Blue – Deb Westbury’s images of a suburban childhood

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Deb Westbury writes free verse poetry that shares her distinct vision of Australian experiences. Blue, published in Westerly in 2001, creates a strong image of post war suburbia with unsettled children raised in families of ‘absent’ fathers. The youthful energy of the opening section gives way to restricted horizons of block-after-block of houses. The shifting tenses provide moments of reflection within adult understanding, ultimately leading to a sense of control in how we shape our lives.

This poem would be suitable related material for Amanda Lohrey’s Vertigo in the Standard Module A: Experience through Language Elective 2 – Distinctively Visual. Download a clean copy of the poem for use in class, and an annotated version:

BLUE Deb Westbury

Blue annotated.

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Students often overlook the title and structure of a text, both of which are important in creating interest for the reader. Consider these points when writing analytical paragraphs:

  • the single word title relies on ambiguity – there are many possible connotations or interpretations for the word ‘blue’ ranging from nouns, such as sky and water, to emotions, such as feeling down or depression. Readers will have an understanding of these possibilities through their own experiences, though many would not necessarily predict the name (or nickname?) of the persona
  • begins with an epigraph which is an extract taken from a poem titled ‘Cobalt’ by Rolf Jacobsen. The first person perspective and simile creates an intimacy, which is further enhanced by the personified list of specific colours. Readers might conclude that the following poem will touch on ideas of familial relationships
  • although free verse, ‘Blue’ is structured into three sections, each of two stanzas. Together with the shifting tense and strong images, there is a sense of narrative or development both in the physical and emotional environment
  • the varying line length and haphazard punctuation allows readers to picture different ideas and scenes at their own pace, but there are powerful moments of rhythm. Polysyndeton is used effectively with the repetition of the conjunction ‘and’ when referencing specific colours, particularly in the last three stanzas: ‘mud and green slime’, ‘brown and cream’, ‘orange and red clay’
  • the notion of time and changes to the natural world may be linked with the protagonist’s move away from the city in Vertigo. Equally successful, could be an approach which draws attention to the ephemeral qualities of the ‘boy’ whose appearance in the novella is experienced differently by each parent. Westbury notes the reactions and attributes of parents in her poem, and hints at the lack of emotional growth of the mother, which contrasts with Anna’s response. Similarly, Westbury imagines a ‘brother who might call the love out of her father’s heart’ which suggests an emotionally closed individual whereas Luke comes to accept his loss over time and support his wife in their shared grief.

More poetry written by Rolf Jacobsen can be found in North in the World: selected poems by Rolf Jacobsen,  translated by Roger Greenwald.

* Images were source by a Google search using the colours from the epgigraph

1. Palette: cobalt blue, raw sienna, burnet sienna, alizarin crimson. Techniques used: wet on wet wash, wet on dry, scraping with knife.

2. Original artwork by Alex Kanevsky on a page titled ‘Painting, Palettes, Purpose’ from the Art on any given day blog.

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