Martin Downey Reviews Bruce Dawe

16 December 2003

Towards a War by Bruce DaweTowards a War: Twelve Reflections by Bruce Dawe
Picaro Press, 2003

This suite of poems provides a remarkable insight into the troubled times that Australia, and the rest of the world, are only now beginning to realize.It is not the charitable/humanist/philanthropic gesture made by both poet and publisher (see Postscript) through this collection of poems that drives me to speak of Bruce Dawe's latest writings. It is that these poems, both singularly and collectively, are presented by a poet who speaks with a voice of experience, the benefit of hindsight and a vision of events that may come to pass. Undoubtedly caused by these intemperate times, it has enabled him to craft such finely-wrought pieces.

No-one, neither institution nor individual nor assemblage, is spared Dawe's biting satire and dispassionate wit, richly displayed by these works:

So the bombs and the bullets which shortly
will keep up the old work of Cain
with the latest of high-tech refinements
will slaughter and slaughter again.
            ('On The Brink')

As it was, and ever shall be &#151 or so it would seem. Are we doomed to repeat history's mistakes? Although I agree Hussein had to go, I simply cannot shake the feeling that we (the people) were not told the entire truth by our illustrious leaders before the first salvos were fired. 'On the Brink' is possibly the most unnerving poem in this collection &#151 not just because of Bali, but in light of more recent events also. The world grows ever closer. Are we ready for it?

with the horses and their riders running loose;
the lucky country's luck is running out,
… we know this wasn't Paradise after all
&#151 we only thought it was.
            ('After Sari')

… each time they publicly curse
a democratic government's name…
Remember (like it or not)
raising elsewhere a critical voice
is more likely to get yourself shot …
            ('Contradictions')

Yes indeed, there are many 'elsewheres', including the 'Land of Hope and Glory'.

If world peace were as easy to achieve
as marchers think, bared bellies now declaring
the desirability of making love not war,
why, Priapus would be president-for-life …
            ('A Dog in Time')

For what it was worth, perhaps the 'herds' would have been better off remaining in their 'gardens'? After all, there are ways to protest, and there are ways to protest.

… what do our triumphs whisper to us …
… except that what we see must pass: those very chains
which presently adorn Vercingetorix
make music on our wrists and those great crowds
hailing our awful power
as willingly in turn then greet
our future conquerors?
            ('Pax Americana')

Have we shackled ourselves, and untold generations to come, to a future of eternal conflict, due to the rhetoric and impatience of men who, in all probability, were not suitable candidates to 'throw the first stone'?

Towards a War presents the views of 'everyman' in a deceptively succinct manner, offering up a portent of the future we have made for ourselves that is unsettling, to say the least. I hope that time proves Dawe incorrect; however, I feel in my heart of hearts that truth stands behind his every word.

Postscript:
Bruce Dawe has taken the unprecedented step of donating his entire royalties from sales of Towards a War to an internationally-recognised charity for exclusive use in its Iraq and Region Humanitarian Appeal. Publisher Rob Riel is matching this magnanimous gesture dollar for dollar. Towards a War is available from Picaro Press, PO Box 853, Warners Bay NSW 2282 for $5.00 (postage & GST included). Picaro Press also publish a unique series of poetry booklets under the Wagtail imprint, which contains 'out-of-print, rare, unreleased' and 'soon-to-be-published' poems by some of the better poets in the land. At $3.00 per copy, these booklets offer the reader an inexpensive opportunity to sample a given poet's work without major expense. Although inexpensive, Wagtail's production values are high, and if one likes what one sees in any particular booklet, reference to more extensive works by the author, contained therein, will assist the reader to broaden their perspective regarding that poet.

Martin Downey is a Melbourne-based poet and author.

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