Social Protest and Beyond in Australian Indigenous Poetry: Romaine Moreton, Alf Taylor and Michael J. Smith

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Author: Danica Cerce
Date: Dec. 2012
From: Antipodes(Vol. 26, Issue 2)
Publisher: Wayne State University Press
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,891 words
Lexile Measure: 1530L

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Although Australian indigenous poetry cannot be truly understood by severing it analytically from its historical and socio-cultural context, and despite the fact that it is very often overtly polemical and politically committed, any reading which analyzes it as mere propaganda is too narrow to do it justice. Whereas some indigenous poets indeed consider themselves to be committed spokespersons for their people, expressing collective grievances against the forced sociopolitical agenda of more than two hundred years of colonization and attacking government policies on the social ills within the Black Australian community, others view poetry as a means of celebrating and preserving the beauty of nature; still others consider this genre as an outlet for emotional release and examine the universal themes of human existence. Perhaps nowhere else is the richness of indigenous poetic expression more distinctly observed than in the book Rimfire: Poetry from Aboriginal Australia , by Romaine Moreton, Alf Taylor and Michael J. Smith. Published by Magabala Books in 2000, this compilation brings together poets who have on the one hand undertaken the responsibility to strive for social and political equality and foster within their communities the very important concept that indigenous peoples can survive only as a community and a nation, not as individuals (McGuiness 49-50). In this sense, and together with poets like Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Jack Davis, Kevin Gilbert, Mudrooroo Narodin, Les Murray, Bruce Dawe, Lionel Fogarty, among many others, they have proved Adam Shoemaker's claim that "if there is any 'school' of black Australian poetry, it is one of social protest" (Black Words 201). On the other hand, as my essay aims to show, they have produced powerful self-revelatory accounts of their own mental and emotional interior, which urges us to see their careers in a much wider perspective than that of social chroniclers and rebels.

Rimfire opens with Romaine Moreton's deeply engaging and yet acutely personal collection The Callused Stick of Wanting , previously published in 1995. Moreton has overtly manifested her objection to the social and political marginalization of Australian indigenous peoples, and her Goenpul nation in particular, by writing poetry, performing her verse, and making films. (1) Despite her awareness of the common unappreciative stance towards writing that encodes critique, Moreton has continued to view her verse in the first place as a site of resistance. (2) Focused on the deplorable living conditions of contemporary indigenous Australians and exploring racial discrimination, marginalization, dislocation, institutionalization, poverty and abuse, Moreton's poetry is perhaps among the most penetrating fictional indictment of colonization in Australia. And more than that, her angle of vision, coupled with the anger fuelled by righteous indignation and generative urgency, make her work exemplary and sought after by a huge participatory audience. (3) She has ensured the maximum affective impact of her verse also by employing living linguistic structures (such as rhetorical questions, direct address to the reader, satirical antitheses, etc.) that invite the reader's active participation through emotional identification, together with individual and communal conversion. As Anne Brewster puts it in her article "Engaging...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A317204487