Friday, June 24, 2016

I Wish I'd Written This

Letter to Freud
By Kate Llewellyn

What does a woman want
it’s simple
what a funny question
well speaking for myself
to be loved
same as everyone else I know
by the man who I want to love me
and by the greengrocer
the chemist
the postmistress
my children
– I take it my friends will anyway
and I want to be left alone
no-one saying sit down
stand up
come here
I run away then
it may surprise you but I’d really rather not
have a penis thanks all the same
I suppose it’s hard for you to believe that
I’d like a few laughs
rolling round a bed laughing my head off
and all the normal human things
clean water shelter
fresh food
that most never see
in their whole male or female lives
and not to want anything
most of all that
or does that only come like a ticket
with death?

© Kate Llewellyn 1985

It's not new, now, for women to address Freud's famous question:

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'

Kate, however, was the first I encountered doing so in poetry, in her book Luxury, published in 1985. (The above version, with only a few very tiny alterations from the original, is from her Selected Poems of 1992.) I still don't see anything to argue with in her list.

Back then she was a refreshing new voice in Australian poetry, at a time when our women poets were emerging in numbers. It was a time of activism in many ways – the feminist revolution, opposition to the Vietnam War, and for some of us the founding of a Poets Union of Australia and the beginning of the resurgence of 'performance poetry', now known as 'spoken word poetry' – the reclaiming of an ancient oral tradition, and precursor of its recent developments, rap and slams. 

Kate was involved in all these kinds of activism, as well as raising children and running an art gallery in Adelaide with her then husband Richard, a quadriplegic.

When I met her in the late seventies she was single again, and studying for an Arts degree. She was National Secretary of the Poets Union for a time. Then she and fellow poet Susan Hampton produced The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets, as so few of us were being represented in anthologies in those days.

The way this poem appears on the page, with very little punctuation, no division into stanzas, and the line breaks falling where they do, is an exact representation of how she would speak it. (I heard her a number of times.) Better to hear it, but I think you'll work it out.

Details of her life and work are at the Australian Poetry Library, along with hundreds of her poems.

As you will gather from that last, she has written a number of volumes of poetry. There are also several very popular memoirs and an autobiography. Here is her radio interview about the latter. And you can find her books at her Amazon page. That page also tells me that for 20 years she taught creative writing at the University of Sydney, but has now moved back to her home State, South Australia.

I've illustrated this article with the cover of a book I haven't read (found online) as it uses an image like the Kate I remember.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.


  1. I probably need to be on a couch right now - but fuck that! - i read and as much as my brain could take in is that we all need to be loved..needed..that does not diminish us or make us 'less', it is not attention seeking or abnormal - it just is...thank you Rosemary for brightening up this hour

  2. Ha I could write a letter to Freud too...except you would not print it. In his favour he had good taste in cushions and tapestries , as for the rest, he was a misogynistic old wanker!

    1. Now how on earth did you find out about his taste in cushions and tapestries???

    2. There is a Freud Museum in Hampstead north London. If you google.... it will show you his consulting room.How do I know about it? I am a cornucopia of trivia LOL .

    3. Hmmm, grandly beautiful to look at, but I wouldn't like to live with it. :-)

  3. This is a refreshing poem, Rosemary. I like the poet's attitude & your commentary!

  4. I hadn't read this before. I love it!

  5. an interesting poem...thanks for the share Rosemary...

  6. I remember this poem--and love getting a chance to read it again! Thank you!

  7. A wonderful read and heaven knows I agree with every word. How vital and fulfilling those busy years must have been, Rosemary. Wonderful when women poets' voices ring out loud and clear like this.

  8. This mere male applauds you Rosemary for featuring Kate Llewellyn who I am pleased to note is back here in Adelaide again. Her letter to Freud is wonderful and was well worth featuring here to try and stop this nonsense of difference between the sexes still found today lurking in every corner.

  9. A wonderful poem, Rosemary, thanks. I'd note that I'd disagree with Old Egg there, re nonsense of difference between sexes! Ha. k.

    1. Sssshh! We know that woman are superior, but it's unkind to tell the men.

    2. I do agree and some men do too, amazingly enough. I love your commentary Rosemary. I only heard Llewellyn read a couple of times and I know she was an inspiration to a lot of women poets.

    3. We are talking about humans aren't not spiders?

    4. Dear Robin, please see my reply to Ella, below.

  10. Thank you, Rosemary for sharing her voice~ Humanity is what defines us-no matter what sex we are!

    1. Yes, I make joke (re superiority, above). I do in fact think we are human beings first and have many more commonalities than differences.

    2. Don't back down. There are more differences. They have been running the show since the stone age and we were the ones getting dragged into the caves by the hair. As the suppressed group women had to develop ways of thinking to survive and protect their young over millenia, as a result they are smarter and ingenious at problem solving. Behind every successful man is a woman pulling the strings. Everyone knows that.

  11. Oh Rosemary .. thank you for this introduction (introduction for me of course she is quite well known and loved by so very many others!)Kate Llewellyn's poem just sings this response to the well-known question. Just love the poem, and the spirit that sparkles.

  12. 😀 I giggled as I read this poem and stuck at the "penis line" I do do agree thank you Sigmund I enjoy being a girl🌻🌹

    Thanks for this post Rosemary

    Much love...


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