Harrison, Jennifer 1955-
HARRISON, Jennifer 1955-
PERSONAL: Born 1955.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Black Pepper Publishing, 403 St. Georges Rd., Fitzroy North, Victoria 3068, Australia.
AWARDS, HONORS: Anne Elder Award, 1995, for Michelangelo's Prisoners.
Michelangelo's Prisoners (poems), Black Pepper (North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia), 1994.
(With Graham Henderson, K. F. Pearson, and Catherine Hassell) Mosaics & Mirrors: Composite Poems, Black Pepper (North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia), 1995.
Cabramatta/Cudmirrah (poems), Black Pepper (North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia), 1996.
Dear B (poems), Black Pepper (North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia), 1998.
(Editor, with Phil Ilton) Said the Rat! Writers at theWater Rat!, Black Pepper (North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Australian poet Jennifer Harrison began her writing career auspiciously when she won the Anne Elder Award in 1995 for her first collection of poetry, Michelangelo's Prisoners. Since then, she has built a solid reputation as a "sensitive, likeable poet," as Peter Rose characterized her in the Australian Book Review. Harrison's verses often reflect on her childhood in 1950s and 1960s Australia. Although her work has a very personal cast to it that Rose described as "modest, peripheral, domestic," it also manages to convey "public connotations."
Harrison's collections typically combine sequences—series of related poems—with shorter verses. Examples of the former are clearly evident in her collection Cabramatta/Cudmirrah, in which the book is split into two sections delineating different parts of Harrison's childhood. Peter Rose, who called this collection "as impressive as the first," said it occasionally reminded him of the work of Judith Wright. Harrison's poems often have an undertone of sadness and never pretend to resolve the misfortunes experienced in life, and neither is there anything "romantic or redemptive," as Rose pointed out. "In the end," Rose maintained in his analysis of Cabramatta/Cudmirrah, "Harrison's poetry impresses with its intelligence and its containment. There is something admirably modest and poised about this personal but clear-eyed cycle of poems."
Of her more recent work, Dear B, Rose noted the pleasingly peripatetic nature of the collection. Here, Harrison assumes the voices of a variety of characters as she touches on subjects ranging from memories of her mother to cancer. The title poem is another of Harrison's sequences in which the premise involves the poet writing letters to her lover as she travels the country. "The sequence's concern with the self's otherness relies on continual[ly] splitting that self off from what is identified with the self," related Greg McLaren in Southerly. Fragmenting these two aspects of the self is accomplished by the fragmenting of the sequence into shorter poems. "Collecting these fragments of poetry and memory together counts as a bringing together and acknowledgment of the disparate parts which make up the self—the past, those who one loves and has loved, the places one has been," McLaren explained. These very personal reflections in Harrison's poems combine with what Rose described as "her fatalism, her isolation, and her openness to both," resulting in a new "distinctive and questioning voice" for Australia's literature.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Australian Book Review, February-March, 1997, Peter Rose, "Drifting in the Margins," p. 44; July, 1999, Peter Rose, "Public Connotations," pp. 35-36.
Southerly, spring-summer, 1999, Greg McLaren, "I Think I Must Write This Down," p. 403.*