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ACL1002 POETS AND THEIR POETRY GWEN HARWOOD Dr Natalie Kon-yu.

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1 ACL1002 POETS AND THEIR POETRY GWEN HARWOOD Dr Natalie Kon-yu

2 G WEN H ARWOOD Born Gwendoline Foster in Brisbane in 1920, Gwen Harwood is recognised nationally and internationally as one of Australias finest poets. Part of this recognition comes from the fact that she writes poetry that is able to speak to a broad audience, yet that also is highly allusive, deeply metaphorical (as well as intertextual) and open to a variety of interpretations.

3 G WEN H ARWOOD Her experiences as a wife and mother growing up in conservative Australia in the 1950s also has a big impact on her work, with many poems touching upon themes that are domestic and ordinary. It could be for this reason that her poetry continues to attract such a wide readership.

4 C OLLECTIONS OF H ARWOOD S W ORK Harwood published six collections of her poetry in her life-time: Poems (1963) Poems Volume II (1968) Selected Poems or Poems (1975) The Lions Bride (1981) Bone Scan (1988) The Present Tense (1995) She died in 1995, and subsequent editions of her work have appeared with Gwen Harwood – Collected Poems being the most comprehensive collection of her work

5 F ORM IN H ARWOOD S P OEMS Although written in an era where Free Verse was commonly employed, Harwoods work is highly formal. She writes many fourteen line poems, and experiments widely with topic, but also with metre, rhyme and rhythm. She doesnt always follow the rhyme scheme of the English (or Shakespearian) or the Italian (or Petrarchen) Sonnet, but deviates from these forms.

6 F ORM IN H ARWOOD S P OEMS Harwood also experiments with rhyme and meter, often avoiding pentameter, and using less obvious feet such as tetrameter (four feet) and hexameter (six feet). As Hodinott and Kratzmann write Harwood plays with a traditional form such as the sonnet, the ballad or the fourteen line Pushkin stanza or invents her own variant of an intricately rhyming stanzaic form (xxv)

7 Home of Mercy (1963) By two and two the ruined girls are walking at the neat margin of the convent grass into the chapel, counted as they pass by an old nun who silences their talking. They smooth with roughened hands the clumsy dress that hides their ripening bodies. Memories burn like incense as towards plaster saints they turn faces of mischievous children in distress. They kneel: time for the spirit to begin with prayer its sad recourse to dream and flight from their intolerable weekday rigour Each morning they will launder, for their sin, sheets soiled by other bodies, and at night angels will wrestle them with brutish vigour.

8 R EADING THE P OEM What is the tone of the poem? What is the poem about? How do we know? Does the poem have a formal structure, and, if so, what is it? How does the form influence the meaning of the poem?

9 In the Park (1963) She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date. Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt. A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt Someone she loved once passed by – too late to feign indifference to that casual nod. How nice et cetera. Time holds great surprises. From his neat head unquestionably rises a small balloon…but for the grace of God… They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing the childrens names and birthdays. Its so sweet to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive, she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing the youngest child, sits staring at her feet. To the wind she says, They have eaten me alive.

10 R EADING THE P OEM What is the tone of the poem? What is the poem about? How do we know? Does the poem have a formal structure, and, if so, what is it? How does the form influence the meaning of the poem?

11 A NOTE ON THE P OEMS These poems are written in sonnet form – most obviously the Petrarchen form. The Petrarchen sonnet is usually reserved for poems of love and devotion; how do these two poems fit into that definition? How do they challenge it? These poems were not published under the name Gwen Harwood, but rather under one of Harwoods pseudonyms, Walter Lehmann. Why would Harwood use a false name for these two works?

12 W ALTER L EHMANN, F RANCIS G EYER, M IRIAM S TONE AND T IMOTHY K LINE The above names are all names under which Harwood sent out work for publication. They list includes three male names and one female. In the Park was sent out under Lehmans name in When Harwood used her pseudonyms, she did so for good reason. Part of her agenda was to show the ways in which poems by men, even bad ones, were often favoured by editors of literary magazines at the time.

13 Eloisa to Abelard (1961) Solace and hope depart. Gods finger traces On fields of frozen darkness: You shall find Loss, absence, nothing. Walking on the wind Our Lord speaks to a crowd of foolish faces, No face that is not mine, while filtering through Gaps, honeycombs of memories you seem But the faint ghost of a remembered dream. Unveiled by pain, I bleed. My wound is you. Lost in the well of space, my spirit hears Lucis creator optime … The choir Entreats God, out of tune. I join my voice To theirs. Nightfalls immense. I taste my tears. I reap the harvest of my own desire. No heart escapes the torment of its choice.

14 Abelard to Eloisa (1961) Far above memorys landscape let the fears Unlatched from thundering valleys of your mind Carry their lightning. Stare the sun up. Find Kinetic heat to scorch your mist of tears. All that your vision limned by night appears Loose in dismembering air: think yourself blind. Louder that death in headlines the unkind Elements hawk my passion: stop your ears. Deny me now. Be Doubting Thomas. Thrust Into my side the finger of your grief. Tell me Im an apparition frayed Out of the tattered winding sheet of lust. Recall no ghost of love. Let no belief Summon me, fleshed and bleeding, from the shade.

15 T AS H OUSEWIFE H OAX OF THE Y EAR Susan Sheridan writes that Harwood had been waging a war with other male editors and fellow poets for some time...telling stories about how (editors) rejected poems she knew were good; or how they accepted and then lost poems; or kept them for months and then rejected them; or published them and neglected to send her the payment. Noting that poems of her male pseudonyms are welcomed more warmly – and sometimes paid at a better rate, Harwoods complaint... is most acute about the way women are excluded from informal networks.

16 T AS H OUSEWIFE H OAX OF THE Y EAR It was just a natural piece of mischief. I was talking to Hal Porter one day, and I said to him that a lot of people wouldnt know a poem if it hit them. I bet him that I could drop a sonnet into the Bulletin with a foul acrostic in it, and they would publish it (Harwood). The second reason is much more practical as Harwood believed that lady poets, as she called them, did not receive the same acceptance as males. She supported this statement by publishing under at least three male pseudonyms Walter Lehmann, Francis Geyer and Timothy Kline and claimed that she received far more invitations and favourable letters to her male pseudonyms than she ever did herself. (Atherton, 2002)

17 T AS H OUSEWIFE H OAX OF THE Y EAR The third reason Atherton writes is much more calculated. Harwood had become disenchanted with her poetry being published in the Bulletin alongside poetry she considered of marked inferior quality and her cunning hoax would both give her extensive publicity and prove her point. It was not only considered a scandal because of the expletive but, to Harwoods dismay, because it was attributed to a housewife. A staff correspondent responding to the hoax in a subsequent edition of the Bulletin condescending that Harwood had apparently imagined that the acrostic would remain her private secret forever. Such are the fantasies of lady poets. (Atherton, 2002).

18 Solace and hope depart. Gods finger traces On fields of frozen darkness: You shall find Loss, absence, nothing. Walking on the wind Our Lord speaks to a crowd of foolish faces, No face that is not mine, while filtering through Gaps, honeycombs of memories you seem But the faint ghost of a remembered dream. Unveiled by pain, I bleed. My wound is you. Lost in the well of space, my spirit hears Lucis creator optime … The choir Entreats God, out of tune. I join my voice To theirs. Nightfalls immense. I taste my tears. I reap the harvest of my own desire. No heart escapes the torment of its choice.

19 Far above memorys landscape let the fears Unlatched from thundering valleys of your mind Carry their lightning. Stare the sun up. Find Kinetic heat to scorch your mist of tears. All that your vision limned by night appears Loose in dismembering air: think yourself blind. Louder that death in headlines the unkind Elements hawk my passion: stop your ears. Deny me now. Be Doubting Thomas. Thrust Into my side the finger of your grief. Tell me Im an apparition frayed Out of the tattered winding sheet of lust. Recall no ghost of love. Let no belief Summon me, fleshed and bleeding, from the shade.

20 T AS H OUSEWIFE H OAX OF THE Y EAR Not only did Harwood reveal the blind spot the editors of The Bulletin had in judging poems by male writers, but her hoax pointed to the way in which she detested being belittled as the Tas Housewife. Interestingly, she reveals something about what is thought of as high art (which poetry is accused of being). What do you think makes In the Park and House of Mercy good poems, and the Abelard and Eloisa poems bad ones?


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