Gwen Harwood and female contributors

Letter from Gwen Harwood to Clem Christesen
Letter from Gwen Harwood (as Francis Geyer) to Clem Christensen, 9 May 1962, annotations by Clem Christesen

In a letter dated 5 November 1959, poet and librettist Gwen Harwood wrote to her friend Tony Riddell that she had sent a poem to Meanjinincluding the lines, ‘Words whispering among my boughs / from lovers in the freckled shade’. Her poem was rejected; however, in a later issue of the journal, she chanced upon another that included the lines, ‘But dreams and the freckled shade / have commerce’ - a poem which editor Clem Christesen claimed as his own. Harwood decided to get even by sending Christesen a sonnet titled ‘Abelard to Eloise’ under the false name Walter Lehmann, in which she disguised an anagram, the first letter of each line reading: ‘FUCK ALL EDITORS.’ It is unclear whether Christesen detected the hoax, but he did not print the poem, which would later infamously appear in an issue of the Bulletin, alongside the sonnet ‘Eloise to Abelard’, with the hidden phrase ‘SO LONG BULLETIN.’

In Christesen’s archive we find Harwood writing to Christesen under Lehmann’s name, requesting he return her poem, as well as a poem titled ‘Refugee’, which Harwood submitted under the pseudonym Francis Geyer. Christesen seems to have identified this poem as another of Harwood’s hoaxes, but decided to print it in the January 1962 issue of Meanjin nonetheless.

Christesen’s alleged plagiarism of Harwood seems a question open to debate. But looking at his archive, one gets the sense of the ‘boys club’ she had to deal with attempting to publish in Australian journals in the 1950s. A rough analysis of Christesen’s archive shows that it comprises only 21% female correspondents (it should be noted, however, that this does not reflect the scale or duration of correspondence: Nettie Palmer, for instance, has far and away one of the most extensive folders in the archive, and seems to have acted in an advisory capacity to Christesen as editor).

Harwood letter

Letter from Gwen Harwood (as Walter Lehmann) to Clem Christensen, 2 June 1960

Harwood letter

Gwen Harwood (as Francis Geyer), Refugee, nd, annotations by Clem Christesen

Harwood letter

Letter from Gwen Harwood to Clem Christensen, 4 February 1960