Economy of verse

JOHN HOLTON meets a local writer determined to bring poetry back into the limelight.

IT MAY seem a curious journey from the “dismal science” of economics to the literary life of a poet, but for local author and former economics lecturer Bruce Oakman it’s been a strangely serendipitous one.

Robert Frost famously wrote that the road less travelled made all the difference. It’s a line that could well describe Oakman’s rise to prominence in the world of poetry over the past eight years.   

Yet despite a long list of publishing credits both in Australia and overseas, several published collections, and most recently a nomination for the prestigious Pushcart Poetry Prize, his success has gone largely unheralded in his adopted city.

“Poetry has an astonishingly low profile here in Bendigo,” Bruce says. “Apart from the poetry unit taught at Bendigo TAFE as part of Professional Writing and Editing there’s quite a void.

“It’s disappointing, because poetry is important. There’s a perception that it’s irrelevant in the modern world, but of all the written art forms, poetry is the one that provides the perfect distillation of mind, heart and libido (DH Lawrence might have said sex).  It’s all brought together so accessibly in poetry.”

That desire to make poetry accessible has motivated Oakman to develop a Reading, Writing and Appreciating Poetry course here in Bendigo. 

Over five weeks at the Bendigo Library, participants will explore why poetry matters, delve into poetic form and genres, learn the tools of the trade such as voice, line, meter and rhyme, and also have a chance to workshop their own creations.

For Oakman, it’s about encouraging readers and writers to see how vast the “resource” of poetry is, and how it can positively influence every part of our lives.

“In our first class we looked at Thomas Hardy’s Neutral Tones – a poem that is essentially about the end of an affair,” he says. “But it’s a poem that could apply to any kind of relationship.

“I asked the group whether they found it depressing or comforting. Everyone found the poem a comfort – because it’s the truth.

“That’s the incredible power of poetry. It makes you realise that you’re not alone; that others, over time,  have experienced these emotions. That’s where the comfort comes from – that awareness.”

The course also explores the subjective nature of poetry – why some poems move us and some don’t – as well as the links between contemporary poetry and what has come before it.

“When you start to read poetry (or any kind of literature for that matter) more widely, you realise that it’s all dealing with the same themes. Love and death and the bits in between. It’s what we’re still writing about – the struggle – the journey we’re all on.

“Poetry appreciation is like swimming in a great flowing river. Whether we’re readers, or writers as well, we’re all a part of a tradition.”

For Oakman, one of poetry’s greatest virtues is its ability to address the imbalance in a world dominated by the intellect.“We live in a left-brain world,” he says. “There’s a prevailing belief that we can solve everything that way, but we can’t.

“The American poet William Carlos Williams wrote about ‘broaching the chaos of the technical’. That balance in our lives between the left and right brain is so important.

Bruce Oakman has developed a poetry course currently running at Bendigo Library. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

Bruce Oakman has developed a poetry course currently running at Bendigo Library. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

“All the stuff we can’t measure is what really matters. That’s where people’s real happiness lies.”

To register your interest for future courses, contact Sue Mooney at suem@ncgl.vic.gov.au or contact Bruce via his website: www.bnoakman.com Bruce’s new book Second Thoughts will be published by Interactive Press later this year.

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