E.M. England (1899-1979)
Pioneer poet of the landscape.
Edith Mary England was probably the first Queensland poet to really try to record something unique about the landscape.
She was born in Townsville in 1899, and educated in Sydney and at Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School. She married and settled at Boonah. By the time her first book, The Happy Monarch, was released, in 1927, she had published verse widely in journals, newspapers and magazines throughout Australia. However, many of the poems take the Queensland pastoral environment as their subject matter, and she is one of the first Queensland poets to really come to grips with the unique features of the environment, in poems like Magpies at Sunrise, Queensland Night, Winter Morning, and December in Queensland.
However, it took her some time to find her true voice, and her second book of poetry, Queensland Days, contains I think better and more interesting work: love of the land without romanticism. For example, ‘This Bare Brown Land’ forms a sharp distinction to Dorothea Mackellar:
She holds my Present, Future, memory-
What can I love if not this bare brown land?
The opening poem of Queensland Days, A Dark Girl Singing contains sympathy for and perhaps a slight romanticism of the plight of aboriginal people that was being expressed elsewhere through the Jindyworobak movement:
The girl in the burnt-out daylight
Who crooned of spirits fled,
A little bent, brown symbol,
Of a race that is doomed, is dead!
The poems that have been selected for this web site show her strength as a poet of place. In Path at Stradbroke, England must have been the first of many poets to visit the dunes at North Stradbroke Island and find them beautiful, and romantic. Queensland Night, is an earlier and I think less effective poem. One can see how she loses effect when she stretches to a word like ‘turquoise’ when a plainer word would have done. Alone in the Pool is one of those lovely moments when we are most at peace.
Each of these poems is formal and relies on rhyme for effect, but in other places her work contains free verse elements:
This is the land of Wait-a-while.
I like it here.
I like the big team straining on the hill
(Dark forms outlined against the blue).
However, some of this work is hard to distinguish from prose, and for most of the rest of her career, she published fiction and non-fiction. She was an active member of the Queensland Authors and Artists Association until her 70s and published her last book of poetry in 1970. England was one of the elder poets represented at the first major outdoor poetry reading in Queensland, which was held in King George Square, in 1971. She died in 1979.
Best book to buy: England, E.M. Queensland Days, Sydney, Dymock’s Book Arcade, 1944.