I recently stumbled across the works of Australian poet C. J. Dennis (1876 – 1938) and have been enjoying his poetry and writing from The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson. You may have come across his most well known work, a humorous verse novel called The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, first published in 1915. Selling an astonishing 65,000 copies in the first year of release, Dennis was the most prosperous poet in Australian history.
In 1922, he began writing for the Herald in Melbourne, and wrote daily pieces until his death in 1938. He wrote about the bush, farming, small towns, cricket, horse racing, football, local crime and of course politics. Dennis wrote a prolific variety of poems and prose, many of them about ordinary Australians and which included slang and phrases of the day.
Reading his work now, it does take a little while to acclimatise to his phonetic spelling, particularly his work through the character Ben Bowyang, “rural filosofer and spelin reformer… from the bush.” (Page 5 of The C.J. Dennis Collection edited by Garrie Hutchinson). Having said that, once you adapt your reading to his writing style, you’ll no doubt find his rhyming verse addictive.
Dennis clearly had a love of words and language and was an impressive storyteller, capturing every day characters with humour and precision. His work around the ANZACs and ANZAC Day (such as A Song of Anzac and A Message) is touching and really captures a time gone by.
During his career, Dennis worked with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, and despite being just as successful, his name isn’t as well known as his two contemporaries. If like me, you’d like to re-discover the works of this legendary Australian, you can begin with The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (click here to purchase), or with his children’s books mentioned above (each in print and available for purchase).
For some of his more obscure writings though, you might need to do some digging. I managed to source The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson (published in 1987) through my local library. Your efforts will be well rewarded, I guarantee.
Do you remember reading books by C.J. Dennis as a kid? Do you have any of his books on your bookshelf at home? Let me know if you have your own connection to this ‘lost’ Australian poet.