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Again and again Dawe crystalizes not just the loss of childhood innocence, but its precise, mysterious moment. They eye each other, and falsetto voices arch over them like doom.” The strength of Dawe, with poems like these, is that he distils common experience.“The Last of Games” opens with the age-old suburban cry of mothers at nightfall, beseeching their children to get home, as youngsters strain against the calling and play away in Indian tents, “igloos…into the caves of ice and the caves of wood”. I can read “The Last of Games” and be taken back to a “cave of wood” my boyhood friend and I made in his large, rambling back yard.He concluded:”…the Collected Poems reveals a tendency to slightness, a versification which – until now – I was prepared to characterise as purposefully rough but which now strikes me as slapdash and tuneless, and a disconcerting sentimentality which spoils some of the more ambitious work.” Time has a way of sorting out the value of writing (and literary critics), and Dawe’s work has survived for many reasons, but above all, I suspect, because of its inherent truth. Another ingredient to his work’s longevity is its approachability. You will find something Dawe has crafted a poem about.
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.
And they did.” Dawe, with deep satire, sketches the clash between protestors and police, and even discusses changes in legislation that enabled “detention without charge” and “incrimination by silence”.
But, as ever, Dawe flips the poem, and his word play, on its head with his final lines.
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.– was published in mid-November, 1962, by Cheshire, when the former farm labourer, gardener and postman was 32 years old.When the 54-page volume hit the shelves of Australian bookshops, I was just eight months old. At that precise moment I was deeply embedded in Brisbane suburbia, a seven-year-old punting a plastic football up and down the footpath, exploring surrounding bushland and roaming seemingly across the landscape of Dawe’s poems.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.When I was climbing trees, Dawe was writing this: “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 / which is also a little above his head / so that he has to stand on tiptoe to touch it…” Then in 1979, he produced .In their secret places children enter “the jigsaw puzzle of sun…into its fretwork,/ whether as buccaneers or fringed frontiersmen, incomplete, / the candles in invisible beards are lit with their breath, / the blood rusts on their cheap-jack cutlasses.” As the mothers continue to shout out, the children huddle in their shelters. I can see the streetlights flicker on and throw watery grey shadows in the twilight.I can hear my mother’s rather beautiful falsetto voice, thrown from the verandah of our house like the delicate line of a fly fisherman, and feel the cold pebble of surety that play was over. Rereading Dawe after many years, too, it’s easy to forget his courage as a poet of politics.A child is happy at the prospect of transition, another sad.No one asks why they’re leaving and where they’re going.