Gwen Harwood

Gwen Harwood, who died in 1995, was born on 8 June 1920, in Brisbane, of course, which she went loved dearly. Harwood seems increasingly to have been one of the finest poets Australia has ever produced. She was much loved; anyone who knew her relished her wit, her directness, her inextinguishable spirit. To mark the centenary of her birth, ABR asked a number of her colleagues and admirers to record some of her poems. Happily, there are hundreds of them to explore.

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Roll back, you fabulous animal
be human, sleep. I’ll call you up
from water’s dazzle, wheat-blond hills,
clear light and open-hearted roses,
this day’s extravagance of blue
stored like a pulsebeat in the skull.

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Five poems have been shortlisted in the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. The poets are Dan Disney, Anne Elvey, Amanda Joy, Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet, and Campbell Thomson; their poems can be read here. The judges on this occasion were Luke Davies, Lisa Gorton, and Kate Middleton.

Join us at our studio in Boyd Community Hub on Wednesday, 9 March (6 pm), when the poets will introduce and read their works, followed by the announcement of the overall winner, who will receive $5,000 and an Arthur Boyd print. This is a free event, but reservations are essential.

These ceremonies always commence with a series of readings of poems written by Peter Porter (1929–2010). This year our readers – Judith Bishop (winner in 2006 and 2011), Morag Fraser, Lisa Gorton, and Peter Rose among them – may choose to dip into the new collection of late Porter poems: Chorale at the Crossing (Picador, $24.99 pb).

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Dust without dimension

The November 13 attacks on ordinary citizens in Paris have outraged and galvanised the world community. We share this sense of revulsion. Australia has a large French population and a rich tradition of Francophilia. Our sympathies go to our French readers and to the families of all the victims.

Words, at such times, are de trop. Not La Marseillaise

The Best 100 Poems of Gwen Harwood by Gwen Harwood, edited by John Harwood

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December 2014, no. 367

In ‘Late Works’, the last poem in Black Inc.’s new selection of Gwen Harwood’s poetry, a dying poet, determined to pen her ‘late great’ poems, calls from her hospital bed for paper. The nurse, misunderstanding, brings toilet paper, much to the poet’s chagrin. It is a typical Harwood inversion ...

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Susan Sheridan’s Nine Lives, a ‘group biography’, analyses the life stories and literary achievements of nine Australian women writers. The purpose, according to Sheridan, is not only to rediscover the life story of each, but also, by exploring their publishing and aesthetic context, to create a ‘fresh configuration’ of our literary history.

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W.H. Auden, following Samuel Butler, thought that ‘the true test of imagination is the ability to name a cat’, and plenty of people, poets, and others have believed this: to recast a dictum of Christ’s, if you can’t be trusted with the cats, why should we trust you with the tigers? Gwen Harwood could be trusted with the cats, and with yet more domestic things; here, for example, is her fairly late poem ‘Cups’

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From a small island, messages in a bottle floating out to sea. That was Gwen Harwood’s image for the poems she sent out during her early years in Tasmania, long before she had due recognition. Her letters, by contrast, knew their destination; they were treasured for decades by her friends, and they now make up the remarkable collection A Steady Storm of Correspondence ... ... (read more)

Selected Poems: A new edition by Gwen Harwood, edited by Greg Kratzmann

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July 2001, no. 232

Although her work is often surprisingly varied, there is no doubt that when you read a Gwen Harwood poem you enter a highly distinctive poetic world. If it comes from her first twenty-five years of productivity, there is a good chance that you will be in a landscape of psychic melodrama. Everything will be liminal. The setting will be a sunset, the late sun will be flaring a dangerous gold on some intertidal stretch, the protagonist will have awoken from a menacing dream or, pace Kröte, be moving backwards and forwards across the threshold of one. The history of her poetry may be the way this scene increases in intensity as the voices that communicate in dreams increasingly come from figures in Harwood’s own past.

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