Fay Zwicky

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Fay Zwicky
Born Julia Fay Rosefield
(1933-07-04) 4 July 1933 (age 83)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Language English
Nationality Australian
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Notable awards Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry (1982)
Patrick White Award (2005)

Fay Zwicky (born 4 July 1933 in Melbourne) is a contemporary Australian poet, short-story writer, critic and academic primarily known for her autobiographical poem Kaddish which deals with her identity as a Jewish writer.


Born Julia Fay Rosefield, Fay Zwicky grew up in suburban Melbourne. Her family was fourth generation Australian—her father, a doctor; her mother, a musician. Fay Zwicky was an accomplished pianist by the age of six, and performed with her violinist and cellist sisters while still at school. After completing her schooling at Anglican institutions, she entered the University of Melbourne in 1950, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in 1954. Descended from European Jews, she described herself as an "outsider" ("I was ashamed of my foreign interloper status") from an "Anglo-Saxon dominated" Australian culture.[1] She began publishing poetry as an undergraduate, thereafter working as a musician, extensively touring Europe, America and South-East Asia between 1955 and 1965.

She settled in Perth with her Swiss husband Karl Zwicky (the two married in 1957) and two children (one son, one daughter) and returned to literature working primarily as a Senior Lecturer in American and comparative literature at the University of Western Australia until her retirement in 1987. From 1978 till 1981 she also a was member of the literature board of the Australia Council in Sydney. Since her retirement she concentrated on her writing which won her international recognition.

In 1990 Zwicky married her second husband James Mackie who died some years later. She leads a very reclusive life in Perth: "I never expect anything. I always think I'm drifting and nobody knows I'm here, and it's great."[2] In 2004 Fay Zwicky was declared a Western Australian "Living Treasure", a term she calls "repulsive...Like being prematurely obituarized.".[2]


Recurrent themes of Zwicky's are the relation between art and the artist, the exploration of the author's Jewish heritage and autobiographical experiences. Her poetry collections have won several awards. The committee for the Patrick White Award praised Zwicky as "one of Australia's most original and accomplished poets".[2] The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English describes her style as "densely textured but elegant and direct".[3]

Zwicky's first collection, Isaac Babel's Fiddle (1975) includes a number of poems about her Lithuanian grandfather and his cultural displacement in Australia which nevertheless saved him from the Holocaust ("Summer Pogrom", "Totem and Taboo"). Zwicky also writes of her own alienation, in spite of her being "whiter than Persil".[4]

The title poem of her most-admired collection, Kaddish (1982), is an elegy for her father who died at sea. In her poem Zwicky uses the Aramaic phrases of the traditional prayer of mourning to frame her own memorial prayer detailing her complex relationship with her father. She draws on the Haggadah, the Passover Seder night liturgy. Kaddish" also uses the Lord’s Prayer and invokes God in female form as a goddess. Ivor Indyk describes Kaddish as "a mosaic of textual citations, of the Kaddish, the Passover Haggadah and numerous allusions to myth and nursery rhyme."[5]

Ask Me, Zwicky’s third book of poetry, contains poems on China, America, and a series of religious poems on the deities of the Hindu pantheon ("Ganesh", "Vishnu", "Siva", and the goddess "Devi"). In Zwicky's subsequent books she develops a sparser style of poetry. In the title poem of The Gatekeeper’s Wife Zwicky writes of the devastating loss of her husband, and recalls the custom of lighting a memorial candle. In "Losing Track" the death of her husband is linked with the tragic Jewish loss of Zion. The collection includes an elegy, "Banksia Blechifolia", for Primo Levi, and "Groundswell for Ginsberg", an homage to Allen Ginsberg.

Her most recent collection of poems, Picnic, published in 2006, gathers primarily poems about the nature of poetry and the poet's role in the world. Aside from her poetry Zwicky has published a collection of short stories, Hostages, in 1983, and a collection of essays on literature and survival, The Lyre in the Pawnshop, in 1986. In her essays Zwicky traces the ways in which the construction of an Australian literature has served to marginalize minority writers and women. She discusses the absence, until very recently, of any place for a Jewish writer in Australian literature: "Living and growing up in this country has been an exercise in repression".[1]

Awards and nominations[edit]



Short Stories


  • The Lyre in the Pawnshop: Essays on Literature and Survival 1974–1984 (UWAP, 1986) ISBN 0-85564-267-X


  • Quarry: A Selection of Western Australian Poetry (1982) (FACP) ISBN 0-909144-38-9
  • Journeys: Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett (1982) ISBN 0-908207-48-4
  • The Witnesses CD (2010) River Road Press CD Series No. 19
  • Procession: Youngstreet Poets Three (1987)


  1. ^ a b BookRags[dead link]
  2. ^ a b c The Age 12 November 2005
  3. ^ Dominic Head (ed.): The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, 3rd edition. (Cambridge: University Press, 2006), p. 1240
  4. ^ Zwicky, Fay: Waking (poem), Poems 1970–1992, Australian Poetry Library.
  5. ^ "''The Poetry Archive''". Poetryarchive.org. Retrieved 4 April 2012.