Academic journal article Australian Literary Studies

Finding Home: The Poetry of Margaret Scott

Academic journal article Australian Literary Studies

Finding Home: The Poetry of Margaret Scott

Article excerpt

For Margaret, treasured colleague and friend

Margaret Scott grew up in the countryside near Bristol. After graduating from Cambridge University, she immigrated to Hobart in 1959 with her young family. She taught in the English Department of the University of Tasmania from 1967 to 1989. Her relationship with the Tasman Peninsula began with family vacations and eventually the purchasing of a holiday house at Taranna. After her retirement from teaching she lived at Premaydena, firstly in an orchardist's house, which she lovingly restored, and, following the loss of that house in a fire, in an eco-friendly house on the same site. She was from the outset of her peninsula life deeply involved with the local community. Her relationship with the area began long before she went to live there permanently and her stories and poems reflect her love of the place and the people.

Margaret Scott published three books of poetry in the 1980s: Tricks of Memory (1980), Visited (1983), and The Black Swans (1989). Her Collected Poems appeared in 2000 and included new poems under the title 'Renovations'. Further new poems appeared in The Best Australian Poems of 2003, edited by Peter Craven. These poems are reprinted (unfortunately with misprints) in a recent collection, A Little More (2005).

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Trying to situate Margaret Scott in contemporary Australian poetry, I am struck by the way she stands out, among her contemporaries of British descent, as the poet who speaks with an immigrant voice. While writers of other ethnic backgrounds are voicing this experience in Australian writing, (1) Scott presents, to the best of my knowledge, the most coherent set of reflections on a British/Australian immigrant identity. To read through her poems, stories and novels is to be drawn into a life of dialogue between two places: the Bristol of her childhood (with brief glances in the stories at Cambridge and the environs of London) and the specific areas of her Tasmanian life: Hobart and the Tasman Peninsula. The poetry in particular hones this dialogue. There is no doubt about where Margaret Scott's home is. She firmly dwells on the Tasman Peninsula in south-east Tasmania--the subject, lovingly depicted, of more than a score of her poems. Nevertheless, much as we might make a new home, the mind strays; it does not rest in one place. For all the making over, the settling into a new ecological niche, there remains 'the knowledge / of frozen shapes in inscrutable distance' ('Wintering', CP 112). I have called this essay 'Finding Home' because, as I hope to show, the idea of home, in different guises, is a recurrent melody in the poems. I want to begin with the immigrant experience because it presents one of the principal story threads in the poems.

In his Introduction to The Location of Culture, reflecting on the ways in which contemporary 'culture' ('our times') lives 'on the borderlines of the "present"' (1), Homi Bhabha makes a point that can well apply in a general way to the cultural displacement experienced by the immigrant:

   The imaginary of spatial distance to live somehow beyond the
   border of our times--throws into relief the temporal social
   differences that interrupt our collusive sense of cultural
   contemporaneity. (4)

The immigrant, too, looks to the future with a vision constantly interrupted by temporal social difference. How the immigrant sees and manages these disruptions constitutes one of the most active threads of meaning in Scott's poetry. Further on in his Introduction, Bhabha approaches cultural displacement through Freud's idea of the 'Unheimliche'--the 'unhomely', usually translated as 'the uncanny'. For Freud, the term represents 'everything that ought to have remained ... secret and hidden but has come to light' (Bhabha 10). Bhabha applies the concept to the twists and turns of cultural possession and dispossession in Toni Morrison's Beloved and Nadine Gordimer's My Soil's Story. …

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