Considering a poetics of dwelling in Judith Wright

I just found an old essay, commissioned by an organisation but never published (slight grump), on the poetry of Judith Wright and, specifically, her Collected Poems. It's a bit overviewy, as that was the commission, however, considering that I'm thinking at the moment about domestic space, intimacy and ecopoetics, these few paragraphs seem to contain some useful reference points. So, here's the extract:

"If the poems in Judith Wright’s Collected Poems are approached in a way that does not seek to read Wright simply through themes of, for instance, landscape and nature or dub her as an activist poet or a lyric poet, solely, the poems can offer a broader field for exploration.

The poems of her later years, such as the rather spare poems reproduced from the book Alive, allow a focus on the primariness of the lived space, of dwelling and intimacy with non-human space and place. This is exemplified in the long poem sequence ‘Habitat’ in which the poet, among other things, appears to interrogate her own living space, a space she is leaving.

"You and I, house

are in our fifties;

time now to pause

and look at each other" (CP 298)

Interestingly, the catalogue of the National Library notes that their collection of Wright’s papers contains ‘a manuscript book of poems titled “Habitat” by Judith Wright, dedicated to her daughter Meredith, written between January 1971 and February 1972’. Presumably, this includes an earlier draft of the final published poem, which was published in book form in 1973, and was written after the death of Jack McKinney.

The poem’s specific occasion may be hard to escape, yet the poem allows the reader to consider, at length, the implications of the intimacy of our living with things and domestic, intimate places, houses, rooms, precisely through the poem’s plain and specific catalogue of a lived habitat, of how modern technology and culture has compromised the house, how the domestic works as gendered space, and how a habitat is a complex region of feeling and connection:

"Houses and bodies

have memories, but forget.

Things drop through cracks,

mice chew old letters." (CP 298)

The full article did not closely examine all the poems discussed for their formal properties due to its overview quality, but the short lines as abstracted above, mostly turning on a syntactical unit, have a casual, list-like, accumulative and associative sense. An idea of space and things connected without, necessarily, a hierarchy. And that householdness (?) and domesticity are often built around lists: shopping, things-to-do, recipes, domestic accounting, packing up variously. I will return to the poem and the volume, Alive, and think on this some more.


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