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As I walked into the lecture hall, I saw people ranging from the literary community?s elite to high school students. Taking my seat, the crowd hushed as a rather distinguished looking man walked to the podium. The man prepared his notes and I waited silently in awe of his presence, anticipating his words of wisdom. I knew this was a gentleman who knew what he was talking about ? that is, until he opened his mouth.
My first impressions of Professor Dunne, a visiting literary critic, were torn to shreds over the few hours at Griffith University?s lecture hall as I listened to him criticise Australian poetry. I was stunned to hear the comments of this man (who had graced our shores only a few hours earlier) ? a man who dared to enlighten the Australian literary community of the fact that our nation?s poetry superficial and idiomatic. Needless to say, I was not the only one who was not impressed.
Australian poetry has often been regarded as a stimulating portrayal of the Australian people and their surroundings. Its attention to detail for capturing the characteristics of Australia is one of the key strengths of our poetry. Yet, according to Dunne?s comments, Australian poetry lacks a ?universal? appeal. While he shared his thoughts, it was his opinion that Australian poetry is too idiomatic and lacks a concern for mankind in general.
When Dunne commented on the ?idiomatic? nature of Australian poetry, I was rather perplexed at what he meant. Nevertheless, I assumed the intended meaning was to infer narrowness in language and content, indicating that you need to be Australian to appreciate the poetry.
If we trace the history of Australian poetry, we can see that it ranges from the early bush poetry of yesteryear through to the poetry of today. The vast variety and styles of poetry between these two cannot be stereotyped together. To say that all Australian poetry lacks a universal appeal is to make a sweeping statement. However, if one were to try to find a link in an attempt to unite Australian poetry, the median would be the work of Kenneth Slessor. Slessor is considered by the majority of the general literary public to be Australia?s first modern poet. However, while a modernistic style emanates from his work, a certain Edwardian approach is retained, blending the two worlds. This combination of past and present pedestals Slessor?s work as a classic example of Australian poetry. Through his work, Slessor manages to embody the spirit and culture of the Australian nation, while still managing to keep the very essence of universal issues within his lyrics.
It is difficult to label what exactly is meant by a ?universal issue?. If one takes into account all the definitions of such a term, it becomes apparent that the definition of a ?universal issue? is simply a matter of perspective. Nothing is more universal than the idea of perspective and, perhaps by coincidence, perspective is a recurring issue in Slessor?s works ? most prominently in the forms of time, life and the connection between the two.
Slessor?s poetry repeatedly returns to the notion of time as ever moving in and out of our ever-changing lives. Through many different viewpoints, Slessor observes the world and how time influences our lives. This is highlighted in Out Of Time, one of Slessor?s better-known pieces, which takes us through the journey of life with time at our side.
?I and the moment laugh, and let him go,
Leaning against the golden undertow? (Out Of Time)
Out Of Time acknowledges time?s influence and throughout the poem, the viewpoint shifts from one who disputes Time?s interference in life to a view where Time is a companion who guides us along.
Further development of the diversity of time?s effect on life is portrayed in Two Chronometers, which depicts the contrast of the European and Australian Aboriginal approach to time previously.
?One ticked fast and one ticked slow,
And Time went over them a hundred years ago.?
While two perspectives on the use of Time are taken up, the poem?s last line (as shown above) indicates that they have no real control over time ? whether they do things at a fast or slow pace, Time controls them.
Similar concerns for the matter of perspective are brought into focus in Beach Burial. As in Two Chronometers, two perspectives are taken in the situation. In Beach Burial, there is perhaps a bitter irony presented that no matter which side of a war one is on, all the participants end up washed up on the shores for eternity while time passes by.
In direct contrast, however, William Street focuses not on time as a means of conveying the idea of perspective, it takes raw reality and shows how the poet sees beyond the stereotype. It is in much the same way that the imagery of the poem captures the stereotype that Dunne captures what he believes to be the stereotypical nature of Australian poetry. However, as shown in Slessor?s works, Australian poetry is not all idiomatic statements and descriptions of the Outback. There is an added depth. There are no other issues that are more universal than time and life. Both are eternal, interweaving and more universal than Professor Dunne can ever hope to comprehend.
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