Rowbotham’s latest poems do more than
cap a distinguished career, or reconnoiter a long acquaintance with
United States that has long made him one of the most admired Australian
Poets in this country. They are pro-American in the deepest sense, not,
that is to say, out of a heedless embrace of the politics or pop culture
of the moment, but out of a sustained love of a country whose mystery
has been that its losses nearly keep pace with its aspirations. With
balladic yet jagged rhyme that all at once sings and stings, ambitious
“The Perfect Birch” or “I Wonder Who Owns the Fourth
of July” traverse new, if hallowed, ground. Punning, assonant,
curiously wrought, anchored in history yet not consumed by it, Rowbotham’s
verse is pertinent and pure. Poems for America may well be
one of the first Australian poetry books of the twenty-first century
that will survive in the way that only art
can. —Nicholas Birns, Antipodes (USA)
[Poems for America was reviewed by The Australian’s Poetry Editor along with other works published since September 11, most notably John Updike’s Americana and Other Poems.
Australian poets usually have to come to America from the outside, battling their way through historical categories and travelogue sensations. David Rowbotham, a former literary editor of Brisbane’s newspaper The Courier-Mail who has
been publishing poetry since 1954, makes a point of telling us that he has two grandsons in the US who are ‘American-
minded’. Hence a volume that has the manner of a poet’s novel about himself as well as being a missive to and for America. The most intimate poem addresses his American grandsons, post September 11:
Go out and watch,
and tell me what
we came to be:
for a world to judge,
there was pain,
and a baleful age
beyond the sea.
Rowbotham’s weakness is a tendency to badgering doggerel, but just when you think he has gone too far he can pull images and energies together:
Baghdad’s caliph invokes
the olive grove; his dove's
about, there’s no messiah
but sands of unbelief
in blindfold fire.
(“Baghdad & Manhattan”)
Beneath the noisy surface of this poem is a Karantzakis grip on life-and-death struggles of personal life and empire. Rowbotham, an old soldier at 78, offers a grim address for our times when he says, in a poem about the US Civil
War, ‘you make me. I am war’. What’s of interest is a veteran Australian poet using America to further create the wild coherence in himself.
— Barry Hill, The
The collection is remarkable that, at his present age, Rowbotham has embarked on new themes, and given us vignettes of another country that are sharp and strange. His continued artistic vigour is inspiring. — Chris Koch
Rowbotham is one of our most enduring poets.
This collection—spare, idiosyncratic, agile, eliptical, immediately
alive to the present—is the summing up of a life lived in time
and events: depression, childhood, war, the long post-War. A witness
rock-hard integrity of his voice and vision over more than half a century.
— David Malouf
The American poems are knotty, sometimes almost fierce, but there is the lyrical quality that becomes, at times, full of echoes of a wealth of resonances, like overtones. The second half of the book rounds off with a series of wonderful elegies. A very strong book. — Tom Shapcott
A poet of real significance.—Martin
Rowbotham addresses the great themes of human existence with humility, grace and craftsmanship.— Manfred Jurgensen
Rowbotham should be nominated for a Patrick White Prize.
— David Gilbey
Back in 1994, when David Rowbotham released his New
and Selected Poems, 1945-1993, a flurry of reviews appeared in the major
newspapers and magazines remarking on how richly Rowbotham deserved more recognition
as one of Australia’s major poets of the past century.
But if he is the most major of our neglected poets, what is remarkable is that Rowbotham has continued to write sixty years on, in a confident and lucid voice that transcends single continents and cultures.
Poems for America is certain to earn Rowbotham that elusive literary Oscar.
Veteran Australian poet, author and
journalist David Rowbotham was born at Toowoomba, Queensland, in 1924. He
now lives in active retirement in Brisbane where he was the inaugural arts
and literary editor of Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail. He was
educated at Toowoomba East State, Toowoomba Grammar, and the Universities
of Queensland and Sydney.
He holds the Ford Memorial Medal for Poetry (University of Queensland), has won the Henry Lawson Prize (University of Sydney) and the Grace Leven Prize, as well as second prize for poetry in the New South Wales Captain Cook Bicentenary Celebrations Literary Competitions. He has a BA degree and is an AM in the Order of Australia.
After service as a wireless operator with the RAAF in the South West Pacific, he worked as a journalist in Sydney and London, and has travelled widely, receiving recognition in the United States where he has resided, lectured and been published.
His 20 books of verse and prose include a novel and a volume of short stories. He has a publishing history of 60 years, and was a contributor to the revival of poetry in Australia in the postwar 1940s. In 1989 he was awarded an Emeritus Fellowship by the Australia Council for his “contribution to the national heritage”.