Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

Poetry as memoir.  Some poems are difficult to read: each of them is worth reading.

Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

‘My story cannot be painted onto a canvas – it is a skin painting.’

Elizabeth Hodgson is a Wiradjuri woman, born in the 1950s in Wellington, NSW.  Elizabeth Hodgson is a fair-skinned aboriginal woman.  Elizabeth Hodgson was taken from her parents at a very young age and placed in a home for fair-skinned Aboriginal children in Sydney.

This collection of poetry is a memoir, providing insight into aspects of Ms Hodgson’s experiences of life.  There are poems about her early experiences, about art, about loneliness and about sexuality.  Each poem has its own story.

On my first reading, I am haunted by the poem which begins:

‘They change my name, I am no longer Elizabeth

Because another girl here has the same name;

Now I must answer to Beth.’

On my second reading, my attention is focussed on:

‘These words are my phoenix’

Which ends with

‘Each time I write I am retelling the stories

Uniting past and present.’

I expect a different poem will speak to me on my next reading.  Life is like that: so many different facets.

I’ve not read a memoir in poetry before.  For this memoir it seems perfect. Perhaps it’s the structure which makes it so powerful: Ms Hodgson’s choices of words, experiences and events requires me to slow down my reading pace, to carefully visualise what I am being told, to appreciate the context.  And all the time I am thinking to myself that Ms Hodgson is about the same age as I am and what very different experiences we have had.  There are shared experiences as well, but it’s the differences I am focussing on.

This is a book I need to keep.  To revisit and reread.  I’ve read all of the words, but not yet absorbed all of the meaning.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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