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.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Pam Brown is a practised professional amateur. Her latest book is Home by Dark (Shearsman 2013). She has been a contributing editor for various magazines including, from 1997–2002, Overland, and is currently editing ten booklets for Vagabond Press – the ‘deciBels’ series.

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