Bruce Dawe's new volume of poetry begins with a special dedication: a few lines of poetry about his sighting of four blind boys crossing the road, smiling, linked together with each one's hands on the next one's shoulders, "their thin canes waving eerily, like feelers, before them". It is a startling image. But then he delivers a double whammy. "I thought of ... all of us," the verse dedication continues, "alive to those of others, Faced with the headlong traffic of history,
And bound to learn the knack of moving together
If ever we hope to cross that road alive ..."
They are the words of a poet in his prime and of his time, in command of his medium, speaking to all of us. The poet is indeed in his prime. Now in his 70s, semi-retired, living on Queensland's Sunshine Coast with his new wife, Liz, the poems are pouring out of him. This new collection, The Headlong Traffic, his 13th volume, contains 63 of them. There are hundreds more waiting in the wings, being readied for publication. What is interesting is that those lines of dedication were from a poem written in the 1960s, when Dawe was in the RAAF, stationed in Penang. As a poet, he was not then in his prime. But they show him hitting his stride. There is his unerring poet's eye for the particular, the moment of time that he then metamorphoses into a universal truth. Dawe's reputation as a poet is for his celebration of "ordinariness". With his use of everyday, colloquial speech, especially the Australian idiom, with his popular poems about football, local events, trivia, the rough and tumble of politics, Australian suburbia, as well as his poems on love and death, terror and fear, he is labelled the "people's poet", "an ordinary bloke, with a respect for the ordinary". Or as Les Murray put it a few years ago: "His poetry has an unfussed kind of eloquence, wonderfully pitched so it will speak to people of little education or great education. He has a perfectly judged middle voice." How does a poet feel...
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