Jennifer Strauss AM (born 1933) is a contemporary Australianpoet and academic.
Jennifer Strauss was born in Heywood, Victoria and educated at various boarding schools and Melbourne University. Working in academia she has published several books of criticism and literary autobiography as well as editing anthologies and several volumes of her own poetry. The current president of the Australian Federation of University Women Strauss is also an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of English at Monash University.
In 2007 Strauss was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, for her work in education, her work as an academic in the fields of literature and poetry and for her work in woman's issues and industrial relations.
- Children and Other Strangers: Poems. (1975)
- Winter Driving: Poems. (1981)
- Labour Ward. (Pariah, 1988)
- Tierra del Fuego: New and selected poems. (Pariah, 1997)
- Stop laughing! I'm Being Serious: Three studies in seriousness and wit in contemporary Australian poetry. (1990)
- Boundary Conditions: The Poetry of Gwen Harwood. (UQP, 1992) ISBN 0-7022-2412-X
- Judith Wright. (OUP, 1995)
- Family Ties: Australian Poems of the Family. (Oxford, 1998)
- The Oxford Literary History of Australia. With Bruce Bennett (Oxford, 1999) ISBN 978-0-19-553737-6
- The Collected Verse of Mary Gilmore: Volume 1, 1887-1929. (Australian Academy of the Humanities/UQP, 2005) review
Acknowledgement is made to the publications in which some of these poems have previously appeared: Lot's Wife, Luna, Poems in Honour of James McAuley (New Albion Press), Poetry Monash, Poets Australia Catalogue, Waves and Westerly.
‘After a Death’ was awarded equal first prize in the Westerly Sesquicentenary Literary Competition.
Readers will soon identify the qualities in this poetry which make it stand firm. They are courage, sensitivity and dignity. Though these qualities make fine people they do not necessarily make fine poetry. The indispensable fourth quality that I recognise in Jennifer Strauss's poetry is a grace of mind.
These are intelligent contemporary poems, most of them touching on, but not labouring, the predicaments of women who have to face untimely bereavement, unlooked-for responsibility, loneliness. One would anticipate that such poems might be rather lowering to the spirits of the reader. They are not.
Jennifer Strauss can view her own experience steadily, and record with a firm hand the tragedies in the lives of others. In the poem ‘Secretive’ she writes of the girl who
Preferred the casual cruelties of city streets
And walked their Arctic edge of loneliness
Against the thrusts of wind, watching
Beyond unbudded trees the bleached light fade.
and with a kindred sympathy gently guides the reader to share her own informed judgements. In that poem she enjoins:
and this, more than anything else, is the theme and message of her poetry.
Her ‘Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram’ remembers
… a village
Where poverty was white as bone
And the great silences of sea and sky
Parted at dusk for voices coming home …
Jennifer Strauss has disciplined her work into such admirable simplicities. These will evoke a quick response from the reader: so too will the problems she so candidly, and sometimes ruefully, shares with the reader. They are problems common to many, being brought about through love, anxiety, vulnerability, and a willingness to be involved.
Even the poems here that fall below the level of the best are interesting. One cannot doubt this writer's ability to go on turning her responses and observations into poetry, shaping the poetry with intelligence, and informing it with her distinguishing quality of mind.
Rosemary Dobson, 1981
I find it very difficult to talk about myself as a ‘Poet’: everything seems to fall into the language of false pride or false modesty or else an evasive irony that escapes neither. Even in talking about simply writing poems, I'm abashed by the smallness of my output and my lack of an articulated ‘poetics’. I've never been able to produce a finished poem by making up my mind to write a (=any) poem at any particular time, much less by making up my mind to write ‘a sonnet’, ‘in tercets / hexameters / dialogue / heroic handstands.’ I can only write when the idea of a particular poem germinates in experience — usually the kind of experience in which there is some kind of intersection: of feeling and thought; of past, present and speculative time; of particular and type. The ‘idea’ of the poem isn't an idea at all in a philosophical or even discursive sense. It's a kind of dimly perceived shape, and the defining of that shape is a process of discovering as much as of ‘making’.
All my poems are personal; very few are unequivocally autobiographical. Mostly, I write because things disturb (rather than distress). I want to make an order out of that disturbance, which isn't always caused by chaos, obvious dis-order; the wrong kind of order can disturb even more. And the poem doesn't exorcise the original feeling; poems aren't problem-solvers, not even dissolvers.
I write the only kind of poems I can. I admire a great many other kinds.
Jennifer Strauss, 1981