I recently received a book called “The Penguin anthology of Australian Poetry”. I am Australian by the way and currently living in Australia. However I typically read “Western canonical” literature because I perceive Australian culture a bit depressing, without many role models or inspiration.
This book has rekindled my interest in Australian culture. For a while there I though the culture didn’t really exist other than sport, feminism and negative reactions to many sentiments, but hearing the impressions of the first generation of settlers has given me the experience of Australian culture that I was looking for.
It’s almost as if from the start, Australia was perceived as a dismal place to go. It was where the convicts were sent. Whereas America is where opportunity seekers went. The editor points out that in the 1700’s a lot of the poetry was written “back home” to England, as if they were reporting back to where the heart was. I sensed this as well.
Also it was pretty enchanting to read Aboriginal poems from those days, although much of it was depressing and about being killed.
There was one uplifting one about a daisy. The former Englishman poet finally found a daisy that was like the ones back home and was so enchanted about it he wrote a poem. It was so far the only flower that he’d seen to be the same both here and there. I guess he was missing home as well.
The visual image I received was that it was a very dreary environment (with many inexplicable animals). In truth though the weather here is a lot better than in England, sunnier at least. The attitude sounds as if they were in some depressing camp that didn’t have any amenities and they didn’t want to be there or even to explore much really.
Interesting that they pretty much mentioned only convicts and lawyers coming over. I suppose those lawyers were the beginning of our “elite” and the source of many place names.
Roughly half of the poems or even more are by women so far, although I think that’s because the editor’s very progressive (and also far-left leaning based on the introduction). It is interesting though because lately I’ve become convinced that it’s the most feminist country in the world.
It’s fascinating to think that what I just read was the beginning of Australia. The emotions of it. The sense of it being a blank slate, far away from any action. I feels like I spoke to and saw through the eyes of the people who were the source of Australia’s culture. How things are now (which is difficult to define) is in many ways explained by how it started in the first generation.
It reminded me that I did experience Australian culture growing up. The poems reminded me of a historical kinda feeling I got in primary school. Back then I felt part of the culture, that it was me as well. At some point that feeling stopped, maybe from travelling or internet. This book of poems has helped me reconnect with what Australian culture is and showed me why it’s like that. I look forward to reading the next sections of poetry from the 19th and 20th centuries.