Phillip Hall Reviews Ink in Her Veins: The Troubled Life of Aileen Palmer by Sylvia Martin

By | 15 August 2016

In 1958 Palmer would return to her experience of war in the poem, ‘Danger is never danger’. This is a plaintively evocative lyric and Martin notes that the poem’s ‘immediacy is intensely moving’:

Danger is never danger
     till the blood running over the street
is the blood of your own heart’s crying:
     the love you were coming to meet.

Death is not death till you
     hear all planes pass in fearing:
not my own love they’ll strike!
     Not my own love they’re nearing!

War is not war till you
     find in the shattered stones
flesh of your own love’s flesh,
     dust of your own love’s bones

Palmer would not find a life partner and intimacy in Australia, as she had in London during the Second World War, and she would continue to feel both victimised and enraged by the homophobic and suffocating conservatism. Martin shows us a creative idealist who embraced a life of progressive political engagements but was crippled by a rigid and bullying rejection of her difference. After a life of invasive medical interventions Aileen outlived her parents and sister. This resulted in even more isolation, and after her death, there were no tributes and no obituaries. But poet Colleen Z. Burke, who had admired Palmer’s poetry and her activism, heard of her unremarked death and wrote a poem that was published in Southerly. As a moving commemoration, Martin quotes this poem, ’No Words’. It begins:

In the end there
were no words you stared
endlessly into space
caught in the thin air – the
inescapable web of fresh
country air. Shells bursting     cries/screams
of slaughtered people always in your head
no more
the unbearable noise
within     no more

Along with Suzanne Falkiner’s recent biography of Randolph Stow, this life of Aileen Palmer is a meticulously researched and strikingly written demonstration of the tragedy of difference. Stow and Palmer were dynamic queer stars sabotaged by inequality and unsafe socialisation.

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One Response to Phillip Hall Reviews Ink in Her Veins: The Troubled Life of Aileen Palmer by Sylvia Martin

  1. Anonymous says:

    thank you