Title: Starling

Author: Elizabeth Knox

In: Sport 28: Autumn 2002

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, March 2002, Wellington

Part of: Sport

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Sport 28: Autumn 2002

Mary's diary, May 1976

Mary's diary, May 1976

It was mid-afternoon. We were all out in the workroom (we crowd together in one room even when we're not talking to each other but doing different things). Sara was playing a David Bowie record which made communication for me and Elizabeth rather difficult. Sara and I were seated on the bed. Elizabeth, with all her drafts of poems around her, was sitting in the sun on the brick hearth. She was trying to read me poems over David Bowie. ‘I've decided,’ said Elizabeth, ‘to try to publish some of my poems in the Listener.
page 121
‘Don't do that,’ I said, ‘Your poems are better than that. They publish very mediocre poems.’
‘I know,’ said Elizabeth, ‘That's why they might publish mine—after all I'm not known. Anyway some of the poems they publish are quite good.’
‘But your poems would frighten them. Don't try to publish any of the ones about your feelings.
‘They have a bias too,’ I said, suddenly realising something. ‘To New Zealandy poems. I mean, the Listener is nationalistic—they like things with a New Zealand feeling.’
‘I know,’ said Elizabeth.
‘Well, send in descriptive ones, any poems that are written about Tata Beach. Don't send any personal poems, or any of those Game poems.’
Elizabeth then read me a few to see what I'd like her to send in. I felt pleased with her. But suddenly she said, ‘I'm going to send them in under the name of S.F. Kelly.’
‘Why?’ I said, distressed that she wanted to be anonymous, and confused by it.
‘Privacy,’ said Elizabeth.
‘But what's the use of publishing a poem if no one knows you wrote it?’
‘I'm not important, maybe only the poem is important,’ Elizabeth said. She pointed to herself, ‘I'm only important to myself.’
‘And your family. But what if your poems became well-known and still no one knew who you were? And every time someone writes something anyway stupid critics come up with suggestions like they were really five people or he was a woman or she was a man—why confuse the issue further with a false name?’
‘Don't be silly, Mary. I haven't published anything yet. I probably won't get published. I want to see what happens.’
Sara said, ‘Don't be silly, Mary. Lots of writers use pen names. Why can't you understand?’
‘I'm only a girl, and 17, and I've got a family, and I go to page 122 school,’ said Elizabeth. ‘And my feelings are in all the poems.’
‘What's wrong with being 17, and a girl?’ I said. ‘For our International Woman's Year at least—give yourself a female name.’ I was thinking to myself that a name like S.F. Kelly conjured up a mad Irish man—and not wanting New Zealanders to picture S.F. Kelly as a mad Irish man. ‘If you don't use your real name and do write as this S.F. Kelly no one will know that its my sister!’
‘That sounds like vanity to me,’ said Elizabeth.
It was partly just a wish to have a part in people's reactions to her and her writing. She doesn't have much to do with anyone any more apart from us and Mum and Carol, and because everything she does plays such a great part in my life sometimes I feel she is forcing me into the same mental isolation, because there is part of my life I can't talk about with my friends. Then it occurred to me that she'd have to write to the Listener anonymously anyway so that Ian Cross wouldn't connect her with her father. And that Daddy doesn't like the Listener any more. I asked her was it because of Daddy.
‘That's one reason,’ said Elizabeth.
‘But,’ I said, ‘If Daddy were out of the way, I'd expect you to put your name on them.’ I knew that wouldn't make any difference to her. I looked at her—sitting on the hearth and beginning to look upset. ‘Cheer up,’ I said, ‘I'm not annoyed with you any more.’

(I can't remember if I did send any poems. They were terrible poems. Very grand. When I left school I went to work for the IRD in Porirua. I was saving up to take some time off work and write a novel. In my lunch hours I used to go and sit in the Porirua library and write—bad poetry, and stories about our imaginary world.)