The personal, the political, the pineapple doughnut

A literary analysis of Clive Palmer's verse

Natalie Ang's caricature of Clive Palmer riding a cow Art: Natalie Ang

When I first read Clive Palmer’s now-iconic poem: ‘Ride an onion, Crush a cabbage, Fight a mongoose, To your dreams’, I was moved to tears. I had finally found a kindred spirit, a sensitive soul who views Facebook as a dumping ground for cooked ideas and intense emotion in the same way I do. But as the mining magnate’s experimental body of work grew, so did the concerns of the Australian public. News outlets have contacted poets and professors, desperate for confirmation that Palmer’s creative flurry couldn’t possibly be an attempt at real poetry. Our mocking dismissal of Palmer’s verse as a cheap meme, or worse, a bewildered cry for help, is a symptom of Australia’s broader fear of public emotion, amateur art, and male vulnerability.

Palmer’s millennial fan base might be surprised to learn that his first collection of poetry, Dreams, Hope and Reflections, was published in 1981, just before his entry into state politics. It is difficult to find print copies today, but online excerpts capture stilted, derivative musings on love and justice. If you truly feel the need to mock any of Palmer’s poetry, mock his overwrought juvenilia. The collection even includes a poem titled ‘Old Women, Young Girls’: a subject that tragically continues to dominate the minds and Moleskines of amateur male poets in 2017.

Contrastingly, Palmer’s newer work is unusual, touching and thought-provoking, in spite of the fact that he seems to take himself less seriously, or perhaps because of it. His stream of consciousness style, witnessed in ‘Bunnings Baby, Sweet-n-sour, Hour of power’, immediately recalls James Joyce, the king of ‘literary mindfulness’. Just as Joyce reminds us of our shared humanity through visceral descriptions of bodily functions, Palmer’s poetry navigates pap smears, prostates, rich food, sensuality, his dog’s digestive issues, and clean eating. While these themes may initially seem disgusting or mundane, their human inevitability unites Palmer and his readers. Writers often document the pain of abstaining from ‘fashionable’ vices like drugs or sex, but Palmer’s poetic explorations of dieting, body image and Tim-Tam temptation are rare and honest, especially for a man in the public eye.

‘I love Lamingtons, In the morning, The smell, The touch…’ is either Palmer’s pitch for a Baker’s Delight advertisement, or his tribute to Aussie bush poetry, evoking the faintly homoerotic image of lonely miners breakfasting around a campfire. The couplet ‘Lamington ladies / Tamborine babies’, taken from a longer tweet, serves as both a tribute to Bob Dylan’s work and a reference to the names of two Queensland national parks in which Palmer frolicked as a young man. Palmer’s spirited poetic voice ricochets between the political and the personal, mixing the mutterings of a dad who has hit the bong for the first time since university and the imagined private diaries of an Aussie Yoko Ono.

Palmer’s invention of compound words and use of broken syntax seems to be a direct tribute to experimental poet e. e. cummings, despite the historical popularity of these techniques amongst politicians and their speechwriters. Similarly, repetitive misspellings of Malcolm Turnbull’s name could be interpreted as a subtle act of political defiance, or simply as the product of one too many ‘Kanine Martinis’ shared with Palmer’s ‘dog on the grog’.

Palmer regularly re-posts memes mocking his work, suggesting the project is a self-aware ode to emotional liberalism, rather than a stab at critical acclaim. Regardless of his intentions, his prolific output showcases a man unashamed to admit that he thinks, and lives, in florid metaphor.

Don’t lose your passion, Clive. I hope your subversive poems will someday inspire an ambitious boy to reject a life path of corrupt megalomania, and choose honest verse from the outset.