Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In memory of Peter Porter: Australian poet (1929-2010)

"See how our once lived lives stay on to haunt us"

Peter Porter, "An Australian Garden"
Although he lived overseas for some 60 years the Australian born poet Peter Porter, who died this week, wrote many beautiful meditations on Australian life, events and places.

You are discovering one of the mimetic truths
About Australia - it is a long and silver littoral
Within the sound of surf, a country rhymed by waves
And scanned by the shifting outlines of the bay.
We are all still strangers on its shore - the palms,
The Norfolk pines, the painted face of concrete to the sea -
No matter how far from the coast you go you only
Leave yourself and drift in double legend to
An old impossibility - no wonder those explorers sought
An Inland Sea; it was the pool of madness in them
Fed by rivers running into nothing. Relax instead
Along the endless shore, the mountain seas of sand,
The various heads and raging bars where change of tide
Rips channels to a narrow bottleneck - you can be
Odysseus or Captain Cook, forget the package tours
Flying into Cairns. The washed-up stubbies on the beach,
And step into a balanced darkness, mangroves, mud
And soft withdrawal at late evening. Your inheritance
Is welcoming you, and as you flap along the sandbanks
Look out to sea and watch the tourist preen himself:
'Thus sung they in the 'Australian boat' but not to praise
The land, themselves or God, but with a level voice
To mark their presence in a sky of perfect stars.

from Peter Porter Collected Poems (Oxford University Press 1999)

But his poetry is also infused with a deep melancholy that haunts the land and those of us who live and were born here.
"No- one can say why hearts will break
and marriages are all opaque:
A map of loss, some posted cards
The living house reduced to shards
The abstract hell of memory
The pointlessness of poetry"

from Exequy, the Costs of Seriousness copyright Peter Porter
I appreciated how Porter questioned the narcissistic obsession we have in this country with our "national identity". In his poem "The Burning Fiery Furnace" from Better than God he wrote:
"Henry Ford was right: what's history,
Why do Australians wonder who they are"
Infinite stars in heaven-your one star
Is your own life- the millions don't agree.

They sulk in digits and symposia
And measure muscle tone and their synapses
Childhood’s Tower (not Ivory) collapses.
Eucalyptus is a plain ambrosia.

I write this down I’m sure because I’m old;
The country of my birth’s become hot news
And selfishness would always take short views —
My ancestors came out and found no gold.

The world is made again in each of us.
Australian homes are dark to help the sun
Lure children out for democratic fun.
The myopic boy’s gazetted an Odysseus."
A collection of Peter Porter's poetry can be found here. An 2009 interview with Peter Porter from the ABC Radio National Book Show is here.

This piece from the Australian includes links to Obituaries of Peter Porter.

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