Anna Magdalena Bach's Missing Thimble

Reflections on creative poetic process

Three artefacts thought to belong to Anna Magdalena Bach, soprano singer, harpsichordist (and second wife to Johann Sebastian)—ring, thimble and buckle—are mentioned in the Bach archive in Leipzig. Much uncertainty surrounds them; perhaps they have been ‘lost’, or were destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, or perhaps they didn’t even actually belong to her. The uncertain status of the objects is emblematic of how poorly the knowledge about this ‘creative woman of accomplishment’ has been treated over the centuries, overshadowed by interest in, and information about, her eminent spouse. This has allowed authors to project their own views onto Anna Magdalena, in some instances leading to misrepresentations (Talle 2020), and even misappropriation by the Nazis (Yearsley 2019). However, as poetic biographer, it has also given me rich opportunity to imagine into her life.

Anna Magdalena is one of the research subjects about whom I am writing poetic biographies, a project of restitution seeking to redress the omission of creative women of accomplishment from the historical record. This paper looks at the composition process I employed in writing about her thimble (one poem in a sequence), taking a quote from Susan Howe as its starting point which suggests that archival objects are ‘pre-articulate theatres’ (1985), positioning the archival object, even if missing, as a site for unfolding drama.

General Tenancy Agreement

Rental stress, memory and home in contemporary Australian poetry

Notions of home and unhomeliness have long been discussed by scholars in relation to Australian poetry, but little scholarly work has explored how contemporary Australian poets interrogate the relationship between renting and constructions of home. As the great Australian dream of homeownership becomes increasingly inaccessible and the availability of public housing declines, a larger proportion of the population privately rent their houses in a lightly regulated and highly competitive rental market (Morris et al 2021: 72). Poetry has long been used to record and preserve the affective dimensions of home, and in this paper I examine a series of poems concerned with finding rental properties, moving in and out of them, and with attempts to create a sense of home in houses that always already belong to others. I discuss the work of three poets whose recent collections grapple with notions of home, stability and security in relation to rented houses: Zenobia Frost’s After the Demolition (2019), Omar Sakr’s These Wild Houses (2017), and Fiona Wright’s Domestic Interior (2017). I argue that in these collections, houses are sites characterised by anxiety, instability, and erasure, rather than stable and secure archives of personal identity and domestic ritual.

'Crazy link-ups all over the place'

Notes wandering towards a research choreography

This essay discusses the revival of a failed creative/biographical poetry project, on Australian ballerina Lucette Aldous. I had begun this project in 2015 but, despite several years of research—both archival (Ballet Rambert and Victoria & Albert, London; Australian Ballet archives at the Arts Centre, Melbourne) and through interviews with Aldous in Perth—I was unable to find a way to structure and convey the ‘life’, and the project was put aside in 2018. Lucette Aldous passed away in 2021, and this loss was followed by Australian poet Jordie Albiston’s unexpected passing, in February 2022. In part, it was the proximity of these two losses that sparked the revival of the Aldous project, fuelled as I was both by a sadness that I had not been able to deliver a completed manuscript to the retired ballerina before she died, and also by my revisiting of the poems in Albiston’s wide-ranging oeuvre. Albiston’s poems, often documentary in nature, and ruled by mathematics and constraint yet open to possibility, multiplicity, irony, opened a way for me to move forward with the Aldous project.