What is the relation between poet and critic? No, not a topic for yet another tedious and oppositional debate at a writers’ festival. Rather, a question about the nature of oppositions, and the possibility of disrupting, or even suspending them, in the varied and delicate acts of literary criticism. Let me frame my question even more precisely: who is the ‘Gwen Harwood’ to whom I refer when I write about the poetry of a women who in recent years has become increasingly public, celebrated and accessible?
In her intriguing and controversial study of feminism, poetry and criticism, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, Jacqueline Rose demonstrates just how necessary – and impossible – it is to escape the structuring narratives of a critical tradition that seems to anticipate our every move. Such a tradition, it is well known, is tensely organised around a polarity between poetry and criticism, between the authorial roles of poet and critic, between, in this case, Gwen Harwood and Stephanie Trigg.