Timeline of Life
Born in Victoria in 1930, now lives in Toowoomba, Queensland.
He is a contemporary Australian poet. His poems are written in the context of post-war Australia.
His poetry comments on Australian society and forces reader to question their place in Australian society.
Dawe’s poetry is accessible to a wide audience and often represents the experience of the ‘average’ Australian.
The Great Depression 1930- Bruce Dawe born in Geelong, Victoria, Australia 1939- World War II begins 1944- Dawe transfers to Northcote District High School and completed the Intermediate certificate 1954-1978
collected in the compilation “Sometimes Gladness”
1956- Left school to become a legal clerk. Returned to Melbourne, working as a postman, Hungarian revolution begins. Olympic G
ames held in Melbourne. “Burial Ceremony” relies
on both of these 1958- He was unemployed and almost destitute 1959- He joined the airforce and remained there for nine years in the education section --
“Enter Without So Much as Knocking” published
reflecting the values of the 1950’s whilst remaining true to the materialism of today’s
Australia 1962- Offered a contract by the publisher F.W. Cheshire. Stimulated further writing for a
collection entitled “No fixed Address”.
Married his wife, Gloria. Also dedicated his second volume of poetry “A Need of Similar Name”
1966- He was posted to Butterworth in Malaysia. Second poetry volume wins the Ampol Arts Award for creative literature --
“The Not So Good Earth” is published
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“Enter Without So Much as Knocking”
A poem in which the entire life cycle of a young Aussie is revealed to be far more heavily influenced by consumer culture and capitalism in the construction of an identity that many may be aware. A signature poem in the canon of Dawe’s attacks against the pervasiveness of consumerism and the obstruction it places to those searching desperately for an identity. The overriding imagery is that which situates human beings as cogs in the mechanical structure of modern society.
Another important entry in the ongoing analysis of mechanization and dehumanization of human beings. The central narrative figure is a military drill instructor whose goal is to drive through into the minds of new recruits through repetition and rhetoric that they are not to think for themselves, but can better serve their country by becoming mindless weapons who exist only to fulfill their purpose in battle.
“Pleasant Sunday Afternoon”
The irony of the title sets the stage for a somewhat lighthearted treatment of a visit by an encyclopedia salesman to a not particularly pleasant family on a not particularly pleasant afternoon. The chaotic world of the lower-class suburban family quite unlikely to enjoy the promises benefits of education offered by a full set of encyclopedias is ironically pointed out through oblique inferences made from the monologue of the father of the family.
This poem bears another title that reveals the love of irony which shows up throughout the poetry of Dawe. A homecoming has all the connotations of a happy reunion, but the title in this case refers to soldiers killed in the Vietnam War coming home in body bags. Specific language choices place this firmly within the long line of poems attacking the various ways that modern society has found to dehumanize people.
An epic poem in its own way as it examines the extent to which American consumer culture has penetrated into daily Australian life through an extended metaphor situating Australian as a child grown dependent upon a mother which is showing an excess of domination and control, but is a little weak in the whole “love” department of maternal affairs. Satirical humor divulges the true depth of this dependency which keeps in check what should be a biting anger toward the condescension exhibited by the mother to the child. An elemental entry in the poet’s fascination with the search for identity.
An iconic example of another recurring theme in the poetry of Dawe: the celebration of the ordinary, average, working class suburbanite. This theme collides with a more subtly drawn metaphorical portrait of the dehumanizing effects of social conformity through the creation of a new subspecies of human which finds in the act of tending to backyard vegetable gardens an effective way of escaping from the mechanized world that seeks to make everyone just another cog.
Another of the celebrations of simplicity in the portrait of an immigrant from Corsica who loves two things above all else: drinking beer and holding court in the Market where he works as a vendor. Big Jim is perhaps ironically, but certainly affectionately referred to as the Lincoln of the Market for the way he makes his presence known through oratory on the simple things in life. Ultimately, his true value lies in those things the poet finds more worthy than celebrity or wealth: kindness and the ability to take pride in his life.
A somewhat less harsh examination of the mechanism of conformity and dehumanizing that draws a parallel between religious fervor and the multi-generation obsession with one’s favorite football team. The poem suggests that children born into such families are victims of predestination and predetermination in an almost spiritually significant way.
“For the Duration”
A return to the milieu of war and the military for another examination of how this element of society seems to dehumanize individuals as well as obstruct their path to identity and self-pride. This poem is also a demonstration of the irony of Dawe as its most corrosive. The prisoners of war actually seek the refuge of safety, security and the lack of surprises that come with being behind the fences and gates. As unpleasant as the circumstances may be, it is a place offering sanctuary against the terrifying uncertainty of the outside world as well as a haven free from the onslaught of new perils facing those struggling just to get by.
An intimate visit to the land of suburbia which so dominates the verse of Dawe here becomes an event that has universal application in the conversations of young teenage girls struggling with issues of identity behind the doors of bedrooms that essentially all look alike. The struggle to establish identity touches upon recurring motifs of social conformity and the undo influence of consumer culture on the act of creating self-esteem and image in younger generations.
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