The Australian Popular Songbook

Giramondo, Artamon, NSW. 2008

ISBN 978-1-920882-41-9 (pbk)

AWARDED: Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, 2008

Alan Wearne’s new collection is made up of three parts, ‘The Australian Popular Songbook’, a suite of poems inspired by popular songs from the 1880s through to the 1980s; ‘The Metropolitan Poems’, a group of stories in verse inspired by suburbs of great moment, like Hurstville, Ascot Vale and Chatswood; and the poetic monologue, ‘Breakfast with Darky’, in which a Melbourne high-school teacher looks back twenty years to a time when he was both an up-and-coming Social Realist writer and a Communist Party activist. Ever the master of the Australian vernacular, Wearne proves himself here in the shorter forms of song and story.


With this collection Wearne has tapped deep into our musical culture, crafting pure magic from the back catalogue. These poems are testament to a fierce imagination, where the visual and the aural are dovetailed into a stunning, original whole.’

Anthony Lawrence


‘The trope of popular songs as indices of past times and places is a brilliant one, and one that draws attention to Wearne’s great strength as an evoker of mileux. For Wearne, place cannot be understood without reference to time…. Wearne’s vignettes of the local are neither sentimental nor parochial…. they offer much needed alternatives to globalised culture and media versions of Australiana.’ David McCooey Australian Book Review, June 2008

‘There are plenty of poems being written as narratives or monologues today but they look stagey or coy or self-focussed in comparison to Wearne’s work. If the function of literature is to make some kind of sense of what a place is and how its people live within it, then Wearne is one of Australia’s most precious literary treasures.’ Martin Duwell Australian Poetry Review, May 2008

‘[Wearne] has orchestrated his love of music into The Australian Popular Songbook, a collection with a soundtrack that captures the era of his adult life – popular songs from the charts, refrains, and choruses providing counterpoint to snatches from his own life and lives of his friends and a cast of imagined characters….He has the acute ear of the cultural anthropologist who specialises in urban tribes.’ Caroline Baum The Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum Supp. 12-13 July 2008

‘[Alan Wearne is] the master of poetic forms such as the ballad and the villanelle, among others. His ability to come up with unthinkable rhymes makes tired poetic forms really enjoyable, and dare I say, inspiring?’ Sian Gammie Review in Paper, Rock Magazine Autumn no. 3.2008, p.39

‘…Wearne is one of the funniest as well as the most incisive of contemporary Australian poets…[His] collection reignites belief in the vernacular riches of Australia and in the native wit, let alone the worth and pleasure of the poetry.’ Peter Pierce ‘Finding the Music in Australiana’ The Canberra Times 19 April 2008 (p.8)

‘For Wearne it is character that explains the world, and his language, in all its singularity and density, is ultimately the means to convey this truth. Wearne’s characters, whatever their milieu, speak in his daggy-courtly argot, detailed with successive waves of Aussie lingo.’ Peter Kenneally ‘Forget Xlebnikov, Character Explains the World’ The Age 24 May 2008, p. 25.

‘Wearne catches the political at odd angles – yet always, while the speaker is often a kind of common person, the unconventional is celebrated and the language itself abounds with wit….

Part three in [The Australian Popular Song Book] consists of one long poem, the masterpiece ‘Breakfast with Darky’ set in the late 1970s. This is a monologue in free verse, spoken by a middle-aged Melbourne high school teacher who twenty years earlier was a Social Realist writer: ‘Just Doing My Job: Stories from the Struggle’ is: ‘the flagship story of my first, my finest / make that my one collection.’

.…we form a sense of Wearne as poet: ever the playful observer, inventing his characters’ attitudes and gestures from inside their points of view, and able to portray them without judgement and without exalting their moment….’ Borzi, Michelle ‘Musical Narratives’ Southerly vol 69 no 3 2010 (p. 208-214)

See Alan Wearne performing one of his poems featured in this collection:

  ‘I Go to Rio’ at a Red Room Company production with musical accompaniment.


Some poems in this collection had appeared previously and the book acknowledges the following:

Wet Ink
The Best Australian Poems 2003 (ed. Peter Craven)
The Red Room Company’s poetry Crimes Project
The Wordshed Television Show
ABC TV Sunday Arts
Sarsparilla: a Calypso was first published as Limited Edition sheet music by Nicholas Pounder under his Polar Bear imprint. Thanks to Wayne Dixon and Brett McKern for the music.


Giramondo Publishing
ISBN 978-1-920882-41-9 (pbk)
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