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23.6.11

Great Aussie Poets

Posted by Jeanne


It is likely that harm has been done to a proper appreciation of Australian poetry by the inclusion of poor Australian poems in school anthologies. Lawson's "Out Back" for example, is not a good poem, and it could be agreed that the inclusion of such poems in our anthologies has done a disservice to poetry in general, and Australian poetry in particular.

A K Thompson, Living Verse, 1954
There was clearly a time not so very long ago when Australian poetry had rather a poor reputation. A K Thompson, Chief Lecturer in English at the University of Queensland though so, anyhow, in the preface to his anthology, Living Verse.

Prominent Australian academic, Walter Murdoch, back in 1926 was only a little more forgiving. He says this in the preface to The Poets' Commonwealth:
To understand what poetry means, we must see it applied to the life we know. The poets of Australia do not include a Milton or a Shelley, but to us Australians they do give us something - and something valuable - which the very greatest of other lands cannot give us.

Walter Murdoch, The Poets' Commonwealth, 1926
It is difficult to discover much nowadays about the controversy that was raging in these early times over the value of Australian poetry. Personally, I wonder whether it raged more in the hallowed halls of the Universities rather than on the streets, where Henry Lawson was greatly loved as Australia's 'Poet of the People'. I wonder, also, whether it was due to the balladic metre favoured by Australia's early poetry rather than more the more classical approaches to verse of those great English poets enjoyed at the time.

Interestingly, Wikipedia's entry of Australian Literature lists amongst the very greatest of Australian poets, these three: Henry Lawson, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Christopher Brennan. Why is it that I have never heard of Brennan then, I wonder, despite many critics regarding him as Australia's most important scholar and poet?

Cyberspace gives me a few ideas. Firstly, he was unresponsive to the forces of nationalism that dominated Australian society at that time, and his poetry therefore lacks the Australian identity that was as widely popular then and it is now. In an interview back in 1909 Brennan said:
I'm afraid I'm very unpatriotic. I've written nothing about the horse or the swagman. As far as "national" traits go, I might have made my verse in China.

Christopher Brennan, quoted in Australian Classics by Jane Gleeson-White
Secondly, Brennan was not a balladist and wrote in what is variably described as an 'obscure' or 'individual' style. Even his most highly regarded collection, Poems (1913) was not highly popular at its publication, and between 1932 and the '60s, his works were difficult to obtain. Even even today it is not easy to find his works in bookstores. Only a few can be found online.

Regardless of the reason for Brennan's obscurity, it is the nationalistic balladic story type style of many of Australia's poets that make them so very ideal for children, and really, this is what I want to talk to you about. All this other stuff is really just a waffly prelude to the important bit, which is our Australianised version of Ambleside Online's Poetry Rotation.

For those of you who are interested.

If you're not, you may care to read Clive James on Christopher Brennan. It's fascinating.

For the rest of you, here is AO's poetry rotation as written:

Year 1Child's Garden of Verses Robert Louis Stevenson
Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young A.A. Milne
Oxford Book of Children's Verse Iona and Peter Opie

Year 2
Walter De La Mare
Eugene Field and James Whitcombe Riley
Sing Song by Christina Rossetti

Year 3
William Blake
Sara Teasdale and Hilda Conkling
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Year 4
Alfred Tennyson
Emily Dickinson
William Wordsworth

Year 5Rudyard Kipling
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
John Greenleaf Whittier and Paul Laurence Dunbar

Year 6
Robert Frost
Carl Sandburg
Alfred Noyes

Here is our Aussie-ised version:

Year 0
Any of the fantastic poetry picture books of single poems. Short list here. More comprehensive list of titles coming.

Year 1Child's Garden of Verses Robert Louis Stevenson
Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young A.A. Milne
A Book for Kids C J Dennis (online here)

Year 2
Walter De La Mare
The Animals Noah Forgot A B 'Banjo' Paterson (online here)
Sing Song by Christina Rossetti

Year 3
William Blake
60 Classic Australian Poems edited by Christopher Cheng (in print)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Also The Magic Trumpet by Mary Durack for a comparison of a classic Aussie poem written in similar metre. (OOP - available here)

Year 4
Ted Hughes Collected Poems for Children ill Raymond Briggs (Not Australian but English, but how could you leave this out of a poetry study? There is plenty of time for Tennyson later on, IMHO) (in print)
Emily Dickinson
William Wordsworth

Year 5Rudyard Kipling
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Around the Boree Log "John O'Brien" (online here)

Year 6
Robert Frost
Carl Sandburg
Henry Lawson Stories & Poems ill Dee Huxley


In secondary school we'll probably study Brennan. We'll also study Adam Lindsay Gordon. There are so many great Aussie poets, some of whom need two time slots - Paterson and Dennis to name two. We'll need to fit in another anthology or two as well - maybe in Years 11 or 12, maybe.

In the mean time, AO6 is as high as my little brain carries me. That introductory stuff was just that - stuff. The contents of my over-worked and rather addled brain. Scary, really.

Anyhow, this is our poetry plan. What about you? Are you altering AO's schedule to fit in your favourite poets? Who are you including? My favourite poet of all time is Rabbie Burns. We'll need to do a term of his poetry. A term of Robert Fergusson would be wonderful as well. Gotta love those Scots.

Isn't it good that we don't stop learning at Year 12?!!

5 comments:

Jo said...

I learnt lots of poetry at school and to be honest very little was by Australian. However we did read (or had to) many books written by Australian authors and I am so pleased I had this experience.

Erin said...

We're great Aust poetry lovers here but I haven't heard of Brennan! We just read and enjoy, does AO recommend any other approach? If you are after more Aust poets we also love John O'Brien (Around the Boree Log etc), whilst many poems have a strong Irish/Aust Catholic flavour, they also have a strong Australian bush flavour.

Amy said...

Jeanne, thanks for the tips, ideas and links, and also the stuff from your muddled brain :)

""Isn't it good that we don't stop learning at Year 12?!!""

Amen to that!!

Louise said...

Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou.

I love it when you post your lists and plans for each year.

I find these so helpful!

Amber said...

What a great editing of the poetry rotation. We have been following the standard AO poetry cycle & hadn't considered the addition of Australian poets. But I'm most definitely going to print your ammendments and see how they work for us. Thank you :)

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