Distance lends authenticity to country poems

POET Brendan Ryan loves the country but knows he cannot live there.

The Panmure-born scribe believes it’s that contradiction that gives him the detachment to write “realistic” poems about country life, such as butchering animals and the bellows of cattle in saleyards as well as strong connections to the land and the tight bonds of farm families.

“It’s sometimes unsavoury but it gives the full portrait of the country,”  Ryan said of his poetry.

That approach has won his latest book of poetry, called Travelling Through the Family, a shortlisting for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for poetry. 

Ryan said the collection of poems was about growing up in a large Catholic family on a dairy farm at Panmure that is still worked by his family.

“A lot of this book is about growing up with nine brothers and sisters, about parents,” he said.

“There are poems about going to church. It’s a wry look at religion.

“There are poems about work and men, about the land and family.”

Judges for the award said “these coolly lyrical poems unfold a clear-eyed, yet often wry view of the pragmatism implicit in rural survival.

“Ryan commemorates a Victorian landscape that evolves in memory, through carefully placed vernacular and precisely economical description, in which the past and present ultimately cohere into layered tolerance,” the judges said.

Ryan started to write poetry after he moved away from the south-west to Melbourne when he was 21. The move, he said, made him confront who he was and work out where he belonged.

While he recognised he could not live on the land, he acknowledged it had a big formative impact on him.

He worked in a variety of jobs before undertaking university studies and becoming an English teacher in Geelong.

His first book of poetry was titled Why I am not a Farmer.

His second collection of poetry, A Paddock in His Head, was short-listed for the 2008 ACT Poetry Prize.

Ryan has four books of poetry published and is always working on new poems.

“This is how I relax,” he said. The Victorian Premier Literary Awards will be announced on January 28.

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