LITERATURE - AUSTRALIAN - JIM SHARP - FOREWORD
corrupts. That corruption takes many forms. There are the bribes paid by
property despoilers into the coffers of the ALP. There is an economic
order which spurs the human need for possessions onto greed. It can end
in rottenness, or just by going soft.
corrodes. The relentlessness of its barbarity deadens our revulsion at
each new horror. The power of capital to defeat our best endeavours
hardens the heart against hope. Prelates and professors assure us that
the monstrosities televised as ‘the news’ are clips from an eternity
of ‘human nature’.
selection confronts the worst. Nothing human is alien to his account.
But he shows how ‘human nature’, whether as propaganda or in
practice, can be twisted by the needs that capital has to expand.
his poems, he cauterises corruption with caustic, speaks bitterness to
defend a certain gentleness, counters the corrosion with images from a
grace which gathers pawpaws, the goddess Diana, the moon and global
greenhouse. He fashions his North Country rambles into phrases until we,
too, are ‘watching skylarks fall out of a fading sun’. He thrills at
each great-grand-bairn, swells to the recollection of his grandmother
and to the warmth of a friendship formed in childhood with Mike Haywood.
Jim has the gift for friendship, and for comradeship.
comrade is anyone who steers us away from the corruption and the
corrosiveness. Many of us rely on Jim to remind us of the best and the
worst, just as he relied on his workmates, as he puts it, ‘hearin’
and listenin’. At meetings, activists listen because we know that his
politics are cut from experience tempered by thoughtfulness, qualities
which pervade his writing. His concern for finding the best way forward
in action appears in the insistent questioning that structures several
of these verses, a device, which, from his fingers, eludes the
rhetorical to reach incisiveness.
Jim’s voice is of a class and of a region. His spelling is part of his
inventiveness. As Ben Bowyang put it: if ‘rong’ doesn’t spell
‘wrong’, what does it spell? We
can ask the same of Jim’s ‘boozh-wah’. His variant conveys a
contempt that ‘bourgeois’ does not allow. Literary critics indulge
Ezra Pound for such mintings.
politics will offend the aesthete more than do the atrocities he
confronts. ‘Social continuum’ and ‘lah-zay-fare’ are as much a
part of his being as is his watching snow fall, manning a picket, or
absorbing democratic leadership from his job delegate, ’Owd Norm. Take
the flint of speech away and the steel will not spark.
author of one of Jim’s favourite books, A
Scots Quaire, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, reminds us of how often the
regional reader must translate standard English idioms. Here is a chance
to return that courtesy.
regional accents of many British immigrants are a neglected point of
discrimination. Politicians chase votes from immigrants whose first
language is not English. Governments fund programs to preserve those
heritages within a multi-cultural Australia. The academy accommodates
π-ο from his Greek, and indigenous deadlys. What is done for
the Glaswegian or the Geordie? This neglect is one of the hidden
injuries of class.
is the neglect of working-class bards. Turn the pages in old trade union
journals and you discover verses which merit attention beyond the
dispute that sparked their composition. Rarely will their authors see
their work between a set of covers, and never in commercial anthologies.
what is unique about Jim’s selection is not that a butcher has written
poetry. Shakespeare’s dad was a butcher – which is why the
boozh-wah-zie invented the Earl of Oxford as the author of his plays.
What is unusual about Jim’s poetry is its appearance as a book. His
comrades have taken charge of its publication, supported by his old
dare to generalise from a handful of volumes of verse dealing with
proles. In the early 1990s, the Food Preservers Union in Tasmania
sponsored Bruce Roberts to write poems around the struggles at
McCann’s vegetable packers. His Captive to the process (1992) spotlights how much can be grasped by
someone from outside the iron cage.
delay awaits the worker who becomes a poet. Jeff Goodfellow got started
only after injury put him out of the building game, Jennifer Maiden once
she had left the factory floor for the university, Jim Sharp since he
was made redundant. It is as if the grind that supplied their content
prevented its expression. Poetry workshops in prison give inmates the
time to write that they would not have under the hard labour imposed by
made redundant, Jim was, in effect, illiterate. Then, he read, and, from
there, he wrote. Marx’s Economic
and Philosophical Manuscripts gave him the word for what he had been
through: alienation. In his poems, Jim has written over that
estrangement. Throughout, his writings strive for a world which realises
William Morris’s conviction that creativity is the form of work
suitable to human beings.
dialectical materialist Mao asks where correct ideas come from. His
answer is ‘social practice’: the struggle for production, the class
struggle and scientific investigation. Is there no by-way to correct
ideas through poetry? Was the Philosophical Idealist Plato correct to
treat poetry as the enemy of the truth?
art can compete with science. Yet, poetry offers insights through its
intimacy of form with content, the effort of finding the right word, the
shaping power of stresses to a line. These techniques take poets further
into what they observe, carrying response to a fresh level of
perception. The aesthetic dimension imposes its own discipline on
explores that process when he shows us that the gun-boner is not the
worker who wields his knife faster than others. Rather, the gun-boner is
the worker most skilled at sharpening the knife. Success depends on the
work before the cut. Next, in ‘Hand-held tools’, he leads us through
more than the self-education of one person. We enter into an
appreciation of social labour developing across a lifetime as it remakes
both teller and tale. We see the child’s hand scattering seed, a
butcher wielding a knife, and now the poet with his hand-held electronic
his expressiveness on the everyday, as in ‘The waitress’, Jim
recognises a significance in what appears to be little more than
alienated labour. His own translation from illiteracy into art speaks to
his trust that all of life might be transformed through the
self-emancipation of his class.