Bruce Dawe once said “I write out of a concern for things that are going on around me.” This is evident throughout his writings in ‘Sometimes Gladness Dawe combine humor and seriousness regarding the contemporary Australian society around him. The particular values held by Australian individuals really bother Dawe “a pure unadulterated fringe of sky, littered with stars no one has got around to fixing up yet.” Dawe portrays Australian society as a consumer society who is always demanding more like the stars not being bright enough. Dawe consistently focuses on the smaller picture of life to show to the reader his frustration and amusement of the cycle of life.
Dawe expresses his amusement in ‘Life-cycle’ in a satirical manner suggesting football with its rituals such as, “hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat” and heroes like “Chicken Smallhorn.” has replaced religion as a central focus for many Australians. Dawe through the ‘life-cycle’ as the title suggests of a footy fan explores the religious experiences lived by the individual. The child is born into a football-dominated world and has confirmed to this lifestyle before even setting foot into this world. “They are wrapped in the club-colours, laid in beribboned cots, having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.” The sight of the child’s first football match is seen “hoisted shoulder-high” rising from the “innocent monsters” they have been living as and elevates to a sight of heaven, “the daylight’s roaring empyrean.” This piece is not biting satire but a gentle laugh at the expense of football fans. Dawe likens them to religious devotes. “Looking to heaven,” seeking salvation,” “the voice of God booms from the stands.” The football fan becomes part of Australian mythology.
‘Enter without so much as knocking’ in some ways is a contrasting piece to ‘Life-cycle.’ Where instead of satire Dawe adopts a cynical stance as he criticises a superficial society. He paints a picture of people caught up in a life cycle full of “money hungry,” “backstabbing,” “godless,” individuals. Dawe highlights the negative impact of materialism on society. The title suggests that life begins abruptly ‘without so much as knocking.’ The smaller subtitle, almost like the ‘fine print’ reveals the truth. From dust we come and from dust we shall return. Embedded in his thought, is the suggestion that we obsess over the petty superficial things in life such as, “halitosis,” “falling of hair,” “parking tickets,” “down payment” his images of “economy size mums,” Bobby Dazzler,” “giant faces” all drive home the sense of futility associated with this lifestyle. Dawe leaves us with a sense that it all happens so fast “blink, blink hospital silence.” In the end “nobody interested.” But in Dawes interpretation of the consumer driven life, death is the only escape.
In a frustrated reflection on the oppressive treatment of Indonesia towards, East Timor Dawe’s poem ‘Santa Cruz’ highlights “trade… rights all wrong.” Morality is cast aside “what foreign soldier do will not make headlines here.” Dawe exposes the willingness of governments to overlook circumstances that may normally attract disapproval. He seeks to draw attention to the unseen offshore atrocities. “Who hears the riffle-butt… or sees where death is done.” Presenting us with a sense that these things are covered up “official mouths are shut.” ‘Santa Cruz is an angry controlled commentary in which Dawe notes the difference “what still lie, between your land and ours.” Advancing the idea that despite the truth of one country’s experiences (in this case Indonesian oppression of East Timor) we remain ignorant and immune.
Dawe’s frustration with the senseless death of war victims in the poem ‘Homecoming’ is tangible. The repetition of language reinforces the enormity of loss. Images of “plastics bags,” tags, zips, “deep-freeze lockers.” All create a sense of waste disposal. His “noble jets… whining like hounds” conveying again the mass numbers involved. The title and the repetitiveness of the use of the words “home” present’s the irony of a return. Accompanied with a “howl.” Iconic images of “mangrove-swamps,” dessert emptiness,” “knuckled hills.” Illustrate a sense of a familiar environment. He builds a sense of grief with the new of death “telegrams tremble,” spider grief swings,” Language that emphasises Dawe’s anti-war sentiments. “Too late, too early” the waste of life is obvious.
Dawe often adopts satire and irony to expose a range of sentiments about life. He presents an obvious disapproval of war the Australian involvement as evidences in ‘Homecoming’ and the global implications a presented in ‘Santa Cruz.’ The predisposition for individual’s to become materialistic is highlighted with negative, criticism in ‘Enter without so much as knocking.’ On a lighter note Dawe’s warm heartened observation of the almost religious Australian commitment to football is both appealing and in some respects amusing. There can be no doubt that Dawe’s poems provoke thought and reflection about the human condition.
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