At first I thought my life was fucked, then I read Gwen Harwood’s poetry.
Do I have a failed marriage? Nope. Am I emotionally unstable? Well, maybe, but that’s beside the point. Am I a single mother regretting her life choices? Not that I know of. Heck, I haven’t burnt milk onto a pan in months! But shit, when it comes to the representation of the depressing life of single mothers in the 1960s Gwen’s got it going on, to the point where I’m considering ripping out my uterus, growing a beard and warning Caitlyn Jenner of her drastic mistake, you know besides her kids, it’s too late to undo them.
Gwen starts off her poem “in the park” with flying, demeaning, colours. The first line of stanza one being “she sits in the park, her clothes are out of date. This repetition of setting, from the title, giving the woman less importance than the park she sits in. That and her clothes are ratchet AF. The woman has no money nor time to be worrying about appearances or keeping up with fashion trends, with little personal time for herself, a common struggle for single mothers.
But wait…there’s more! Not only is she unimportant and unfashionable but her children are unintelligent and demanding! What a deal! This is shown through lines two and three of stanza one. “Two children whine and bicker. Tug at her skirt” the children are described based on their unpleasant behaviour, foreshadowing their negative relationship with the mother. “A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt” now, if they were intricate patterns or even a shitty picture of a basic ass house next to a stick figure family, with a strangely proportioned sun in the corner (we’ve all drawn this, don’t lie to yourself) then this kid could be alright, but alas the reality is he’s “aimlessly” playing with dirt. Dirt that was most likely passed through a worn at some point in time. His drawings are literally shit. Welcome to parenthood! Have fun with your needy crap handlers :).
And even worse still she has no one (besides the needy crap handlers) to confide in. The woman is depicted as so lonely and insignificant that she talks to the elements, but not in a cool avatar sort of way (sorry Aang). “To the wind she says, they have eaten me alive” now before you go all Hannibal Lecter on me let’s look at this metaphorically. The children have stripped her of her identity, hope and life. A figurative consumption of self and motivation. Harwood uses a similar tactic in her poem “Suburban Sonnet”. “The children caper round a spring mouse trap where a mouse lies dead” the mouse symbolises the mother, trapped in her role as mother with a figurative death of individuality, her children stand around unable to help.
Cleverly, Harwood opens the first stanza with an intricate metaphor “she practices a fugue, though it can matter to no one now whether she plays it well or not”. When “fugue” is defined both meanings can be applied to the text.
- A musical composition in two or more voices that is built on imitation.
- A psychological state pertaining a loss of one’s identity.
The second definition, being the more obvious of the two, can be linked to the negative influence of her children, as Harwood makes it abundantly clear that If you have kids your life surely go to shit. The first can be interpreted as a representation of her struggles to fill both position of mother and father for her children. “Two or more voices” being the typical mother/father parenting combo of the 1960s, her attempt at filling both roles is “built on imitation” of society’s standards. A metaphor within a metaphor…its…Lit-ception
And there it is, motherhood according to Gwen Harwood is no walk in the park (see what I did there? I know I hate me too.). So are you reaching to rip off your boobs in a drastic attempt to save yourself from these gender roles? Or are you brave enough to walk, in the park, in someone else’s shoes?
Find Gwen’s poems here:
“In the park”: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/in-the-park-5/
“Suburban Sonnet”: http://genius.com/Gwen-harwood-suburban-sonnet-annotated
Gwen Harwood accurately represented the negative gender roles of the 1960s and furthermore the struggle of women throughout society still to this day. The following piece is a Sonnet I have written using her style to represent modern gender stereotypes and their continuity from the mid 1900s.
In the dark.
She sits up in bed, awake not alive.
Through cracked plaster a small child wails.
Digital dictation ticks over to five as once more
She comforts him with shaky hands and cracked nails.
Despot acid green burns through visual blur.
She collapses, springs, foam and stinging eyes
Wishing to dream, to go back to how things were
Before he consumed her with romantic lies
And empty embraces that would drain
her existence into the full time job of “mother”.
Her uniform or dark crescents and stains
The markings of a mandatory lover.
She drifts, into a golden illusion. “I could survive”
Until cries echo through her, and eat her dreams alive.