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This report is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

on Lesbia Harford Oliver Dennis
In 2014 I assembled a collected edition of the poems of the Australian poet Lesbia Harford (1891–1927), whose work had then been out of print for thirty years. The book’s reception was mixed at best, with a number of the reviews complaining that I had focused too much on Harford’s lyricism at the expense of her political writing and activism. There were accusations of ‘gendering’ and ‘marginalisation’: far from strengthening her reputation, I had apparently reduced it to something slight and ‘feminine’. I was stupefied by the reaction, but over time found myself questioning my approach. Perhaps, without realising it, I’d presented a distorted view?

In what way, then, was Harford a political poet, and how does her writing in this vein compare with her purely lyrical poetry? Here are two examples:

I was sad
Having signed up in a rebel band
Having signed up to rid the land
Of a plague it had.

For I knew
That I would suffer, I would be lost
Be bitter and foolish and tempest tost
And a failure too.

I was sad;
Though far in the future our light would shine,
For the present the dark was ours, was mine.
I couldn’t be glad.

I lie in the dark
Grass beneath and you above me
Curved like the sky,
Insistent that you love me.

But the high stars
Admonish to refuse you
And I’m for the ...

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