Confessional surrealist feminist: Vicki Viidikas’s poetics and politics

Prithvi Varatharajan

Abstract


This essay seeks to illuminate the entwined aesthetics of Vicki Viidikas’s poetry. Viidikas was a Sydney poet: she lived in Balmain, and spent long periods of time in India later in life. She was part of the generation of ‘68, which revelled in the countercultural spirit of the 1960s and 70s. Viidikas published three books of poetry in her lifetime: Condition Red (1973), Knäbel (1978), and India Ink (1984), as well as a book of short stories and prose poems, Wrappings (1974). Between 1985 and 1998 she published only a handful of poems in journals; India Ink would be her last book.

 

The essay uses formative aesthetic, political, and material influences to read Viidikas’s work from 1973 to 1998. I argue that there are three major aspects in Viidikas’s poetry: the confessional, the surrealist, and the feminist. By contextualising her work in the confessional poetry genre, the surrealism of André Breton, and second wave feminism, I show that these aspects interact and overlap in subtle ways in her poems. Viidikas was steeped in feminist ideals for women’s writing, and was committed to representing female subjectivity in highly personal and uncensored ways. I show that in her poetry, a feminist ethos energises both her confessional voice and her surrealism. I also pay attention to the material circumstances of her poetry’s production, and the social and aesthetic practices of the generation of ‘68. This situated reading of Viidikas’s poetry allows me to look to the last 14 years of her life, when she retreated from publishing. While critics typically focus on her drug addiction in explaining her later marginalisation, I posit that the anti-capitalist values that Viidikas absorbed in her youth played a significant role in her withdrawal, in the 1980s and 90s, from the literary networks that had previously sustained her.


Keywords


Vicki Viidikas; Australian poetry; generation of 68; confessional poetry; surrealism; feminism

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References


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