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Books & Poetry

Poem: A Portrait of an Aged Poet

Books & Poetry

Dame Mary Gilmore ­– activist, radical poet, literary icon and the lady on the $10 note – is the inspiration for this week’s Poet’s Corner contribution from Erica Jolly.

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A Portrait of an Aged Poet

Dame Mary Gilmore, 1865–1962

There’s little left except that piercing look
and bony hands, white gloved with
three black lines on each claw
resting on the arm of a chair.

That strong back holds her spine straight,
very much the undaunted woman.
Not all flesh wasted. Cheeks sharp.
Eyes seem to face what is coming.

Once described as a ‘Death’s Head’.
That skinny neck, wrinkled skin.
But there is lace at the throat,
a special broach and chain.

Born in 1865. Her black gown seems
half in the nineteenth century –
almost – half in the twentieth.
This is Dame Mary Gilmore.

Her poetry speaks to humanity.
She has pursued social justice.
It is 1957. The National Gallery
purchases Dobell’s portrait.

*William Dobell’s 1957 portrait of Dame Mary Gilmore, here, is part of the Art Gallery of NSW collection.

Erica Jolly graduated from Adelaide University with honours in history and gained her Masters in English literature from Flinders University, to teach and hold curriculum positions in secondary schools for 40 years. She was the founding secretary of the SA History Teachers Association, was elected to Flinders University’s governing council and academic senate, and helped combine faculties there to increase interdisciplinary cooperation. She has also been a Flinders’ official university donor, and supported a bursary for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. She has authored five books, two on South Australian educational history, two of her poetry, and Challenging the Divide: Approaches to Science and Poetry, which was launched by science journalist and broadcaster Robyn Williams in 2010.

Readers’ original and unpublished poems of up to 40 lines can be emailed, with postal address, to Submissions should be in the body of the email, not as attachments. A poetry book will be awarded to each accepted contributor.
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