Llywelyn Lucas (1898-19 67)
A Stranger's Voice
'If you're a successful original, you're a genius. If you're an unsuccessful original, you're a crank.'
Llywelyn Lucas is perhaps the most strong minded and independent of the band of strong minded and independent women poets, who flourished in Queensland from the 1920s to the 1940s. Like Zora Cross, she lived a thoroughly unconventional life.
Beryl Llywelyn Lucas was born at 'Kalimna' in Gippsland, Victoria, on the 21st of February 1898. She studied horticulture, and spent time overseas, before relocating to Brisbane in the mid-1920s. She lived with the cartoonist, Hal Eyre, and they had a child, Halyn, in 1937.
Lucas began publishing poetry in the early 1920s, and won awards for her plays. Her output was quite prolific, and she appears to have lived for a substantial period on her earnings from poetry. 'Taringa', which has been selected for this site, is an example of her work during this journalistic phase, and an example of just how much the suburb has changed since the poem was originally published in the 1920s.
Her first book of poems, 'The Garden', appeared in 1935. As its title suggests, its contents are comprised of poems which are entirely focussed on horticultural themes. One thing that might be surprising to a modern reader is that almost all the plants featured are introduced species: there are poems about Lavender, Zinnias and Daffodils, but not a word about the wattle. One thing that might have been surprising to a reader of her time is the use of free verse:
The tidy, tidy people, who sweep up lovely leaves
And clip the noble seed-pods off the flowers
Are very noble, very good.
From The Tidy, Tidy, People
When her first book was published, she was known as Lyn Lucas. But by the 1940s, she had adopted the single word 'Llywelyn' as her nom de plume. It is under that name that her second book 'On Wings', was published in 1943. This consists largely of occasional verse, much of which was inspired by the involvement of Australian forces in the second world war.
And the tide of the battle came suddenly to me rushing
From a dark Malayan jungle over the sea:
And a child not 6 years old who had lost her brother,
Was hiding her face from me.
From Dark Angel
In 1946, Eyre died. After that, Lucas appears to have lived an increasingly lonely and reclusive life, moving from the Fassifern region, to a then sparsely populated Victoria Point, in South East Queensland. Late in her life, she published a book of aphorisms, and a last collection 'Brown Boronia'. She lost the use of an arm, and died, a sad figure, at Easter 1967. Early in 1968 the Fellowship of Australian Writers issued a memorial volume of her verse called 'Lost Kinship'. E.M.England in the introduction to that book, shows the kind of mixed views that her literary contemporaries, had of Lucas. For example, England refers to Hal Eyre as Lucas’' closest friend' when today we would readily call him her 'partner', and notes that 'there are penalties heaped by civilisation on those who are considered "different"'.
The considerable body of poetry Lucas left behind, shows both brilliance, and indiscipline. It would seem that she was difficult to work with: James Devaney, a very gentle man, who edited, or attempted to edit her book of aphorisms, noted that when he
'suggested the omission of a few things here and the inclusion of others rejected by her, ....it was her judgment that prevailed, not mine.'
Certainly, she seems to have shown a singular lack of understanding as to how her readership might have taken her work. For example, two of her published poems are called respectively 'Each of Us is a Bladder' and 'The Passing Wind'.
But when she gets it right, as in 'When', the poems are perfect in their form and expression.
Of all the poets discussed on this site, she is perhaps the least concerned with place and the particular. At her best though, she takes us to another place, where poetry is at its purist. Click on the links beside this article to read some of her work.
Best book to buy: Lucas, L. Lost Kinship – Fortitude Press, Brisbane, Queensland 1968
In fact, Lucas had published free verse pi1ces as early as 1925:’Death’ and ‘Life’ in The Spinner Vol 1 no11, August 1925, at p 175.
Cross, Z, Australian Women who write, in The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 1935, supplement p 12.
England, E.M, Foreword of LLywelyn in Lost Kinship and Other Poems, A Memorial to Llywelyn Lucas, Brisbane, Fortitude Press, 1968, pp 6-7.