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Anna Couani (1948 – )

Anna Couani, Annandale NSW, garden, circa 1980, photo by John Tranter Anna Couani, Annandale NSW, garden, circa 1980, photo by John Tranter

Anna Couani was born in Sydney in 1948, the eldest of four children of John Couani and Stefania Siedlecky, both medical doctors. Her parents were both born in Australia but came from non-Anglo European backgrounds: Greek on her father’s side, and Polish and Welsh on her mother’s. The family lived for a time in Darwin, and then in the Blue Mountains, before returning to Sydney in the late 1950s. Couani attended Sydney Girls High School in the early 1960s, and began an Architecture Degree at the University of Sydney in 1965. She left university in 1968, but returned to complete her degree in 1974. Developing an interest in conceptual art, Couani taught art at a secondary school in the early 1970s, and in 1977 attended Teacher’s College to study art education. From the early 1980s she worked in Intensive English Language Centres, and in 1991 completed an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. In 2005 she started working as a teacher of English as a second language in public high schools.

Couani’s interest in conceptual art brought her into contact with other avant garde artists and writers including Ken Bolton, Kris Hemensley, and Robert Kenny. She began writing experimental work in the prose poem form in the mid-1970s, and published her first collection, Italy, in 1977. At the same time she became active in small-press publishing, co-editing (with Ken Bolton) a journal of experimental writing, Magic Sam, and establishing a book series, Sea Cruise Books, which continued until 1989, producing volumes of poetry by Couani, Bolton, Kenny, Hemensley, Joanne Burns, and Pamela Brown, among others. She was involved in the foundation of the Sydney branch of the Poets Union in 1977, but objected to what she saw as a male, Anglo-centric bias in the organisation, and in 1978 helped form a different group, the Sydney Women Writers Workshop. In the 1980s Couani published other collections of her own experimental writing, including Were all Women Sex Mad? and other stories (1982), The Train (1983), The Harbour Breathes (1989). Her work has variously been interpreted as short fiction and poetry in the prose poem style, though it tends to blur such distinctions.

She also has a website with interviews and more poetry.


Poetry Collections
  • Italy (Clifton Hill, Vic: Ragman Productions, 1977).
  • The Train (Melbourne: Rigmorale Books, 1983).
  • The Harbour Breathes (Glebe, NSW and Burwood, Vic: Sea Cruise Books and Masterthief, 1989).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Anne Brewster, ‘Anna Couani,’ in Selina Samuels, ed., Australian Writers 1975–2000 (Detroit, USA: Gale Research Co., 2006), pp. 53–58.
  • Anne Brewster, ‘Interview with Anna Couani,’ Hecate 31.1 (2005), pp. 31–42.
  • Anna Couani, ‘Statements: Anna Couani,’ in David Brooks and Brenda Walker, eds., Poetry and Gender: Statements and Essays in Australian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1989), pp. 30–31.
  • Joan Kirkby, ‘ “A Woman is Watching Things”: The Work of Anna Couani,’ Meanjin 42.4 (1983): pp. 491–98.
  • Myron Lysenko, ‘Interview: Anna Couani,’ Going Down Swinging no.5 (1982), pp. 30–36.