“There is history, but it won’t tell”: Rae Desmond Jones Launches Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) by Les Wicks

Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) by Les Wicks, Puncher & Wattman, 2013 was launched at the Friend in Hand Hotel Glebe on 22nd June this year. Rae Desmond Jones wrote the speech but as he was unwell it was delivered by David Musgrave.

Photo by Susan Adams

Les Wicks – Photo by Susan Adams

I have never before been asked to launch a volume. It is an honour because of the nature and quality of the volume and the long ongoing creative relationship I can claim with the author. I also deeply regret not being able to deliver the address in person, and would gladly forego the ease and attention of a sickbed to attend, simply to support the author, one of the most generous and selfless supporters of the cause of poetry in this country.

Be that as it may, this occasion is about Les, or more specifically the achievement of his book. Les’ poems are demanding, and don’t reveal their intricate layers on a first reading. Even the simpler poems are dense with imagery so that they require a second and even a third reading, but the effort is well worthwhile. For example, the first poem in the book is conversational and superficially casual in tone:


This dozen amused tourists
surround a dead dragon on the sand.

Its last ferocity
is the stench that armours each ending.
Already delicate fins are trimmed to lace
by the scission of crabs.

Beneath a corona of flies
spirit is urged to shuck flesh.

Harp of teeth
reach out to voice.
A roadmap of spine leads to the spume.

Hygienically cleansed
under flash-bulb asepticism.

Any shift in the tide will send this
crashing to the tale.
There is history,
but it won’t tell.

Each line in this casual sounding poem contains an image of great weight, with the possible exception of the first, which sets the scene of the dozen tourists: however they are amused. One interpretation of the deep seriousness of the rest of the poem is that it is a comment on this amusement. It is a dead dragon, a warrior … ferocious, when alive. I check out dragon: the biblical reference is to “a large serpent, a crocodile, a great marine animal, or a jackal” then “A name for Satan”. Immediately the image of the great whale in Moby Dick arises … “Hygienically cleaned / under flash bulb asepticism”, free from the living germs of disease, fungus or putrefaction. But what is being described but a process of putrefaction? It is the flash bulbs of the ‘amused’ tourists that are censoring the process of death, & the dignity of this great animal. When looked at with this level of detail, this poem yields up much more than the casual tone would suggest. Then there is history … but the real great whale, not entirely distinct from Herman Melville’s prophetic version, isn’t history. At least, not yet.

The contrasts and conjunctions between animals, the environment and the human mind & body is a recurring theme through these poems. In ‘Tuart’,

It is said elephants & crows share
This knowledge of death it
Is the crown of our intellect
“Things are happening” are all
In slow resolve.

In launching these poems, I can think of no better tactic than allow the poetry to speak for itself. It does this so excellently that it makes any speech focused on the halcyon days of the poets union in 1978 or a long friendship seem facile. This poetry is serious and addresses significant issues that should be of concern to all of us. Underlying issues which appear regularly on the news or in the papers which are too often described in terms of party politics and sectional self-interest are described in this poetry with unflinching moral courage:

Only humans play all their years, biologists think maybe
something about efficiency.
Do we take to the air
while refusing to look beneath?


Sea Of Heartbeak is determined to take the reader on a dive beneath. It took me on a voyage which I found bracing and stimulating at the same time as it did not turn away from the discomforting reality of the costs our lives inflict on our futures.

What I have said so far does not do justice to the other aspects of this volume. Just in case some of you may be thinking that to read this volume is to be immersed in some of the more obscure philosophy of Mr. Heidegger, Les Wicks also has a lively and irreverent sense of humour on display. He indulges in some lighter relief with a series of aphorisms under the tongue in cheek title of “Secret Saids (everything I know)” where he displays his gift for whimsy:

“people in glass houses enjoy the view.” (pause)

“Britney’s sister is gluttony.” (I won’t repeat this one to my daughter)

“Love hurts but it can be cured” (How, I ask… don’t torment me Les. Tell me the secret…

“Hair is the window of the brain..” (where are the curtains?)

“Sex would never reach minimum / occupational health and safety standards.” (Nor should it. The human race would die of boredom…)

There is also a poem I must mention, not only because it is a poem around my hometown, Broken Hill. It is an area where the environment and colour attracts painters and film makers but not often poets, but it is attractive to Les Wicks. In ‘Aeolus at the Mulga’:

The desert wind wears a blunt dust
Cantankerous yap
lifts sheetmetal
from the deaths
of the snub nosed Silverton buses all
cut like raw opal
pressed into a humiliating servitude
windbreaks for camels.
Punctuation of crows
affixed on air.

The description of wind lifting the iron is something familiar which Les has caught in a way that is unexpected for anyone who has not grown up with it. The old buses I rode in as a schoolboy are now dumped to rust in a paddock on the border of the town where Les has spent some time as a writer in residence, and he catches the pathos of those ancient clapped out machines perfectly.

Les’ tone is terse and he concentrates a complex web of simple seeming words, through narratives that are complex and demand intense concentration. Links and breaks between images, puns and dual meanings demand close attentive reading. The way he solders each image to the last brings to mind the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. It is my business to launch this excellent volume, not to review it: I recommend it and declare this volume duly launched.

– Rae Desmond Jones


Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973.  His Selected Poems has just been published from Grand Parade Poets and was launched by Kit Kelen in August . He is also the editor of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist (Rochford Street Press) 2012.

Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/sea-of-heartbeak

Something Astonishing: Rae Desmond Jones reviews ‘Dark Night Walking with McCahon’, by Martin Edmond

Dark Night Walking with McCahon, by Martin Edmond Auckland University Press, 2011.

dark-night-walking-with-mccahonMartin Edmond is a New Zealand writer living in Sydney. Over a number of years he has written a number of impressive short volumes of prose in which he has demonstrated an ability to draw out and evoke the mood of places which would not have seemed at first glance to justify great interest. In Dark Night Walking with McCahon, a variation on the true life novel, he has found a subject worthy of his considerable gifts.

In 1984 the New Zealand artist Colin McCahon disappeared from an event in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and was found by police the following day in Centennial Park. He no longer knew his name and carried no identification. From a story which,  on the surface, might have justified a magazine article describing McCahon’s artistic achievements with a lament for an inevitable sad decline, Edmond recreates a possible route for McCahon’s journey using the Stations of the Cross, with powerful symbolic links to the poetry of St. John of the Cross.


If, then, on the common land
I am no longer seen or found,
You will say that I am lost;
That, being enamored,
I lost myself; and yet was found.

………………….– St John of The Cross, from The Spiritual Canticle

Without preaching or claiming to be a believer, the ‘Stations’ he describes pulse with observations of human frailty, as when his journey arrives at Station V ( where ‘THE CROSS IS LAID UPON SIMON OF CYRENE at the Matthew Talbot Hostel):

Somone has written, in different coloured textas, words on the bricks along that side of the laneway …. The right panel is made up of the names of pop divas and celebrity women actors: Angelina, Cate, Grace … this angelic chronicle gradually gives way to a centre piece that is made up almost entirely of obscenities written over and over: fuck suck fuck suck fuck suck suck suck … is an example.

In this unpromising environment, he thinks:

I hope McCahon fell into company at the Matthew Talbot: I want him to have had a mate … I want him to have walked in step with another into the night that awaited him … I don’t want him to have been, as he almost certainly was, alone.

At Station Vl, (VERONICA WIPES HIS FACE WITH THE HANDKERCHIEF) Edmond considers tranny lane and Carmen, the drag queen:

“… a big woman, with a grandeur and a presence … Maternal sounds like an odd word to use of a drag queen but that fits her too.”

Edmond also writes a passage in which he demonstrates his grasp of arcane information which he pours into the narrative:

Veronica’s handkerchief belongs to an obscure and contested class of objects known as achieropoietoe, that is, made without hands – images of miraculous origin like the Shroud of Turin.

Edmond demonstrates a facility with Art Criticism and History as he concentrates and contextualises his perceptions, drawing the reader into observing through a mundane context something astonishing. It is a poet’s gift in a true life novel to observe his narrator following Arthur Stace, the petty crim who once wandered the streets of Sydney writing Eternity in a perfect copperplate hand. When I worked at the International Telephone Exchange the early 1970s, Eternity, as written by Stace survived on the bell in the bell tower. I hope it still does.

Finally the author spends a night alone in Centennial Park. Of the experience, he writes

like McCahon … I had surrendered my identity; I had, like him become just another entity among entities: as the trees pulled up moisture from the earth and exhaled it through their leaves into the air, so too did I inhale and exhale, so too did I inhale and exhale … 

He considers in this context McCahon’s art:

This … dissolution into an entity among other entities, followed by return as an altered self into the world, was what he had tried, not simply to communicate but to induce or even compel in his audience.

Edmond is stating an almost seamless congruence between the life and the work: a controversial claim justified by a compelling narrative, the tension of which is largely derived by the correlation of McCahon’s experience (and perhaps the author’s) with an explicitly didactic narrative of the crucifixion of Christ.

Edmond observes that most commentators see McCahon as “one who would have liked to believe but could not. He was not even a Christian existentialist ‘since that implies a kind of faith which, however arrived at, is nevertheless genuine.” Without any inside knowledge, I suspect the author’s views of being broadly in sympathy with his main character. Whatever the truth of this, his use of religious imagery in a tale of an artist who said of himself “I’m nothing” has effectively given a pathetic narrative of desolation depth, social significance and power which otherwise it would not have had.

– Rae Desmond Jones


Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall Flying Island Books 2011. His Selected Poems is forthcoming from Grand Parade Poets. He is also the editor of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist (Rochford Street Press) 2012.

Dark Night Walking with McCahon is available from http://www.press.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/home/notices/template/notice_item.jsp?cid=414290

The Ruthless Eye: Rae Desmond Jones reviews ‘Undercover of Lightness’ by Andrew Burke.

Undercover of Lightness by Andrew Burke, Walleah Press, Hobart Tasmania. 2012.

Many of Andrew Burke’s poems begin with a chatty casual style but end with a comment which carefully deflects the mood of the poem and makes it a reflection or moral observation deeper than the reader might expect from the tone. The process is not formulaic, as the reflections are diverse and most follow a narrative logically from each poem’s beginning. In ‘Washing, for example, Burke engages the reader with the tone of an experienced and skilful teller of tales of the good old days:

Today you won’t see one
but back in the sixties
the historic house I lived in had
a timber and wire clothesline,
propped up in midstring
by the long sapling of a eucalypt tree …

With this easy style the reader settles in for a straightforward yarn. However, by line eight, the points of reference broaden:

…………Urban Aborigines,
out of work and down on their lunch,
walked door to door selling these props …

Significantly, the washing line wires

hung loose between two crucifixes
with movable arms…

Details continue to accumulate without any explicit moral, although the poem’s sympathies are clear at the end:

…… on the night of a full moon
a small feathered woman would arrive
and sit on top of the post near
the gnarled and knotted mulberry tree,
her wisdom silent in her,
two deep eyes focused on me
as I wrote by moonlight,
sitting on the backsteps,
pad resting on sunburnt knees.”

Andrew Burke is a keen observer of people, politics and behaviour. The method he uses in Washing is typical, however he ranges across a variety of subjects and themes. The conversational tone sets the scene then he draws his point out with subtlety. There are poems when the opening gambit becomes blunt, when the subject is confessional, as in ‘Diary: Royal Perth Hospital 2010’ , where the title is an alert:

I am Bed 6GC
beside the helipad.

He (assuming that the subject is the poet) is no longer Andrew Burke, but a number and two capital letters:

identity band on
they won’t lose me
I’ll know who I am.

A double appears, disturbing evidence of his fragility:

There’s a ghost of myself
on this bed’s TV –
star of my memories.

The poem relates the central events of the following days. On Operation Day

Christ and his two thieves
left their crosses
at the cathedral next door:

weathered concrete,
not a splinter on them.

It’s just a story,’ the chaplain says.
‘You should know that, Andrew.’

I grew up with Christ’s thorns
tattooed on my brain.

The narrative (there is almost always a narrative – this poet is a natural teller of stories) describes a conversation of “cross / rhythms and syncopation” with a tall, urbane African orderly, as he enters the theatre where the spotlight is on him. He is not comfortable with this particular starring role:

My Greek chorus
leans in leans out.

By Day three, his body is a battleground:

as choppers drop
squads of para-
noia troops – terrorists
attack through tubes
into the interior night
shadows of my brain,
a mind field. I am
reduced to fears…

Gradually the tone of relaxed confidence returns with recovery, as he watches the 2010 Wimbledon men’s Final, and

A woman in
the crowd has
my mother’s hat on
last worn when
Rod Laver won the cup …

in the meantime,

Obese bed K2 farts robustly,
bed K4 snores to wake the dead.

Finally, he “keeps (his) eye on the exit sign.” It is an explicit use of poetry as therapy, which is not his usual way, although in the last section of the volume, entitled ‘Selected Poems, he ruminates at length, on some difficult family relationships:

Dear Father 

How sick I get of your ghost
stirring the blood between us,
how sick of the ties
that hold me.

Then resolves it:

father, I untie you –
air rushes out / and I whoop…

Burke’s eye for exercising (or exorcising) the telling detail re-appears in the series written in China, where he captures the poverty and seething vigour of China. He observes Bike mechanics in the street:

One old spark plug
lies on the pavement,
and a young boy,
opportunist at five,
picks it up and scurries away.
Maybe Dad will be pleased.

In ‘Linfen Morning’ he makes a series of acute but innocuous observations of household economic activity, then: “One man is gone from the streetscape. He wrote an anti-government message in his shop window and was not there the next day.” The prose poem continues to describe the bustle of the town as though the disappearing man is not important or significant, then the work is abruptly closed by a pointed haiku:

at night, fireworks
at dawn, torn red paper shells
dye the gutter pink.

The volume is replete with a variety of subjects scrutinised through an impeccable bullshit detector. The tone is mostly gentle but the eye is ruthless. Undercover of Lightness is a good title: beneath the cover a lot happens.

– Rae Desmond Jones


Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall Flying Island Books 2011.  He has just finished editing The Selected Your Friendly Fascist which will shortly be published by Rochford Street Press.

Undercover of Lightness is available from Walleah Press http://walleahpress.com.au.

“Lots of energy here, not much control”: Your Friendly Fascist – 1970 – 1984. Rae Desmond Jones remembers…..

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 2.

On an evening in 1970 my friend John Edwards and I were lamenting our fate. The literary revolution of 1968/9 had happened, and we had been passed by and pissed on, left in the wash as the great ship of poetic modernism steamed further into the distance. We complained and felt sorry for ourselves. I wrote a really bad play full of pretentious bullshit: the only good thing about it was the acting, especially by John and Patrick Alexander. I learned from this invaluable experience that I had been writing crap.  All young writers would benefit from such an experience.  I learned what I had been doing wrong: I was just starting to do a few things right. I was 29. John was 25.  The first poem in which my voice came through was published that year by Nigel Roberts. From memory, it was all about Mother fucking and drugs and truck drivers who wanted to get fellated in return for a lift. The future was rolling out before me, but I didn’t know it.  We decided to publish a magazine. Neither of us had much money. Finding poets wasn’t hard. Finding good ones was difficult.

We trawled. What we got was, mostly, terrible. We looked at it, and thought deep about not doing anything. After smoking something illegal, we came up with some incoherent inspiration: take bad poetry and make it an assault on the bland and the comfortable. What could be more in your face in 1970 than Fascism?  The first issue was so badly printed on a gestetner that it is impossible to copy. It was cheap, and it was fun. John Tranter gazed thoughtfully at it and pronounced “mmm. Lots of energy here, not much control …” He was right. We were making a virtue out of energy taking us … well, where ever. It was about 5 years before punk.

Despite all of our worst efforts some interesting poetry came out of the bubbling sink of Your Friendly Fascist. Andy Rose, a young man of Jewish extraction, wrote for the magazine for several years before going around Australian with Allen Ginsberg: he died of dysentery in India a few years later. He became a friend, and his poetry has a lyric quality rare in the pages of YFF:


……….a young californian


………climbed into a Cessna

took off

………aimed the plane pacificwards

& flew

……..till he ran out of

tears &


crashed into the sea /

It reflects something of the deliberate naivety of the time. Andy had the intensity of an early Bob Dylan. It would become cliché quickly, but he wrote well, with more control than most.

Some of those who appeared in the grimy early pages of Your Friendly Fascist went on to establish themselves as respectable poets: Joanne Burns,  who adapted her comic sensibility to the self- mockery of the magazine:

lonely galleries / i aspire

clay models of desire

i’ll huff and i’ll puff

…………kick their roofs in

(YFF 11th issue)

In the same issue, Graham Rowlands was a pupil who

.. later … knew why

he threw palm tree nuts at God …

Carol Novack, who published in the fascist, eventually went back to the USA to become a lawyer in New York. After several years, disillusioned with the Democratic Party she returned to poetry and began the Mad Hatter’s Review, and the Mad Hatter’s Press.  Her literary career was just beginning after the publication of Giraffes in Hiding (Spuyten Duyvil, published September 15, 2010), when she passed away in December 2011. In the Fascist she wrote as

the last of the sirens

she was born too evolved

the monster genes had receded

into memory with her mother’s death …

The young Debbie Westbury put her head above the sand dunes of the South Coast to confess all:

……….We were making love,  / or something, / when his name escaped / from my mouth / open against your throat //you chose to ignore it / my love faltered / but you never missed a beat / that’s the way we are / these days.

The Fascist had a serious side. Patrick Alexander (who passed away in 2005, and is much remembered) tended to write with a sonorous rhetoric distinct from the robust outpourings elsewhere:

And for the presentee this trivial

Screeding on the glass has a trite importance …

In YFF 6, Patrick did find himself in curious company:

Peter Brown was a dope smoking colleague of mine on the night shift at the then international telephone exchange. Brown’s creativity was stimulated by the shrieks of transvestite telephonists who congregated in the exchange after closing time. His cartoons found their natural place in Your Friendly Fascist.

Michael Sharkey put in an early appearance:

Jack be nimble

Jack be weird

Jack hides roaches in his beard

As did Gig Ryan:

See, in my head, the hole they’re shooting?

What happened to those buildings, that maze?

Does everything crumble, or hurt?

A youthful Richard Tipping wrote especially for the magazine, a poem titled FASCIST COOKING (a recipe for violence) :







Joseph Chetcutti forcefully made the case for gay seduction:

Distraught, I told him / we had to stop seeing each other // he, in turn, / switched off the bedside lamp.

There are lots more, but I’d better stop before accumulating too much kharma from furious poets regretting  their youthful fascist follies.

When my first marriage failed, Your Friendly Fascist found itself in situ in a downstairs room at 9 Arcadia Rd, Glebe, where mushrooms grew through the wall in wet weather.  Ken Bolton was artist in residence, along with Denis Gallagher and sundry others. Ken’s career was in its infancy and he needed a publication to practice on. While Ken understood very well the proto- punk seditious humour of Friendly Fascism, he brought a different sensibility to the process. This is most easily seen in a comparison between the cover of Number 2 (the one at the beginning with the eggbeater … ) and Ken’s covers:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 12

The brutalist Brown-inspired drawings are by me. The layout is Ken’s: despite my best efforts he achieved just a touch of … elegance. Ken continued to refine his own interpretation of Fascist left wing anarchy:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 11

From there, ken practiced further, editing his own edition of Your Friendly Fascist:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 23

Voila! The most beautiful Fascist of them all.

Your Friendly Fascist survived a long time for such a magazine. It’s heyday was the age of the gestetner, but it continued even when the short, glorious gestetner spring was over. Most of the time the gestetner was borrowed through obligingly tolerant literary circles or marginal Trotskyite left wing groups. When photocopiers became available, graphix and layout become – well almost – sort of, professional:

By Number 17 we were publishing respectable poets, who wanted to be published there, with certain humourless exceptions: there was enough fun to go around. Or was it time when the kissing had to stop? John was an active overseas editor vigorously spreading Fascist propaganda during the years he was in England, and we published a lot of capable poms.

Andrew Darlington was one who is still around on facebook, but this was in YFF:

“at last,” she said newbridely,

“Our very own television set.”

So they poured themselves into it

And lived happily ever after,

Until the epilogue.

George Cairncross was another (are you on Facebook, George?)

………Summer just fell through / the grate / into the ashes of winter … even the breakfast flakes are frosted…

Steve Sneyd interviewed Genghiz Khan “to give his ‘tartar land investment & / securities’ latest near monopoly / take over bid /able paid for write up …”

We even had our own Ern Malley affair, in the form of Billy Ah-Lun of Kuala Lumpur:


Written on a rock /

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,In the indian reservation /

Colonel Custer / was

…………..Here / & still

Could be.

Like Ern, there were many who felt that his productions were infinitely preferable to the more serious literary efforts of his creator.

It wasn’t such fun when nobody much got pissed off and disgusted with us. I wrote a novel, then got into strife with my local Council: John returned from England with a most charming partner and became an extremely capable Historian. I enjoy poetry still, but this little kid inside me wants to take the piss. Your Friendly Fascist was great, and it stimulated even as it irritated and outraged. There’s nothing much in poetry long term, except for the prospect of boring the crap out of kids in school two hundred years from now, so why not? Poetry should be mocking, chaotic, satirical. it should give the upright middle finger to convention. There’s no such thing as immortality. That’s the serious lesson of Your Friendly Fascist. Just do it, be crazy. Like a kid.

Your Friendly Fascist Issue 4. Front and back cover design by Peter Brown.

Your Friendly Fascist cover design by Rae Desmond Jones. ". I was fresh out of ideas, but I had a post office date stamp & a stack of airmail stickers. I put one of each on every copy, while my ex-spouse and the gay person from down the road put on lip stick & kissed each one. "

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 21

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 16.

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 17 - with a Queensland feel......

Your Friendly fascist Issue 24. The last issue.

Rae Desmond Jones


Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall, Flying Island Books 2011.There has been lots of poetry in between.

Poetry of the Great Australian Nightmare: Rae Desmond Jones reviews The Welfare Of My Enemy by Anthony Lawrence

The Welfare Of My Enemy by Anthony Lawrence, Puncher & Wattmann Poetry, 2011.

Anthony Lawrence and Friend (image courtesy of Manning Clark House – http://manningclark.org.au)

In The Welfare Of My Enemy, Anthony Lawrence’s vision moves back to the early poet, Barcroft Boake, who described the ominous quality of the Australian landscape  in 1891:

East and backward pale faces turning –

That’s how the dead men lie!

Gaunt arms stretched with a voiceless yearning –

That’s how the dead men lie!

Oft in the fragrant hush of nooning

Hearing again their mother’s crooning,

Wrapt for aye in a dreamful swooning –

That’s how the dead men lie!

‘Where the Dead Men Lie’ Barcroft Boake (1891)

by contrast however, Lawrence creates his vision of the uneasy dead within the Australian landscape in language that is deliberate, flat, detached and cold. The poems lack a title: each poem has a six cornered asterisk, as though to emphasise the questionable identity of the subjects: victims, perpetrators, Policemen, grieving relatives, friends, or simply those who became ‘absent’. Many poems are dramatic monologues, but they don’t vary much in tone according to the personality of the speaker. All are written in irregular two line stanzas using mostly half rhymes, which add to the discordant unspeakable absence:


Children don’t say his name or try to find him.

Dad is not a word they use. His absence is a thin


Erratic line through the years. At five, his own

Father left, and never returned. Call it a pattern.


An understated prosaic tone effectively evokes the emptiness of grief and absence, while it serves to layer the detached charm of a manipulative murderer:


No joke. She thought the game was about passing time.

You show your hand and you say the words. It’s lame


But she looked so pretty as she laughed and ate

The bullshit. Rock, Paper, Scissors, Dynamite.


Even when we pulled off the road and she knew that “later”

Was now a word from the past: Dynamite, Scissors Rock, paper.


In writing on these themes, Lawrence may be deploying ideas similar to those that inspired Professor Ross Gibson when he wrote (in prose) about  the ‘horror stretch’ of road between Rockhampton and Mackay in Queensland. For Gibson, these Badlands ‘offer a no-go area, a dumping ground for those voices, thoughts, memories, grim realities that contemporary, “civilised” Australia would prefer to forget as it seeks accommodation, a sense of belonging, of “wellness” in what remains for many an alien landscape.’ (Reference Huxley, J., Badlands, Interview with Ross Gibson, SMH November 26 2002 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/25/1038173697682.html ). Australia has many known dumping grounds of this type: the Beaumont Children, the Truro Murders, the Belanglo State Forest.

Despite the flatness of tone, Lawrence is not writing journalese. He actively interrogates his speakers and their place in the environment. Judgement is left to the reader. While grief and loss, horror and brutality abound, this is not James Elroy in verse:


He went for a swim. He’s not been seen since.


You think of your own place in the world

how flimsy your grip on the earth really is. it boils


down to a random act, an accident where nature conceals

your fall, or something planned – they steal


more than your life – your absence becomes the absence

of those who inhabit the place you’ve fenced


The Welfare Of My Enemy does not offer a reason for these absences, although Lawrence presents us with compelling portraits of perpetrators as intent on control and power over the powerless. He may therefore indirectly support Gibson’s thesis, that the origin of ‘atmosphere’ in these spaces lies in the treatment by the invaders of indigenous people who remain both absent and present. Such ambitious poetry remorselessly takes the reader into the minds of the victims, the survivors, the perpetrators. To Lawrence, layers of history permeate the landscape and the earth. The author may be invisible but in this work he is not dead. At a time when poets and writers often concern themselves with poetry and the process of writing this is substantial – and present. Powerful stuff.

Rae Desmond Jones


Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest book is Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011. There has been lots of poetry in between.