More Jolley

Elizabeth Jolley (Photo: Courtesy Fremantle Press)

Elizabeth Jolley (Photo: Courtesy Fremantle Press)

A decade or so ago my local reading group, with trepidation from some, decided to try a poetry night. The idea was that we’d all bring a favourite poem or two to share. What would I bring? I have some favourite poets from my student days – poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot and William Wordsworth – but was that all I knew about poetry? Well, it just so happened that my brother had given me a few years earlier The Penguin book of Australian women poets (1986) so I hied me thither to see whether anything inspired. And what did I find but one of my favourite writers, Elizabeth Jolley, there ensconced.

Now, fair dealing provisions of the Australian Copyright Act are not clear for poems and anthologies so I won’t reproduce the full poem, “Neighbour woman on the fencing wire”, but here is its beginning and end:

So you’ve bought this place well let me tell you
straight away your soil’s no good all salt even a
hundred and sixty feet down and up on the slopes
is outcrops of granite and dead stumps of dead
wood nothing’ll grow there we know we’ve tried

dead and then there was that pig ate a woman’s
baby right in front of her door mind you I always say –

Says it all really…how can you not laugh along with a writer who writes a poem like this. (It is also published in her book Diary of a weekend farmer, 1993).

2 thoughts on “More Jolley

  1. That’s a poem? Well, I suppose it has a sort of lliterary feel to it, but the message is not all that pleasant is it. Perhaps we need to be reminded that life is tough. Its the job of poets to touch our deepest feeling – but as you suggest, perhaps its all about laughter.

  2. Yes it is! It doesn’t look like one but when you read it out it has the sound/rhythm of one. Jolley’s humour is mostly black – I read her (such as a poem like this) and am horrified but can’t help laughing too. What does that say about me I wonder? It’s partly the shock of her, to be cliched, unflinching honesty I think.

    She was born in England in 1923, had a German mother, and was brought up as a Quaker. She emigrated to Australia (Perth) with her husband, Leonard, a university librarian, in around 1959 … she didn’t really get published until the 1970s. Many many rejections before that.

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