‘The Folds of Unseen Linen’: The Fabric of Rosemary Dobson’s Poetry

In 1994, Rosemary Dobson celebrated fifty years of publishing poetry, a rarely achieved distinction. Over that fifty years, she has produced many volumes.' She has also been an editor of anthologies and, with David Campbell, published 'imitations' of a series of Russian poets in the volumes Moscow Trefoil (1975) and Seven Russian Poets (1979).

Dobson was awarded the Christopher Brennan Award in 1979 and the Patrick White Literary Award in 1984 and is highly regarded in the literary community, rubbing shoulders as she does with such other recipients of these awards as Judith Wright, A.D. Hope, Gwen Harwood, Francis Webb, James McAuley and David Campbell. Yet there is surprisingly little sustained scholarly criticism of her work, and what is available tends to concentrate either on notions of linear development within her work, or on matters of content rather than poetics. Even while most critics acknowledge and indeed emphasise what is continuing and distinctive in Dobson's poetry, such as her 'steady perception' (Mitchell 12), her 'lucid order' and 'contemplative serene' (Hope 11), this appreciation of what continues in Dobson's work is generally outweighed by a perceived linear development. In at least two cases, that of Mitchell and of Brady, the experience of maternity is seen as a crucial point of development - from immature to mature poetry in the case of Mitchell, and from a poetry of 'lack' to one of 'voice' in Brady. There are obvious ideological questions raised by assessments which intentionally or coincidentally see the poetry of a single, childless woman as immature, with the 'maturity' bestowed by entry into patriarchally sanctioned categories such as 'wife' and 'mother' validating not only Dobson's identity as woman, but also as poet.

I want to argue that a sustained reading of Dobson's work leads to the conviction that 'progress', linear change, and the sense of 'turning point' (Brady 113) - whether that of maternity or some other experience - are not its most noteworthy features, or rather that the valorisation and foregrounding of linear development may obscure other equally important characteristics, such as return, reworking, and a poetic which draws together many threads, some previously used, to weave a rich epistemological fabric.

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Published 1 May 1995 in Volume 17 No. 1. Subjects: Creativity, Imagery, Metaphors, Poetic techniques.

Cite as: Ayres, Marie-Louise. ‘‘The Folds of Unseen Linen’: The Fabric of Rosemary Dobson’s Poetry.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, 1995. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.2fbb0f31b1.