Thoughtful review by Drusilla Modjeska of Sylvia Martin’s biography Ink in Her Veins: The Troubled Life of Aileen Palmer in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.
When Aileen looked back on her life, her years in Spain with the International Brigade remained the high point. Even in London as the bombs fell and she lifted casualties from the wreckage of the East End into her ambulance, the life she lived was hers: intense and real.
It was in the ambulance service that she met “B”, the woman with whom, in her own words, she was deeply in love. Yet she never writes her name, at least not in the letters and diaries Martin has tracked down for Ink in her Veins. Nettie’s sacrifice didn’t work; Aileen saw herself as a poet, as a writer, but she was little published and died without obituary or recognition.
Unmarried, without an income, with worried parents and Europe in ruins, she was persuaded by Vance and Nettie to return to Melbourne. It was in the gloomy house in Kew that the decline started, and once she was admitted to hospital in 1948, there was little chance of her finding a way towards a satisfying life.
Caught between resentment and obligation to Vance and Nettie, their sacrifice, their respectability and their self-enclosing mythology, she became, as Martin puts it, snared in the tangled web of the family’s emotional dysfunction. She could not escape Nettie, and part of her didn’t want to see her elderly mother further hurt or shamed. She reined herself in.
Her friends from university “who’d given her the courage to believe in herself and her love for women, had becomes wives and mothers”. “Alas, for the pretty women/Who marry plain men/They settle down in the suburbs/And never come out again.”
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/ink-in-her-veins-review-the-sad-life-of-vance-and-nettie-palmers-daughter-20160408-go2238.html#ixzz45pwUBfaW
‘This English’ (a poem by Aileen Palmer from her only published book of poetry, World without Strangers? , p.30), courtesy of the John Cornford facebook page.
Aileen Palmer at Spartacus Educational with regards her Spanish Civil War service:
Her biographer, Sylvia Martin, pointed out: “Aileen became one of the International Brigaders who worked on the frontlines of the conflict. She quickly added Spanish and Italian to her fluency in English, French and German and so was able to assist the doctors and ambulance drivers in several languages as the field hospital to which she was attached moved to the various battle sites attending to the wounded, sometimes hundreds in a day. Living under appalling conditions and in constant danger, she maintained a cheerful outlook in letters to her family.”
Response to Judith Rodriguez’s note on Aileen Palmer’s ‘The Swans / The Wanderer’
I thank Judith Rodriguez for extending and illuminating my reading of Aileen Palmer’s poem by drawing attention to John Manifold’s poem ‘The Sirens’. Palmer may have met John Manifold in London- she did meet John Cornford- although I have found no direct reference to their meeting. She respected his poetry, particularly ‘the colloquial, apparent simplicity of his expression within the frame-work of traditional verseforms’.2 She was to emulate this style, which was consistent with their communist politics of writing poetry for the ordinary people.