'Poet lorikeet' folds his wings

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'Poet lorikeet' folds his wings

Australia's "poet lorikeet", Denis Kevans, died at Sydney's Westmead Hospital on August 22, following complications from heart surgery.

Blue Mountains-based Kevans built a reputation as "the people's poet" through his close identification with Aborigines, Irish political prisoners, workers, environmental causes, republicanism and the anti-war movement.

Kevans was prominent in the 1960s anti-nuclear weapons campaign, where his satirical poem "Teen Problems" drew the wrath of the Bulletin, and the anti-war movement, where his "Slouch of Vietnam" poem became the battle hymn of the Vietnam Moratorium movement. The poems were written with laconic wit, irony and in the Australian vernacular.

Kevans, with his older brother Jacko, who also recently died, were part of the bush music and folk song revival period in Australia, which began in the mid-1950s with the play Reedy River at the New Theatre in Sydney.

Kevans built a strong following amongst Australian workers with poems written for and recited on picket lines like "Clowns and Other Clowns", "Cockatoo Island", "The Dogman", "Ten Minutes Washing Time" and "The Green Ban Fusiliers".

He wrote "Across The Western Suburbs We Must Wander", a parody of the traditional "Across the Western Plains", to highlight the plight of the evicted tenants of Victoria Street, Kings Cross.

At the Blue Mountains Folk Festival in the late 1990s Jack Mundey launched an album of Kevan's poems set to music entitled City of Green: Green Ban Songs and Beyond.

Kevans' legacy will be an enduring one. His verse has been recorded by more than 100 local musicians and translated into more than half a dozen languages in anthologies published from Vietnam and Russia to South America.

His self-published anthologies were partially funded by royalties from Midnight Oil, who used an unauthorised version of Kevans' poem "Harrisburg Oh Harrisburg" (about the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979) as the lead-in track on their Red Sails in the Sunset album. His most recent efforts were in conjunction with his long-time partner Sonia Bennett on her CD of environmental songs.

Kevans was a tireless campaigner and performer at benefit concerts over many decades. In the last five years he twice graced the stage of the Sydney Town Hall to recite at East Timor benefit nights. On both occasions he performed "Your Friends Will Never Forget You", a poem that refers to the Australian Army leaflet dropped over East Timor during World War II and the betrayal of the Timorese people by successive Australian governments.

Like many others we can sincerely say in remembering Denis Kevans your friends will never forget you.

[Abridged from Workers Online. Visit <http://workers.labor.net.au/278/news85_valedenis.html> for a longer version of this obituary.]

From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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