The Verse Biography
vol. 39, no. 1, Winter 2016
Guest Editor: Anna Jackson
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura), by Artemisia Gentileschi. Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.
“Experiments in Poetic Biography: Feminist Threads in Contemporary Long Form Poetry” by Jessica Wilkinson
This essay examines long poems by contemporary women poets that represent examples of “poetic biography,” to consider the diversity of ways in which feminist poets are writing/documenting the lives of historical figures. I am chiefly concerned with investigating the potential for poetry to expand the field of biographical writing in relation to the female historical voice (as both the writer and the written).
In “The New Biography,” Virginia Woolf warns against mixing “the truth of real life and the truth of fiction.” But does poetry inhabit a liminal space, where ordinary rules of fiction and non-fiction don’t apply? Is factual the same as true? And what does the form of poetry bring to biography. This essay reflects on these ideas in relation to the author’s own practice of writing biographical poetry, focusing on poems about the lives of women from history published in My Iron Spine (2008), using as a particular example “Artemisia Gentileschi, 1593–circa 1642.”
“Storying the Portrait: The Case of Mae West” by Erin Scudder
In portraiture, the single captured moment is inwardly and outwardly referential, rather than storied in a narrative way that unfolds across time. With reference to poetry by Paisley Rekdal and Edward Field, this essay explores the prospect of creating an equivalent in writing for the portraitive experience of ‘inhabiting’ a single moment.
“The Master and the Mask: Francis Webb’s Verse Biography” by Toby Davidson
Upon his death in 1973, Francis Webb was eulogized by a young Les Murray as “a master of last lines, of last stanzas and final phrases.” Shortly after his first collection, A Drum for Ben Boyd (1948), Webb experienced his first bouts of mental illness which, while limiting his freedom, also led to a series of extraordinary verse biographies of the saintly, the tyrannical, the artistic and the institutionalized which few Australian poets have been able to match.
“‘Talk (why?) with mute ash’: Anne Carson’s Nox as Therapeutic Biography” by Joan Fleming
This essay reads Anne Carson’s Nox as a work of therapeutic biography. An analysis of Carson’s iterative translation of Catullus’s poem 101, and her visual and textual strategies of fragmentation, bring the author’s search to understand her estranged brother into complex relation with an ethos of mystery and lament.
“‘Automythography’ in Poetry: Tusiata Avia’s Bloodclot” by Airini Beautrais
What effect can poetry have on the composition of an autobiographical narrative? This essay seeks to shed light on the relationship between narrative and formal aspects of poetry through an analysis of a text that is at once poetry, narrative, and autobiography. Tusiata Avia’s Bloodclot straddles mythology and autobiography, merging the legend of the Samoan goddess of war Nafanua with the author’s own life. In considering how poetry is used to convey this double narrative, I argue that in Bloodclot segmentation through verse form is highly conducive to the articulation of narrative, both autobiographical and mythological.
“Hii-Stories and Haa-Stories: Polynesian Poetics as Collective Biography” by Robert Sullivan
This essay examines indigenous markers which appear in closely read texts by a number of New Zealand Māori poets as carvings, genealogies, large and small narratives revealing in some way the cultural life-worlds of the writers. One claim is that collective biography is a traceable essence in the poetry.