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‘Having Fun with the Professors’: Gwen Harwood and Doctor Eisenbart
journal contributionposted on 21.12.2017, 00:00 by Ann-Marie PriestAnn-Marie Priest
This essay examines the role of Gwen Harwood’s Eisenbart poems in helping to establish her career as a serious poet. It argues that Harwood had more trouble breaking into the male-dominated world of Australian poetry than is generally acknowledged, and that the Eisenbart poems, which centre on a fictional scientist, represent a turning point in her literary fortunes. In the 1950s, Harwood struggled to get the kind of attention she sought from a number of influential poetry editors and reviewers, many of whom were also academics. Chief among them for her were A. D. Hope, Vincent Buckley and James McAuley. Her Eisenbart poems, which both play up to and satirise the cultural icon of the god-professor, were an attempt to subvert expectations of so-called ‘lady poets’ and beat the ‘professors’ at their own game. They also gave literary expression to the debate between positivism and humanism that dominated some aspects of academic life in the 1950s, and to the anger and frustration Harwood experienced at repeated rejections of her work.