When Gwen Harwood has something private to say, she writes it on a postcard, so that ‘nobody takes any notice of it’. Writing the biography of this elusive poet has set Gregory Kratzman some teasers.
Gwen Harwood’s poetry has been the subject of an increasing number of essays and articles during the last decade; in the last twelve months three books have appeared (written by Alison Hoddinott, Elizabeth Lawson, and Jennifer Strauss) and a fourth (by Stephanie Trigg) is on the way. All of this industry, as well as the publication in the Oxford Poets series of a Collected Poems, is to be welcomed; few would deny that Gwen Harwood’s work deserves all the attention it gets, particularly as it continues to surprise and delight.
But what of a biography, which is what I am attempting to write for OUP in Australia? There’s a tradition of longevity in Gwen Harwood’s matrilineage, after all, and I as much as anyone else would like to believe that her best work (perhaps that Selected Poem she has mentioned) is still to come. Her gaze upon mortality is unflinching, and that at least gives me reason to believe that she would never regard me or any potential biographer in the way that Charles Wetherell regarded Lord Campbell: ‘my noble and biographical friend who has added a new terror to death’. But, even so, the effort to write the biography of any living person is open to the charge of being premature, if not downright impertinent.