Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

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David Campbell
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by David Campbell » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:57 am

Googling didn't work for a while yesterday, but I've just tried it and all was fine. It's well worth having a look to see what Shelley and others have written. There are also some comments made by the editors of the Puncher and Wattman anthology and they, as you'd expect, disagree with what I wrote. They do, however, say they were "aware of the bush poets" and had "assessed their work", which is interesting: We respect their presentation skills, and acknowledge their sometimes skilful use of metre and rhyme, their tidy endings, and their likeable jokes. But we wanted much more. They also claim I called free verse a "passing trend", but I can't figure out where they got that idea from.

Anyway, here's what one traditional verse supporter had to say:

Peter McCarthy agrees, with oomph. Campbell “enunciated what many others think about the disturbing state of modern poetry”. “You were right to describe the essay as ‘punchy’ for it delivers a knockout blow to the puffed-up protestations of those who believe that anything goes with poetry. Any characterisation of rhyming verse as ‘doggerel’ demeans the achievements of decades of a worthy literary tradition and of those who practise it. The emergence of ‘free form’ poetry is a manifestation of slovenly thinking and a superficial appreciation of life’s elements by those who practise and promote it.”

I don't agree with the last sentence as I think free verse has its place and can be very effective, although the criticism is certainly valid in some cases.

Cheers
David

Terry
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by Terry » Sun Sep 17, 2017 4:00 pm

It seems to me there is no right or wrong way - just different ways.

Terry

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Gary Harding
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by Gary Harding » Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:58 pm

Well done David.
The reward for you must be the acclaim that you have received from those incisive newspaper opinions agreeing with your approach.
It must be nice to know that you do not stand alone!
It shows that real people.. readers.. are tired of deep and meaningful nonsense, diced-up prose arranged vertically in pieces (wierd?) and validated by self-styled and trumped-up "experts". Ern Malley rides again..
Shoved down the throats of newspaper readers by editors who are merely puppets of the free verse junta. You have opened a Pandora's Box it seems. Not the way to win a popularity award in some circles... but who cares.
If one reads by way of contrast the final comments made by the editors of the Anthology then their disconnect with the Australian people.. (the ordinary folk who actually fund a lot of these narrow pretenders)... is evident.
What amazes me is that they attempt to set themselves up as arbiters of what should be public taste... when they are so far removed from them... perhaps deliberately so. They have an unpleasant habit of trying to assert themselves by being patronising. It comes across here so much.
They claim free verse is the dominant form. Quite true. That is simply because it has no discipline or rules, and so anyone can write it and be a "poet". Like a game with no rules. Lots of players. Not because of quality, that is for sure.
Anyway...
Game, set, match to "Campbell".... no question about that.
Yep! Good one.

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Shelley
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by Shelley » Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:00 am

Hi All

David - thank you for the heads up on the follow-up article. It is certainly an interesting pot-pourri of edited comments and I would be fascinated to read the entire contents of each letter quoted in the article. I realise space wouldn't permit the printing of all, and I'm happy with the extract chosen from my letter.

For the benefit of Forum members, my entire letter is reproduced below - but first, a few comments.

I agree with you David, that not all free verse lacks merit. There is good and bad - just as there is in any form of writing, including bush verse. Of course, free verse has less rules by which to determine quality than say, bush verse or a sonnet. But that doesn't mean it has NO rules. A definition of free verse that I really like is found in Pathways for the Poet by Viola Jacobsen Berg (1977): "Free verse has no fixed meter and no rhyme. It is based, rather, on the cadence of natural speech rhythm. The poetic effect is heightened by imagery and connotative words. Line length is determined by cadence, the lines ending on a strong word where the voice would ordinarily pause when read aloud with expression." Effective free verse obeys those rules - which certainly preclude "minced prose" (one of my pet dislikes). As you say, Terry - there are different ways, all of which can work when done well. In my letter to the Weekend Australian I make mention of the Ipswich Poetry Feast Competition, which gives prize-winning bush verse and free verse equal billing - as it should be. In any definitive anthology of modern Australian poetry, quality examples of both should be included - which of course, was the point of your original article, David.

Part of what Diane Solomon Westerhuis writes is interesting ... that bush poets and other rhyming poets have to self-publish. It goes on: "She acknowledges that there is a place for free forms, which 'no longer have to justify themselves'. 'There should be a place for regular forms too, but they now have to justify themselves every time.' So true - especially when trying to convince a retailer to stock your books, CDs etc.

I had to smile at Bill Chesnut's recommendation that poets who espouse "lack of form" should stand in the marketplace and sell their wares like "cabbages or corned beef"! Of course, we bush poets do just that - recite our poetry at all sorts of public events and locations. It would be interesting indeed to "duel" with a free verse poet in those circumstances - especially one who favours obscurity over clarity!

As for the editors of Contemporary Australian Poetry - their response indicates to me that they've entirely missed the point. They acknowledge the accuracy and skill of metred and rhymed verse, yet they say "we wanted much more". That makes no sense - it's like saying a sonnet displays all the right qualities but you wanted 16 lines! What they commend about bush verse is exactly what defines the genre, so their comments do not justify its exclusion.

Here's the complete letter I wrote to the Weekend Australian in response to David's original article and the editor Stephen Romei's request for responses ...

Dear Stephen

In response to your invitation to comment, I concur with and support David Campbell’s insightful article on the omission of “bush poetry” from the recent anthology Contemporary Australian Poetry published by Puncher & Wattmann. (Weekend Australian 12/8/17).
Regardless of the opinions of the book’s editors, this omission is inexcusable in a work purporting to be a definitive collection of Australian verse from 1990 to the present.

Far from being a dead art form, traditional rhymed and metred poetry is at the forefront of cutting edge Australian literature. Talented modern writers are winning prizes on subjects such as domestic violence, child abuse, environmental issues, homelessness, substance abuse, suicide, aged care and dementia – topics intensely relevant to Australian life today.

Many of these prizes are awarded in high profile written competitions. For example, the annual Queensland-based Ipswich International Poetry Feast (now in its 15th year) typically receives over 1000 entries, and attracts major sponsorship from media, corporate and public sectors. It includes categories for both bush poetry and free verse – rightly giving these two genres equal recognition as relevant forms of modern Australian poetry.

Almost six years ago Rick Whittle, the Saturday breakfast announcer on ABC Local Radio Wide Bay (Queensland), began a weekly bush poetry segment featuring writers from our region. I was his first poet. His vision and initiative paid off, with a significant group of bush poets now presenting their original work in what has become one of his program’s most popular features.

It would be wonderful to see the Weekend Australian follow that lead and regularly publish quality examples of modern Australian bush verse. David Campbell, with his demonstrated qualifications, would be the ideal person to select and submit such examples from the prolific output of our fine writers.

Yours faithfully
SHELLEY HANSEN
“Lady of Lines”
Queensland Written Bush Poetry Champion
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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David Campbell
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by David Campbell » Mon Sep 18, 2017 10:21 pm

That sums it up pretty well, Terry. It's just a pity that the Puncher and Wattman editors didn't give at least some consideration to our "different" way.

Thanks, Gary, it was most certainly very pleasing to see the strong support given to traditional rhyming verse in the readers' comments quoted...and Shelley, as far as I know, is the only one from the bush poetry community.

And thank you again, Shelley, for the letter you wrote to The Australian. It made some excellent points. That "duel" with a free verse poet (or poets) may actually occur down here as I'm trying to organise something like that through the Melbourne Poets Union.

Cheers
David

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Gary Harding
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by Gary Harding » Wed Sep 20, 2017 3:01 pm

Shelley, :) I suggest that the peculiar part about "we wanted much more" is a common technique of the free verse crowd. By leaving things unsaid, you as reader are meant to be left wondering.. "oh, what could they possibly mean by that remark??" etc.

It is a sort of written one-upmanship trick.

A method commonly used to cast a veil of mystery and superiority.... THEY know what they mean (one presumes)... and if you dare ask them what they meant they will look offended and say.. " you did not know..? thought it was rather obvious" So you are one-up'd. :)

They say, quote "In a rhymed poem, the rhyme must come first, even if that leads, as it can with all but the best practitioners, to choices that are weak because they are vague, conventional or over-literary.”

No, rhyme does not come first at all. It is just one of several simultaneous demands required of a good ballad. No ranking.

However to their credit, what they are observing (I think truthfully) is that poets of lesser ability let rhyme drive their work such that their "poem" has a contrived and dischordant presentation. The poem is subserviant to rhyme and therefore cannot be good ... (or even deep and meaningful, like free verse is presumably?). It is thus unnatural and limited... and has an amateur and corny flavour which makes one not read past the first few lines. True.

Doggerel, which is also all too common these days in "bush poetry" in my view, instantly makes for a very inferior "poem" too. They did not mention that, which is probably a good thing.

On the other hand, as they rightly note, the best poetic practitioners are the clever masters of rhyme (not the reverse) and work it, along with meter, to make a neat poem flow. You are not necessarily even conscious of the rhyme because it is incidental to the poem, not dominant, even although it is subtly adding so much.

Balladry is enormously demanding, in my view. Well good balladry is anyway... free verse I have no comprehension of whatsoever. And yet the government throws hundreds of thousands of dollars at that JUNK. They actually pay people to produce it!! They must know something I don't.... which is not hard to do I guess.

As I said, on points David easily won the scrap.

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Shelley
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by Shelley » Tue Sep 26, 2017 7:02 pm

You are right about the role of rhyme in good poetry, Gary. I have often read and been moved by an exquisitely written rhymed and metred poem without even noticing its structure - only doing so on subsequent readings. That "wow" factor is what David and others have mentioned in relation to judging bush poetry competitions. When a correctly written traditional poem has that special "something" that transcends the technicalities - then it is definitely a winner!

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
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"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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David Campbell
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by David Campbell » Fri Sep 29, 2017 10:06 am

It's useful to make a distinction between serious and humorous verse when it comes to rhyme. In the former the rhyme (and metre, for that matter) shouldn't be obvious...the lines should flow smoothly, without any disruptive jarring effects (like inversions), so that the focus is entirely on the narrative. With humorous poetry, however, rhyme and metre can be used for comic effect, and exaggeration of both is common when it comes to performance.

With regard to "we wanted much more", I'd like to challenge the editors of "Contemporary Australian Poetry" on this (and other comments of theirs), so have used the Puncher and Wattman website to ask for contact details. That was over a week ago, and there has been no response so far.

Cheers
David

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Shelley
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by Shelley » Fri Sep 29, 2017 10:55 am

David, that is so true.

During the years I worked, the writing of humorous poems to commemorate and celebrate office events became somewhat of a tradition - and I was not the only writer. Literary offerings were read over morning tea, providing a good giggle and a generous dose of stress relief.

And you are right - rhyme was paramount! That's evident in one of the last pieces I wrote - followed the discovery by one of our project managers that a specialised camping tool was correctly termed a "spondonicle". What else could I do but write "The Spondonicle Chronicle"?

You might remember I posted it on the Forum a while ago, as a bit of fun ... viewtopic.php?f=6&t=8265&p=70548&hilit= ... cle#p70548

Doggerel has its place too!

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
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"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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David Campbell
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Re: Bush poetry article in "The Australian"

Post by David Campbell » Fri Sep 29, 2017 11:22 am

Yep, remember that one...a terrific example of the fun you can have with rhyme and metre.

Cheers
David

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