Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Extraordinary Life of Shelton Lea

Shelton Lea 1946-2005 from cigarillored on Vimeo.

"Any man who turns the key on another man is a dog!” - Shelton Lea

Shelton Lea (1946-2005), born in Melbourne Australia, left school at the age of 12 and spent periods in gaol as a young man, including eighteen months in Goulburn Gaol at the age of 18. While there he wrote love poems for detainees, payment being in tobacco. Part-performance poet (he declared he would read poems wherever he could find an audience), part-critic of contemporary Australian life and attitudes, he was 'by birth and nature urban', with inner-city areas his natural habitat. His comfortable milieu is the city pubs - 'great brewing palaces of beer' - and city life, with its violence, crime, drugs, alcoholism, gutter and park derelicts ('in defence of drunks', 'coming down - delirium tremens'). Shelton Lea also wrote of love in his more tranquil verse ('having watched you', 'love poem', 'i dream of the soft slide of light'). His complaint about the sterility of modern Australian life and politics is evident in 'i'm here today for a whinge' and 'occupied' - where he accuses, in Jindyworobakish accents:
we are occupied by our own greed ...
we are making of this place a desert,
a land of rutted soil
of ruined earth, leached of its true wealth,
its dreamtime,
rather than living in harmony, as once the koories did,
treating this land as a kindred soul
Many of Lea's poems are slanted towards performance, carrying within such verses as 'The Dip's Dilemma' and 'Picnic Day at the Drouin Races', echoes both of C.J. Dennis and an early Bruce Dawe. Commenting on the modern proliferation of easygoing, slang-type verse (including much of his own) Lea says that the times themselves prohibit traditional-type verse, ('well-ordered thoughts well shaped and moulded into a perfectly metrical form'). There are too many distractions in modern society - television, the media and 'the accostation of cars and trucks/ the imperterbable [sic] rumble of suburbs and/cities'. Lea published several books of verse, Corners in Cans (1969), Chrysalis (1972), The Paradise Poems (1973), Chockablock with Dawn (1975), Palantine Madonna (1978), Poems from a Peach Melba Hat (1985), I am Nebuchadnezzar (1991) and a Poets on Record (1976, tape recording with text).

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