Much More You Could Say: Bruce Dawe’s poetry

Noel Rowe


Bruce Dawe’s reputation as a vernacular poet can be a disadvantage. I once heard an eminent Australian critic remark that once you’d read his poems there wasn’t much more you could say. The implication was that his work had an immediate appeal but no depth and that to exercise one’s critical faculties on work so colloquial in pitch and perspective would be a waste of a well-trained mind. At the same time I encountered the poetry of Philip Martin. Martin is a writer Dawe acknowledges as his friend and mentor, yet Martin’s poetry seems at first very different: the accent is more cultivated and the focus more personal. There is, however, at least one important similarity: both practise ‘the art that conceals art’, exercising great control of rhythm and speech stress to create an apparently uncomplicated voice. It is only when you do read their poems — that is, read within rather than over their poems — that you find there is much more you could say.

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