Band 6 Peter Skryznecki with Veils and Vegemite

Poem 1

 

The poem Feliks Skrzynecki examines the duality of the poet’s father in influencing his sense of identity, but regrettably reveals the inevitability of their estranged relationship. Initially, Skrzynecki clearly demonstrates the nurturing relationship with his father Feliks in, “I remember words he taught me,” accentuating the significance of his father’s influence in shaping his life. The lines, “He repeated it so I never forgot,” further reinforce the idea of inheritance in which the persona received from his father – an education in tradition and lifestyle. The use of the possessive pronoun in, “My gentle father,” and that Nazi occupation, “did not dull the softness of his blue eyes,” also suggest a veneration and reverence of his father’s stoic, masculine nature that is formative for the Skryznecki’s growth as an adult. Conversely however, although Feliks serves to be a powerful role model for Skrzynecki, they are unable to connect meaningfully due to the poet’s lack of cultural understanding. His reference to Australian education, “Stumbling over my tenses in Caesar’s Gallic War, I forgot my first Polish word,” reveals the homogenization of migrant students in Australia eroded his father’s lessons in Polish life. This is further reflected in the oxymoronic confession, that the persona finds his father, “Happy as I have never been,” which suggests that their cultural alienation has created a rift of incomprehension that neither of them could bridge. Lastly, Skrzynecki’s admission of utilizing the extended metaphor of his Latin (English) education that, “[Skrzynecki is] pegging my tents further and further south of Hadrian’s wall,” employs the historical allusion of the Roman separation from their barbarian neighbours to demonstrate his cultural and personal alienation from his Polish identity.

 

Poem 2

 

10 Mary Street explores a home in which the contentment and satisfaction of the adopted Poland is disrupted by the poet’s realization that without conforming to Australian cultural values, their existence is both tenuous and dislocated. Skrzynecki’s parents’ investment into their 10 Mary Street home is saliently demonstrated by the poet through the symbolism of the, “China blue coat… guaranteed for another 10 years,” which communicates the security and investment placed into their home of “19 years.” In particular, this comfortable settlement is witnessed in the colloquialism of everyday tasks, “polite humdrum of washing clothes and laying sewerage pipes,” where the assonance of low vowels creates a tone of satisfaction and a mundane passage of tranquil routine. The fragility of this connection however, is demonstrated through the metaphor, “became naturalized, citizens of the soil,” that together with the imagery of, “whole blocks gazette for industry,” reveal a connection not based upon understanding or cultural investment, but rather seeing the land as a means of resource. Thus, the poet reveals through his extended metaphor that he is the, “inheritor of a key that will open no house,” describing through the symbolism of the key that he cannot maintain the same connections to the land as his parents did, as his parents had never culturally or socially integrated into the neighbourhood, keeping pace only with the, “Joneses of [their] own mind’s making.” Hence the poet’s final line, “when this one is pulled down,” reveals the fear and insecurity of one whose investment in his home is incomplete, and one who realizes that leaving the home would be inevitable. As such, in 10 Mary Street Skrzynecki demonstrates the complexity of belonging as more than simply an emotional and physical investment, but also the need for security and integration.

 

 

Related

 

This complex nature of belonging is similarly demonstrated in the feature article Veils and Vegemite by Randa Fattah, where the writer explores the same interconnectedness of relationships of belonging through two conflicting values: her cultural ties of Islamic identity, and her personal desire to fit into Australian society. The paradoxical relationship of culture and integration faced by young Muslim in Australia is that of conservative eastern cultural values against that of the individual driven western culture of freedom, liberty and experimentation. As such, the title’s juxtaposing “veils” and “vegemite” are symbolic of these two inconsolable opposites. The “veils” symbolize the conformity and conservatism of Islam, and “vegemite” the freedom and individuality of Australians. The schism felt by the writer is further demonstrated by her ironic by-line, “buy a bikini, sink a few coldies… then you’ll be a true blue mate.” The sarcastic tone communicates that conformity is a prerequisite for her to feel accepted into the Australian community, yet her deeply religious Islamic upbringing is at odds with this casual larrikin Australian stereotype and thus she feels unable to invest intellectually and emotionally into being Aussie. As such, Fattah metaphorically describes the situation as, “the deep and bitter chasm has been created in Australia, fracture in our society.” The same schism can be witnessed in Skrzynecki’s “Happy as I have never been,” in which both writers demonstrate that there exists a gap of bonding where the cultural, social or simply the inability to empathize with your subject becomes a key factor in the dislocation felt by the individual. However, unlike Skrzynecki, who feels alienated from his conflicted identities of his Australian upbringing with his Polish-minded father and adopted Polish home, Fattah is able to come to terms with her fragmented identity through education, recognition and acceptance of herself, not as Muslim or Australian, but as herself. The author describes this recognition as, “utter fluidity of my identity,” a liquid metaphor, which denotes that one’s identity is ultimately a pastiche collage of competing cultures, and not simply labels. It is a product of choice, adoption and affirmation to one’s personal beliefs and surroundings. Thus, the article too demonstrates the complexity of belonging that lies in its need to be fulfilled across a multitude of needs and wants, be it social, cultural or personal.

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