JUDITH WRIGHT: POETRY AND ACTIVISM.Veronica Brady, South of My Days: A Biography of Judith Wright Judith Arundell Wright (31 May 1915—26 June 2000) was an Australian poet, environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights. Life
Judith Wright was born in Armidale, New South Wales, the eldest child of Phillip Wright and his first wife Ethel, , Pymble, NSW NSW New South Wales
Noun 1. NSW - the agency that provides units to conduct unconventional and counter-guerilla warfare
Naval Special Warfare , Angus & Robertson, 1998. Judith Wright, Half a Lifetime/Judith Wright, (ed.) Patricia Clarke, Melbourne, Text Publishing, 1999.
South of My Days, the biography of Judith Wright by Veronica Brady, and Wright's own memoir, Half a Lifetime, together prompt a consideration of her poetry in the light of her many-sided life. Wright's impassioned public concerns for `Australia', for the `environment' and for Indigenous peoples The term indigenous peoples has no universal, standard or fixed definition, but can be used about any ethnic group who inhabit the geographic region with which they have the earliest historical connection. , all seem to spring `organically' from her personal living. Her passion to enlighten, persuade, and make a difference has driven her to write not only her dozen books of poetry but also much literary history and criticism. Brady chronicles a life of activism, lecturing, speechmaking, polemicising, committee work and fundraising, letters to editors and politicians, travelling to inspect and consult, office-holding and resigning.
Wright's own selection of essays, Born of the Conquerors (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991) gives a strong impression of her informed commitment to both environmental and Aboriginal causes. Her definitions of the `Euro-Australian' impact on Aborigines aborigines: see Australian aborigines. and their Australia are deeply historical and sharply contemporary. Wright was quick to see how the `wilderness cult' in modern Australia, with its National Park and tourism outcomes, conflicted with the land rights and needs (physical and spiritual) of Aborigines. Born of pioneer pastoralists, those conquerors of vast tracts of New South Wales New South Wales, state (1991 pop. 5,164,549), 309,443 sq mi (801,457 sq km), SE Australia. It is bounded on the E by the Pacific Ocean. Sydney is the capital. The other principal urban centers are Newcastle, Wagga Wagga, Lismore, Wollongong, and Broken Hill. and Queensland, she made herself their historian and their most moralistic mor·al·is·tic
1. Characterized by or displaying a concern with morality.
2. Marked by a narrow-minded morality.
mor critic. (The word conqueror resonates in several poems, notably `At Cooloolah', `Australia 1970', and `Two Dreamtimes'). Even if she had never touched poetry, her life would be -- though unenviably uncomfortable -- exemplary.
Crowded into this life-work, and crowded by it all, are the poems. Are they, too, communiques from the battle scenes, rallying cries, sermons and homilies, instruments of persuasion, expressions of anger and hope and despair, a troubled conscience? Are they calling to the converted, to the convertible, or after all speaking merely to the constituency of poetry-readers, that small well-meaning but not very political subset of people who read for pleasure? Has poetry shown itself to have a role or roles in the conversations of Australians about their country, its history, its injustices and its `improvement'? Latterly, Wright has proclaimed the importance of `the writer as activist' (Conquerors, 127). But from the first and always, she has thought of herself as committed also to poetry as `an expression of being' (Brady, 466). An account of Wright that ignores her poetry's intuitions of being (and of love, glory, joy and grace) would be drastically incomplete.
Wright, it is agreed, began as a `pure' poet and in midlife mid·life
See middle age.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of middle age. developed an activist's interest and stance. The story of Wright's achievement seems likely always to be written in terms of that duality. Thus Fiona Capp (Age, 28 August 1999) notes `her shift from detached poetic observer to hands-on activist', yet `attachment' B to her childhood landscape -- is what she registers in Wright's famous early poems. `Detached observer' is surely a misleading phrase here. Moreover, it was out of those early attachments that the mature commitments grew. In Yeats's great formula: in dreams begin responsibilities "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" is a short story found in the collection In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories by Delmore Schwartz. It was first published in 1937 in the Partisan Review. . The friendly critic's dream is that poems can be retrieved from the sequence of collections which will show that the causes of the activist can be served at the same time as the art of poetry with its dedication to `the inmost in·most
Farthest within; innermost.
same as innermost
Adj. 1. impulses of [the poet's] moral being' (Brady, 461).
In Wright's very first volume, The Moving Image (1946), her poetic occasions and subjects are close at hand in the country (settled generations previously) around Armidale NSW, while an all-involving Pacific war was on. These poems assume a rhetorical strategy derived from the masterly Irishman Yeats, whose Last Poems Last Poems (1922) is the second and last of the two volumes of poems A. E. Housman published during his lifetime - the first, and better-known, being A Shropshire Lad (1896). had appeared when Wright was twenty-four. Authority organises moralised landscapes. Her developing historical conscience takes her to `Nigger's Leap, New England'. Here she commands the scene itself to behave in accord with an atrocity too dark to be clearly retold re·told
Past tense and past participle of retell. in terms of perpetrators and victims:
be dark, O lonely air. Make a cold quilt across the bone and skull that screamed falling in flesh from the lipped cliff and then were silent, waiting for the flies.
With her imperative verbs, Wright enters into an active relationship, not only doing what Wordsworth said poets do, carrying relation everywhere, but dramatising the yearnings and energies of the poet and her will to change and connect. She speaks for her fellow New-Englanders and Australians of `what we should have known'. This is not only knowledge of the Aborigines as fellow-humans (`ourselves writ strange') but of the power of darkness `that tided up the cliffs'. Something ominous, an ironical perspective like that of 1930s Auden, with his ambivalent relish of the tide of history, swims in the closing figure:
Night floods us suddenly as history that has sunk many islands in its good time.
It seems almost an intuition that, should the Japanese have become the country's next conquerors, then history might serve us whites a similar fate. Not that Wright's early style permits the impurity im·pu·ri·ty
n. pl. im·pu·ri·ties
1. The quality or condition of being impure, especially:
a. Contamination or pollution.
b. Lack of consistency or homogeneity; adulteration.
c. of names and events to be discernible through the poetic chiaroscuro chiaroscuro (kyärōsk`rō) [Ital.,=light and dark], term once applied to an early method of printing woodcuts from several blocks and also to works in black and white or monotone. : even the atomic bomb atomic bomb or A-bomb, weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of atomic energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy nuclei (see nuclear energy). The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex. is unnameable, as in `The Bushfire'. There is a contrast here with the poet Allen Curnow, Wright's great New Zealand New Zealand (zē`lənd), island country (2005 est. pop. 4,035,000), 104,454 sq mi (270,534 sq km), in the S Pacific Ocean, over 1,000 mi (1,600 km) SE of Australia. The capital is Wellington; the largest city and leading port is Auckland. contemporary. Twice the artist -- no easy plangency plan·gent
1. Loud and resounding: plangent bells.
2. Expressing or suggesting sadness; plaintive: "From a doorway came the plangent sounds of a guitar" and chiaroscuro for him! -- but half the teacher, Curnow, as I argued in Arena Magazine last year, explored the violent advent of white mastery in his `new country' -- and let the Pacific war into poems packed with argument.
Wright's poems show less of their thinking. The tragedy of little Josie, Wright's `Half-Caste Girl', dead and buried but restless, is of a thwarted moral agent: `she used her love for lever; but the wall is cunningly made'. What the wall is cannot be suggested clearly in the stiff diction of early Wright. Perhaps it can be said that the seeds of activism are here but await the invasion of pressures from outside -- contemporary Australia -- to insist on a new rhetoric, an activist's stance. But these early poems suggest that mere `detached poetic observer' Wright never was.
Wright's partnership with Jack McKinney, veteran of WW1 and philosopher of the world crisis shapes much of her writing from 1946 onwards. Together they read Four Quartets, Owen Barfield and Jung, contemplated time and silence, discovered `deep ecology', nurtured a child and a one-acre garden, and extended Wright's territory. Everywhere imperatives appear in her poems: `What shall we do to save ourselves from pain?' (`Pain' 1949) -- be more like trees, `let the harsh wooden scales of bark enclose me' (`Child and WattleTree'); find `the heart's country' (`Spring after War'); `Never be satisfied', for from our pain `we spin a net we dream will hold the world' (`The World and the Child').
In every chapter of the biography the poet is to be heard saying Jack is right. Jack was right, the crisis worsens, the change is near in an environment ruined by the forces of greed. Wherever a temperament like Wright's finds itself, we can be sure of its local experience finding an environment so ruined. The crisis worsens but is also always forever being prolonged. Luckily this Jeremiah's poems are not jeremiads. Her experiments with anger, as in `Australia 1970' and her most anti-capitalist poem `At a Public Dinner' (1973) are genuinely rousing.
Poetry since Wordsworth has been largely the preserve of the romantics among us, fostered in youth by natural beauty which speaks of a harmony beyond the crude music of humanity competing for food and shelter, `getting and spending'. The role of the Romantic appealed to the young Wright: her monotonous plangency, the keynote of her early volumes, dooms them to please few readers nowadays. The anger of the activist would have rendered them harsh and unpoetical, in her ears and in Australian ears attuned at·tune
tr.v. at·tuned, at·tun·ing, at·tunes
1. To bring into a harmonious or responsive relationship: an industry that is not attuned to market demands.
2. only to non-modernist melodies. A little irony is acceptable, but liable to be misheard, as in the solemn institutionalisation This article or section needs sources or references that appear in reliable, third-party publications. Alone, primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject of this article are not sufficient for an accurate encyclopedia article. of her `Bullocky' as lyric celebration of pioneer service and sacrifice. Much too subtly, her irony hinted that the bullocky Adj. 1. bullocky - resembling a bullock in strength and power; "thick bullocky shoulders"
strong - having strength or power greater than average or expected; "a strong radio signal"; "strong medicine"; "a strong man" was a religious maniac ma·ni·ac
An insane person.
one affected with mania. . Such subtlety is perhaps lacking in her later work, as she herself remarks:
In my last quarter let me be hag, but poet. The lyric note may vanish from my verse, but you have also found acceptable the witch's spell -- even the witch's curse. (`Easter Moon and Owl' 1976)
The curse on the continuing triumphalism tri·umph·al·ism
The attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, especially a religion or political theory, is superior to all others.
tri·umph of the Euro-Australian conquerors is part of the instrumental, activist aspect of her poems, which have continued to celebrate being. Wright's lifelong earnestness, which at times has made her publish some drab poems, has also enabled her to express her imperatives in poems that are both instrumental and celebratory. Though her style and stance would never influence younger poets, and she suffered long the disservice of being taught as the living monument of Australian poetry, her achievement in retrospect has the touching charm of representing a period now over. Her causes, of course, survive, and evolve requiring some much-needed attention from the few publicly aware creative writers in Australia.
Max Richards teaches courses in poetry and writing at La Trobe University 1. u/r = unranked
2.AsiaWeek is now discontinued. Student life
During the 1970s and 1980s, La Trobe, along with Monash, was considered to have the most politically active student body of any university in Australia. .