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Poetry and public speech: three traces

McCooey, David 2009, Poetry and public speech: three traces, Journal of the association for the study of Australian literature, vol. 9, pp. 1-11.

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Title Poetry and public speech: three traces
Author(s) McCooey, David
Journal name Journal of the association for the study of Australian literature
Volume number 9
Start page 1
End page 11
Publisher Association for the Study of Australian Literature
Place of publication Crawley, W.A.
Publication date 2009
ISSN 1447-8986
1833-6027
Summary Poetry is routinely seen as ‘marginal’ to public culture, especially in terms of it having lost its status as a form of public speech. Such a condition is often noted in nostalgic terms, in which a golden era—bardic or journalistic—is evoked to illustrate contemporary poetry’s lack. But traces of poetry’s instrumentality, especially as a form of public speech, can be found in various extra-poetic contexts.

In this article, three examples of poetry operating in ‘extra-poetic contexts’ will illustrate the different, sometimes troubling, ways in which traces of poetry as a mode of public speech can be observed in contemporary culture: the poem-cartoons of Michael Leunig; the role of the poet Les Murray in the drafting of a proposed preamble to the Constitution of Australia; and the quotation of William Ernest Henley’s ‘Invictus’ as the final statement of Timothy McVeigh (the ‘Ohio Bomber’) prior to his execution.

These examples illustrate that poetry-as-public-speech engages with political discourse in diverse, incommensurate ways. Leunig’s occasional cartoon-poems, appearing in the metropolitan press, are examples of poetry at its most public and politically engaged state. And yet, even Leunig’s most ‘political’ work gestures towards a realm beyond politics, where the poetic, the comic, and the existential coexist as a way of making life in the political realm more bearable. Les Murray’s role as a ‘national’ poet in the failed attempt to introduce a preamble to the Australian Constitution illustrates the vestigial role that poets can play in nation building. Lastly, McVeigh’s quotation of Henley, made without any explanation, shows the unpredictable and potentially volatile condition of poetry-as-public-speech. In addition, the examples variously engage in arguments about the relationship between the individual and the state, private identity and national history.
Language eng
Field of Research 200502 Australian Literature (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature)
Socio Economic Objective 950203 Languages and Literature
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
ERA Research output type C Journal article
HERDC collection year 2009
Copyright notice ©2009, left to authors
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30021344

Document type: Journal Article
Collections: School of Communication and Creative Arts
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Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that permission has been obtained for items included in DRO. If you believe that your rights have been infringed by this repository, please contact drosupport@deakin.edu.au.