Acknowledgement is made to the publications in which some of these poems have previously appeared: Lot's Wife, Luna, Poems in Honour of James McAuley (New Albion Press), Poetry Monash, Poets Australia Catalogue, Waves and Westerly.
‘After a Death’ was awarded equal first prize in the Westerly Sesquicentenary Literary Competition.
Readers will soon identify the qualities in this poetry which make it stand firm. They are courage, sensitivity and dignity. Though these qualities make fine people they do not necessarily make fine poetry. The indispensable fourth quality that I recognise in Jennifer Strauss's poetry is a grace of mind.
These are intelligent contemporary poems, most of them touching on, but not labouring, the predicaments of women who have to face untimely bereavement, unlooked-for responsibility, loneliness. One would anticipate that such poems might be rather lowering to the spirits of the reader. They are not.
Jennifer Strauss can view her own experience steadily, and record with a firm hand the tragedies in the lives of others. In the poem ‘Secretive’ she writes of the girl who
Preferred the casual cruelties of city streets
And walked their Arctic edge of loneliness
Against the thrusts of wind, watching
Beyond unbudded trees the bleached light fade.
and with a kindred sympathy gently guides the reader to share her own informed judgements. In that poem she enjoins:
and this, more than anything else, is the theme and message of her poetry.
Her ‘Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram’ remembers
… a village
Where poverty was white as bone
And the great silences of sea and sky
Parted at dusk for voices coming home …
Jennifer Strauss has disciplined her work into such admirable simplicities. These will evoke a quick response from the reader: so too will the problems she so candidly, and sometimes ruefully, shares with the reader. They are problems common to many, being brought about through love, anxiety, vulnerability, and a willingness to be involved.
Even the poems here that fall below the level of the best are interesting. One cannot doubt this writer's ability to go on turning her responses and observations into poetry, shaping the poetry with intelligence, and informing it with her distinguishing quality of mind.
Rosemary Dobson, 1981
I find it very difficult to talk about myself as a ‘Poet’: everything seems to fall into the language of false pride or false modesty or else an evasive irony that escapes neither. Even in talking about simply writing poems, I'm abashed by the smallness of my output and my lack of an articulated ‘poetics’. I've never been able to produce a finished poem by making up my mind to write a (=any) poem at any particular time, much less by making up my mind to write ‘a sonnet’, ‘in tercets / hexameters / dialogue / heroic handstands.’ I can only write when the idea of a particular poem germinates in experience — usually the kind of experience in which there is some kind of intersection: of feeling and thought; of past, present and speculative time; of particular and type. The ‘idea’ of the poem isn't an idea at all in a philosophical or even discursive sense. It's a kind of dimly perceived shape, and the defining of that shape is a process of discovering as much as of ‘making’.
All my poems are personal; very few are unequivocally autobiographical. Mostly, I write because things disturb (rather than distress). I want to make an order out of that disturbance, which isn't always caused by chaos, obvious dis-order; the wrong kind of order can disturb even more. And the poem doesn't exorcise the original feeling; poems aren't problem-solvers, not even dissolvers.
I write the only kind of poems I can. I admire a great many other kinds.
Jennifer Strauss, 1981
In her poem Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram, Jennifer Strauss explores the concept of unfamiliarity experienced by a migrant woman as a newcomer to Australia, who is trying to make her way and navigate to an unknown destination in the Melbournian suburbs.
The portrayal of the migrant woman ‘hunch[ing] sweltering’ embodies a sense of discomfort and the lack of ease she feels. She is described as having ‘sweating hands’, ‘twist[ing] a scrap of paper’, which articulates the idea of how troubled she is feeling, and the sibilance established by Strauss, ‘she hunches sweltering/twists in sweating hands/a scrap of paper’ further emphasises this as its tonal qualities almost create a threatening and unsettling atmosphere, much as to what the migrant woman may be experiencing. There is also an impression that directions are given to her however she hears them as ‘echo[es]’, denoting her lack in understanding of the English language. Moreover, Strauss’ reference to the woman’s attire in being ‘impossibly black’ highlights her quality of standing out against the crowd and the migrant nature of this, which is further juxtaposed through the woman’s state of being ‘impossibly black’ with the sexualised nature of the ‘impudence of summer thighs/long arms and painted toenails’. This synecdoche may act as a mean to create emphasis on the two contrasting cultures and expose the reader through the notion of the feelings of displacement and complete alienation, which is what the migrant woman may be experiencing.
By using a parenthesis, Strauss conveys an allusion between the stories of the Minotaur with the migrant woman’s life. In accordance to Greek mythology, the Minotaur was found in the centre of an elaborate labyrinth thus, Strauss’ reference to the Minotaur ‘laired in Collingwood/ Abbotsford, Richmond’ articulates the idea of how these places may seem like a place where one can easily become lost, especially coming from another country, much like the Minotaur’s...