Australian Literature Week 6: Mid Twentieth Century Poets

Today we spent time with Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and with Francis Webb (amongst several other twentieth century Australian poets: James McAuley, “Ern Malley”, Rosemary Dobson, Roland Robinson, A.D. Hope….).

Judith Wright’s wonderful poem “Two Dreamtimes” records her poetic conversation with indigenous poet Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal). The poem offers a tribute of reconciliation in the form of the poem itself. The act of writing and giving this poem is her means of healing the rift that exists between her race and Oodgeroo’s . The poem is a powerful testament to the ways in which poetry -along with all creative arts- can be a real, emotional means of rectifying the imbalance in the world that leads to violence and all kinds of war. Her poem ends with this heart-wrenching admission of Wright’s sense of the part her forbears have played in crucifying the Aborigines, and her wish to provide a means of healing:

The knife’s between us. I turn it round,

the handle to your side,

the weapon made from your country’s bones.

I have no right to take it.

But both of us die as our dreamtime dies.

I don’t know what to give you

for your gay stories, your sad eyes,

but that, and a poem sister. 


Francis Webb, provides a strong contrast with Judith Wright’s work. His is the poetry of a man who had to spend much of his life behind the locked doors of Mental Hospitals in the days before there were adequate drug treatments for his condition. His life story is a powerful account of a man challenging his own often desperate circumstances with an amazingly creative spirit. Despite this difficult often solitary life, Francis Webb produced some of the greatest, most evocative poetry that Australia had ever seen. We read today two poems from his Ward Two sequence “Pneumo- Encephalograph” and “Harry”. Both poems reveal the amazing generosity of spirit of a man who can reach out to the suffering of others and see in them the sacred core of their humanity. At the end of “Harry” Webb writes about this mongoloid patient who has been trying to scrawl a letter to some fictitious woman:

Transfigured with him we stand

Among walls of the no-man’s land

While he licks the soiled envelope with lover’s caress


Directing it to the house of no known address. 


Blog Topics for Week 6

1/ Chose any one poem on the list for this week and discuss whether you think it is “transparent” or “opaque” giving reasons why you think the poet has chosen this particular style of writing.

2/ Take a single line from any poet introduced to you this week and use this line in a poem of your own making.

3/ Create a mini-digital kit on any one poet who has caught your interest this week.

4/  Creation and Destruction: from your own reading of poetry so far this semester, can you say how and why poetry is a force for good in the world?

5/ Create a YouTube reading of a poem that you have found challenging and interesting this week. Accompany the reading with music and any other atmospheric effects that can bring your reading to life.

  2 comments for “Australian Literature Week 6: Mid Twentieth Century Poets

  1. September 2, 2014 at 6:16 am

    I’m so going to enjoy your classes next year. Only one semester to go before I am there.

  2. September 2, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I look forward to you joining us Dave! See you next year.

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