The Tin Wreath: A Pierian Publican

[This piece continues our reprints from The Bulletin from 1908. This was written in response to the magazine's call for nominations for the position of Australian poet laureate.]

I am not sure whether you mean by "poet laureate" the most popular poet, the writer of the best patriotic poetry, or the best poet. (We mean the best poet.) If popularity is the prime qualification, the matter could be settled at once by a reference to publishers' statistics, and A.B. Paterson would be found easily first. If, however, you are inquiring what poet fills a similar position in Australia to that of the Poet Laureate in England, one remembers that Pye, Wharton, Alfred Austin, and others, have helped to wither the laurel that was green on the brows of Dryden, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, and assumes that the title of Poet Laureate does not really connote much more than Purveyor of Odes to the Royal Family -- By Special Appointment. The analogous position in Australia is, I think, already filled by Essex Evans, who writes patriotic exhortations quite as well as Alfred Austin, and whose other work is graced, here and there, by a touch of poetry. But if you really want to know who is the best poet in australia, that's not so easy to answer. There is no precedent for a woman holding the laureate-ship in England, but that would not matter in Australia. There are about eight or nine women to be reckoned with; but I hardly think there are in the first flight. Their quality might be represented by cordials -- Ada Cambridge, ginger-beer with bitters; Louise Mack, cider; but Jessie Mackay (I take it for granted that Maorilanders are included in the survey) sometimes rises to the heights of sparkling burgundy. Bayldon, Church, Essex Evans, Loughran, O'Hara, and Ross I class together as capable versifiers, with more or less frequent poetic gleams -- good stout with a dash. Jephcott, O'Dowd, and Hugh McCrae are stronger, more imaginative, but not always artistic -- whisky is about their measure. A.H. Adams, Brereton, Hebblethwaite and A.T. Strong are better artists, yet want some high energising purpose to make them produce poetry that is really worth while -- wine, with some bouquet but little body. If Roderic Quinn had written nothing more than The Hidden Tide, and C. Brennan had published something more than XXI Poems - Towards the Source, it might be the right thing to divide the wreath between them, for one had the rare champagne quality and the other resembles green chartreuse. These are all splendid drinks on occasion; but there is no doubt that as a steady tipple there is nothing like Beer. For this we go to our ballad writers -- except two, E.J. Brady and Will Lawson, whose work has the tang of rum. Paterson is often finer than beer, Ogilvie has sometimes a flavor of old vatted mountain mist; but taking this class as a whole, their work has the unvarying appeal, and gives the glow and nourishment, and gets one forrarder to the extent of Beer. It seems to me that our best and most representative poet is to be found amongst these, and I give my vote for one who has not much of "the faculty" but a good deal of "the vision," an unconscious artist whose work, with all its faults, is instinct with life and purpose -- Henry Lawson.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 April 1908

Notes: Wikipedia pages are accessible for:
A.H. Adams
Arthur Bayldon
E.J. Brady
Christopher Brennan
Ada Cambridge
Hubert Church
George Essex Evans
Henry Lawson
Hugh McCrae
Louise Mack
Bernard O'Dowd
Will Ogilvie
A.B. Paterson

See the previous postings in this sequence: July 25 August 1
August 22

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 29, 2008 8:38 AM.

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