    with the stone gaze of grammar, …”

    90 years – and always writing – observing the sparkle of our world and its people.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anne Bell Knight

    He spoke for us all,Lisa..A sincere mirror of our variegated world.Virtual hug to you all out there

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Was quite taken with his story telling. More accessible than Les Murray.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. David: I like your response re Les. Especially recalling that in some ways he could be cuttingly/obliviously critical of other poets – at times – when some might think back to the old adage that if one can’t say something pleasant it were best to say nothing. I am thinking Jack DAVIS for starters…Or maybe it’s just the way of some genius to eschew conventional politeness? I remember that students responded positively to Bruce Dawe’s poetry – they understood the kindness that was fundamental to his vision of this world. That was what clearly grabbed the many teachers who were happy to find this man’s work selected for study – as in other ways the prose and poetry either by Peter Skrzynecki or selected by him…the natural world, our immigrant national character…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks, Jonathan. Les had a dramatic life – some amazing friends – and was kind and generous, too – especially to me in my very first attempts to mount an argument for the study of Australian literature reflecting our diversity and which I titled with a line from one of his poems addressed to the childhood immigrant/DP background of his wife, Valerie: “The Deep End of the Schoolyard.” I think he himself suggested he was on the edge of the spectrum (Asperger’s) but if not I think I see it – and which no doubt accounted for some of that bluntness of assessment he may have uttered. I don’t mean to cast “the nasturtiums…he was after all a distant kinsman for whom I have felt pride and sympathy both!

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    • Yes, Jim. In the few interactions I had with him he was generous – especially in the comments he made on a poem I submitted to him, of which a later draft he subsequently published. There was often a harshness in his poetry, though, from his little squib about gay men ‘I shot an arrow in the air, It came to earth in Taylor Square etc’ to the serves-them-right poem about a hot-air balloon crash.

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  7. It’s interesting that there was this – I’m not sure how to put it – slightly uncharitable aspect – and I feel uncomfortable about mentioning it – but it was there – he may have been one of the giants of English language poetry but it did not therefore mean some of us reading his work were not aware of it. I have a friend in Japan – a true genius of the brush – whether oils or with ink – and always extraordinarily generous to me – but he too to his nearest and dearest could be what an observer might see as far too selfishly demanding. He had some amazing patrons – painted all along the Silk Road – as do all great Japanese artists – their pilgrimage path – and in the UK, too – and among those patrons one time one showing me some of the works from the artist. I looked closer – Utah. Logan City – and a snow covered range towering up behind the town – and a church small but still highlighted in the foreground. I mentioned that I have kin-folk with deep LDS connections to Utah – and one a brother-in-=law to Brigham Young who sent him off to the UK and the Continent to study Church architecture. Truman Osborn ANGELL his name. The architect of the Salt Lake City Temple. I spoke to the artist – he had visited as a guest and been to the region doing his paintings or at least the sketches towards the finished works in situ. I wrote to Logan – and received back a pamphlet of the beautiful Logan Temple – yes, architect T.O. Angell – but the builder in actual fact was his namesake son. If you go on-line you should be able to bring up some of the images. Sometimes figures of genius I suspect are always in the centre of their world – others of us (me at least) mere peripheral sounding boards/reflectors – important momentarily – to that centre – or more significant as the case may be – though not always seeing or aware of their own effect?


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