For decades when you went into a second-hand bookshop in Australia, if you found only one book of poetry there it would be Bruce Dawe’s Sometimes Gladness
The poet Bruce Dawe, who wrote his first poems in his teens under a pseudonym, has died at age 90 as one of Australia’s best-known poets, respected by a wide and diverse audience. This diversity would have mattered to him. His work was widely honoured in his lifetime, including with the Patrick White award and a Christopher Brennan award for lifetime achievement in poetry.
From a working-class background with broken schooling in Melbourne, then later ongoing commitment to part-time education, through to receiving a PhD, he eventually became a teacher and academic in Queensland. Dawe’s earlier work experience(his many jobs included being a postman, working in a battery factory and serving for a long period with the RAAF) provided the “lived life” feel of social familiarity in his poems.
Always behind Dawe’s seemingly playful banter is his commitment to sympathy and connection with the less empowered
Dear one, forgive my appearing before you like this,
in a two-piece track-suit, welder’s goggles
and a green cloth cap, like some gross bee – this is the State’s idea ...
Be assured, you will sink into the generous pool of public feeling
as gently as a leaf ... Accept your role. Feel chosen.
You are this evening’s headline. Come, my love.
What does he do with them all, the old king:
Having such a shining haul of boys in his sure net,
How does he keep them happy, lead them to forget
The world above, the aching air, birds, spring?