Can bush poetry survive?

Recurring debates on important poetry topics.
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David Campbell
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Can bush poetry survive?

Post by David Campbell » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:05 am

Hi All

This post is prompted by Val Read’s poem (Defending Bush Poetry) in the last issue of the ABPA magazine and a presentation I gave yesterday to about 150 Year 8 students at a large co-educational non-government school here in Melbourne. The students are doing a unit on ballads at the beginning of next term and I was there to explain what a ballad was and how it worked. During the presentation I asked if anyone could name an Australian poet. One lone hand went up. “Banjo Paterson.” And what did he write? “The Man From Snowy River.” That was it. Nobody could name another poet or poem.

I also asked how many had either been to see or were going to see The Hunger Games, a just-released film set in a future where teenagers fight to the death on live television. Just about every hand in the theatre shot up immediately. That’s the reality we face, at least here in the city, as we attempt to keep our traditional rhyming verse alive. These are kids who have grown up with Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, the Twilight books and films, and now The Hunger Games. Are they going to write ballads about bushrangers, pioneers, shearers, and other aspects of our colonial history? No. Are we going to connect with them by always looking back, by writing exclusively about those issues? No. And yet that is exactly what Val Read’s poem insists that we do.

Following that direction would do little or nothing to promote our rhyming verse. The verse-form is more important than the subject-matter and the most likely way of encouraging interest from the younger generations is through issues that resonate with them. The fact that bush poetry currently occupies a very minor place in the poetry world, with poetry in general only a small part of the overall literary scene, is clear evidence that relying on our old favourites of Paterson, Lawson, Dennis etc. is not cutting through. When we in the 60+ age group, who grew up with their poetry, have gone, who will be left to carry the flame? Banishing ourselves into the past will only entrench a strategy that has clearly not worked.

That doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. History, ‘the bush’, and the works of our great poets have a part to play, but they alone will not keep the poetry that we enjoy alive. Young people can be led in that direction, but first they have to come to an appreciation of metre and rhyme. To that end, we need diversity and flexibility in what we write, and I, unlike Val, am greatly encouraged to see the range of verse published in the 2011 Bronze Swagman anthology. The poems about computers (by Don Adams) and the “fat girl’s misery” (by Leonie Parker) are perfectly valid and exactly the sort of pieces that might strike a chord with young and old alike. Val didn’t criticise my poem in the book, but she could have because it was about dementia, a topic that is neither historical nor necessarily related to the bush.

Going further, if we only allowed poems that were “purely bush” and devoted to history, most of the verse published in the last issue of the magazine would be disallowed.

My A Father’s Prayer wouldn’t qualify and neither would Charlee Marshall’s November or Zondrae King’s response. Kym Eitel’s Ghost Child, which was last year’s Australian Champion Written Poem wouldn’t pass the test either, along with the poems written by Paddy O’Brien, Heather Knight, Neville Briggs, Carol Reffold, and BJ Stirling. They’d all fall victim to Val’s protest: “Put the general odes aside!” Doesn’t leave much, does it?

To go down the “purely bush” history path introduces all manner of absurdities. What’s the time-line? Do we have to go back prior to 1950? 1900? Can we write poems about the two world wars and Korea, but not about Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq? And if we do write about the victims of war, must we place our main characters in a rural setting to qualify? If writing about the past in the bush is a poet’s strength because that’s the life he or she has lived, then that’s fine. But it’s not everybody’s experience or interest, and creating some sort of writing straitjacket for all poets who enjoy metre and rhyme would be completely counterproductive.

Unfortunately, Val has grasped the wrong end of the stick. In The Best Australian Poems 2010 (Black Inc.) there were 110 poets represented, with 129 poems. Only three (2.3%) of the poems could be called traditional rhyming verse, and not one of those three would get much recognition in a bush poetry competition. That’s the reality. Limiting what we write to a “purely bush” celebration of our history would only hasten the very end which Val is so desperate to avoid.

In the Australian literary world bush poetry is usually regarded as something of a curiosity, a quiet backwater, precisely because it is stereotyped as being confined to verse about bushrangers, kangaroos, gum trees, and hilarious tales about dunnies and red-back spiders. We have to break that stereotype to survive.

That’s why I wholeheartedly support the ABPA definition (“Australian bush poetry is metred and rhymed poetry about Australia, Australians and/or the Australian way of life”). It’s sometimes criticised for being too general, but I like it for the very flexibility that it provides.

It allows me to write about dementia, a world-wide phenomenon, in a poem that could be set anywhere. But dementia is something that affects many of us here, and I wrote two poems about the disease because it stole the last years of my mother’s life. Is someone going to tell me I can’t do that because it’s not a uniquely Australian subject?

On the other hand, I’m not going to submit to an ABPA competition a poem about poverty in the Sudan, the American election, the rebellion in Syria, the history of bagpipes (probably not Scottish, by the way), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, wildlife in the Serengeti National Park, a boat ride on the Ganges, or any one of countless other possible themes that are clearly not related to Australia.

The ABPA definition gives us scope. It allows those whose interest is history and ‘the bush’ to write accordingly but, importantly, it also provides a platform for those of us who want to tackle contemporary issues and the way they impact on our Australian way of life. To deny the latter, to follow the “purely bush” track, would most definitely give our much-loved rhyming verse a one-way ticket to oblivion.

Cheers
David
Last edited by David Campbell on Thu Mar 29, 2012 1:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

manfredvijars

Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by manfredvijars » Wed Mar 28, 2012 12:38 pm

Thank you David for your well considered post - and food for thought.

I firmly believe that we in the ABPA are the 'Keepers of the Culture' through our bush poetry. Our current membership growth comes mainly from 40+ group who finally 'find' themselves after many years absence from bush poetry, usually experienced in their school years.

Bush poetry must be fundamentally a Country thing. The Winton Junior Bush Poetry Festival, has been held over the past 17 years. This year, the Junior Performance Festival is host to over 350 performers from far north and Central Queensland - Aramac, Windorah, Muttaburra, Longreach, Illfracombe, Barcaldine, Isisford and of course Winton.

Many of our successful performance poets give generously of their time to work with kids.

The likes of Carmel Randle, Marco Gliori, Glenny Palmer, Bobby Miller, Rodrick Williams, Reid Begg, Janine Haig, Noel Stallard, Mellanie Hall and Milton Taylor, to name a few, perform and hold workshops and competitions for kids at various schools.

Graham and Louise Dean have been the the hardworking organisers of this festival for the last 15 years. Imagine the poor judges, Gary Fogarty and (this year)Janine Haig, amongst others, who regularly (AND generously) pop out to Winton to support the Junior Festival by judging, performing and holding workshops.

No, we don't see our younger poets (just yet), but they eventually mature and show themselves. That is why we MUST have the ABPA around for them when they do mature and 'find' themselves. AND we must also be generous in allocating resources for their nurture so our Culture stays strong!

PS ....
Over 430 entries for the Junior "Little Swaggies" (written) awards ... from all across Australia ...

Neville Briggs
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Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by Neville Briggs » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:38 pm

And Marty Boyce reckons I'm " wordy " :lol: :lol:


Very well said David and incontestably true.

There's another issue I think. I saw a highly placed public servant speaking on the Press Club broadcast to-day, who told the audience that 80% of Australians live in cities. I think that urbanisation is the main cultural influence in Australia, so " bush " poetry of the subject type advocated by Val Read has very little meaning or relevance to possibly 80% of our compatriots.

To be honest I didn't find anything reasonable or insightful in Val Read's poem that needed any reply.

Apart from consideration of subject matter, I suspect that there is another issue, especially among practitioners of poetry, that bush poetry is nothing more than very ordinary language telling " yarns ' with no poetic intent other than arranging syllables and making predictable rhymes. This criticism is not without foundation and I think that aspect needs to worked on if we really want to advance the standing of bush poetry.
Neville
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

Terry
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Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by Terry » Wed Mar 28, 2012 2:50 pm

G/day David,
Anyone who knows Valerie will tell you that she has a love for all forms of poetry, but is especially passionate about bush poetry and the part it plays in helping to preserve our history. While I take a much broader view myself, I still respect her right to state her views.

Valerie feels that bush poetry deserves it's own niche and perhaps there should be a category for (suggestion only) 'Australian Poetry', which in my opinion is a reasonable. You would be doing her a disservice to suggest she has a closed mind on the subject, she certainly hasn't, but being a 'Fair Dinkum Aussie' she's never going to be backward in letting her views be known.

Hi Neville,
I think you belittle the efforts of our present Bush Poets with your your views of what and how we write, I accept that to you this may be the case, but most of us share a genuine affection for bush poetry as it is.

We are constantly telling each other that we write for our own enjoyment, so why don't we continue to do just that, be it Bush Poetry, Australian Poetry, or even Free Verse and let the future take care of it's self as it undoubtedly will, regardless of our efforts to-day.

Cheers Terry

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Wed Mar 28, 2012 5:21 pm

My particular interest is in writing for children, and in rhyming verse - not necessarily bush verse.

Some of my favourite children's poets are as follows:

AA Milne
Roald Dahl
Shel Silverstein
R. L. Stevenson
Michael Rosen
Jack Prelutsky
Roger McGough

In Australia we have been blessed to have the following:

Max Fatchen
Bill Scott
Doug McLeod
Edel Wignell
Barbara Giles
Elizabeth Honey
Janeen Brian
Mark Carthew
Jackie Hosking
Rex Ingamells
C. J. Dennis

None of these (with the possible exception of the last) would be classified as 'bush poets', but they are rhymers, and they have proved popular with children over the years.

My feeling is that you might not excite with children with 'bush verse', but it is easy to engage their interest with rhyming verse!
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

manfredvijars

Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by manfredvijars » Wed Mar 28, 2012 6:08 pm

Just in from Janine ...


Janine Haig

Will certainly add my two-bob's worth.
Just finished with all the judging etc. Went really well.
Yesterday afternoon I did a radio interview with Longreach ABC. This morning ABC Qld picked it up as well. This afternoon ABC Countrywide interviewed two of the young performers. ...... go Winton and the Juniors!
Am worn out but have really enjoyed it. Louise is very enthusiastic about you offering to be of help. She DID ask me what you were like so I lied through my teeth and told her you were very sensible etc. Not sure she believed me, but went along with it anyway.....

NB ... over 350 Junior performers from far north and Central Queensland in attendance

Neville Briggs
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Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by Neville Briggs » Wed Mar 28, 2012 7:54 pm

I'm surprised Terry, that anyone should think I belittle bush poets. I can assure you that anything I say about writing bush poetry, however it comes out, is most certainly intended to encourage and enhance the practice of bush poetry.
Neville
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

David J Delaney

Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by David J Delaney » Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:15 pm

Great discussion here everyone & thank you David, yes it is a bit hard when against the American music & American block buster movies, but we can only keep 'chipping away'. With my 1st 2 books I gave copies to a number of school libraries here, now one of the teachers (via her husband) bought my latest release & has taken it to her classes to read, apparently a number of classes she teaches are doing a project on 'Red dog' & will conclude with a poem from my book.
We can get there, we just have to be persistant without being overbearing to the kids 'pushing' bush poetry, I've noticed in the past couple of years bush/rhyming poetry has grown considerably in popularity around here & the regional areas.

Thanks again David.

BTW as soon as I have enough books to spare I will donate a number to the local school libraries. :)

Bob Pacey
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Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by Bob Pacey » Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:57 pm

I think there was a Slim Dusty song about Country music having a revival ??/


Well much the same for bush poetry we don't need to revive it it has been here all the time, I do a lot of shows for charity and fundraisers and can be as busy or as quiet as I like so the general public still have a great love for Bush poetry.

I did a show last night for a group of over eighties and they loved the yarns about outside Dunnies,newspaper on a nail and such. I also have two schools waiting to slot visits to talk to the kids at assemblies and the radio station waiting on a local election poem so the interest is out there I really do not know how we seem to have convinced ourselves that it is a dying art ???.


Oh Marty when you have to do an hour long show on your own the little short poems mainly derived from old jokes ( as you put it ) will always get a good response and are just the same as telling the joke in a more entertaining format. they are good fill in poems so don't knock them too much.


We all need to play our part getting the word out there and sometimes that may take a little effort on our part.

Cheers Bob
The purpose in life is to have fun.
After you grasp that everything else seems insignificant !!!

Terry
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Re: Can bush poetry survive?

Post by Terry » Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:15 pm

G/day again Neville,
Having met you and enjoyed your company for a short time Neville I realize you were merely expressing a point of view and perhaps I read too much into it so I had another read of your comments.
It’s the following paragraph from your post that caught my attention.

‘Apart from consideration of subject matter, I suspect that there is another issue, especially among practitioners of poetry, that bush poetry is nothing more than very ordinary language telling " yarns ' with no poetic intent other than arranging syllables and making predictable rhymes. This criticism is not without foundation and I think that aspect needs to worked on if we really want to advance the standing of bush poetry’.

That certainly seemed a put down to me, hence my response.

I suppose the question is, who are these practitioners? And do we really care what they think.

I have said before I always enjoy your comments Neville as I suspect you’re often playing Devil’s advocate to some extent and fishing for other views. Well you certainly got mine mate.

Cheers Terry

Ps Should have used the quote but haven't quite figured it out yet

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