North Coast Town – Robert Gray #
Plunging us immediately into the situation with an abrupt dramatic opening presents us with a drifter who has obviously been sleeping out on the beach for the night in a small coastal town. The information has to be gleaned from concise implicit comments.
Gray’s technique is noted for its clarity of vision – the best eyes in Australian Poetry. He has a painter’s eye for light and colour – “pink Tropicana motel –stucco with sea shells” reflected also in the brilliant imagery of his poetry. He has a precise grasp of sensory detail, often using all of the five senses. Yet it is the detachment and panning of a camera – a cinematic camera of moving images, often capturing the fleeting transitoriness of the passing moment. He combines the abstract universal contemplative issues with mundane grungy day to day living;
Archetypically mornings should be positive filled with hope of a rebirth after the darkness and despair of night. This appears a chilly start to the day with toilets closed, nothing to eat and mainly sand in his pockets. The poet uses observations of a hobo to depict a typical coastal town.
Shifting to the past tense, the persona reveals his cold start to the day; washing at a public shed with vandalised toilets, muddy surrounds and chilly water.
Back to the present tense to indicate his predicament, hungry and cold; – only a floury apple and obviously hitch hiking along a curbed street with dry sand and scraping palm fronds.
He gets picked up by two “hoods” hoons(?) going hunting, revving the motor, drinking cans of beer tossed out the window. The descriptions of the town are fairly bleak, gaudy, tacky, tawdry, artificial – meretricious. He is not impressed by the pretentious attempts to spruce up the town; plastic pennants, hosing the pavement, mirrored shop fronts, the veneer sea shell stucco of the “Tropicana” motel, the tacky RSL, the warehouse picture show –all framed pejoratively to create an insipid sterile town.
Even the new development is portrayed negatively as bull-dozing nature; replaced by the artificiality of cheap tiles, chrome – aping California.
The last poignant and evocative image of an aboriginal, hopelessly resigned to the fact that he even more so is shut out - not part of this society.
The subtle negative framing is accomplished by Gray’s careful eye for imagery – most of it negative in a judgemental tone.