You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Sunday, 6 July 2014

in the Poetry Corner - Michael Leunig

If you're not from Australia, there's a very good chance that you have never come across the work of Michael Leunig, which in my opinion would be a great tragedy. How much harder it would have been to work out this whole life caper without his divine words of wisdom to guide me along the way.

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Leunig is known primarily as a cartoonist, as that's how he came to be known to the world - creating regular socio-politicial commentary cartoons for The Age newspaper. He is absolutely brilliant at managing to capture an incomprehensively complex human emotion or situation in just a few scrawly little lines, but I think we'd all agree that he's not exactly a fine artist. I think it's kind of hilarious that lately he is being considered in those lofty Fine Art circles and given exhibitions and having limited editions released of his scrawlings that are selling for enormous amounts of money. I reckon Leunig would be finding it all rather amusing himself, actually. He may not be producing Fine Art, but he makes true, human art, that touches the soul and will continue to do so regardless of what the art critics have to say about it. For me, his art and his gift, his soul, it seems to me, is more that of a poet, and he does manage to squeeze an awful lot of poetry into his cartoons. Sometimes the poem is more powerful and doesn't even really need the picture, but he has to put one in, you know, because his boss is paying him to produce cartoons.

The path to your door
Is the path within,
Is made by animals,
Is lined by thorns,
Is stained with wine,
Is lit by the lamp of sorrowful dreams,
Is washed with joy,
Is swept by grief,
Is blessed by the lonely traffic of art,
Is known by heart,
Is known by prayer,
Is lost and found,
Is always strange,
The path to your door.

Leunig writes about the human spirit, and the spirit of nature, and all the terrible things that the various governments and institutions of the world are doing to destroy it. He calls society on its hypocrisy and injustice, unceasingly and unflinchingly. This is the role of the poet in this mad, modern world - to remind us just exactly how mad and modern it's all gotten, and to remind us of more ancient, primal truths.

God help us. With great skill and energy we have ignored the state of the human heart. With politics and economics we have denied the heart's needs. With eloquence, wit and reason we have belittled the heart's wisdom. With sophistication and style, with science and technology, we have drowned out the voice of the soul. The primitive voice, the innocent voice. The truth. We cannot hear our heart's truth and thus we have betrayed and belittled ourselves and pledged madness to our children. With skill and pride we have made for ourselves an unhappy society. God be with us. AMEN.
- from A Common Prayer, 1990

I just absolutely adore and admire Michael Leunig beyond measure and from the depths of my heart, because he understands the Truth of the Human Condition, and he bears it bravely. Well, he probably has days when he's not so brave, but he still manages to bear it and keep on living and loving and sharing his beautiful art with us. I'm so very thankful that through his words, he is a beautiful, loving and forgiving part of my life.

As one would expect of a sensitive soul, Leuing has experienced his share of depression through his life. Of all the reams that have been been written on the subject of advice for the individual suffering from depression, I reckon this succint little piece is the best ever put down on paper.

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And when it comes to the exquisitely unbearable pain of a broken heart, Leunig is there for us again, telling us what to do with a poem. I can tell you from hard-earned personal experience that this remedy is also reliable.

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But of all the blessed miracles that are Leunig's cartoons, I think this one is my favourite.

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You see, I actually have done all those things he's described here, the singing in the moonlight and the joyous tears and the running off with gypsies and feasting and dancing and all that. And oh, the sweet memory of it is indeed one of the greatest treasures in my life. Whenever I'm feeling poor or disadvantaged or powerless or oppressed, I look at this cartoon to remind me of the truth. That I am a Have, and I am blessed.


All images and poetry remain copyright Michael Leunig and are reproduced here in the context of review.

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