Sometimes Gladness by Bruce Dawe
Bruce Dawe, born in Geelong in 1930, is one of Australia’s most acclaimed poets. He drifted through his early years, showing promise but never quite realising his potential. His many roles in these years - as a labourer, postman, university failure, air force officer, father and teacher – gave him a keen sense of empathy for people of diverse backgrounds. This capacity to see the world from an ordinary bloke’s point of view is a hallmark of his poetry and undoubtedly a key to his popularity. The collection set for study, Sometimes Gladness, covers Dawe’s work from the 1950s to the 1990s, and is a tribute to the everyday: everyday beings, everyday things, ...view middle of the document...
Even the physical infrastructure of the suburbs is built with the purpose of: ‘sustaining them / against years’ seepage.’ The lovers’ are presented to us as belonging to a community: ‘Next door’s children / scatter past, laughing. They smile…’
‘Up the Wall’ presents a different perspective on suburban life and its impact on the individual. It is written in sonnet form, as is ‘Homo Suburbiensis’ (see Margaret Saltau’s ‘Text Talk: The Poetry of Bruce Dawe’ in The Age, 13 March 2002 1 ). The two quatrains of the octave sketch the relentlessness of domestic life: ‘The saucepan milk is always on the boil’. The next quatrain, with its repetitive ‘She says…’ brings the focus to the wife who endures all this alone. In the couplet we hear the interpretation of the husband who has been the recipient of his wife’s frustrations: ‘It’s a quiet neighbourhood..,’ For this man, suburbia is a retreat from his busy world of work. He shows little insight or sympathy for his
wife who must endure the isolation that this environment brings, an isolation that is pushing her to the limits of her sanity. We are reminded of the experience of Meryl Davenport from Bombshells.
There are several elements of modern life that Dawe represents as a threat to our identity and individuality. In ‘Enter Without So Much as Knocking’ we are presented with the life story of a man - his passage from birth to death. This is a life that is framed by popular culture: ‘Bobby Dazzler on Channel 7’ and where the individual will find acceptance and a sense of belonging by conforming to the consumerist ‘norm’: one economy-size Mum, one Anthony Squires- / Coolstream-Summerweight Dad..’ It is a life to be lived within strict limits: ‘KEEP CLEAR/OUT/OFF GRASS. NO BREATHING EXCEPT BY ORDER…’ It is a life that is ultimately hollow: ‘the old automatic smile with nothing behind it’.
In ‘Televistas’ Dawe suggests that our identity has been hijacked by the media – in particular television. The two characters in this poem are defined by their TV brand preferences: ‘She was Sanyo-oriented, / He was Rank-Arena bred’. The stages of their courtship are punctuated by the names of TV programs (none of which are Australian made!). Falling in love, swapping dreams and planning futures – momentous processes in the life of the individual take place in the commercial breaks. ‘Real’ life for these two is what occurs on the screen, which they ‘watch’ as passive recipients. Cultural imperialism is something that Dawe abhors – he feels particularly concerned that our uniqueness as Australians is being swallowed up by the voracity of America. In ‘Americanised’ he explores this process, representing it as something overpowering, inescapable and threateningly sinister. America is characterised by the mother in this poem, the small child is the younger nation who is being carefully shaped by mother. ‘She’ has a limited view of the world – it is a dangerous place ‘…full of nasty cars and men’ and it is part of her...