And they did.” Dawe, with deep satire, sketches the clash between protestors and police, and even discusses changes in legislation that enabled “detention without charge” and “incrimination by silence”.
But, as ever, Dawe flips the poem, and his word play, on its head with his final lines.
In his poem, “Enter Without So Much as Knocking”, he manages in 62 lines to encapsulate one human being’s entire life – from the maternity ward to the cemetery. The old, whom circumstance / Has ground smooth as green bottle-glass / On the sea’s furious grindstone, very often / Practise it to perfection.” This short but powerful poem on ageing and dying ends with Dawe describing senility as “an ironic act of charity”, and with all human identity lost, “we serve / As curios for children roaming beaches, / Makeshift monocles through which they view / The same green transitory world we also knew.” In all its horror the poem is incredibly moving, presenting the grind of life, the bleaching out of what makes us unique over time, to end up a useless plaything in the hands of children.
It is the cycle of life and again the destructive passage of time.
Again and again Dawe crystalizes not just the loss of childhood innocence, but its precise, mysterious moment. They eye each other, and falsetto voices arch over them like doom.” The strength of Dawe, with poems like these, is that he distils common experience.
“The Last of Games” opens with the age-old suburban cry of mothers at nightfall, beseeching their children to get home, as youngsters strain against the calling and play away in Indian tents, “igloos…into the caves of ice and the caves of wood”. I can read “The Last of Games” and be taken back to a “cave of wood” my boyhood friend and I made in his large, rambling back yard.
And, at a time when the contemporary poetry scene is like a city-to-surf marathon, I am happy to think I did my running in less hectic circumstances…” He has been quoted as comparing his craft to that of a labourer, for example, constructing a wall. He is brilliant on children, and one of the best we have on love and loss. SILENCE,” he begins, as a child ten days after birth is taken home in his mother’s arms. He writes of that moment of “fragmentation”, as he calls it, beyond which we “learn where we belong”.
But I think where Dawe stands alone is his preoccupation with the passage of time. Dawe describes his “economy size Mum” and his “Anthony Squires-Coolstream-Summerweight Dad”, a shopping trip, and the growing child’s memory of a late show at the local drive-in where, on a clear night “…he could see (beyond the fifty-foot screen where / giant faces forever snarled screamed or made / incomprehensible and monstrous love) a pure / unadulterated fringe of sky, littered with stars / no one had got around to fixing up yet; he’d watch them / circling about in luminous groups like kids at the circus / who never go quite close enough to the elephant to get kicked.” His life taken later in a vehicle accident, the protagonist is given a “nice ride out to the underground metropolis”, the cemetery, where the annoyances of daily living don’t exist. In “Happiness Is the Art of Being Broken”, he writes with equal poignancy and helplessness: “Happiness is the art of being broken / With least sound.
A child is happy at the prospect of transition, another sad.
No one asks why they’re leaving and where they’re going.