‘By What Sign / Are You Walking?’ : The Poetry of Judith Rodriguez

A pretence - or enabling lie - still haunts the writing and criticism of poetry: that it can be written for, and read by, 'the tribe'. This pretence, shared in different ways by both Romantic and Modernist, is still deeply held, even if there are varying levels of acknowledgement that the tribe has fragmented, each part shrunken to this or that group: women poets, the New Australian poets, old Western, humanist poets, Beats, and so on. In his collection of essays, A Working Forest, Les Murray comes at the question of reading poetry tangentially, of course, but incants the same tribal desire: ëEveryone knows, and certainly anyone likely to be reading this essay should know, what the poetic experience feels like. It is a datum, a given tiling, as distinctive as the experience of sex or eating ... Anyone reading a Shakespeare play who has come on a passage that made their breathing tighten and alter in a way resembling fear, and felt their mind gripped by a crowding excitement in which vivid activity and arresting awe seemed to struggle with each other, has experienced poetry.í ('Poems and Poesies', Murray 373).

'Everyone knows .... ' While 'the poetic experience', and the reading of particular poems or poets, are not necessarily the same thing, the former can be seen as the ground of the latter. For Murray, and for many late Romantics, one reads for the frisson, the breath tightening, the excitement. Such bodily expressions of poetry reading and writing can be seen as extensions of the vast Romantic heritage, the boy in all of us standing by the lake, blowing 'mimic hootings to the silent owls/ ... Responsive to his call'. But Romanticism is a knot of contradictions, as many critics have discussed over the last decades: the dream of language and nature united, and an awareness of the constructing activity of language; the appeal to a common humanity, in debate with the very imperial Englishness of the early Romantics; the calls to human sympathy, in dialogue with the solitariness of its authors and characters; the little boy obscuring the little girl, William pinching notes from Dorothy; the cult of the Individual, the genius, disseminated in the age of industrialisation and mass movements of population; the desire for transcendence embroiled in the paradoxes of immanence, or various versions of faith in the earth.

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Published 1 October 1997 in Volume 18 No. 2. Subjects: Feminism, Gender - Literary portrayal, Modernism, Poetic techniques, Poetry, Poets, Romanticism.

Cite as: McCredden, Lyn. ‘‘By What Sign / Are You Walking?’ : The Poetry of Judith Rodriguez.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, 1997, doi: 10.20314/als.6d377ba8e7.