I discovered a few weeks ago that my poetry collection Electricity for Beginners was highly commended in the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Anne Elder Award for
2011. The award goes to the work deemed the best debut poetry book of the year in Australia. This year, the winner was the West Australian poet Mags Webster for her collection The Weather of Tongues (Sunline). Vladislav Neklianv’s Another Babylon (UQP) and Fiona Wright’s Knuckled (Giramondo) were commended.
Anne Elder (1918-1976) was a poet and a dancer (like John Chisholm Marten—I wonder if I’ve struck a seam of poet dancers?). Born Anne Macintosh in Auckland, she came to Australia with her parents as a small child. She attended St Catherine’s School for Girls in Toorak, Melbourne and studied ballet with the acclaimed Laurel Martyn. The Australian Dictionary of Biography states that Anne Macintosh danced from 1938 “with Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and then as a soloist (1940-44) with the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company.” Some photographs from this latter tenure are available on the National Library’s site. (And reading Borovansky's life story is a very worthwhile way to spend five minutes.)
Elder had a couple of poems published in the Bulletin in the mid-1950s, but only began to publish regularly in the late 1960s. Her first poetry collection, For the Record, was published in 1972 by the Hawthorne Press (Melbourne). A second collection, Crazy Woman and Other Poems, appeared in 1976, the year of Elder’s death. The first Anne Elder Award was presented the following year, and the award continues to this day, drawn from a fund that is administered by Catherine Elder and the Victorian branch of the FAW.
I have been reading For the Record* and admiring its range. “Four Elegies for the Death of Women” is a striking suite; one of its four poems, “The Hard Tribute,” begins
Strike her from the teledex;
she was my mother’s friend,
a masculine woman with a harsh laugh
and masterful with shop assistants;
not my kind
so put her from mind.
The speaker and the dead woman come across so forcefully, and with such economy and humour. And, because I have a particular fondness for poems about horses, I will leave you with the first lines of “Horse and Mare”, also from For the Record:
Last week was horizontal snow driven.
Today the month turns seasonably
and surely to gold. A milky dusk
calls them downhill by habit; slow
they drift in to the leaning thorn and stand,
solids unmoved by the expectation of wind,
where the old shed ribbed like a ruined boat
spells to them shelter, a hulk in the night.
* With thanks to Martin Duwell for letting me borrow his books.