Imagine if six famous protagonists transcended chronological and geographical barriers to come together through a poetry group in Adelaide. Rhymes with Hyenas is an inventive narrative of emails and poetry that gives a female voice to characters originally written by men. They are Ursula from DH Lawrence’s Women in Love, Caddy from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Melanie from Coetzee’s Disgrace, Delores from Nabokov’s Lolita, Katherina from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, and Lilith from Hebrew mythology.
In a poignant ode to literature and Adelaide, these women are whole, complex characters, sometimes up to their breasts in mothering, sometimes homesick for exiled lands. ‘They are lecturers, dog owners, art makers and carers who deal with illness, infertility, addiction and abuse. Their stories, initially limited by the masterpieces that spawned them, continue on: they are not a closed book.
In a vibrant commentary on literary patriarchy and the patriarchy beyond, this book considers the place of writing, critiquing, reading, performing and publishing poetry in a woman’s space.
‘Taylor-Johnson’s seven literary women – somewhere between characters and Pessoa-style heteronyms – are fascinating in their complexity and in their often-fraught interactions over the course of a year of sharing their poetry and their lives. ‘Their’ poems are razor-sharp and heartbreaking, as they attempt to reclaim their inner lives from the limits originally dictated by their male creators, while coming to grips with life in Adelaide. A captivating experiment with genre and voice, and a deeply thoughtful and empathetic book.’
‘In the tradition of Diane Fahey’s Metamorphoses and Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife Taylor Johnson’s Rhymes with Hyenas is a feminist revisioning. In Rhymes with Hyenas, as is the tradition, Taylor Johnson gives the female characters, originally written by men, the agency of having their own voices, but Taylor Johnson takes it further. Through the unique combination of the precision of poetry and the loose conversational tone of emails Taylor Johnson explores what this gaining of agency looks like in the collective, the women are using writing practice and group critiquing to make their agency a shared and public act.
The distillation of language in poetry is a powerful means to personal autonomy and the dialogue through emails is an effective and engaging way to explore relationship dynamics and all the nuances of commonalities and differences. Taylor Johnson has written the female characters out of their isolation, as written by men, to explore how solidarity can facilitate personal agency and autonomy.’
‘Every poet knows what a ‘work in progress’ is. Every woman knows what a work in progress her life is. Heather Taylor Johnson eloquently weaves these two strands in this fascinating book.’
Susan Hawthorne, author of The Sacking of the Muses