Almanac Poetry: Ode to Cigarettes Past


Kevin Densley in his bedroom, 1983, cigarette in right hand, and wearing red Warwick Capper style football shorts. Sporting trophies, medals and a can of fly spray are on the nearby mantle piece.


Ode to Cigarettes Past


Craven A
Where have all the lung-busters gone?
What about those craggy figures
standing outside TABs
coughing up their guts?
Parades of anti-cancer ads,
tidal waves of mild smokes
– micro, super, medium –
have swept their kind away.
Oh for that glorious golden age
when smokers felt their cigarettes
doing real and instant damage!



Read more from Kevin Densley HERE


Kevin Densley’s latest poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, is available HERE


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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose. He laments the extinction of Cascade Pale Ale and Kiwi Lager.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    I used to smoke until my middle 20s mainly because everyone else did, and because of the images portrayed in cigarette advertising, little did we know at the time! I really don’t know how people can smoke these days!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    It’s interesting, Col – the phenomenon of smoking. Seems like there was a past era when almost everyone did it. I remember my first year at uni, 1980 – one of my tutors continually smoked at the front of a tutorial group of mine in a very small room. I think a few of us may have smoked during that tute, too.

  3. KD, back in 1970, my History I tutor smoked Gauloises cigarettes non-stop. His small office in which we had our tutorials was a consistent blue haze. But it wasn’t particularly unusual. Such were the times.

    I just love the final three lines of your poem – says it all.

    And, like Col, I cannot fathom why people still smoke, especially the young. I thought they were supposed to be more intelligent than we were at the same stage!?!

  4. “Oh for that glorious golden age when smokers felt their cigarettes.”

    And how! Puffed my way through my teens and early twenties, they were more or less like food. Used to stand outside trying to emulate James Garner from The Great Escape. Not one for mildness and little time for filters (aside from the odd Winston when available – Frank Zappa’s dart of choice). The nearby Smoke Mart used to stock unfiltered Luckies, Chesterfield and Pall Malls. Serious flavour country. Stuck to Port Royal once that closed.

    That said, coming up to 42 and haven’t lit one up since age 23.

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the comments, Ian. Our uni days certainly were different times. The tute I was referring to was a Philosophy one, and my tutor spoke in a thick German accent and reminded me of Marlene Dietrich, so I hung on almost every word!

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Thank you for your response, Adam. Everyone who has ever smoked has their own personal smoking narrative, don’t they?

    I started on Park Drive cigarettes as a teenager and ended up on Champion Ruby rollies before giving up totally about a decade ago.

  7. Long ago, on the radio program, “Under the Stars” , the announcer was asked if he smoked. His answer was no he didn’t smoke – it was his cigarette that smoked, he was only the sucker. I always remember that. Anyway I smoked, mainly when fishing, from early ’61 till 14th of April ’75 ( around 40 cigs a week) when i stopped cold turkey. Haven’t had a smoke of any type since then and never felt the inclination to either

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks for your input here, Fisho.

    I smoked around thirty a day for a long time – and had to give up for health reasons. So glad I did – but I do admit that I was well and truly “hooked” (to carry on your mention of fishing) for about three decades.

  9. The first serious anti-tobacco advertising campaign was the 1979 sponge ad showing the tar that could be squeezed out of a smoker’s lung. It was a campaign where right wing doctors and left wing social reformers found common agenda. Mid 80’s Health Secretary Bernie McKay (who funded the sponge ad in NSW) was the first to ban smoking inside department buildings. Dozens shivered out in the Canberra cold but the die was set. Other departments and private businesses eventually followed. And now its the exception in Australia and much of the western world. Tobacco companies now sell death to growing third world markets. From little things big things grow……..

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for these details, Peter.

  11. Years ago one of my friends, Ian Mehaffey was standing in line in front of the number 1 teller’s box to cash a cheque. Knowing the fellow in front of him, Ian offered his friend a cigarette which he gratefully accepted. After his friend had been served and walked off, Dave Bungey, the teller, asked Ian why he had offered a smoke to that previous customer. Ian replied he was only being sociable. Dave’s answer was, :”Do you think offering someone CANCER was being sociable”? Ian had no answer to that one..

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks Fisho. Your latest comment reminded me how common it was for people (often complete strangers) to ASK you for a cigarette, too, especially, if they saw a packet in your front pocket.

  13. Daryl Schramm says

    Jeez, that poem and the comments have prompted many memories and thoughts. I haven’t had my last cigarette, but I haven’t had one since January 1999. I never went to Uni. I remember the days of smoking in airplanes, on public transport, in the office, up till about the very early 80s as I recall. I just couldn’t understand why people smoked light, or low tar or whatever it was. They (the darts) had no taste. Worth doing, worth Dulux was my motto.

  14. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Daryl, for these interesting comments. Like you, I always smoked the strong ones – for the reason you put forward.

    Also, a particular remark of yours reminded me very much of something a grandfather of mine said, right up to when he passed away in 1988 – that he hadn’t had his last cigarette, even if the final one he actually smoked was in 1948.

  15. I’ve only ever been a vicarious smoker.

    Ironically, my most vivd smoking memory was the smoke haze that engulfed the ‘smokers room’ at St. Vincents public in the 1980’s. It was a thick horrendous blue haze that was suffocating. At this time St.V’s had recently banned smoking from the staff canteen, a largish space, and introduced a special room for the smokers instead… it was tiny and certainly not proportionate to the volume of smokers that it needed to cater for. So I suddenly had no friends.

  16. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Kate.

    Yes, looking back, I find it surprising how many public interior spaces were places where people smoked. I was very recently looking, for example, at a 1970s photo of a Geelong department store cafeteria and on every table was an ashtray!

    Also, I recall visiting my maternal grandparents up to at least the late 1980s and many people who visited them smoked in their lounge room, even though the grandparents themselves weren’t smokers.

  17. Kate – I hear you. As the great former Guardian writer Victor Lewis-Smith once noted, “Smoking sections? You might as well have a pissing lane in a swimming pool.”

  18. Kevin Densley says

    It’s a fine thing to see a poem kicking off such an interesting discussion.

  19. Kevin Densley says

    I went through a phase in my twenties of smoking cigars, too, on special occasions – but that is a different story again, I suppose, as I smoked them for different reasons than I did cigarettes. There was a time, decades ago, when the long-gone Wiggs’ Tobacconist store in the centre of Geelong was very much my “go to” place for everything smoking related, including the hard-to-find imported brands of smokes and cigars.

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