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Guy Bayly-Jones
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Geoff Goodfellow’s new anthology Punch On Punch Off was launched on the site of the new Federal law courts in Adelaide. Many of you will remember an earlier anthology of Geoff’s, now out of print, No Ticket No Start which also had strong ties to building sites. It seems only fair at the outset to point out that seven of the poems in this new anthology previously appeared in No Ticket No Start, but there’s a lot more which will be new to readers, another 18 poems to be precise, and I think that this collection as a whole is less strident and more balanced than the earlier collection.

That isn’t to say that this collection is somehow weak. No, this is typical Geoff Goodfellow, standing up for the battler, critical of employers, of industry and of society, speaking to us in his clipped staccato voice, the rat-a-tat-tat of a submachine gun driving home its point, drawing on his own experiences, vividly portraying people he has known, (many I’d prefer not to meet in person) in his familiar colloquial tone. As usual, he pulls no punches.

Not surprisingly in an anthology dedicated to his ‘family and friends: employed, unemployed, & under-employed’ there are a number of recurring themes such as the monotony of the workplace, seen in poems like ‘The Violence of Work’ as well as ‘Swanston Street’, the latter with its strong iambic beat mirrors the trudging of the workers to and from work as well as the drudgery of their toil. Others comment on the dangers of the workplace, with special reference to back injuries see ‘What Mum Told Me In 1964’, ‘Old Ways/Old Days’. Several make pointed observations about the inability of bosses to understand the plight of their workers. I found ‘The Luxury of Work’ particularly strong. While others like ‘The Grind’ vividly portray the struggle that life is for many he knows.

Reading this anthology reminded me at times of Dickens, at least in terms of his criticism of working conditions but at other times there are links to Heaney as both he and Goodfellow come to use a pen as the tool of their trade. In ‘Old Ways/Old Days’ Goodfellow writes that

‘only my work
can survive’

in one of several poems which deals with his back injury as well as the then and now and which could also be read alongside poems by Keats and Shakespeare and many others who have contemplated what will survive our all too short lives.

At other times I found myself thinking of Bruce Dawe who also wrote about unemployment as well as some memorable characters. In this anthology Goodfellow addresses ‘Big Foot’ who he spent time with in the 60s, when

‘weekends would be all grease
& spanners
         torque’n’tough
pulling plenty of revs
         but never many chicks

Now, he writes

‘keep on clicking your
ratchet bar & build your toy
big boy
your new grandson
         will love it.’

In ‘John’ he addresses a friend who was once a livewire and a thief who the years have not been kind to. While in ‘Closure’, (for Raymond ‘Bluey’ Gates) we find more of Goodfellow’s trademark blunt honesty.

I always enjoy the way Goodfellow captures the music of every day speech, the rhythms and the idiom. I like the humour especially in the puns, and in the quirky philosophy of ‘Poem to a Thief’. There’s appreciation in this collection for the many types who make up his world, for those from other cultures, for men, for women, for workers in general. In some of the poems there’s anger, some are just plain sad, but his poetry is always accessible.

This is poetry that will work with those who would not usually read poetry. He speaks to you as a reader, indeed he often confronts the reader, but he also entertains and informs. I’d use it with boys and girls from Year 10 up; it speaks their language.

This review was first published in the SAETA newsletter Summer 2005

Geoff Goodfellow wins ABC TV Poetry Competition. Read the full article.

Jane Sullivan's piece on me in the Age, Sat 30 October 2004

Mark Seymour Singing A Geoff Goodfellow song - Tobruk Pin

punch on punch off poster series

Check out Phil Doyle's discussion of my work in the September 2004 Workers Online

images from recent launches

 

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