Brother poems are one of a number of subsets of family poems, relating to different members of the family. Many Australian brother poems are also memorial poems addressed to a dead brother, as with a number by early nineteenth-century poet John Dunmore Lang which relate to his brother George, such as ‘Verses’. Another nineteeth-century poet, Fidelia Hill, also remembers with grief her death brother in ‘My Brother’. Among twentieth-century poets, Vincent Buckley in ‘Multas Per Gentes . . .’ writes of travelling to his brother’s funeral; in another poem, ‘Brother’, he recalls their youth together. Katherine Gallagher is another who writes in this vein in both ‘For a Brother’ and “In Memoriam for My Brother’.
Western Australian poet John Kinsella writes in happier vein about the various exploits of his farmer brother, as in ‘Thornproof Tyres for a Pushbike’. In ‘Visiting My Brother’, Geoff Page looks back to the time before his younger brother was born, when his mother was pregnant. Tom Shapcott in ‘Bagatelles for the Twins’ investigates the experience of having a twin brother. It is even possible for poets to imagine and write about brothers they never had. Dorothy Hewett, who had a sister but no brothers, opens her ‘The Brothers’ with the line: “Those ghostly brothers that I never had’.
Poets also write sibling poems that are not related to members of their own family. In one of her best-known early poems, ‘Brother and Sisters’, Judith Wright memorably describes the wasted lives of three unmarried siblings, passing their days on an isolated farm as time ticks away and they grow older and older.
Brother poems can also be written to those seen as struggling together for a cause, as with many of the political poems of Aboriginal writers such as Lionel Fogarty and Oodgeroo. As an example of a Big Brother poem in the Orwellian sense, one can’t go past Richard Tipping’s ‘Telex: Big Brother’.