Gwen Harwood - Using the Staff Site

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ACL1002
POETS AND THEIR POETRY
GWEN HARWOOD
Dr Natalie Kon-yu
GWEN HARWOOD
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Born Gwendoline Foster in Brisbane in 1920,
Gwen Harwood is recognised nationally and
internationally as one of Australia’s 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.
GWEN HARWOOD
 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.
COLLECTIONS OF HARWOOD’S WORK
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Harwood published six collections of her poetry in her
life-time:
Poems (1963)
Poems Volume II (1968)
Selected Poems or Poems 1969-1974 (1975)
The Lion’s 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
1943-1995 being the most comprehensive collection of
her work
FORM IN HARWOOD’S POEMS
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Although written in an era where Free Verse was
commonly employed, Harwood’s work is highly
formal.
She writes many fourteen line poems, and
experiments widely with topic, but also with
metre, rhyme and rhythm.
She doesn’t always follow the rhyme scheme of
the English (or Shakespearian) or the Italian (or
Petrarchen) Sonnet, but deviates from these
forms.
FORM IN HARWOOD’S POEMS
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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)
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.
READING THE POEM
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What is the tone of the poem?
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What is the poem about?
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How do we know?
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Does the poem have a formal structure, and, if so,
what is it?
How does the form influence the meaning of the
poem?
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 children’s names and birthdays. “It’s 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.”
READING THE POEM

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?
A NOTE ON THE POEMS
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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
Harwood’s pseudonyms, Walter Lehmann. Why
would Harwood use a false name for these two
works?
WALTER LEHMANN, FRANCIS GEYER,
MIRIAM STONE AND TIMOTHY KLINE
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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
Lehman’s name in 1961.
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.
Eloisa to Abelard (1961)
Solace and hope depart. God’s 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. Nightfall’s immense. I taste my tears.
I reap the harvest of my own desire.
No heart escapes the torment of its choice.
Abelard to Eloisa (1961)
Far above memory’s 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 I’m 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.
‘TAS HOUSEWIFE HOAX OF THE YEAR’
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, Harwood’s complaint . . . is most
acute about the way women are excluded from
informal networks.’
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‘TAS HOUSEWIFE HOAX OF THE YEAR’
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‘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
wouldn’t 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)
‘TAS HOUSEWIFE HOAX OF THE YEAR’
‘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 Harwood’s 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).
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Solace and hope depart. God’s 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. Nightfall’s immense. I taste my tears.
I reap the harvest of my own desire.
No heart escapes the torment of its choice.
Far above memory’s 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 I’m 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.
TAS HOUSEWIFE HOAX OF THE YEAR
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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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