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Australia

"1945" by Gwen Harwood [Introduced by Thomas Moody]

Last Wednesday, June 8, would have been Gwen Harwood's 102nd birthday. Harwood was one of Australia's finest poets and one of its leading literary hoaxers. On August 5, 1961, Harwood published a pair of sonnets, “Eloisa to Abelard” and “Abelard to Eloisa,” in the Australian weekly, The Bulletin, under the pseudonym of Walter Lehmann. Unknown to the editors at the time of publication, the sonnets read acrostically FUCK ALL EDITORS and SO LONG BULLETIN (you can read more about the hoax here).

Harwood's development of several heteronyms, including Lehmann and Francis Geyer, not only offered social critique to Australia's chauvinist mid-century literary establishment, but also allowed her poetry to map our species' labyrinthine psychological landscape with greater possibility. 

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Harwood also wrote poems under her own name, with speakers who shared much of the poet's life experiences. "1945" details Harwood's move from her tropical home of Brisbane in the north of Australia, to soporific, grey Hobart, capital of Tasmania. The poem echoes Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, “Know’st thou the land where lemon- trees do bloom, / And oranges like gold in leafy gloom” (Book III, I). Both poems dwell on paradises lost, either through concealment or exile; in Harwood’s case, the land of citrus and color is being left behind for a new home whose light is much reduced from her tropical roots and which swells with the presence of Tasmania's violent colonial history.

1945

Nineteen forty-five. I have been sick
all the way from Brisbane; first time in the air.
My husband's waiting in civilian clothes.
Another name now. All those burning glances
cancelled, all those raging letters burned.
And my mocking friends - 'Holy MaTRIMony!'
'You've had your wings trimmed. You'll be Mother Goose.'

We melt with good old-fashioned happiness
at the desolate terminal. I see the city
ending in bush, St George's on the skyline,
KEENS CURRY on the hill. We find a cafe.
'Lunch is off. Afternoon tea's not on,'
the waitress snaps, and sniffs. She knows we're strangers.
Saturday afternoon.How doth the city
sit solitary. A shuttered delicatessen
proclaims HIGH GRADE AND CONTINENTAL FOODSTUFFS. 
What continent? Perhaps they mean the mainland.
I’m in my summer clothes. A wind breathes cold
truth in those English trees that tried to fool me
with their false fronts on a tourist office poster.
Know’st thou the land wherein the citrons bloom?

I do. Exile's the name i give that knowledge.
Even as I say How Beautiful How Charming
why do I feel that some demonic presence
hovers where too much evil has been done
near the harmless rivulet, the Georgian buildings?
Hungry, we link our lives and wait for evening.
In my husband's luggage the Tractatus waits

with the world that was the case already fading.


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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly

Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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