Sonnet Wars: Episode V – Gwen Harwood Strikes Back

Harwood uses the persona of a single mum is used to demonstrate how cultural conditioning lock women into parenting responsibilities. They also suggest that she sees her children as parasites to be loathed rather than cherished (She surprisingly had kids). Compared the naturalised views in the 1960’s of Australia and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale glorified view of children. For the purpose of this blog, the three sonnets that will be analysed including: Suburban Sonnet, Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day and In The Park. The form of a sonnet set up the reader (that knows what sonnet is… ) to foreshadow a story of love. Not the anaesthetic humdrum life of single parent. Sonnets are meant the stuffs of love, the porn of poetry some may say, except without adverts of “Hot single mums in your area” or in Gwen Harwood case “Single mums, in a park near you.”



Is this boring?


After reading the tiles of the sonnets being analysed in this blog. You may be thinking, “Oh how boring!” But maybe this was Harwood’s intention? Say what! (Surprised face emoji) All three sonnets portray the Banality of Motherhood. Harwood explores how children force the mundane domesticity on women. For example, “Framed in the doorway: women with a broom.” The brooms attaches its symbolic connotations of domesticity to the suburban women, further emphasises the dullness of motherhood to the reader. This is also emphasised through abrupt sentences like, “Her veins ache.” Which bring her back to reality of the painful, humdrum domestic life she is trapped in. This depiction was reiterated in final line of Suburban Sonnet, “Tasty dishes from stale bread,” which sums up the “stale” domesticity of her suburban life. Further more, “Rehearsing the children’s names and birthdays. It’s so sweet to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,” the term rehearsing holds connotations false hood and sounds as fake as a two dollar note; in order to make her feel better about herself and justify having children.



The sacrifice of motherhood


Harwood’s passion for music is evident throughout the sonnets, especially Suburban Sonnet, “a wave of nausea overpower subject and counter subject.” The “wave of nausea” can be interpreted as children due to it being a symptom of pregnancy and “subject and counter subject” representing parts of a musical fugue. The reader is positioned to see how her parenting responsibilities outweigh her passion and career in music. This is reinforced in the following stanza, “Once she played for Rubinstein.” By contrasting of once playing a fugue for the famous pianist Arthur Rubinstein, to now playing to her destructive children; emphasises the sacrifice of her musical potential. Also, Harwood clever use of the double entendre “fugue” meaning musical fugue or loss of identity, promotes the reader to see how one must sacrifice one’s identity as a parental responsibility. This ideal of her children being the cause for the loss of her identity is ultimately summed up in the last line of In The Park, “They have eaten me alive.” As in metaphorically eating her identity, passion and enjoyment of life.



Who’s (Where’s) your daddy?


Harwood’s use of poetic devices emphasises the somewhat true gender bias values an attitudes towards parental responsibilities. Where women are obligated the parenting responsibilities while males are not. As a result women have to expectation to drop everything (music career) to be mother, while the male is free from parental responsibilities. “Someone she loved once” leaves with a “departing smile” highlights to the reader that men are not tied to domestic duties like women are and his smile indicates his relief. This demonstrates that she is aware of her ex-lover’s relief at not being trapped in the same family environment. In congruence, the description of the only male in Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day as a “wild boy” connotes his freedom from the domesticity and parental responsibility. Harwood’s portrayal of the double standard of parental responsibility forced on by society is still prominent to this very day.



Now to wrap things up!


Through the use of challenging traditional ideals of sonnet genre Gwen Harwood explores the way cultural conditioning is forcing the mundane aspects of parenting in society onto women. I have attempted to mirror Harwood’ style in my own sonnet below. How the A.T.A.R. system forces the students to the mundane aspects of education, where students have to sacrifice sleep and social life.




Year 12 Sonnet



Day by day, he sits there like clockwork

filling in his autobiography

that is also known as a school diary;

brimming with unmanageable homework


all to be done for the following day.

Faded pen, smudged ink, a crumpled page.

Trying to improve on his percentage.

While motivation attempts to astray


in the countless hours under the globe.

For which he has traded for his sleep

Near books of knowledge for he has to reap.

Staring outside hurts his temporal lobe,


watching his football friends’ departing smile.

Rehearsing to himself, “It will be worthwhile.”


by S.M.








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