Duncan Hose, ‘Bunratty’ in The Australian

Australian poetry: Atherton; Hose; Huppatz; Kocher – review by Michael Farrell

…Has there been an Australian poet as troubadourish and piratical as Duncan Hose? In Bunratty (Puncher & Wattmann, 76pp, $25), Hose single-handedly reinstitutes (an imaginary) Ireland­ as the mother of the poet-ratbag-leprechaun: or pretends to. And this is fair enough if you think how many Irish were forced to come here and imagine Ireland from then on.

Through sheer poetic lewdness, Hose offers an antidote to art’s decades of earnestness about the (human) body: “one can’t help the motes and / mites / That get in you and up you like seed and turbodiesel … with a click of the throat well make a song to modify your brisket” (Hand Cramp Shantey); ” haveso in my gullet … I mauve my tongue (Pea and Cream Shantey); “I fingerput a red rabbit on your furksome ladybelly” (Liquor’s not like that).

The book can be read as an argument for the wastrel life, which does indeed have a product besides death. It’s easy to imagine such non-neoliberal excellence being completely ignored. But this is a human condition “GODDAMMIT’ (Charm of a bivalve chantey). It’s not all Irish, nor bone-idle insobriety, either; it’s a response to an imaginary Auden’s (or someone’s) pronouncement that poetry be playful or drunken speech, linguistically badly behaved. And if it not be the speech of the king of Bunratty castle, then maybe that of the “Mayor of Merimbula”.

There’s a lot of reading and melopoeia in this Poundean pileup, more sweet-sounding than anything I can think of in Australian English, that perhaps must stray greatly to make it: “Afollow a trail of thumblets of black whiskey” (Drag Racing Shantey). If I want to misspell Eng­lish, that’s the effect a Hose dose has. Bunratty is a reminder that white culture is weird and varied: it doesn’t define the rest with its normality.

If it’s pastiche it’s pastiche as virus, as raucous caucus, slurping up all sorts of lingo from the grave. It’s only the recurring “O” that seems dead and uncharming, tending to provide unworked­-for expression. The series of 10 shanties are the book’s major contribution to Australian poetry. Think Courland Penders as a leaky airship with a naked waiting Oscar the Grouch, and the only thing on the menu clams in alcoholic gravy. Love it or throw up.

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