Sunday, 22 September 2013

John Clarke - Significant Events

In my appreciation of a writer’s work I like it when I come across clever humour, wry humour, quirky humour, dry, subtle humour ……… And that’s what I’ve found in a little poetry book by John Clarke, ‘The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse’.  John is well known in Australia as an author, on television, radio and in a couple of funny movies (‘The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie’, 1972; ‘Crackerjack’ – 2001; ‘The Man Who Sued God’ – 1993).  For years John Clarke and Bryan Dawe (Clarke & Dawe), have been doing a weekly skit on television and radio where John usually appears as a political figure being interviewed by Bryan on some topical political or social issue.  They carry out a clever discourse, appearing serious but actually taking the piss in a very ‘Yes Minister’ style.

‘The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse’ is not a collection of poems.  It is a complete piece of work that mocks a number of famous poets from the past and their work.  Only an Australian would do this.  I think it’s because Australian’s have something in their psyche that draws them towards being self-deprecating.  We hold it as a measure of acceptance and balance that a man is able to laugh at him-self and not get upset when somebody takes ‘the mickey’ out of him.  John Clarke is ‘taking the mickey’, and this is evident in the first paragraph of the introduction to his book, quote:
“For many years it was assumed that poetry came from England.  Research now clearly demonstrates, however, that a great many of the world’s most famous poets were actually Australians.  Works by major poets have been discovered in various parts of Australia and are published here for the first time.”
For this post I’ve taken one of my favourite pieces from John Clarke’s, Complete Book of Australian Verse.  It is titled, ‘Significant Events’, by a fictitious poet whom John has invented as Paul Dorkan.  I’m not totally sure who the poet is that John Clarke is referring to in Significant Events (most of his other poets I can identify, like, Bill Blake; Arnold Wordsworth; b. b. hummings; W. H. Auding, etc).  I think Paul Dorkan is a cover for Philip Larkin because Significant Events puts a mundane twist to life, and Philip Larkin was also known to use the commonplace and dreary details of life as the basis for his poetry.

Significant Events
(Paul Dorkan)
Twenty years to the day after Edmund Hillary
Conquered Mount Everest, Terry Peterson conquered
Heather O’Dwyer
Who was at the time,
The highest woman in the world.
Exactly fifty years after Einstein discovered relativity
Mrs Glenys Simpson discovered that under the house
Without the aid of time or space
And using only friction and an active imagination
Her son Bevan had effected an increase in mass.
In 1925 James Joyce left Dublin for Zurich, with Nora.
In 1983 Suzie Daley left Brisbane for Melbourne with Barry,
A man she’d met on a train, who had something to do with
‘Don’t forget to write’ her mother had said, but unlike James
she never really bothered.
Eighteen years after the famous tied test between Australia
and the West Indies,
Nipper Dixon and his team ran exactly as far as the police,
Although it has to be said the police covered the distance
slightly faster.
Onlookers said it was all very confused and they weren’t there
And they didn’t know where they’d got the microwave ovens.
Nearly four hundred years after William Shakespeare wrote
to be or not to be in Hamlet
Owen McKenzie wrote to be in the draw for a luxury unit on
the Gold Coast.
‘You can’t win it if you’re not in it,’ vouchsafed Owen within
the privacy of his own mind.
Half a century after Wittgenstein had taken issue with
himself and revised his entire position on language,
A plumber in Orbost changed his mind about the nature of
elbow joints and thereafter did them in plastic.
I think Significant Events is brilliant (as are a lot of other poems in the book).  It is typical of John Clarke’s work.  Armed with that style, dead pan serious and a humorous twist to the end, I set about trying to come up with my own material.  And the material came to me from listening to news reports.  No matter how tragic or serious a news item appeared to be, there was always a comic twist to it if I cared to chase down and find the irony – if I was prepared to laugh at myself.  I’ve called my poem, ‘Hudibrastic Bits,’ taken from a type of mock heroic verse that an English poet called Samuel Butler used way back in 1600 something in a poem he wrote called, ‘Hudibras’.
2010.  I hear ridicule, irony and satire continually reported as news, on the radio, on television.  Samuel Butler wrote mock heroic verse in 1663 / 1676.  400 years later, there’s still stuff happening.

Hudibrastic Bits

In true tradition of the Anzac spirit, “Bazza Doyle”,
96 year old veteran of the North Africa campaign,
9th Division, Tobruk, El Alemain,
gets himself mugged and robbed
of his poker machine winnings
by a young couple,
who tip him out of his mobility scooter
as he leaves the Campbelltown RSL
in full view of security cameras.
“Bazza” said he wasn’t scared, and
that he put it down to his military training
on how to exit from a travelling LAV
that he didn’t suffer more serious injuries.
Following a code of sporting conduct
forged in the stadium at Randwick,
back to back ARL winners, the Melbourne Storm,
were found to have deliberately breached their salary cap,
thus guaranteeing themselves first pick
at the best players in the game.
“Charlie” Peterson,
one of the Storm’s most loyal fans
and locker room roustabout,
said it was disgusting, and
called it cheating,
but still did OK from a footy-TAB bet
he managed to place
just before they announced publicly
that his team was being axed
from the competition.
Right place, right time, said “Charlie”.
Brought up to accept honesty is the best policy,
“Dolly” and Daryl Edwards find themselves
abandoning their beliefs
when they discover $100,000
in the lining of the second hand suit case
they purchased for $15
from their local Vinnie’s shop
for their son Trevor, to take
on his Antioch weekend retreat to Canberra.
When threatened with prosecution, and
a possible jail term
if they didn’t hand the money back,
“Dolly” said that they never found any money, and
besides, it probably would have been spent already
on gambling and anonymous gifts to charity.
Upholding an unwritten rule
of honour among thieves,
“Rayelene” Crump, long time devoted
girl friend to the notorious
gangster, Con “Cutty” Cathcart,
comes to terms with his death,
resulting from a beating he
received in the exercise yard
of a maximum security prison
where “Cutty” was serving
a 40 year jail sentence
for murder, execution style
of no less than six
rivals in broad daylight
on the streets of Marrickville.
“Rayelene” said she was shocked,
Con was such a kind and gentle man,
when you got to know him,
unlike the scum-bag who did him in,
who must be nothing but a maggot.
In a personal demonstration, of
Prime minister Gillard’s belief
that a good education
holds the key to
the future of our nation,
recent Hamilton High school graduate,
“Brendon” McIntyre, sets fire to the rental property
he was sharing with three mates in Mayfield
following an attempt to refuel
a Victa two stroke in the lounge room
and right next to an operating gas heater.
When combustion did occur,
“Brendon” had the presence of mind
to scatter the fuel with water, and
spread spot fires down the hall
to get the mower to the front lawn.
In an interview on the footpath for the local news,
with emergency service vehicles, and
the smouldering Victa still in the background,
“Brendon” said it may have been an electrical fault, and
he didn’t feel he was to blame, because
nobody had told him.
In responding to a challenge
from animal welfare agents
over his freshly thought out concept of
‘free to roam’ chicken farming
(as opposed to ‘free range’ chicken farming),
that strongly suggested the only area
in which one of his chickens could roam
was the size of an A4 sheet of paper,
“Bluey” Fenwick, Chooks-4-U, conceded
that, yes, in the facility
there are other chickens
and of course as they all grow larger
there naturally occurs a correspondingly equivalent reduction
in the amount of actual free space
in which any one individual chicken may move.
The emphasis is on the ‘free’, said “Bluey”
more than on the ‘roam’.
Experiencing yet another sucker blow
in a long line of rotten luck acts,
“Dinga” Bell, double leg amputee
loses his little doggie on cracker night
and has no money to pay the $200 fine
for rescue from execution in the pound.
Dinga’s neighbours said they felt sorry for him
so organised a whip around
but could only come up with $69.
When told the disappointing news
“Dinga” agreed, maybe it could be seen
as a bit of a piss weak effort,
but then, said “Dinga”
….. it has been a tough Christmas for everyone.
In an extreme case of denial,
“Cecily” Dawson, out of work
beauty consultant and
part time housewife, flees
from a security guard
at her local shopping centre
following an accusation of stealing,
collides with an unlucky pedestrian
and drags him 300 metres
clinging desperately to the
bonnet of her KIA Cerato.
“Cecily” said she didn’t know
what came over her, and
she thought she might be pregnant
and put it all down to hormones.
J. O. White

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