Australian Women Poets
Penguin, 293 pp, $12.95 pb
In a paper entitled ‘Anthologies and Orthodoxies’ given recently at the Australian Literature Conference in Townsville, Jennifer Strauss, herself a poet as well as an academic, analysed the contents of six recent poetry anthologies, including this new Penguin collection. She came up with the same revealing statistics as editors Susan Hampton and Kate Llewellyn had discovered from a larger sample of fifteen collections: the average of female authors represented was only seventeen per cent. Obviously one of the orthodoxies enshrined in anthologies is in need of critical scrutiny if we are. unwilling to accept the implication that there are either fewer or less talented women writing poetry than there are men.
The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets flings down the gauntlet, as it were, with a gender-specific survey, challenging categorisation based on genre or theme, such as The Penguin Book of Satirical Verse or Clubbing of the Gunfire: 101 Australian War Poems, two recent anthologies which distinguished themselves with a mere seven per cent and nine per cent (respectively) of women poets. Some anthologies have always been based on exterior factors such as place or time. ‘Australian’ has now to accommodate multiculturalism as well as expatriatism, ‘Modern’ has given way to ‘Contemporary’, but both have totally arbitrary boundaries.