John Clarke, tinker-poet

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Clarke’s poetic output was never the main game, but he was persistent in developing the (entirely self-authored) Complete Book of Australian Verse (39 poems; Clarke, 1989) through two intermediate versions culminating in the 2012 edition of Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse (68 poems). This article addresses the central characteristics of Clarke’s art through the voice, timing and rhythm of these parodic poems. They illustrate the sort of parody discussed in ‘Are parody and deconstruction secretly the same thing?’ (Phiddian, 1997 and subsequent work). Clarke’s own favoured word for his writing practice, tinkering, suits such carefully wrought pieces well, and fits with more expansive notions of parody as critical and creative refunctioning of models rather than as narrow lampoons. Through intimate imitation and distortion, they display a guarded, sometimes hostile, affection and a jagged nostalgia both for their poetic vehicles and for the Australian subject matter. Clarke always inhabits the words of others in his Australian work, speaking via parodic deflection. This contrasts with the Daggy directness of his New Zealand work. Was he only ever a visitor in Oz? Was the parodic reserve a necessary carapace against the sort of fame that he fled in the 1970s? This article reads the poems as a window onto the distinctive rhythms of Clarke’s writing and his complexly ironic relationships with both his homeland and his adopted nation. His resistance of 'the voice direct' made him a wry and knowledgeable visitor and offers an abiding challenge to Australianness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-118
Number of pages17
JournalComedy Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Australian identity
  • Australian poetry
  • John Clarke
  • parody
  • satire


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