Susan Hawthorne – Underworlds

Profile Susan Hawthorne Live Encounters Magazine August 2017

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Underworlds, poems by Susan Hawthorne

Susan Hawthorne is the author of two novels, a verse novel, six collections of poetry, two chapbooks and three non-fiction titles. Her poetry collection, Cow (2011) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Award in the 2012 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards as well as being a finalist in the 2012 Audre Lorde Lesbian Poetry Award (USA). Earth’s Breath was shortlisted for the 2010 Judith Wright Poetry Prize. She has been the recipient of two international residencies: in 2013 from the Australia Council for the Arts for six months to write Lupa and Lamb, the BR Whiting Library in Rome; and in 2009 a four month residency for Arts Queensland and the Australia Council to Chennai, India to write Cow. Her fiction works include Dark Matters (2017), a verse novel, Limen (2013) and The Falling Woman (1992). Susan is the winner of the Penguin Random House Best Achievement in Writing, 2017 Inspire Award for her work as an outstanding lifetime contributor to increasing people’s awareness of disability. She is also a publisher and Adjunct Professor in the Writing Program at James Cook University, Townsville.

Earth’s Breath:
Lupa and Lamb:

Dark Matters:
The Falling Woman:


on our farm my father had a harrow
used during the planting season

from Old Dutch and Norse languages
harrowing the ground is a kind of wounding

Indian goddess Sita was born in a furrow
it too had been harrowed

her experience was harrowing
abducted held hostage by Ravana

when Rama finally arrives to bring her home
he accuses her of unfaithfulness

she enters a fire only to emerge whole
her purity proven
so when I see an image

of the harrowing of hell a giant animal maw
sharp teeth like the tines on a harrow

naked people walking out of the maw
of hell I think of Sita found in a furrow

returning to the earth when she dies
and the earth harrowed by my father


everyone is looking for underworlds
all over the earth   but when it lands
on them they are not so happy

death is the key character there
and he is not a nice fellow
controlling and the heat is too high
or so cold your toes and fingers freeze
but death comes in female form too
usually cloaked for death is hidden

some underworlds come with return
tickets   Orpheus had one of these
but blew it as did Job   some of us
have multiple city round trips
but we never know the departure
or return dates so have to live
as if today will be our very last

drugs allow day trips to the underworld
like looking for a house to buy or rent
every location is filled with fantasy
and it all looks so much brighter
than the everyday mundane world

underworlds are with us all the time
we fail to notice their intersecting
presences until our number is up


Alice was once here in this hotel
the girl who went down the rabbit hole
she is still here and is watching
the seagulls fight over chips

she lost her sense of reality
when the world spun out of control
he is so much bigger than me
the legs of this table have grown
I am too small too small too small


the red queen stands in the street
shouting at the passers by
Alice is afraid of her
as the calls out punishments
at the pier clowns swallow balls
dodgem cars dodge
machines screech for money
Wales’ beachside holidays
with grandeur and hidden shame

post seizure

they say she spoke gibberish
but iambic pentameter is not
that easy in a post seizure state

falling into the chasm of darkness
she returns with oracles on her
tongue   only she returns from trance

the cleft not so frenzied but divine
words bundled into poems
Pythia ecstatic on earth’s vapours

divination a chthonic not clonic
seizure an underworld of words
sliding out of her old snake skin

double embrace

sit in the embrace of language
sharing sister tongues    double
entendres    whisperings veiled

write in code as we must
elephants trumpet their rage
hide our lives in shrouded words

syllables are star-stitched
as ancient as galaxies
or Pluto’s hidden oceans

liquid nitrogen frozen burning
the Buddhist nun inflamed
above pachyderm clouds

threaten rain like a woman
carrying a gourd speaking
with her friend in nüshu

her tongue a faith hard as marble
Sistine sybils with ambiguous
oracles speak in rhyming couplets

language as embrace    poetry
as architecture    holds up the sky
like ancient Nut stable as

a celestial table    no easy camouflage
sky stars dark light    our two-tongue
speaking knitting underground

knowledge    poems committed
to memory and transformation
our dissertations excavated

to snuffle out meaning    today
she was murdered by someone
sent by the government

Draupadi brings bees in her
flower-braided hair    the queen
smoldering her diffracted lyrics

her fury as great at the Erinyes
her rapture disbelieved just
as Cassandra’s words were

a woman who speaks truth
registers her revenge but history
unwraps her story and it is lost

© Susan Hawthorne

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