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Longer poems admired here

Readers may appreciate different approaches taken within keynote work in Australian poetry of place.

In ‘Drought Year’, Judith Wright offered an elegy for outback land she visited, devastated by a lack of rain; in ‘South of My Days’ she penned a paean for home, down in the high country around Armidale, for which she found herself longing, in having shifted north to Queensland.

Regretful about colonisation, Wright supported Oodgeroo Noonuccal in giving an Aboriginal voice to a sense of dispossession: with ‘Municipal Gum’ lamenting having a eucalypt surrounded by ‘hard bitumen’, not ‘leafy forest’, the tree itself is asked as a ‘fellow citizen,/ What have they done to us?’

More recently, Ali Cobby Eckerman has posted a ‘Warning’, recreating a point of first contact – in South Australia – where Traditional Owners beside a river face the threat of massacre, once ‘strange animals and pale men’ approach.

In a range of poems, Tony Birch puts an acute Indigenous lens on modern urban life in Melbourne, by contrast, addressing current-day racism, while showing his love for the inner suburb of Fitzroy.

Kenneth Slessor sang poignant hymns of human loss – on Sydney Harbour – within ‘Five Bells’ in peace-time; and over the Gulf of Arabs, in ‘Beach Burial’, during World War 2: ‘Dead seamen .../ Whether as enemies they fought,/ ... the sand joins them together,/ Enlisted on the other front’.

Lost himself far too young, Charles Buckmaster evoked the magnetic pull but ambiguity of the Flinders Ranges in ‘Wilpena Pound’, showing attachment yet sorrow for ‘this land,/ your pastures/ stained with blood from dark-skinned wounds.’

Writing as if passing through Lambing Flat herself at that time, in ‘Fourteen Poor Men’ Mary Gilmore registered the shame – across 100 years – of Chinese miners being killed in the Gold Rush.

Moving forward a century, but still interrogating immigration in Australia, Peter Skrzynecki recalls being ostracised – as a child fresh from Europe – in a ‘Migrant Hostel’ at Parkes, likewise in NSW.

Having migrated here from Iran at 15, Ali Alizadeh not only pays tribute to an inspirational figure in ‘Rumi’: after depicting that Persian poet as having been forced into desert by ‘raiders’, Alizadeh suggests he has been ‘saved’ himself from displacement here, via a mystical absorption in poetry.

Tom Shapcott also explored how place can have an unusual power, on returning: painting a picture of familiar landmarks, ‘The City of Home’ ends uncomfortably, with a question-begging surprise ...

Drawn to Crete by its Mediterranean beauty and Greek mythology, as a creative traveller, in ‘The wine-dark sea’ Dorothy Porter explored how this island was ‘spawning’ inspiration akin to birth.

With ‘Run’, Miriam Wei Wei Lo uses a slender poetic form (true to traditional Chinese verse) to show a young woman fleeing along ‘a path/ cut shoulder-wide/ into grass .../ between the/ rubber trees’: an anxious voice urges, ‘you hold/ your name/ and run’.

Jordie Albiston put historic research to telling effect, finding humour too in portraying other grim realities faced by women, this time as convicts sent to help establish a penal colony at Botany Bay.

Writing personalised poetry of place, Sarah Holland-Batt takes a look back at childhood – through ‘The Orchid House’ – in bringing her grandfather’s ‘wonky shack’ full of exotic plants to life again.


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