Compare and contrast

I’m way behind in my book-blogging. Here’s a little thing that may amuse you, but you’ll have to work for it.

In April 2010, when Kevin Rudd was still Prime Minister, I posted a wistful piece of unrhymed doggerel, ‘Open Letter to Jennifer Maiden‘, in which I pleaded with JM to write about Kevin and Julia, and played around with some rhymes for Rudd and Abbott.

A month or so ago, Overland 205 included Angela Smith’s poem, ‘Jennifer Maiden woke up in The Lodge‘. Infinitely superior to my effort, it mimicked JM’s voice, and implied a similar yearning to read what she would write about the Prime Minister.

And then, in Black Inc’s Best Australian Poems 2011, edited by John Tranter, Jennifer Maiden herself answered our prayers with ‘A Great Education’, which swoops from indignation and something that could look like contempt to exactly the kind of insight you would expect from JM. I can’t give you a link to the poem. You could buy the book (I haven’t yet, I thought I might get it for Xmas so settled for reading this poem in the shop – I think this poem alone would justify the expense). Or you could:

Step 1: go to the book’s page on the Black Inc site
Step 2: click on the Google preview button
Step 3: search for “A Great Education”
Step 4: click through to the second result.

It turns out the poem was published in the Age roughly a year ago. Perhaps Angela Smith was commenting on it rather than pleading for it to happen. Either way, I doubt if you’ll see these three poems mentioned in the same breath anywhere but here.

5 responses to “Compare and contrast

  1. Katharine Margot Toohey

    I’ve drawn my mother Jennifer Maiden’s attention to this enthusiastic blog about her, and she sends her kind regards. I feel I should point out that in fact she has written 3 poems which analyse Julia Gillard from the perspective of Gillard’s stated inspiration, Aneurin Bevan. All were written before the publication of the Smith poem. The first -‘Coal’ – was published in The Age a couple of years ago and reprinted in Black Inc’s Best Australian Poems 2010. The 2nd is ‘ A Great Education’, which you discuss, and which
    was originally published in The Age early last year and then in BAP Black Inc 2011. The latest- ‘Poor Petal’- will be submitted to The Age when they’ve published a poem of hers they’ve accepted about the Norway massacre and Keith Windshutle. Should be soon. She has a poem about Kevin Rudd from the perspective of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the next ABR. Her first Rudd-Bonhoeffer – “The Audience’ – was also published in The Age last year. Her very long poem ‘The Year of the Ox’, which was published last year in ‘Southerly’ finishes with George and Clare discussing Gillard.
    So plenty there of interest to you.
    I’ve shown her your poem about her and also the Smith poem and she says she likes yours bettter because it understands more the spirit of what she’s doing, not just a couple of obvious things about the style. From my point of view, the politics in the Smith poem seem pretty right wing towards my mother, but I guess Overland is becoming like that now.


    • Thanks so much for commenting, Katharine. I’ll follow up those references – only ‘Coal’ came within my Googling capabilities, but I’m on the trail of paper versions of the others. Your mother is very kind saying she preferred my poem. I am much encouraged. But I think you’re being unfair about Overland: I read Angela Smith poem’s characterisation of your mother’s poetry as being the way Julia Gillard saw it – that is, the poem is critical of that view rather than promoting it. I’m about half way through the current issue, and I think it’s still filling its role of providing a place for discussion well to the left of the mainstream media.


  2. Katharine Margot Toohey

    Anything is well to the left of the mainstream media. I wish Overland was really to the left, and I think it used to be. It seems to me that at the moment Overland has a left-wing sheen, getting people to put their energies into activity rather than action. For example, they currently have a petition to help Assange. This, however, reminded me of one of those spam email ‘petitions’ to get ‘the President’ to stop drink driving. If the Grand Jury in the U.S. or the Gillard government take any notice of the comments page on Overland’s blog, ‘the President’ may well stop drink driving!
    When I said that it used to be more to the left, I’ve also discussed it with my mother, and she agrees from her own experience. She says she had a very productive literary relationship with Murray-Smith and Reid, and they published some of her best early work. She also had good communication and good results with Syson. After that, however, she found communication with the editors impossible. For example, they accepted several poems (not just by her) in writing for the magazine and then reneged on publishing them in print form. She objected on socialist principles that they had broken a written agreement with casual employees but they took no notice. She avoided them for years but when Minter was appointed poetry editor, she thought she might be being too harsh and approached him, offering a poem for him to consider. He did not respond at all, but printed the Angela Smith attack on her instead.

    Like you, I love my mum’s work, and I would be much happier if Smith’s poem wasn’t an attack. I’m still positive, however, that it is one. In it, I think that Gillard is used as a straw woman to express Smith’s views about my mother’s work. Smith seems to have also done the introduction to a book of essays about Les Murray and her comments about style sound like that school of poetry. My mother has no objection to the Murray people, but they seem a bit threatened by her since she won her third Slessor.

    As you’ve observed, my mother doesn’t write simple satire herself, but probes deeper. She has always said that simple satire is usually conservative.

    More cheerfully, I’ve found more really nice and perceptive comments you’ve made about my mother’s work on this site. She was really delighted when I told her about them, and says that if you can’t locate any of the published versions, to let me know and I can send you some as attachments.

    The Norway Massacre Windschuttle poem was in The Age on Saturday and they’ve accepted the 3rd Bevan-Gillard for publication within a few months.


  3. I think we’ll probably go on disagreeing about both Overland and the purpose of Angela Smith’s poem, Katharine: that is, I think Overland in general is true to its heritage and the poem is intended as a tribute rather than an attack. I’ve just read the most recent issue and found a lot in it to like and learn from, as well as a bit to quarrel with. I’m an outsider to the poetry scene (a handful of poems published and a couple of open mike readings), and am probably naive about the rivalries and so on between different schools. I intend to remain as naive as possible!
    I’m glad you found my comments perceptive. I do love your mother’s poetry and it makes me happy that she’s pleased with my comments. I’ve got ‘Massacres’ from the weekend’s Age, thank you (a study in saying two contradictory things at once!), and am hot on the trail of the others.


    • Katharine Margot Toohey

      Yes, my mum says it’s important for a writer to remain naive, but that it’s also really nice to have someone watching your back sometimes – hence some of the things she says about me being a tiger in ‘The Year of the Ox’.
      Happy hunting for the poems. Let me know if you can’t find any.


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