Beautiful Waste

David McComb
Chris Coughran and Niall Lucy (eds)
Fremantle Press
ISBN 9781921361708, $24.95

Singer-songwriters who write poetry are different from poets. Their poetry is always that much nearer to being sung than read. Songs and poetry aren’t seamless – they’re different genre. The writing of Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed – all trumpeted as ‘poets’ – is not as complicated, as neurotic nor as consciously interested in poetic form as that of most poets.

Beautiful Waste is a very interesting collection of poems by an exceptionally talented singer-songwriter who died at thirty-six. Some of the poems here can seem inchoate or naive with their various traces of almost Pre-Raphaelite symbolism and dreaminess. In ‘Lancelin’, McComb has a refrain of lines beginning ‘O cry created’ and in the mysterious ‘Maidenhead’ writes ‘The poison tree, the drooping scarlet berries/The little girl by the lake/Her pure white frock/The tempting lily …’

There are poems set in beach-side Perth suburbs and ‘wide open road’ poems that echo McComb’s famous songs. There is young love, its pop-music-scene disappointments and declarations. There are also the pubs where rockers play, score drugs and vomit on the carpet. There are great lines – ‘The skies have broken out in a rash’ – and lovely, simple moments – ‘Paper sheets will keep me warm/in winter nights that lie ahead./Ink will be both food and drink,/cloth binding for my parchment bed.’

McComb’s poetry is wrought from the pleasurable clichés of lyrical romanticism. John Kinsella’s introduction explains that McComb is a ‘de-romanticiser, in some senses, an anti-troubadour’. This collection captures the workings of the mind of a young Australian musician and a sense of the 1980s and early 90s.

Pam Brown

Pam Brown has published many chapbooks, pamphlets and full collections of poetry, most recently Stasis Shuffle (Hunter Publishers, 2021). She lives in a south Sydney suburb on reclaimed swampland on Gadigal Country.

More by Pam Brown ›

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