Review Blog

Nov 21 2011

Classic Australian poems ed. by Christopher Cheng

cover image

Random House, 2011. ISBN 978 1 74275 3621.
Christopher Cheng invites his readers to enjoy, recite, laugh and be moved by the poetry presented in this compilation from the late Nineteenth and turn of the Twentieth Centuries. Cheng fondly recalls happy childhood moments spent enjoying and studying these favorites and I concurred with him before applauding his choices.
My initial impression was that Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson featured over prominently. I also pondered whether their depiction of dour, pioneering, outback battlers was a true reflection of a population which at the time was confined mainly to the Eastern coast of the nation. It was not long however before I was nodding assent and acknowledging how important the bush narrative is for a nation which for too long has placed excessive emphasis on military history and sporting achievement.
Perpetuating the romance of rural living and celebrating lairish defiance of disaster and hardship might be fraudulent for the vast majority of us who have never experienced it, but it's a heritage with which Cheng invites us to identify, at least for the time it takes to read and enjoy the poetry.
The only criticism I have with this book is that it was confined to 'Classic Poems', hence the aforesaid poets dominate with Henry Kendall and C.J. Dennis whilst relatively modern poets like Bruce Dawe don't feature. For what it's worth, some of the most meaningful verse in my experience has come from contemporary popular music and I know that young people genuinely engage with and share this textual form. If poetry compilers continue to ignore this verse, students will never see Lawson or Dennis because they will not have opened books to find Archie Roach, Paul Kelly Missy Higgins or Kasey C.
Rob Welsh

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