Damian Balassone – Strange Game in a Strange Land

Wilkinson Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2019

It may seem strange to some regular readers of poetry that AFL footy has found a place in the genre. However, to my mind, the job of the poet is to distil experiences, observations and thoughts to an economical form – and what the subject matter may be is of less importance than the communication itself.

Barbie talks to Damian Balassone about Strange Game in a Strange Land

Coming from an Italian migrant family , Damian tells us of his father’s early attachment to Collingwood Football Club – the family having settled upon arrival in Melbourne in the very working class suburb in the post-war European migrations. AT the time many men were the vanguard settlers, setting up homes in Australia and then sending for their wives and families – and this is indeed Damian’s family experience.

He attended a footy match as a young boy and began to follow enthusiastically, recognising a hero of sorts in a player named after the Marvel Comics character The Hulk. And thereafter, it’s history. The poet in him has continued to laud the deeds of the footballer, observe the ways of the fans and even comment upon the seagulls who take over the grounds when games are long gone.

Damian’s work is at times sardonic, but he mostly expresses his admiration for various aspects of the game with stories told in mainly rhyming couplets or sets thereof. His knowledge of the details of the sport/industry that is AFL football is detailed and the poems are generally affectionate whilst not unaware.

Footy fans will find much to identify with here and those uninitiated can still appreciate in this book a tribute to something which at times in our society takes on the gravitas of a religion. The poet’s assertion that this is, in the end, a game, invites us to read the adoration doled out to players in the context of an observer of society. There is quite a deal of this in these works.

Thanks and congratulations to the publisher – for my review copy and for supporting the publication of poetry. One does hope that people who do not normally reach for a book of verse will find this one, and that those who categorise and assume things about what poetry should be about may rethink their position. I also hope to hear more about Damian’s family history in a longer form story.