The creative component of my MPhilCW thesis is a MS of poems entitled "Fatherlands". "Fatherlands" is a free verse poetry collection divided into three sections; the first, "Green Heart, Red Neck", examines my rural childhood at Dalby in Western Queensland and the relationship with my father, Warren, who is dying of cancer. The second section, "Fatherlands", deals with my own issues of fatherhood and is framed in the context of mapping the impact of the early loss of my father, on the construction of my masculine identity. The third section of the MS, "In a Forest of V2 Rockets", explores the psychological legacy of grief and loss, characterised in this instance by the death of a parent, the separation from traditional male role expectancies such as farming, and the usurpation of masculine identity derived from the Australian bush culture.
My critical essay is a comparative examination of the psychological affect on the construction of masculine identity in the poetry of Les A. Murray and in my creative dissertation "Fatherlands". Although I had not read Murray when I wrote the poems of "Fatherlands", I soon discovered a thematic similarity between our work, based upon a common rural childhood and the untimely death of a parent that gave us a comparable experience to write from. However, certain differences exist in the way Murray and I grieve for our losses, whether it is for our parents, our childhood innocence or for the bush landscape and farming reality that eluded both of us.
In the first chapter, 'Last Hellos: Death' I look at Murray's poem, "The Last Hellos" from his collection, Subhuman Redneck Poems. This poem deals with the death of Murray's father, Cecil and depicts his physical as well as mental deterioration over the last months of his life on his Bunyah farm. In "The Last Hellos", Cecil is comforted by the Bunyah landscape that nurses him throughout his decline, Murray documenting the installation of dignity and humanity into the process of dying. This view is contrasted in "Fatherlands" by the poems, "Of Earth and Wheat", "Green Heart, Red Neck" and "Full Bloom" in which my father, who died of cancer at the age of forty-five, is disembodied by a hostile, natural environment.
In the second chapter of the essay, 'Big Poems Burn Men Too: Grief I look at Murray's attempt in his verse novel Fredy Neptune, and earlier, in his poem "Evening Alone at Bunyah", to rationalise issues of grief and to document the effects on masculine identity. In Fredy Neptune, Murray examines the non-reconciliation between a subject's psychological and physical identities particularly after experiencing trauma, as embodied by Fredy Boettcher, his German-Australian sailor. In "Evening Alone at Bunyah", Murray scrutinises the silent, stoic, cut-off, interior world of his grief, compounded by his mother's early death and contrasts these emotions with those of his widowed father, Cecil, who, though still grieving for his wife, manages to re-establish himself within the nurturing Bunyah community. This paradoxical relationship with the bush underpins the mood the poem, "Some Thoughts on the Absence of Mourning", where I investigate the physical and spiritual gulf that rises between the bush and myself after my father's death. Unlike Murray, I find no solace in the nurturing qualities of the bush and can only plot my alienation from the Australian heartland.
In the third chapter, 'The Steel & Black Snags: Memory", I look at Murray's reconstruction of his past, particularly in relation to the events surrounding his mother's death in, "Three Poems in Memory of My Mother, Miriam Murray nee Arnall". In the essay, I compare Murray's reasons for perpetuating a false history, particularly his stubborn defence of his father's role in events, with my own preoccupation with mapping my father's irreversible historical and metaphorical decay, as described in the poem, "Black Snag". Interestingly, both poems seek answers to the perceived historical injustice suffered by their protagonists at the hands of forces (either human or natural or both) beyond the control of the children who witnessed these events. Instead, it is evident that the historical testimony of Murray and myself is subject to misinterpretation and to perhaps supporting more egocentric, ideological and artistic goals.