Susan Sheridan reviews 'New and Selected Poems of Anna Wickham' edited by Nathanael O’Reilly

Susan Sheridan reviews 'New and Selected Poems of Anna Wickham' edited by Nathanael O’Reilly

New and Selected Poems of Anna Wickham

by Nathanael O’Reilly

UWA Publishing $29.99 pb, 171 pp, 9781742589206

Rhymed verse is a wide net
Through which many subtleties escape.
Nor would I take it to capture a strong thing
Such as a whale.

This manifesto for free verse comes from a poet whose associates at the time included Harold Monro, Richard Aldington, and D.H. Lawrence in London, Harriet Monroe and Louis Untermeyer in New York, Natalie Clifford Barney in Paris. Anna Wickham (1883–1947) mixed with the modernist writers and artists of her time on both sides of the Atlantic and was widely admired for her early books, The Contemplative Quarry (1915), The Man with a Hammer (1916), and The Little Old House (1921).

Yet subtleties were not her strong point, and she often fell back on rhymed verse to make the challenging feminist statements for which she is best known, ‘strong things’ such as: ‘I married a man of the Croydon class / When I was twenty-two / And I vex him, and he bores me / Till we don’t know what to do!’ and, indeed, for her signature poem, ‘Note on Method’: ‘Here is no sacrificial I, / Here are more I’s than yet were in one human, / Here I reveal our common mystery: / I give you woman. / Let it be so for our old world’s relief / I give you woman, and my method’s brief.’

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Published in April 2017, no. 390
Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan FAHA is Emeritus Professor in the School of Humanities at Flinders University in Adelaide. Her latest book is The Fiction of Thea Astley (2016). Earlier books include: Nine Lives: Postwar Women Writers Making Their Mark (2011), Christina Stead (1988), Along the Faultlines: Sex, Race and Nation in Australian Women’s Writing 1880s to 1930s (1995), and Who Was That Woman? The Australian Women’s Weekly in the Postwar Years (2002); as editor, Grafts: Feminist Cultural Criticism (1988), Debutante Nation: Feminism Contests the 1890s (1993) with Sue Rowley and Susan Magarey, and Thea Astley’s Fictional Worlds (2006), with Paul Genoni.

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