1 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”. 2 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! Questions: 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? 3 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, impression? 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. 4 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 seasons”? 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 poem? 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. 5 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 – anti-clockwise while in another hemisphere her sisters lose too clockwise. 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. 6 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 alive.” 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”. 7 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.” Questions: 1. What words and phrases in the poem help us identify it as being located in Australia? 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 choices? 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? 8 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. Questions: 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. 9 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. 10 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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