Bruce Dawe and the Americans

Reading Bruce Dawe's uncollected juvenilia written during the mid-1940s (and even the few more conservative poems published in the Jindyworobak anthologies under his pen-name, 'Llewelyn Rhys'), one is struck not only by a young writer developing a range of thematic concerns that are to become characteristic of his mature work, but primarily by his constant searching for the right word and the right verse form. Predictably, perhaps for a young writer at that time, Keats, Hopkins and Dylan Thomas are there in the background abundantly, and Dawe's love of the rich inventiveness and the extravagance of their language is traceable throughout his work, though certainly subdued later on. But to look at a poem such as, say, 'Enter Without So Much As Knocking', (dated 1956 in Twelve Poets),' is to realize an extraordinary change in emphasis that took place in his work in the less than ten years between the late 40s and the mid-50s.

The best of the early poems can be seen fighting for a freer line, an orchestration of voices and a richness of language that will not be incompatible with the rhythms o f speech. By the mid-50s, Dawe had largely won the tussle, and three things seem to have been responsible. Firstly, his brief experience with a group of social realist writers around Frank Kellaway, and their unfavourable reaction to the poems he showed them in the late '40s, persuaded him that his love of highly-charged rhetoric would not always serve the social commitment of his poetry well. Secondly, he was attracted to the laconics of Frank Sargeson's short stories, and writing a series of stories himself—the 'Joey Cassidy' stories, many of which consist almost entirely of dialogue—he began to perfect his ear for common speech and his ability to get its cadences down onto paper.

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Published 1 October 1979 in Volume 9 No. 2. Subjects: American (USA) literature & writers, Literary career, Literary influences, Poetic techniques.

Cite as: Macleod, Mark. ‘Bruce Dawe and the Americans.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1979, doi: 10.20314/als.b0e9b1b399.