Getting Anne Back by Jennifer Maiden

As an extension of Arc’s Canada-Australia joint issue with Australia’s Cordite magazine, over the next several weeks, Arc will be publishing online selected pieces from Australian poets — this is in addition to the Australian poetry published in print in Arc 77. For the Arc-Cordite joint issue, each magazine handed the editorial responsibilities over to the other: so that Cordite filled Arc #77 (and these these webpages) with nothing but Australian poetry, prose and artwork; Arc did the same for Cordite (Arc’s part of this partnership will be published online at Cordite in December 2014). Our intent in this partnership is to showcase and cross-pollinate poetics between Australia and Canada and to share with a broader audience poetry that may be little known outside of home borders.


Getting Anne Back

Lucy Maud Montgomery woke up
on Prince Edward Island in the tourist
version of Green Gables, as spruce
with green edges as spring spruces, filled
with Japanese as joyous as spring birds,
their syllables as sweet, their passion
for Anne as pure as treetop dawn,
while hers was always like the ground
at the tree’s feet, patchworked by rain,
snow and sun as if all the elements
were needed to make Anne respectable.
Her affinity with Anne was often
intermittent and awkward: its start
a photo she had clipped of Evelyn Nesbit
from a magazine: a girl of spirit
and fine features later to be known
for causing a crime passionel, and velvet
swing seat indoors, and a pose
spreadeagled on white bearskin: teeth,
head, eyes and all, while in her own
bedroom Maud had always chosen
to undress behind a screen. Left
to her own devices, Anne’s swift, sharp spirit
could have femme fatale in it. These
Japanese were starving for her traces.
Maud perched thoughtfully on the quilt
in the little gable room: at least
everything was still kept clean. She had
always explained that Emily of New Moon
with her writing and sense of direction
was more like her than Anne. Anne
was meant to be a restless soul, rewarded
with a True Romance ending, to win
over readers calculatedly, even
the story of an adopted orphan child
having an unexpected gender current
at that time in Maude’s family, not Maude’s own.
Remembering Emily Dickinson’s ‘I like
a look of agony because I know it’s true’ again,
and despite amusing readers with Anne’s
tale of My Graves with wryness,
the truest thing in Anne, she thought,
was anguish, trembling at the edges
not of womanhood but trauma, Anne
almost losing the power to grieve
which Marilla and Green Gables re-gave
the poor, practical, accidental, prattling orphan.
Despite Anne’s drift into evenness
and poised convention in the later books,
Maud’s patriotic brief bombast in Rilla of
Ingleside, Maud didn’t quite despair of Anne’s
ability to despair. ‘Did I kill
myself for Anne?’, she asked a young
tourist who photographed her on the bed
thinking her an actress like the young Anne
downstairs greeting others. Maud was pleased
the nose on that one was more chiselled
than the unsuitable nose in the TV version.
‘Pardon?’, asked the Japanese, and Maud
said, ‘I took an overdose the night
I gave my publisher the last Anne, which
gave her back to grief, and in it
Anne wrote poems about her son’s death
in World War One and called
a second war ‘abominable’. It was not
published for decades because
the second war was on and after then
it did not fit the role the world
had concocted for Anne as a kind
of poetical Pollyanna, even if
I acknowledge she was conceived so.’ The man
with the camera, retreated, thought
there must be something here he’d forgotten
about Marilla: or was this Rachel Lynde?
Maud looked down at the actress Anne
graceful as a larch beneath the gable.
‘One dies’, she thought, ‘because one’s heart is freed
or because the other half of one
behind the screen is angered and unstable
at that freedom, or indeed
just because the need for justice
is achieved at such a cost one can
fight no longer. My own
sons did not receive the reasonable
love that Anne did from the Cuthberts.
I gave her what I could and at the last
I let her write poetry – my best –
as young as the grief which only lets one sleep.’
She rubbed her spectacles with peace,
and the setting sun danced like the northern lights
on all the island and the farm,
the tourists and the other Anne, now not
lost at all within the mellow dusk.


Jennifer Maiden has published 20 books, including 18 poetry collections. She has won many Australian awards, including the Kenneth Slessor 3 times, the Christopher Brennan, the C.J. Dennis twice, the overall Victorian Prize for Literature, the Age Poetry Book of the Year twice and the overall Age Book of the Year. Her last book Liquid Nitrogen was shortlisted for the international Griffin Prize.

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