Harwood’s many voices

A nuanced biography of the poet
by
June 2022, no. 443
Buy this book

My Tongue Is My Own: A life of Gwen Harwood by Ann-Marie Priest

La Trobe University Press, $37.99 pb, 454 pp

Harwood’s many voices

A nuanced biography of the poet
by
June 2022, no. 443
Portrait of Gwen Harwood, West Hobart, Tasmania, 1988 (photograph by Alec Bolton, reproduced with permission from the National Library of Australia)

‘You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,’ said the Red Queen. ‘Alice – Mutton; Mutton – Alice.’ The leg of mutton got up in the dish and made a little bow to Alice; and Alice returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused.

‘May I give you a slice?’ she said, taking up the knife and fork, and looking from one Queen to the other.

‘Certainly not,’ the Red Queen said, very decidedly: ‘it isn’t etiquette to cut any one you’ve been introduced to. Remove the joint!’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

The Red Queen’s impossible rule offers a striking allegory of the biographer’s dilemma. While your subject is still alive, it seems reasonable to get to know them and build a relationship of trust with them. In this way you might be better able to understand their private and intimate worlds. If your subject is a writer, you might become more confident in your ability to weave closer correspondences between their life and work. But if you then become privy to their secrets, and perhaps even come to love them as a dear friend, it becomes almost impossible to write about them dispassionately: to ‘cut’ them with your knife and fork.

This quandary is particularly pointed when the subject is someone like Gwen Harwood (1920–95), so famously adept at masking both her authorial name and her poetic voice. As Ann-Marie Priest shows, Harwood was extremely guarded and careful in her writing, displacing and concealing most of her grand passions and emotional trials from those who would have been hurt by a more open, confessional poetics.

Stephanie Trigg reviews 'My Tongue Is My Own: A life of Gwen Harwood' by Ann-Marie Priest

My Tongue Is My Own: A life of Gwen Harwood

by Ann-Marie Priest

La Trobe University Press, $37.99 pb, 454 pp

Buy this book

You May Also Like

Leave a comment

If you are an ABR subscriber, you will need to sign in to post a comment.

If you have forgotten your sign in details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to ABR Comments. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.