How to Use a Street Directory: Detail and Knowledge in the Work of Alan Wearne
How is it that we can find our way around a city if we think that every street, every suburb, looks the same? The devil, here as elsewhere, is in the detail. Poetry, among its many mansions, includes modes which can be most sensitive to detail and to the methodological problems that the registration of detail involves. Such problems have been central to the writing career of Alan Wearne. The significance of suburban life to his work is established in one of Wearne's first appearances in print, in Thomas Shapcott's anthology Australian Poetry Now of 1970. In a brief biographical entry above his three poems Wearne gives his place of origin and education as Blackburn South, followed by the comment, 'The South is important'. This is an unequivocal reminder of Wearne's sensitivity to the nuances of suburban location and, in a way, it challenges the reader and other poets to match it. In other words, it marks out a territory—the world of suburban differences—as being Wearne's own. What I want to argue here is that for Wearne suburbia is a place not only of thematic material but of a methodological enquiry about the way in which reality can be dealt with in poetry. Suburbia is a way of knowing not merely a way of life.
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Published 1 November 1998 in Writing the Everyday: Australian Literature and the Limits of Suburbia. Subjects: Poetic techniques, Suburbs.