‘Having Fun with the Professors’: Gwen Harwood and Doctor Eisenbart


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.

A. D. Hope begins his 1972 essay on Harwood with the line: ‘Gwen Harwood is always having fun with the professors but the professors seem rather wary of her’ (227). This wariness, he explains, is because Harwood’s brand of fun is ‘disturbing, if not [. . .] terrifying’, and ‘is apt to be aimed at critics, professors, editors and the literary menagerie in general’ (227). But Harwood’s terrorising of ‘the professors’ through literary jokes, hoaxes and biting satire is only one aspect of her multi-layered and highly ambivalent relationship with the Australian literary establishment in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when she was developing an identity as a professional poet. She herself was ‘not academic’, as she told John Beston in 1975,1 although as the wife of a Reader in English at the University of Tasmania, she knew many academics. She was also, contrary to contemporary expectations of the suburban housewife, a student of German and voracious reader of poetry, criticism, philosophy and science, all of which is reflected in her poetry. Indeed, Hope told her in 1961 that she was ‘sometimes too erudite’ for him,2 while in a 1964 review of her first book, Melbourne poet-academic Evan Jones concluded that she was ‘a genuine bluestocking’ (27). Similarly, Geoffrey Dutton declared, in a largely hostile review of her second book, that she was the ‘darling of the academics’ (162).

At the time of Dutton’s review in 1968, this may well have been a fair characterisation. By this stage Harwood was well-established as an Australian poet, and counted a number of influential poet-academics among her friends, including Hope (Australian National University), James McAuley (University of Tasmania) and Vincent Buckley (University of Melbourne). But a decade earlier, she had been struggling to get her poems published, and fuming at editorial dismissals of her work and hostile critical comments from these very professors, among others. Her long-held aspiration to be acknowledged ‘publicly as a poet’ (Kratzmann 146)3 seemed far off. This essay argues that Harwood’s invention of Professor Eisenbart, a scientist who features in a loose series of eight poems that appeared between 1956 and 1963, played a crucial role in the development of both her poetic voice and her poetry career in this critical phase of her struggle to become an acknowledged poet. As a literary creation, Eisenbart gave artistic form to the ongoing debate between positivism and humanism with which Harwood was then deeply engaged. He also enabled her to give creative expression, in a socially acceptable form, to the anger and disdain she was experiencing in her struggles with the gatekeepers of Australian literary culture. Most importantly, however, as virtuosic satires of a male professorial figure, as well as ‘stunningly intellectual’ works4 that were far removed from 1950s expectations of the work of women writers, the Eisenbart poems enabled Harwood to capture the attention of the poet-professors, and thus to turn around her literary fortunes in a remarkably short space of time.

Harwood is sometimes thought to have had an easy entry into the literary world. The consensus has been that while her children were young, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Harwood did not make any serious attempts to publish her poems, preferring to focus on motherhood, and that it was not until the mid-1950s, when the youngest of her children started school, that she began seriously to lay siege to the literary realm.5 At this point, it has been assumed, things fell into place for her: in Susan Sheridan’s words, she ‘wrote quickly, published widely, and met early success’ (Nine Lives 166). Sheridan points out that Harwood had three poems in Australian Poetry 1957 (edited by Harwood’s friend Hal Porter), and two in Australian Poetry 1958 (edited by her putative enemy, Buckley), which certainly seemed like a good run for a new poet. What looked like success to others, however, felt frustratingly like failure to Harwood herself, as her letters of this time testify. In her own view, Harwood was far from a ‘new’ poet: indeed, it would seem that, contrary to her later claims, she had been seeking to publish her work from at least the late 1940s, but had met with indifference at best and discouragement at worst. Even when, from 1956, her work began to appear regularly, she continued to receive many rejections, and after some ten years of struggling to set her fingers on ‘the poetic ladder’, as she put it (SS 319), her disillusionment with literary editors in Australia was extreme.

The early years of this struggle have been obscured not only by Harwood’s own sunny assertions, in later life, of the ease of her journey to literary success (‘I have never had any struggle’, she told R. P. Rama (Harwood, ‘Interview’ 1993, 17)), but also by the lack of documentation of her earliest years in Tasmania, where she moved upon her marriage in 1945.6 There is, however, evidence to suggest that she did seek publication throughout the first decade of her marriage. Indeed, she began submitting poems even before she married: her first poem, ‘The Rites of Spring’, appeared in Meanjin Papers in 1944. Three further poems appeared in 1949 (in Southerly, the Bulletin and Meanjin), one of which was republished in that year’s Jindyworobak Anthology. Though there is little direct evidence of other publication attempts during this time, it would seem unlikely that these were the only poems she sent out.7 It is clear from her correspondence that she submitted many poems between 1949 and 1955, though the only new poem to appear in this period was ‘Windy Night, Fern Tree’ in Southerly in 1955. A 1959 letter, for instance, recounts the history of her poem ‘Joseph’, a ‘perfectly good poem’ which she says she first sent out in 1953, and which was ‘given the run-around for six years’ (SS 82).8 Other poems seem to have met similar fates. In an unpublished letter from 1956, for example, she speaks angrily of the treatment of her poem ‘Daybreak’ – incidentally, the first of her Eisenbart poems to appear, though not the first to be written – saying that Clem Christesen had accepted it for Meanjin a year earlier but had still not published it; she declares herself ‘sick of editorial delays’.9 Another 1959 letter records that she has been ‘exchanging notes’ with Christesen at Meanjin for ten years.10 Certainly, from at least the late 1940s, she considered herself to be – and was regarded by her social circle as – a poet.11 But as late as 1959, she was still having difficulty placing her work. She tells Edwin Tanner in 1958 that she has had ‘nothing but rejection slips this year’: ‘The delays are trying – you send something off and don’t hear of it for a year’ (SS 61). In 1959, she notes that Southerly ‘has rejected every poem I have sent them for years; I really must look to my style & subject matter’ (SS 73). In 1964, she tells Tom Shapcott that McAuley at Quadrant had refused many of her poems in the late 1950s, including ‘The Glass Jar’, ‘Frontier Guards’ and ‘Caro Autem Infirma’.12 Far from achieving ‘early success’, she described herself for most of the 1950s as ‘struggling to be published’.13

Harwood’s sense that she was engaged in an intense battle over a decade or more to establish herself as a poet helps to contextualise the frustration, even fury, she expresses towards the ‘literary menagerie’ in her letters of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Without this context, her use of hoaxes and pseudonyms during this period (as described by Alison Hoddinott and Cassandra Atherton, among others) can seem perplexing. For instance, in his analysis of Harwood’s Bulletin hoax, David Brooks suggests that her sense of grievance against editors may have been misplaced, pointing out that Christesen at Meanjin had published ‘a considerable number of her poems’ while ‘the Bulletin, which she had just bitten without any evident and immediate cause, had, albeit largely over names other than her own, published a great deal of her poetry in the two years preceding [the 1961 hoax]’ (231). In the context of a decade or more of struggle to place her poems, however, Harwood’s ‘evident and immediate cause’ becomes clearer. This sense of a long-drawn-out battle is also important in understanding her attitude to Australian literary gatekeepers who she felt to be deliberately denigrating and excluding her. Her letters show her sense of rancour towards key Australian literary figures, including Christesen (who allowed his editorial assistants to ‘spit on’ her work: SS 119), McAuley (who made a ‘waspish attack’ on her poetry14), and even the much-admired Hope (‘I think he is only concerned with his pet Buckley’15). Such figures, she reflected in a 1961 letter, had ‘hacked at my fingers while I was climbing laboriously’ (SS 124). Many years later, she would tell Mary Lord that when she was first trying to establish herself as a poet, McAuley and Buckley ‘went for me with hatchets’ (Lord 57).

The imagery is violent, and helps to make sense of the violence of some of Harwood’s responses to perceived attacks. But the picture is more complex than this might suggest. For all her rage at their poor editorial judgement, their boys’ club mentality and their administrative incompetence, Harwood badly wanted the professors’ respect. At one level, it was a purely practical matter. If she was going to forge a career as a poet, she needed editors who would publish her and critics who would praise her. Even the hated Christesen had to be tolerated on pragmatic grounds. As she explains to her friend Tony Riddell in 1959, ‘I’d like NEVER again to have ANYTHING to do with CBC, but Meanjin is really the only magazine here of international standard, and I’d rather appear there than anywhere’.16 At another level, she also very much wanted to be accepted by the poets she herself most admired and to be recognised and acknowledged by them as a colleague and peer. Despite her epistolary swagger, Harwood did not have limitless confidence in her own ability. As she told Riddell in 1958, ‘I am continually in doubt about what I write, especially as I reflect that if people don’t like what I’ve done already (and on the whole they DON’T) I might as well clean the windows’ (SS 64). She wanted the approval of those she admired, and she wanted to be ‘treated as “a poet”’ (SS 124) by those who were in a position to know. McAuley was particularly important to her. In the late 1950s, she wrote to Tanner that she would ‘rather be praised by McAuley than by anyone in Australia – I think he’s on his own as a poet’.17 According to another letter, it was a poem of McAuley’s that ‘set me on the road first’,18 and she longed for him to recognise her in return.

Gaining such recognition, however, was no simple matter. As Harwood was well aware, as a ‘housewife’ from Hobart, she was only too easy to dismiss. As a mother from Tasmania, she had little potential, either professionally or personally, that the editors she was dealing with could recognise. A decade later, as an established poet, she would come to think of her distance from the boys’ club as a good thing: ‘I am teacher’s pet because I am not academic and don’t want their jobs, and not a critic, so don’t demolish them in public’ (SS 230). But when she was first getting started, being so entirely outside of the system and having nothing to offer or trade for recognition was a serious problem. As she explains to Riddell in 1961: ‘[Y]ou see I am not able to buy Slessor a beer or do McAuley a good turn or offer Christesen anything but poetry’ (SS 119). The only way she knew to make them take notice was to compel their attention through the kind of full-frontal attacks she launched in the late fifties, beginning with Professor Eisenbart.

Though the first Eisenbart poem to be published did not appear until 1956, Harwood began working on the sequence much earlier, perhaps even as early as 1952.19 The first poem to be written, ‘Early Light’, was almost certainly complete by 1955, though it was not published until 1963 (in Harwood’s first book, Poems).20 Based on references in Harwood’s letters, it seems likely that ‘Early Light’ was followed by ‘Ganymede’, which seems to have been written by 1956,21 though it was not published until 1958 (in Meanjin), and then ‘Panther and Peacock’, which was chosen by Harwood’s friend Porter for the 1957 Australian Poetry anthology. ‘Boundary Conditions’ (published in Prospect in 1961) seems to have been written early in 1957, while ‘Group from Tartarus’ (published in Salient in 1960), ‘Prize-Giving’ (published in Meanjin in 1959) and ‘Professor Eisenbart’s Evening’ (published in Poems in 1963) seem to have all been written by 1958.22 If this approximate dating of the poems’ composition is correct, it shows that the Eisenbart poems belong to the decade of the 1950s,23 when Harwood, by her own account, was still fighting for publication, rather than to the early 1960s, when she was publishing almost as many poems as she could write. This lends weight to the contention that these poems shed light on some of Harwood’s specific concerns and experiences of the 1950s – in particular, her first sustained experience with professors-in-general through her marriage to an academic, and her anger and frustration with the specific professors (and other gatekeepers) of the Australian literary scene.

The Eisenbart poems are dramatic lyrics set largely in an Australian suburban environment. All but one are in the third-person, and three include dialogue between the professor and his unnamed ‘mistress’, who is characterised in one poem as a ‘young girl’.24 Eisenbart’s sexual identity is ambiguous, as in one of the poems, ‘Ganymede’, he attempts to seduce a boy. The poems use mostly four-stress lines and a range of rhyme schemes, some based on the traditional ballad, giving them a formal simplicity that their highly concentrated imagery and dense language belies. As many critics have pointed out, following Harwood’s own lead,25 the ‘extended creation of character’ was unusual for an Australian poet of that era (Strauss 65), so this in itself was eye-catching. Apart from her desire to do something new, Harwood has given few clues to the origins of the Eisenbart poems, beyond explaining that she took the name – which literally translates as ‘iron beard’ – from a ‘German folk song’ featuring a comic character named ‘Doktor Eisenbart’.26 The poems show a debt to the German lieder Harwood loved to play on the piano (‘Ganymede’ and ‘Group from Tartarus’ are both titles of Schubert songs) as well as to contemporary novels such as Lolita and Death in Venice. Harwood’s friends occasionally suggested that her inspiration for the character was closer to home: her own husband, Bill, a linguist and positivist who was passionately anti-Romantic.27 Though she did sometimes refer to Bill as ‘our professor’ or even ‘the master’ in facetious letters, Harwood batted away such suggestions, telling a friend in 1957 that ‘Bill has occasionally tried to identify himself with the Professor, but I assure him I haven’t “put him in a poem”’ (SS 57).

This was a potentially incendiary suggestion, given Eisenbart’s obnoxious behaviour and the poems’ fairly unequivocal condemnation of him. Eisenbart is, as Hope writes, a caricature of a scientist: he is both the ‘mad scientist inventor of children’s comics’ and ‘the “god-professor”’ (231). One early commentator describes him as a ‘nuclear physicist’ (Douglas 17), which seems to be a fair inference given that he repeatedly fantasises about blowing things up (humanity, in ‘Panther and Peacock’; the world, in ‘Boundary Conditions’; and the moon, in ‘Professor Eisenbart’s Evening’). It seems possible he has invented, or is working on, what we would today call a weapon of mass destruction: he claims to carry ‘safe on his tongue the incredible/ formula that, spoken, would impel/ prodigious ruin’ (‘Panther and Peacock’). Critics are divided about whether Eisenbart actually has this power (for example, Hope) or only fantasises about it (for example Douglas, Beston); Harwood herself relished the ambiguity.28 Either way, Eisenbart gloats over imagined destruction. Everything and everyone around him earns his scorn. He is contemptuous of the ‘tedious three-piece-cultured miles’ of the suburbs (‘Professor Eisenbart’s Evening’), infuriated by a carking crow (‘Daybreak’), seized by ‘violent distaste’ at the pretensions of a girls’ school speech night (‘Prize-Giving’) and sneeringly disdainful of the ‘laughter of a Sunday crowd’ at the zoo (‘Panther and Peacock’). His response to anything that pains or inconveniences him is to fantasise about its destruction at his hands.

In this sense, he represents a particularly biting satire of masculine identity, as Elizabeth Lawson points out. ‘This modern evolved man,’ Lawson writes, ‘who so ostentatiously professes an urbane sophistication, is [. . .] shown to live in the infantile stages of his own conceit’ (‘Toward’ 58). She argues further that masculinity itself, in these poems, is seen to be responsible for human destructiveness: through a ‘series of pungent psychological analyses’ the poems show that ‘destructive violence in humans has its basis in nothing grander than an infantile “male” vanity’ (‘They Trust Me’ 159). The presence of Eisenbart’s ‘mistress’, however, acts as a ‘counterpoint’ to the professor’s destructive masculinity (‘Toward’ 59), such that the poems are able to contrast the woman’s upwards movement towards ‘the moral values of “the heart’s true life”’ with Eisenbart’s downward movement from ‘contempt for humanity to rage or nightmare’ (‘Toward’ 62).

Lawson is not the only critic to note the counterpointing in these poems of male and female voices, or to see in the poems a dialogue between distinct voices representing different world views (see, for example, Beston, Taylor, Strauss). While Lawson sees this as a straightforward dialogue between the masculine and the feminine, and one which demonstrates the moral failures of the former and the moral strength of the latter, Jennifer Strauss argues for a more complex dialectic in which the speakers shift between a series of related contraries: male and female, head and heart, body and soul (30–31). In her reading, the female voice is not privileged over the masculine: both are subject to the ‘two aspects of common fortune, love and death’ (68). But it is Eisenbart whose struggles against the vulnerability of his own humanity are minutely depicted.

Certainly the female voice in these poems is disruptive, mocking and contradicting Eisenbart’s discourse, and more than holding its own in the poems’ philosophical debates. In ‘Professor Eisenbart’s Evening’, for example, when Eisenbart, thwarted in his plans for a sexual tryst by his mistress’s menstrual period, raves that he will ‘blow’ the moon ‘to oblivion’ ‘with some glorious bomb’, his mistress teasingly assures him that while he lies awake feverishly working out the necessary calculations, she will go peacefully to sleep. Far from being impressed by his self-aggrandising bluster about destroying the moon, she opines coolly that ‘It can’t be done’. In ‘Panther and Peacock’, the ‘mistress’ is equally unimpressed by Eisenbart’s ranting about his plans to unleash an eternal darkness upon the earth (‘Fiat Nox’), simply remarking ironically, in response to his threats: ‘What shocks await the bourgeois!’ Despite her persistently ironic stance, she is also tender towards him, seeking to provide him with succour for his suppressed anguish; but she is never the mere female-shaped place-holder that the phrase ‘his mistress’ might imply. Her contradicting voice, her mocking of his demands and thwarting of his desires, ensure that she is always a subject in the poems in which she features, not merely a sexual object. Similarly, in ‘Ganymede’, the boy Eisenbart takes to his hotel room for sex refuses to remain a mere beautiful object, grateful to be plucked from the streets by Apollo in the guise of an ageing scientist. Instead, he returns Eisenbart’s gaze, revealing himself to be not one of the professor’s beloved mathematical symbols but a living being whose body speaks ‘of itself alone’. Eisenbart is so disconcerted by the child’s stare – in which he sees only ‘Corruption’ – that he is unmanned (‘softer than snow on water or on snow’) and sends the boy away, turning back to ‘his own world, where symbols might/ speak to him their sublime affirmative’.

In each of the Eisenbart poems, the moment of disruption of Eisenbart’s discourse and worldview is central and it is often, but not always, engineered by the insistent subjectivity of his mistress. Eisenbart is presented both contemptuously and tenderly, with both loathing and understanding, and again and again he is drawn into an unwilling engagement with that which he most fears and resists: love and death, in Strauss’s terms; the limits of his own masculine power, in Lawson’s; or simply the experience of ‘universal vulnerability’ (Douglas 80). As narratives of subversion – satirising male identity and authority, challenging the dominance of the scientific world view, opposing a female viewpoint to a seemingly monolithic male one – these poems can be seen as a literary parallel to Harwood’s letters of this period, particularly those concerning her publication attempts.

They also give artistic form to an ongoing debate between Harwood and Bill over the validity of logical positivism as a philosophical stance. Indeed, there is evidence that the ‘conflict of discourses’ that Strauss identifies in the Eisenbart poems as representing a clash between ‘modern scientific rationalism’ and ‘traditional humanist thought’ was also being played out between them at this period. According to Hoddinott, a close friend of both Harwoods, Bill ‘represented the scientific point of view that the Eisenbart poems satirise’ (‘Memories’ 27). Gwen, on the other hand, believed in ‘the mystery of the human being and the importance of intuition, feeling and imagination’ (Gwen Harwood 273); in Strauss’s words, Harwood’s view was that of the poet who thinks that ‘the universe teases us with glimpsed harmonies’ (32). In her article ‘Gwen Harwood and the Philosophers’, Hoddinott gives an insight into the nature of Bill’s scholarly work, which, as first his student and then his research assistant, she was in a good position to observe. Bill, she writes, adopted linguist Leonard Bloomfield’s view that of all the modes of linguistic analysis, attention to meaning was the weakest, since meaning was ‘perceived by intuition’ and thus could not be the basis of a ‘properly scientific study of language’ (272). Like Bloomfield and his followers, Bill’s aim ‘was to dispense completely with questions of meaning and to base descriptions of language on purely formal criteria’ (272). ‘His ambition,’ Hoddinott goes on, ‘was to build a machine that would produce English sentences from a basic word list and formation-rules’ (273). Indeed, Bill often spoke of his ambition to build a computer that would write poetry. Describing ‘evenings of laughter, of discussion and argument, often about language and its uses’, at the Harwoods’ home in the early 1950s, Hoddinott writes that when she once challenged Bill about whether it was really possible to construct ‘a machine that would talk, and even write poetry’, he replied: ‘It will talk as well as Gwen!’ (‘Celebrating’ 21). That Harwood was less than charmed by the idea that her husband might make a robot version of her is suggested by her response to another such comment. According to Hoddinott, when Bill made a similar assertion on another occasion, Harwood crossed the room and played ‘a sequence of thunderous chords on the piano’ (21).

Hoddinott’s vignette vividly evokes the many layers of complexity around this central – if playful – conflict in the Harwoods’ worldviews. Bill’s assertion that he will make a machine to rival Gwen herself could be seen as (perhaps unconsciously) aggressive. Harwood’s riposte is not to engage in a verbal debate but to shift the terms of the discourse: she opposes an entirely different register of meaning-making, music, to Bill’s confident verbal logic. In a sense, she opposes his science with her own art. In Harwood’s view, the idea that meaning is purely a function of interacting biological, social and linguistic systems, and unrelated to the unique consciousness of individuals, which the concept of a poetry-writing machine implies, was profoundly dangerous, as demonstrated by the arrival of the atomic age. Hoddinott points out that Harwood’s poem ‘Hesperian’ makes explicit the connection between logical positivism and human destruction. This poem belongs to the same period as the Eisenbart poems, first appearing in 1958 in Australian Letters. Incidentally, Harwood told her friend Tanner that the poem was declined by Meanjin, who ‘sent it back with a remark by that silly old man A A Phillips “She wears her learning with a heavy foot”’.29 The poem is quite learned, containing allusions to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, both of whom Harwood saw as champions of logical positivism (though she would soon change her view of Wittgenstein, adopting him as a philosopher of ‘the mystery beyond descriptive language’ [Hoddinott, ‘Gwen Harwood and the Philosophers’ 273]). It tells the story of a ‘young scientist’ who, having rejected the ‘old philosophy’, creates a ‘cytoplasmic pseudopod’, a kind of deformed organism that escapes from the laboratory and presses ‘the switch that fired the fuse that exploded/ the secret bomb that wrecked the world’. But when a new race is born from the remaining ‘morsel of deathless jelly’, it immediately begins to ask the questions that gave birth to the ‘old philosophy’: ‘What is our archetypal being? / What is the good? the true? the right?’ These were concerns Harwood herself believed should underlie scientific enquiry as much as creative work. Her Eisenbart poems explore the human consequences of an exclusion of such considerations from scientific research, both for the world (the potential for universal destruction) and for individuals (Eisenbart’s inner anguish). They also express, in the biting quality of their satire, something of the anger Harwood chose not to express verbally in the scene Hoddinott describes at the Harwoods’ house.

Vincent O’Sullivan points to the anger that runs through the Eisenbart sequence ‘at full tilt’ (37). He suggests that when these poems are read ‘as part of Harwood’s oeuvre, and not in isolation, it seems that here is a way the poet has found to shift a personal load to look like someone else is carrying it’ (37–38). In other words, he suggests that Harwood gives to Eisenbart something of her own rage. If so, this could be considered ironic, given that at one level the Eisenbart poems are a critique of anger: Eisenbart’s anger is shown to be childish, with no legitimate basis. Yet while his anger is satirised and condemned, it is also given satisfyingly full expression. As a woman writer in the 1950s, Harwood may well have found it difficult to find an acceptable artistic form for her own anger. Certainly she once told an interviewer that she had always disguised her inner ferocity with a ‘calm and untroubled exterior’ (Digby, ‘Evanescent Things’ 61). Given the anger she expresses in letters to close friends during the 1950s, it seems possible that she found in Eisenbart a way to put her own anger on display – even to indulge her own fantasies of destruction – while remaining at a safe distance from it. In her letters, her fury at the incompetence and cronyism of literary editors, and at their failure to recognise her, sometimes takes forms surprisingly similar to those of Eisenbart. ‘WHY WHY WHY does [McAuley] reject the intricate fusion of “Sunday” and take this undistinguished piece? [. . .] I feel like SCREAMING’ she tells Riddell in 1960 (SS 107). A year earlier, convinced that Christesen had plagiarised a phrase from a poem of hers he had rejected, she urged Riddell: ‘Let’s you & me go & stab Christesen, huh?’ (SS 84). In a 1961 letter to Buckley, written during the fallout from the Bulletin hoax, she wrote that when she believed he had ‘sold her out’, her ‘fury boiled all the water in Bass Strait, causing heavy fog, rough to moderate seas and cold southwesterlies. No wonder the eddy and groundswell reached your shrinking brain; I daresay the ripples are still evident’ (SS 136–37).

Harwood’s literary elaboration of her metaphor suggests the relish with which she developed artistic analogues of such powerful emotions. In the Eisenbart poems, Eisenbart’s anger is no sooner expressed than condemned, which enables it both to take centre stage and to be safely contained. Lawson makes a related point when she argues that in Eisenbart, Harwood found a way to dissociate herself from her own anger: ‘the harshly contemptuous, parodic side of the satirical voice’ of her earlier poetry ‘has now been successfully placed within the character of Eisenbart, who can thus be seen to exhaust its merely angry aspect’ (‘Toward’ 64). She stresses that she is not saying that Harwood has lost her ‘anger nor her bitterness’ (64) but rather that she has found a way to subject them to the tempering judgement of another voice, the ‘over-voice of the poet-narrator’ (64). Given this, it is possible to argue that Eisenbart was Harwood’s response not only to the logical positivists, whose attitude to poetry and the ‘old philosophy’ of human purpose and meaning she saw as deeply destructive, but also to her own treatment as a fledgling poet at the hands of critics and editors. In at least one, narrow sense, Eisenbart was, as Dennis Douglas proposed, her ‘doppelganger’. He was also, as Buckley once suggested, an ‘anti-self’.30 Through him, she could play at being a professor herself – sneering at stupidity, planning vile punishments, condemning the entire human race – while at the same time pouring satirical scorn upon the weakness, self-delusion and pretensions of masculine authority figures.

The strutting and swaggering Eisenbart served yet another purpose for Harwood: he captured the professors’ attention. In his essay on Harwood and the professors, Hope describes Eisenbart as a ‘professor-trap’ (228), designed to lure the unwary academic to his doom. For Hope, the seeming plausibility of the character is designed to mislead, drawing earnest ‘professors’ into taking the poems seriously – and thus making fools of them when it is revealed that the poems are in fact satire. This, according to Hope, has been the fate of Dennis Douglas, who used psychoanalytic theory to analyse Professor Eisenbart in an article in Quadrant. But even as he chortles over Douglas’s fate, and his own superior perspicacity, Hope himself is becoming ensnared. Though he has not been made to look foolish, like Douglas, he has been ‘captured’ by the virtuosity of the poems, which for him improve upon Shakespeare (232). He has been seduced by the poems’ satirical portrait of a character not entirely removed from the world Hope himself inhabits.

Whether or not this was a specific strategy on Harwood’s part, it seems clear that one of her goals during the long period in which she was trying to establish herself in the Australian literary scene was to win Hope’s approval. She admired him enormously – ‘I adore the poet who wrote “Imperial Adam”, “The Return of Persephone”, “The Lamp and the Jar”’ (SS 78) – and was excited to meet him when he visited Hobart in 1959, though bitterly disappointed to find that he had read none of her work. In a letter, she writes that at a party, she managed to get him to herself ‘for a minute & told him in ravishing tones how I loved his poetry [. . .] Bill thought he might snap under my assault’ (SS 78). When he wrote a few weeks later, supporting her plans for a book and expressing interest in her Eisenbart poems, among other things, she was thrilled: ‘I said to myself, I’m not a bit excited, really, but I’ll write & tell Tony – AND FOUND MYSELF TRYING TO INSERT A SHEET OF PAPER IN THE SEWING MACHINE’ (SS 80). She included the entire text of Hope’s letter in her missive to Riddell, adding that ‘it is something to have this letter after years of feeling that I might as well have dropped the poems in bottles off the Hobart Bridge’ (SS 81). Less than two months later, she tells Riddell that she is ‘gradually getting more confidence in [her] own work’: ‘I didn’t think I ever should, with such a long history of rejections and editorial insults; but I see that I shall improve if I can stand the delays of publishing’ (SS 82).

After this promising start, her correspondence with Hope seems to have lapsed for a year or so, and in 1960, her fury at her low standing among editors and critics intensified. When Hope was announced as the editor of the 1960 Australian Poetry anthology, she sent him some of her published poems for consideration, because ‘there is no evidence that Hope the Dope reads anything’ (SS 90). Despite his earlier encouragement of her, she was expecting the worst. Referring to the ‘arrogance’ of another editor, she writes: ‘I realise that I am just waiting for similar treatment from A. D. Hope [. . .]. I fully expect it – not inclusion, I mean arrogance or indifference’ (SS 91). In fact, Hope did include her work, choosing an Eisenbart poem, ‘Prize-Giving’, for the anthology (SS 100). Not only that, but he wrote to her early in 1961 to tell her he was writing an article on her for Meanjin, and when he next came to Hobart, he sought her out. This was not the result of her charm offensive – or not entirely. Once she had drawn Hope’s attention to him, Professor Eisenbart had done much of her work for her. Soon after reading her poetry for the first time, Hope wrote to her: ‘I suspect that Professor Eisenbart has a fuller biography – I hope so [. . .]. I was particularly delighted with Ganymede [. . .]. I thought of Palmström – But this is better than anything Christian Morgenstern ever did in that line’.31 Morgenstern was a comic and/or satiric writer, compared at the time to Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, whose character Palmström seems to have been a figure of fun. Hope himself was at that time considered a satirist,32 so his discovery of an Australian poet who had created her own satirical character was particularly likely to pique his interest.

Hope was also arrested – and perhaps beguiled – by the sense that the satire was partly directed at him. In a letter of 2 May 1961, he writes that after reading through all the Eisenbart poems at once, he felt himself to be haunted by ‘that powerful personality’: ‘Eisenbart has got hold of me in a most uncanny way. He was in my dreams all last night playing a horrible Doppelgänger game with me and I woke up saying “Du Eisenbart, Du bleiche geselle!”’33 He was fully aware, that is, that Eisenbart was potentially his own double – and anxious to show that he took the satire in good part.34 Though he may have been ‘terrified’ by Harwood’s acuity, he was also delighted by her playfulness. In his letters, he plunges joyfully into her world of pseudonyms, acrostics and jokes, urging her at one point to ‘have a party for your selves and invite me. You can introduce me as “die ur-persönlichkeit” [the ur personality]. None of the others will know any better. But then who would you be?’35 Early in 1962 he writes to ask if she is ‘still the people you were, or have some new ones joined the party?’36 He even takes on something of her Eisenbartian rage, offering to send Angus & Robertson – who were delaying publication of her first book – a bomb on her behalf ‘in the form of a musical box that plays: “Good morning, Mr Ferguson! Love from Gwen” and then blows up the joint’: ‘You only have to say the word.’37 Despite his ‘terror’ of her – or perhaps because of it – he had well and truly fallen into the ‘professor-trap’: Harwood had won both his attention and his approval.

Hope was not the only ‘professor’ to be intrigued by Eisenbart. Buckley was also attracted by Harwood’s satiric creation, writing to Harwood soon after they met in 1961 that ‘Eisenbart is not only a fine dramatic comic invention who can be contemplated in himself, he is also an anti-self whose invention enables you to approach your enduring concerns from another angle’.38 He adds that he doesn’t know ‘any other modern poet who has successfully created a poetic sub-world of this sort by these means’. His comments were part of a commentary he sent her on the draft manuscript of her first book, upon which he heaped high praise: ‘the finest poems in it have such a passionate toughness in defining their passionate longing that I carry them within myself as one of those rare modern examples of what poetry can be. In fact, I find these poems of yours an inspiration’. Though Harwood had never been an admirer of Buckley’s verse in the way she had of Hope’s and McAuley’s, these words must have been enormously satisfying. Back in 1957, Buckley had criticised her poems in a review of Australian Poetry 1957, and she had not forgiven him. More than thirty years later, long after she and Buckley had become friends and allies, she remembered the exact terms in which he had attacked her, telling Jenny Digby in an interview that he ‘said of me that I was “muddled and derivate” and I thought you’ll eat that, you are going to’ (‘Evanescent Things’ 49).39 Now, he had. Long a target of her fierce fury, the ‘scapular-bedecked knowall’, as she dubbed him, following Hal Porter, ‘completely captivated’ her when they met in 1961 (SS 125). A full-on ‘assault’, such as she had tried with Hope, was not necessary: following Hope’s lead, Buckley had already decided he liked her poems, and would soon find that he liked her.40

According to Thomas Shapcott, part of Buckley’s motivation in championing Harwood was to oust Judith Wright, a female poet who hailed, as Harwood originally did, from Queensland, and was held in ‘great reverence’ (112). But, he goes on, it was her Eisenbart poems, along with the later Kröte works, which ‘helped to establish Gwen Harwood’s reputation’ (113). In the male-dominated literary world of the 1950s and 1960s, it is not surprising that a male character – particularly a ‘complex and savage lecher and thinker’, as Shapcott describes Eisenbart (113) – would grab attention. It is still less surprising that a portrait of a fictional professor would intrigue his real-life counterparts, particularly when that portrait was drawn in poems of formal sophistication and technical virtuosity. That the poems appeared under a female signature would also have been arresting. They are daring poems for a woman of that era to write, with their talk of mistresses and lust and corrupting young boys. Reviewers of Harwood’s first book, in which the entire Eisenbart sequence appears, are almost unanimous in singling out these poems for praise as both satirical and cerebral. Evan Jones, for instance, in his review in Prospect, praises ‘the highly intellectual character’ of Professor Eisenbart (27), while Peter Jeffery in Westerly writes that the Eisenbart series reveals ‘the cynical but human responses of an intellectual to the ideal and the real’ (57), and Flexmore Hudson in Australian Book Review declares himself ‘personally attracted to the “Professor Eisenbart” sequence’, in which ‘the poet makes many passionately-stated comments of the earlier lyrics in precise, dry and astringent verse’ (134). Similarly, S.E. Lee in Southerly declares the Eisenbart poems ‘quite sui generis; they are rather cruel, these poems, and have a strange sardonic flavour’ (132).

For these reviewers, complexity, precision, dryness, astringency, and even cruelty and cynicism are literary virtues. They are also, of course, qualities associated with the masculine, and opposed to the feminine, in Western patriarchy. Nothing could be further from the ‘domestic’ realm then associated with women. As Digby writes, poetry in the mid-twentieth-century in Australia was ‘very much a man’s world’ in which ‘Intellect and objectivity were the highly regarded attributes of writing’ (‘Bridging’ 57). Susan Sheridan notes that the critique of ‘women in their gender-specific roles’ – that is as mothers and ‘housewives’ – in the 1950s and 1960s meant that ‘Women writers and artists who sought to establish their credibility in this atmosphere had to disassociate their art from their own suburban existence, and embrace a modernity that took no account of domestic life’ (‘Suburban Sonnets’ 144). In the Eisenbart poems, Harwood inhabited this seemingly non-domestic modernity so effectively that her critics could find no contaminating trace of the feminine in these works.

In this sense, then, Harwood was showing the ‘professors’ that she could meet them – and beat them – on their own ground, and they welcomed her into the fold. Buckley’s support, in particular, was crucial for Harwood’s career. From 1960 on, as editor first of Prospect and then of the Bulletin’s literary pages, he published many of her poems. He also publicly championed her in his Commonwealth Literary Fund lectures in 1963, declaring her to be ‘one of the outstanding poets in Australia’ (112). Hope, too, became her champion in the public sphere,41 and their support seems to have stimulated their friend McAuley’s interest in her, too42 – though after McAuley moved to Hobart in 1961 to join the University of Tasmania, he was soon in regular contact with her himself. As with Buckley, Harwood was charmed by McAuley when she met him in person, though she had often seethed at his editorial rejections of her poetry. Like Hope and Buckley, McAuley proved a powerful friend. As Sheridan points out, it was McAuley who elicited from Angus and Robertson a promise to publish her first book (Nine Lives 175), and in his capacity as editor of Quadrant, he went on to publish many of Harwood’s poems. He also repeatedly pressed her to ‘do reviewing for him, or write articles’, though she refused: ‘I have so little time that I just won’t waste it on second-rate prose performances’ (SS 138). Though Harwood’s relationship with the ‘professors’ of the Australian literary establishment – Hope, Buckley and McAuley – would always be somewhat ambivalent, there is little doubt that from 1960 on, they accepted her as one of themselves, and it is from this that her supposedly ‘easy’ success flowed. In this, Professor Eisenbart played a crucial role.

Hoddinott writes that the poet was ‘finished with Eisenbart’ by 1961, and that Harwood told her in 1982 that she would never return to Eisenbart because ‘it would be impossible to recapture the manner of those early poems and, in particular, the special kind of pressure and force that went into Eisenbart’s creation’ (Gwen Harwood 126).43 Harwood apparently did not elaborate on the nature of that ‘pressure and force’, but I have speculated here that it was two-fold: her largely negative engagement with the philosophy of logical positivism and the men of authority who promoted it; and her fury over what she saw as her unwarranted exclusion from the Australian literary world. Her sense of the oppressive and potentially destructive nature of logical positivism is given clear expression in the Eisenbart poems, as is her determined disruption of its dominant narratives. Her anger – at the incompetence of the ‘professors’, at the constant implication that her voice was not needed and her work not valued, at the very idea that her unique experience could be replicated or rendered redundant by a poetry-writing machine – finds its correlative, humorous, distanced and ironic as it is, in Eisenbart himself. Eisenbart’s success with the ‘professors’ mitigated both the fear and the fury, and fatally weakened the ‘pressure and force’ that had sustained his creation.

In any case, once she had taken what she felt to be her rightful place in the Australian literary scene, she had no more use for him. She no longer needed her scornful, excoriating alter-ego academic to catch the eye of the real-life professors. She had their attention, and her personal relationships with them – not to mention a stream of Sappho cards and the threat, regularly renewed, of a new hoax – would ensure she never lost it. More importantly, perhaps, now that she was getting to know her professors, moving in their circles, and developing strong and enduring friendships with them, she was no longer able to caricature them with such confidence. Certainly, when she came to create her next professor, the musician Kröte, she would be far gentler. As Hoddinott argues, Harwood appears to have much more ‘identification and sympathy’ for Kröte, who is, as many critics have noted (for example, Lawson, Poetry 32), more ‘lovable’ than Eisenbart (Gwen Harwood 128). Kröte has his problems – alcoholism, alienation – but he stays true to his artistic ideals, and though he loathes the conventionality and banality of the society in which he must work, he does not seek, like Eisenbart, to destroy it.

It would be misleading to suggest that after 1961, Harwood settled down with her professors to live happily ever after. Despite her sometimes rapturous accounts of them in both letters and poems, she still had her rages and disillusionments, and she still found the ‘littery world too awful’ from time to time.44 In his book on poetry communities in twentieth-century New York, Andrew Epstein cites Emerson’s view of ‘true friendship’ as ‘a wonderful yet confounding contradiction. It is a maddening bundle of opposites – a mix of attraction and repulsion, allegiance and enmity, part blessing, part albatross’ (3). This seems a perfect description of Harwood’s experience with her poet-professor friends. But certainly part of the ‘blessing’ of these friendships was the support they gave her in her efforts to consolidate her place in the Australian poetry community – which, in turn, facilitated the key role she would go on to play as colleague, mentor and agent provocateur on the Australian literary scene. In the development of these friendships, Eisenbart was central. Through him, Harwood was able to turn frustration and anger into powerful poetry, and powerful poetry into literary success.


  1. Gwen Harwood, letter to John Beston, 26 Oct. 1973, Box 6, Folder 15, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  2. A. D. Hope, letter to Harwood, 2 May 1961, Box 2, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  3. Subsequent quotations from Kratzmann’s edition of Harwood’s letters, A Steady Storm of Correspondence, will be cited in-text as SS.

  4. Evan Jones’s characterisation of the poems in a 1964 review (27).

  5. Strauss accepts Harwood’s own assertion that her ‘commitment to mothering’ had entailed ‘the conscious suspension of an equal commitment to poetry, or at least to the publishing thereof’, concluding that though Harwood may have been writing while her children were young, she did not then try to publish (20). Similarly, Trigg writes that Harwood’s career ‘as a published poet’ did not begin in earnest ‘until the late fifties’: ‘It seems that she made a conscious decision not to pursue the publication of her writing in the public sphere, though she was reading voraciously, and writing whenever she could, at this time’ (12).

  6. There are few extant Harwood letters from the period 1945–1954, and rejected poems do not seem to leave an archival trace.

  7. A 1949 letter to Christesen in the Meanjin archive from one of his readers, Elisabeth Vassilieff, suggests that Harwood submitted a number of poems to Meanjin around this time, of which only one, ‘Water-Music’, was published: in recommending that Christesen accept ‘Water-Music’, Vassilieff opines that it is ‘much better than the other two I saw before – not so wholly derivative’. A note on Harwood’s manuscript of ‘Water-Music’ asks Christesen to return the two poems she sent ‘in October & January’ (2005.0004 Part 1, Box No. 340, Vassilieff, Elizabeth: The University of Melbourne Archives). It seems likely that the poems published in Southerly and the Bulletin were also the best of a larger sample. Kratzmann says that Harwood destroyed most of the poems she wrote when her children were small ‘because she didn’t think they were good enough’ (SS 40).

  8. This poem, she explains, was rejected by Meanjin, accepted by Southerly but then returned, and accepted by Australian Signpost but never published. It finally appeared in Prospect in 1961 under the title ‘Guardian’.

  9. Gwen Harwood, letter to Tony Riddell , 2 Nov. 1956, Box 7, Folder 9, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  10. Gwen Harwood, letter to Tony Riddell, 27 Nov. 1959, Box 7, Folder 12, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  11. Harwood liked to tell the story of how, when Hal Porter was introduced to her by her friend Ann Jennings, most likely in 1946 or 1947, he already knew she wrote poetry, and accordingly expected to meet ‘a bead-hung vampire’ (see Harwood, ‘The Poetry’; Baker 150; Kratzmann 39).

  12. Gwen Harwood, letter to Tom Shapcott, 7 July 1964, Box 1, Folder 1, Papers of Thomas Shapcott.

  13. Gwen Harwood, letter to Tony Riddell, 6 Sept. 1961, Box 7, Folder 14, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  14. Gwen Harwood, letter to Edwin Tanner, 20 Feb. 1961, Box 6, Folder 21, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994. McAuley attacked her poems in a Sydney Morning Herald review of Australian Poetry 1957.

  15. Gwen Harwood, letter to Tony Riddell, 2 Nov. 1959, Box 7, Folder 12, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  16. Gwen Harwood, letter to Tony Riddell, 9 Nov. 1959, Box 7, Folder 12, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  17. Gwen Harwood, letter to Edwin Tanner, 1957 or 1958, Box 6, Folder 21, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  18. Gwen Harwood, letter to Vincent Buckley, 26 Sept. 1961, Series 1, Folder 1, Papers of Vincent Buckley. The poem was ‘Missa Papae Marcelli’, first published in Meanjin in 1946.

  19. Alison Hoddinott, who first met Harwood in 1952, thinks she remembers Harwood showing her ‘some of the first versions of the Eisenbart poems’ between 1952 and 1954 though she does emphasise that she does not entirely trust her memory on this point (‘Celebrating’ 21).

  20. Harwood identifies this as the first Eisenbart poem in a letter to Vivian Smith, 25 Nov. 1959, Series 2, File 42, Papers of Vivian Smith. If it is, then its composition must have pre-dated ‘Daybreak’, which was sent to Meanjin in 1955, though it did not appear until 1956.

  21. The poem is enclosed with a letter Harwood sent to her friend Ann Jennings in Oct. 1956. Gwen Harwood, Letters to Ann Jennings 1956–1995.

  22. ‘Boundary Conditions’ is included in a letter to Tony Riddell dated 26 Apr. 1957 (Box 7, Folder 10, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994), and ‘Group from Tartarus’ in a letter of 8 Sept. 1958 (Box 7, Folder 11, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994); ‘Prize-Giving’ is referred to in a letter to Vivian Smith 1 Dec. 1958 (Series 2, File 42, Papers of Vivian Smith); ‘Professor Eisenbart’s Evening’ seems to be the poem referred to in letters to Tanner from 1959 (SS 79–80) and 1960 (Box 6, Folder 21, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994) as having been accepted by Australian Letters in July 1958, but subsequently rejected.

  23. Harwood did write two other Eisenbart poems, but neither were a part of the original group: ‘Fuse Lighting’ was a parody of the Eisenbart poems written as part of her parody version of Australian Poetry 1961, and published in Westerly in 1963 (Harwood, Collected Poems 193); ‘The Death of Eisenbart’ was written in 1991 ‘to please Syd Harrex’ (letter to Alison Hoddinott, 8 Jan. 1992, Box 1, Acc 050824, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.)

  24. There has been some critical debate about whether the school girl of ‘Prize-Giving’ is the ‘mistress’ of the other poems (see Hoddinott, Gwen Harwood 118). Harwood herself seems to have intended that she was, writing to Vivian Smith in 1958 that she was currently working on a new Eisenbart poem in which ‘he meets his mistress at a girls’ school speech night’ (1 Dec. 1958, Series 2, File 41, Papers of Vivian Smith.)

  25. See interview with Barbara Williams, p.56.

  26. See, for example, her interview with Stephen Edgar, and her 1957 letter to Tony Riddell (SS 57).

  27. Bill’s stance was well known among his friends and colleagues. One of the couple’s friends, Peter Bennie, wrote to Gwen in 1963 begging to know ‘who is Prof Eisenbart?’: ‘A masculine protest? Bill?’ (8 May, 1963, Box 1, Folder 3, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994). In 1991 he wrote that ‘Bill, like me & Tony was brought up on romantic poetry. He seems to have reacted to it […] with a total revulsion that lasted 30 years’ (4 June, 1991, Box 18, Folder 2, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994).

  28. In a letter to Vivian Smith 12 Apr. 1959, she jokingly sets an exam question, strictly for Honours students: ‘Is Eisenbart really a nuclear physicist, or is he mad [. . .]. Who knows?’ (Series 2, File 41, Papers of Vivian Smith).

  29. Gwen Harwood, letter to Edwin Tanner, 26 May 1958, Box 6, Folder 20, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  30. Vincent Buckley, letter to Gwen Harwood, 26 Aug. 1961, Box 1, Folder 6, Papers of Vincent Buckley.

  31. A.D. Hope. Letter to Gwen Harwood, 15 Sept. 1959, Box 2, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994. This letter is reproduced in SS (80).

  32. Hope’s first volume, The Wandering Islands, contained a number of satirical poems, and in an article in Australian Letters in 1957, John Tregenza refers to ‘the satirist A.D. Hope’ (30).

  33. A. D. Hope, letter to Gwen Harwood, 2 May 1961, Box 2, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994. Hope identifies the German words as a line from Heine, which translates as: ‘You pale journeyman.’

  34. Arguably, Hope took the identification further than Harwood could have intended. When Harwood sent him a Sappho card with a ‘portrait’ of Eisenbart that did not live up to Hope’s ideal, he expressed his horror in verse:

    Dearest Poet, Sweetest Chuck,\ Multiplex and Protean Bard!\ Re your Latest Sappho-card,\ What’s got into you, my duck?

    Naked sconce, horrendous chin,\ Eisenbart, can this be he?

    [. . .] (27 June 1969, Box 2, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  35. A.D. Hope, letter to Gwen Harwood, 20 Sept. 1961, Box 2, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  36. A.D. Hope, letter to Gwen Harwood, 22 Jan. 1962, Box 2, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  37. A.D. Hope, letter to Gwen Harwood, 30 Oct. 1962, Box 2, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  38. Vincent Buckley, letter to Gwen Harwood, 26 Aug. 1961, Box 1, Folder 6, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

  39. His critical comment was one of the main reasons Harwood added Buckley to her ‘hit-list’. In 1959, she jokingly pondered in a letter to Vivian Smith whether she could ‘get a few poisoned beads introduced into his chaplet’ (SS 68).

  40. According to Kratzmann, both Hope and McAuley prompted Buckley to write to Harwood (SS 41). In his first letter to Harwood, Buckley declares that he wants to meet her ‘because you are such a fine poet of a sort Australia has needed for a long time’ (3 May 1961, Box 1, Folder 6, Papers of Vincent Buckley).

  41. For instance, in 1961 Harwood proudly reported that Hope had said on television ‘that Meanjin was to be praised for publishing the works of Gwen Harwood, regarded as a fine poet in Australia’ (SS 114). Sheridan notes that Hope wrote of Harwood in a 1963 pamphlet that she was ‘One of the most interesting poets to emerge in this decade’, citing in particular her ‘comic apocalypse of characters, centring on the fabulous Professor Eisenbart’ (Nine Lives 175).

  42. In his memoir, Cutting Green Hay, Buckley does say that even after McAuley met Harwood, it took him ‘years to appreciate her poetry fully’ (172). But certainly McAuley published Harwood’s poems regularly in Quadrant throughout the 1960s.

  43. As noted earlier, Harwood did in fact write one final Eisenbart poem, in 1991.

  44. Gwen Harwood, letter to Edwin Tanner, 5 Sept. 1961, Box 6, Folder 21, Gwen Harwood, Papers 1919–1994.

Published 26 February 2017 in Volume 32, No. 1. Subjects: Australian Women Poets, Australian poetry, Gwen Harwood.

Cite as: Priest, Ann-Marie. ‘‘Having Fun with the Professors’: Gwen Harwood and Doctor Eisenbart.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, 2017. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.14734bc905.