Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Poetry in Australia by Mary Gilmore

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Sir, - Poetry in Australia is, for the present, in the doldrums as far as publication is concerned, and I should say that it is largely because the psychic and intellectual human cry for rhythm, and for the implied musical effect of language as used in poetry, has been met by radio programmes -- and met by these more as a novelty than as an actual substitute. The novelty wearing off, it may again be that poetry will become a recognised national need, and once more a national mode of expression. The wealthy and the so-called intellectual classes have never been the supporters of literature in its highest form here. Otherwise, as they have greatly increased in numbers and possessions of late years, poetry would still be supported as when they were a small part of the population. It was the common people and their more or less nomadic offspring who stood to the Australian writer. It was the boundary-rider and the stockman, together with the horse-lover generally, who made Gordon's fame. It was the increase, through sheep, of the shearer and the drover made Henry Lawson and Paterson the men of their hour. Actually the shearing sheds and the cattle camps were the intellectual theatres of Australia, and it was in those theatres, writers' names were made when made at all.

But machinery came, and poetry declined because machinery replaced working men. It also made the semi-nomadic the permanently housed, because they had to have a fixed job. As a housed people they took to the gramo- phone, first, and radio afterwards. Consequently one book, poem, or song, reached ten thousand ears at once. There became no need for memory; a clock (and a programme) ticked the hour. There was no need for a bookshelf even of only one book, for an announcer's voice struck and held the ear. But (and this is something) as a part of its food for natural growth and the maintenance of an active level, human nature consistently asks for the new, and mechanical repetition becomes in the end its own destroyer. After a time it cannot produce anything that is effectively freshening. So perhaps one day Australia will regain her name as a land of song and of verse. The letters appearing in this paper may be the first spring crocus of that renewal. The desire to see Christopher Brennan published in enduring form, is equally the desire to see Australia stand face to face among the writers of the world, and not as an almost invisible and unconsidered joint at the end of a long tail.

I am. etc.,  


King's Cross, July 21.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1936

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

1 Comment

I like very much that Mary's first point is about rhythm and the natural musicality of language. Even if that need wasn't being met elsewhere, readers would be hard pressed to find it met in contemporary poetry which seems to have lost all interest in or respect for a general readership.

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