Nationality: Australian. Born: Caroline Mavis Rumple, Perth, Western Australia, 20 January 1944. Education: Received high school diploma of dental nursing. Family: Married Daniel C. Caddy in 1965 (died 1972); one son and one daughter. Career: Dental nurse, Perth, 1960–65. Since 1965 self-employed in farming, teaching writing workshops, and working at clerical jobs. Awards: Western Australian Literary Week award, 1991, for Beach Plastic; National Book Council Banjo Patterson award, and Phillips Fox Turnbull award, 1992, for Conquistadors.Address: 709/34 Wentworth Street, Glebe, New South Wales 2037, Australia.
Singing at Night. Perth, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1981.
Letters from the North. Perth, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1984.
Beach Plastic. Perth, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1990.
Conquistadors. Perth, Penguin Australia, 1991.
Bushnights: Poems & Photos. Beaumaris, Victoria, Lichtbild, 1994.
Antarctica: Poems. South Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1996.
Working Temple: Poems. South Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1997.
Editing the Moon. Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1999.*
Caroline Caddy comments:
My need to be able to read my work aloud to my own satisfaction was a big impetus to my development as a poet. Although I knew I had achieved the poem on the page, I felt it was not complete unless I could read to an audience and have my voice come off the page, the script to translate truly into sound. It was not till I had begun to work in the form and pacing of my later books, Beach Plastic being transitional, that I felt able to "voice" my poetry.
Some of my later poems, especially in Conquistadors, have been seen by critics as obscure or difficult. I believe that the imagery used should not be private to the poet and aim in my work for the universal or the universal embedded in the idiosyncratic. No, no, I hear you say, not the dreaded word "symbol." Sometimes I feel I am trying to steer my poetry around the dreaded word and come up with a silhouette of sight, smell, and touch like those popular 3-D pictures that you have to go into a brown study to see.
My latest books, drawn from time spent in Antarctica and China, are more easily accessed, with many of the poems close to what I would call lyric essays.* * *
The Western Australian poet Caroline Caddy has had a slow rise to national visibility. This is perhaps partly owing to a childhood spent in the United States and to country jobs and a country address in Australia since then.
Singing at Night announces Caddy's interest in different traditions (Japanese, Chinese, Tarzan after the jungle) and her tendency to look for a structure, a larger grouping (the title sequence of eight poems). Although "The Lions of Ghir" is perhaps the best early poem, the short poem "Rain," with its flexible phrasing and scattered layout between the two margins of the column of print, points the way to her later work.
Caddy finds voices in Letters from the North. The title sequence, about the rough life of mining workers and the isolation of their families in corporation towns of the northwestern Australian desert, consists of the abrupt, sometimes banal remarks—verbal jottings—of a colloquial voice. Another sequence, "A Member of the Tribe," sketches seven deprived lives as monologue "testaments" in the mode of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology. The distance between the dialect of the North Americans of Masters's work and the Australian voices of Caddy's sequence is an impressive measure of her skill.
Beach Plastic, like all of Caddy's books spanning a wide range of interests, is nonetheless keyed to her knowledge of bushland and of the coast of southwestern Australia. In this book she definitively claims the constraints and liberties of the columnar poem: both margins are justified, and both long and short lines are placed within the column, with some free at either end and others stayed at the margin. In her early work Caddy insisted on the exact placing of the lines and letters to conform with her typescript, to the point of demanding a typewriter font, for its equal letter spaces, in her fourth book.
Not just the form she has developed but also a restless ingenuity with language guarantee the energy of Caddy's voice, as in "Fire 3":
Down one side of the house
piston backs hoe a wall of flame
filling buckets and can't helping it
make aghast in my own head
lines of poetry
Now I've had it!
Three trees fall at my presumption.
Away from the house! Who's got who licked.
Negative negative We have lift-off
and the whole hill erupts
phlogists our backs our necks—
shoulders imp with ash-sting
and the sun
IS GONE …
Oh Wiz Oh Witcher hear me cry
bring back the light!
no! no! not this that …
–the Heavenly Disc–(whispered).
Doctrine, desire, and the powers in one's life occupy Caddy in several of the poems of Conquistadors, winner of the Phillips Fox Turnbull national award for poetry. Her travels to Antarctica and China are reflected in three later collections, Antarctica (1996), Working Temple (1997), and Editing the Moon (1999).
Despite the verbal and vocal virtuosity of Caddy's work and despite her effectiveness as a reader, she is rarely scheduled to perform. Her writing, too, may seem arcane if the reader opens it with the idea of merely being entertained. She is a poet with ambitious projects whose time is perhaps yet to come. Quite apart from the riches of what Caddy observes and has to say, her stubborn labor to control her own responsive form will not go out of fashion and has remained a defining point in her work.