Australian Poetry Anthology by linzhengnd



Australian Poetry Anthology
Women’s Experience
Women‟s experience was largely silenced in early Australian poetry. Colonial poets
were concerned with capturing first impressions of the Australian landscape and its
people while poets of the late nineteenth century were generally interested in
exploring the „bush myth‟ which focused on mateship and the outback. It is hard to
think of a significant poem about women by A.B. Paterson, for instance. Henry
Lawson did give pioneering women a voice but mainly through prose rather than
poetry. His well known story “The Drover‟s Wife” well reflects the harsh
environment and the isolation of Australian rural women within it.
Mary Gilmore (1865- 1962) was one of the first significant Australian poets to
focus on women‟s experience. Read the following poem about a woman‟s impressions
of married life then answer the questions below.
You might also like to consider the ways in which this poem offers a different
perspective on Australian outback men to that presented in such poems as
Patersons “The Man From Snowy River”.

Eve-Song by Mary Gilmore
I span and Eve span
A thread to bind the heart of man;
But the heart of man was a wandering thing
That came and went with little to bring:
Nothing he minded what we made,
As here he loitered, and there he stayed.

I span and Eve span
A thread to bind the heart of man;
But the more we span the more we found
It wasn‟t his heart but ours we bound.
For children gathered about our knees:
The thread was a chain that stole our ease.
And one of us learned in our children‟s eyes
That more than man was love and prize.
But deep in the heart of one of us lay
A root of loss and hidden dismay.

He said he was strong. He had no strength
But that which comes of breadth and length.
He said he was fond. But his fondness proved
The flame of an hour when he was moved.
He said he was true. His truth was but
A door that winds could open and shut.

And yet, and yet, as he came back,
Wandering in from the outward track,
We held out arms, and gave him our breast,
As a pillowing place for our heads to rest.
I span and Eve span,
A thread to bind the heart of man!

1. Explain the meaning of the lines, “I span and Eve span
A thread to bind the heart of man”. Why might the poet have made reference to Eve?
2. What are the qualities of the husband within the gender discourses operating in the
poem? List them, placing an appropriate quotation beside each item on your list. How is the
reader positioned to view the husband?
3. How have binary oppositions been foregrounded in order to emphasise the differences
between men and women within the gender discourses mobilised in this poem?
3. What might cause the woman to feel full of „hidden dismay‟? What aspects of her life and
her husband disappoint her? What ideas about men and marriage are being privileged here?
4. What change of mood occurs in the last stanza? Is it forgiving; resigned; something else?
5. The husband has been silenced in a poem which reflects women‟s experience. What might
the husband say in his defence?

Later, Judith Wright (b.1915) also examined female experience through poems such
as “To Another Housewife”. Read the poem and consider the questions which follow.
“To Another Housewife” by Judith          Questions:
Wright                                        1. What childhood chore does Wright
do you remember how we went,                     describe in the first two stanzas?
on duty bound, to feed the crowd              2. What impression do we have of the
                                                 dogs? Which foregrounded words
of hungry dogs your father kept
                                                 and phrases best create this
as rabbit hunters? Lean and loud,
half-starved and furious, how they leapt
                                              3. Why do you think the girls,
against their chains, as though they             “swore/to touch no meat forever
meant                                            more”?
in mindless rage for being fed,               4. In what ways was the childhood
to tear out childish hands instead!              chore repeated in later life?
                                              5. What world news is brought to the
With tomahawk and knife we hacked                 family “as the family joint is
the flyblown tatters of old meat,                 carved”?
                                              6. Why might the children „shrink‟ from
gagged in their carcass smell, and threw
                                                  their parents as they see them, “in
the scraps and watched the hungry eat.
                                                  sudden meditation, stand/with knife
then turning faint, we made a pact,
                                                  and fork in either hand”?
(two greenstick girls), crossed hearts        7. How does the end of the poem relate
and swore                                         to its beginning?
to touch no meat forever more.                8. What is your personal response to
                                                  the end of the poem?
How many cuts of choice and prime             9. What role do men play in this poem?
our housewife hands have dressed since            In what ways might they be
then –                                            symbolically represented by Wright?
                                                  How are we positioned to view men?
these hands with love and blood imbrued
                                              10. How are women represented within
                                                  the gender discourses operating in
for daughters, sons and hungry men!
                                                  the poem?
how many creatures bred for food              11. What kinds of ideas about death are
we‟ve raised and fattened for the time            privileged or promoted in this poem?
they met at last the steaming knife
that serves the feats of death in life!
                                            You might also like to read Nancy Keesing‟s
And as the evening meal is served          “Reverie of a Mum” (p.109 of The Australian
we hear the turned down radio              Dream), “Edna‟s Hymn” by Barry Humphries
                                           (p. 113), “So Small” by Anai Walwicz (p.157)
begin to tell the evening news
                                           and “Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram”
just as the family joint is carved.
                                           by Jennifer Strauss (p.158).
O murder, famine, pious wars ….
Our children shrink to see us so,
in sudden meditation, stand
with knife and fork in either hand.

CAGED by Geoffrey Goodfellow
at 38       his youth’s tattooed          and its dewdrops on the nostrils
over him like a roadmap                   hayfever eyes for all seasons
and the eagle on his chest                there’s no new horizons
has its claws dug in hard                 and no place       far enough away
on her
                                          she’s caged to a life of
there’s no flying away                    aspirins and empties -
wings clipped by two kids                 watches late night tattoos
and the worry of that .38                 sees HATE
in the top drawer                         blueprinted
                                          into both claws.
all I can do is hug the kids
in tight when he gets home
she sobs I don’t think
he’d belt THEM
What is the poem about?
    1. Explain the meaning of each of the following:
           “the eagle on his chest/ has its claws dug in hard/ on her”
           “wings clipped by two kids”
           “the worry of that .38/ in the top drawer”
    2. Why does the wife have “dewdrops on the nostrils/ hayfever eyes for all
    3. How would you describe the relationship between this husband and wife?
What ideas are privileged or promoted in the poem?
  4. The poem is about the destructive effect of domestic violence within
      marriage and the lack of affectionate communication between men and
      women. Which words and phrases mobilise the gender discourses shaping the
How is the reader positioned?
  5. Who does the poet position the audience to sympathise with? Which words
      and phrases have been chosen in order to position the reader to respond in
      this way?
How does the poet use language choices to position the reader?
  6. The poem contains an extended metaphor in which someone is compared to
      something. Explain the meaning and effect of this extended metaphor.
  7. Who is silenced in this poem? What might the husband say in his defence?
  8. Is the husband a stereotype of some kind? Is this stereotype fair to men
      and husbands in general?

Creative Exercise: Script a short conversation between the wife and her husband
or the wife and her next door neighbour.

Shrapnel by Geoffrey Goodfellow     Down the Drain by Geoffrey Goodfellow
That‟ll be $2.47 she said           She curls into a bath
with a ring to her voice            Where only mist
hang on I said                      Can hold her
digging into my sky rocket          & hide her
I‟ll give y‟ my shrapnel            eyes dripping like the tap
                                    as saline water cools
& she looked at me
vaguely                             now only the hands
querulously                         of the clock hold her
from eyes as washed out             & they have turned
as a summer blue uniform            for two hours
a different uniform
from her past eleven years          but she is still hot

& while she looked at me …          burning with a rage
the same way she‟d probably         her attacker
looked at her science teacher –     may never understand
a love bite as large
as a new born fist                  water subsides with sobs
slid up above her collar            while scum –
                                    clings to the gloss of enamel
thank you sir she said              & wanders undetected

thank you miss I said.              but all gloss is now dulled

                                    she spins with the suck
                                    of a plughole
                                    losing some of him –
                                    too much of herself –

                                    while in another hemisphere
                                    her sisters lose too


In a small group, devise a set of five questions for each poem in which students are
encouraged to explore the content of each poem, the invited readings and the way
Goodfellow has used language choices to position the reader to view each girl. Swap
your questions with another group. Answer each of the five questions.

A Comparison of Two Poems
Read the two poems printed below and answer the following questions. Refer
closely to the poems in your answer.
a. Why is the woman in “Up the Wall”, by Bruce Dawe, unhappy?
b. What is the significance of the last two lines of the poem?
c. How does the woman in “In the Park”, by Gwen Harwood, feel about her
life? Why does she feel this way?
d. What are the similarities and differences between the lives of the two
women depicted in the two poems?

Up The Wall                                     In The Park
The kettle‟s plainsong rises to a shriek,       She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of
The saucepan milk is always on the boil,        date.
No weekend ever comes to mark off any           Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
week                                            A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.
From any other - something‟s sure to spoil      Someone she loved once passes by - too late
The cloudless day. The talk-back oracle‟s
suave                                           to feign indifference to that casual nod.
Spiel, like the horizon, closes in,             “How nice,” et cetera. “Time holds great
Palming a hidden menace, children carve         surprises.”
The mind up with the scalpels of their din.     From his neat head unquestionably rises
                                                a small balloon ......‟but for the grace of God
She says, “They nearly drove me up the wall!”   .....”
She says, I could have screamed, and then
the phone - !”                                  They stand awhile in flickering light,
She says, “There‟s no-one round here I can      rehearsing
call                                            the children‟s names and birthdays. “It‟s so
If something should go wrong. I‟m so alone!”    sweet
                                                to hear their chatter, to watch them grow
“It‟s a quiet neighbourhood,” he tells his      and thrive,”
friends.                                        she says to his departing smile. Then nursing
“Too quiet, almost!” They laugh. The matter     the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
ends.                                           To the wind she says: “They have eaten me
Bruce Dawe
                                                Gwen Harwood

Creative Exercise: Provide a voice for male experience by writing a short dramatic
monologue by either the husband in “Up the Wall” or the ex-lover in “In the Park”.

Drifters by Bruce Dawe
One day soon he‟ll tell her it‟s time to start packing,
and the kids will yell „Truly?‟ and get wildly excited for
no reason,
and the brown kelpie pup will start dashing about, tripping
everyone up,
and she‟ll go out to the vegetable patch and pick all the
green tomatoes from the vines,
and notice how the oldest girl is close to tears because she
was happy here,
and how the youngest girl is beaming because she wasn‟t.

And the first thing she‟ll put in the trailer will be the
bottling set she never unpacked from Groverdale,
and when the loaded ute bumps down the drive past the
blackberry - canes with their last shrivelled fruit,
she won‟t even ask why they‟re leaving this time, or where
they‟re headed for
   - she‟ll only remember how, when they came here,
she held out her hands bright with berries,
the first of the season, and said:
“make a wish, Tom, make a wish.”

    1.    What words and phrases in the poem help us identify it as being located in
    2.    Who holds the power within the hierarchy of the family? How do you know this?
    3.    Why do you think the father wants to move on? Do you think he is a responsible
          adult? How does each other member of the family feel about the move?
    4.    How might the silenced husband defend his desire to move on?
    5.    How is the gender discourse mobilised within the text shaped by the poet‟s language
    6.    What is being symbolised through the „green tomatoes‟, „the balckberry canes with
          their last shrivelled fruit‟ , „the bottling set/ she never unpacked from Grovedale‟
          and „her hands bright with berries‟?
    7.    What might the wife be wishing for? Why?
    8.    How does the last line of the poem make you feel?
    9.    List the binary oppositions which are suggested by this poem. Which item of each
          pair is privileged by the poet? How do these binary oppositions contribute to your
          reading of the poem?
    10.   Who do you sympathise with – the wife or the husband? Which language choices
          have positioned you to feel this way?

    Anorexia by Jennifer Maiden
    Kelly sharpened is powerful, asexual and yawns,
    curls up on tartan cushions with pick-me-up arms,
    viewed by no-one but cat, video, grandmother.
    She is cranky with Nan‟s tabby. He is sleek
    and haughtily whores, meanwhile demanding all
    the messy food and closeness they can muster.
    She ate last night and will not eat this week.
    Her body lives off itself like anger.
    It was once too dumb, too soft, too tall.
    She bites her mouth because it‟s still a stranger.

    1. “Kelly sharpened” does not seem to make sense. Why might Maiden have
       chosen “sharpened” to describe Kelly?
    2. What sort of atmosphere is created in the first three lines?
    3. What is the role of the cat in the poem?
    4. Explain the line “her body lives off itself like anger”.
    5. Why do you think Maiden describes the girls mouth as “a stranger”?
    6. Why might the girl be starving herself?
    7. How have the word choices used positioned you to view the girl? Provide 2-3
       examples, examining the meaning and effect of each.
    8. What kinds of discourses operate in the text? Fully explain, supporting your
       comments with close references to the poem.

Poetry Anthology Forward – Model Essay
Australian poetry has always had a distinctly Australian flavour. The purpose of this
anthology, entitled Suburban Dreams, is to showcase later poets who have represented
Australians in an affectionate yet critical way, using a language which is unique to Australian
discourse and helping to preserve that which is special about modern urban Australian
experience. We are all aware of the iconic works of Paterson and Lawson, Slessor, Murray
and Wright in defining national experience, especially in relation to our experience of the
bush and its associated ideals of mateship and egalitarianism. Later poets have been more
concerned with reflecting the experiences of the urban dweller, which was largely silenced
and marginalised by earlier poets. It is on works by these later poets, including Bruce Dawe,
John Foulcher and Gwen Harwood that the anthology will focus.

One of Australia‟s most popular modern poets is undoubtedly Bruce Dawe whose satirical
poetry covers a broad range of urban topics. The sonnet, “Homo Suburbiensis” is typical of
his concerns about the plight of modern city-dwelling Australians. The title refers to a new
sub-species of modern man, suburban man, in a mildly ironic way establishing a new
Australian stereotype. The protagonist is represented as an average suburban dweller, “ a
man alone in the evening in his patch of vegetables”, contemplating the narrow confines of
his world. Dawe privileges the idea that suburban man has been divested of the opportunity
to express himself as an individual or to live his own life except in much the same way as any
other suburban man, “ as much as any man can offer”. Dawe‟s foregrounding of colloquial
language as in “smelling the smoke of somebody‟s rubbish” further emphasises the
ordinariness of the man and his situation. Evocative images of “the air”…smelling of “tomato
vines”, “the hoarse rasping tendrils of pumpkin” and “the clatter of the dish in a sink”
particularise the setting while continuing to reinforce its commonality with every other
backyard. This discourse on conformity mildly rebukes modern society for the ways in which
its inhabitants have been simultaneously reduced to mundane ordinariness and
disempowered. The reader is positioned to sympathise with the suburban dweller as well as
to fear his fate.

John Foulcher is also concerned by the plight of modern urban dwellers. In his poem
“Summer Rain”, which unexpectedly describes a traffic jam, Foulcher suggests that human
beings living in suburbia have marginalised nature to their own detriment. Note the way in
which he uses well-chosen verbs to position the reader to appreciate the bleakness of the
scene. Personified “Cars clutter on the highway like abacus beads” and “slump into dusk”
evoking images of a technological society rather than one close to nature. Nature is no
longer able to cleanse and heal: the “sunlight scrawls”, the “shadows slap at the edge of the
grass” and the rain merely “trembles”. Suburban experience has become routine, drab and
ugly; commuters are trapped in a monotonous existence, not daring to be different. Even
childhood innocence has been jeopardised by suburban living as children playing nearby
“pound out grudges tight as steel” and then “slacken home forgetfully”. The potentially
invigorating world of nature intrudes with difficulty on this man-made world. Again, we are
simultaneously revulsed and fearful of this bleak fate.

Whereas suburban man has been silenced and objectified in the poems discussed above,
Gwen Harwood gives voice to, and individualises, her female city-dweller in “In the Park”
which presents an image of a mother with three young children in a park. The woman is
experiencing the monotony and aimlessness that is the consequence of child rearing. In
mobilising her gender discourse, Harwood captures the sense that the children are wearing
the mother down through the onomatopoeic “whine and bicker” and the prosaic “tug” of “her
skirt”. Whatever individual experience the mother might have had has been dispersed
among her children. We are aware of her feelings of despair when the man she once loved
passes by, “too late to feign indifference to that casual nod”. His head is “neat”, her
“clothes are out of date” suggesting that she is a dowdy reminder of a fate he has escaped.
There is a bleak irony in the contrast between her public avowal of love for her children,
“it‟s so sweet to hear their chatter” and her private feelings, “They have eaten me alive.”
She is alone and in despair. The poet evokes great sympathy for the woman and all others
like her.

It is evident from close inspection of the poems mentioned above that the Australian poet
has something of a love-hate relationship with suburban settings. While figures in the
landscape are usually affectionately and sympathetically depicted, the overall scene is one
of despair and desolation. We hope you enjoy the poems in this anthology as much as we
have enjoyed compiling them.

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