Poetry and Politics: In conflict or conversation? Aboriginal poetry, Peter Skrzynecki, and Bruce Dawe

Bernadette Brennan


At first blush it may appear that poetry, a seemingly private language of lyric or personal experience, would have at best a very tenuous relationship with the public reality of the political. Indeed those who argue that art should be produced for art’s sake, free from the tyranny of meaning and purpose, would insist that poetry and the political must operate in separate spheres. But what exactly does the term ‘political’ mean? ‘Political’ refers to the way a society organises its social life and the power relations which that organisation involves. Poetry which deals with the nature of relationships, language, history, existence, oppression, and death is, therefore, political. The relationship between poetry and the political is, however, more subtle and more profound than this neat equation suggests. In this paper readings of poems by a number of Aboriginal poets, by Peter Skrzynecki, and by Bruce Dawe, seek to uncover ways in which individual poems can offer a deeper understanding of some of the moral and political questions facing contemporary Australian society: black / white relations, asylum seekers, unemployment, and globalisation.

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