The art of poetry has rarely been able to traverse from the realm of the academic to the scope of an everyman, and for good reason, one can say, if one considers its reputation for being complex and, to put it bluntly, boring. Of course, some poets, for example Bruce Dawe, deliberately write using the language of the general public, as to dispel what Dawe himself calls “’the Byronic Wildean archetype’, the image of the poet as an extraordinary and alienated person”1. Poetry often expresses the problems and views of suppressed or underprivileged groups, and when put in the vernacular of the public, as much of Dawe’s poetry is, it serves to create a voice for people whose tales are so often ignored by the masses. The ballad known as “Homecoming” and the satirical, deadpan diagnosis of “Doctor to Patient” are both examples of how Dawe has been able to make his poetry both challenging to its readership’s perceptions of youth, their shared focus group. He has not sacrificed any poetic devices in bringing his poetry to the public, however, and frequently calls to order numerous techniques to put across his views in these two poems.
The tonality of Dawe’s poetry is often very clear in is writing style, which is invaluable in generating an emotional response from the reader, being able to position the reader and highlight points of view other to their own. “Homecoming” makes use of two distinct tones through its course, initially having an impersonal and monotonous manner, feeling like the moaning of a disgruntled worker in a dissatisfactory job. It comes about through the repetition of “they’re”, such as (“they’re) bringing them home… giving them names… zipping them up”, firmly placing the reader over the shoulder of the would-be morticians and separating the dead soldiers, making them sound as if they are mere objects “in green plastic bags”. This changes radically, however, after the corpses are directly described, “curly-heads, kinky hairs, crew cuts, balding non-coms”, and from here on in, “they” now refers to the soldiers. This simple description of a basic human feature effectively humanises the soldiers and forces the reader to perceive the fallen as human beings, rather than one in the number of army personnel killed in combat, and also dredges up the experience of the families of such people, receiving the news in “small towns… wide web of suburbs”. The grounding of the young soldier’s final resting places in such familiar localities challenges the reader to think about the sacrifice of so many young people in preserving their freedom, especially when one considers the rise of conscription, and how it could have ripped unwilling young men from their homes and families into the rushes of war.
“Doctor to Patient” also makes great use of its tone, the emotionless, indifferent voice of one reading a clinical analysis. Indeed, it seems to be the print word form of deadpan satire, and has been transcribed as such into dramatic monologue. Its use in the poem is to reflect how unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, is regarded as “a question of numbers and stock-market responses rather than individual pain and despair”2. The most profound way in which this occurs is the reversal of the privileged voice: instead of using what seems obvious and showing the reader exactly what the ‘patient’ is thinking, we are given no information about the ‘patient’ at all, only the transcript of the doctor’s spiel, which makes use of common associative phrases, such as “Please sit down. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you”, and “next please”. This patronising, falsely sympathetic tone of the doctor highlights how what he describes is felt by the general populace, that unemployed youth are either slackers, or merely unlucky, but always inferior to the employed. It also calls to mind a rather comical picture of being told, quite calmly and serenely, “Most, that is, survive” and that being unemployed may lead to use of “compulsive...
References: 1. Rowe, N, Much More You Could Say: Bruce Dawe’s poetry (2004), p2. Retrieved 21:48, April 26, 2012, from http://escholarship.usyd.edu.au/journals/index.php/SSE/article/viewfile/533/504
2. Brennan, B, Poetry and Politics: In conflict or conversation? Aboriginal poetry, Peter Skrzynecki, and Bruce Dawe (2002), p17. Retrieved 19:26, April 23, 2012, from http://ojs-prod.library.usyd.edu.au/index.php/SSE/article/view/567/536
3. Rowe, N, Much More You Could Say: Bruce Dawe’s poetry (2004), p11. Retrieved 21:48, April 26, 2012, from http://escholarship.usyd.edu.au/journals/index.php/SSE/article/viewfile/533/504
4. Anodyne, in Dictoinary.com. Retrieved 16:44, April 29, 2012, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/anodyne?s=t
5. Brennan, B, Poetry and Politics: In conflict or conversation? Aboriginal poetry, Peter Skrzynecki, and Bruce Dawe (2002), p18. Retrieved 19:26, April 23, 2012, from http://ojs-prod.library.usyd.edu.au/index.php/SSE/article/view/567/536
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