About Geoffrey Lehmann
Geoffrey Lehmann was born in Sydney in 1940, his childhood was spent at McMahon’s Point on Sydney Harbour. Educated at Anglican schools, Lehmann went on to study arts and law, graduating from the University of Sydney in 1960 and 1963 respectively. While at university he co-edited the university magazines Arna and Hermes with the poet Les Murray. Lehmann worked as a solicitor, had his own legal firm, lectured in law and taxation at the University of New South Wales, and became a tax law partner in an international accounting firm.
Lehmann’s first volume of poetry, The Ilex Tree (1965) was a collaboration with Les Murray. Since then his poetry has been published regularly and collected in a number of volumes. Lehmann explores human nature with poems of diverse settings, from ancient Rome to rural New South Wales. The latter setting is exemplified in Spring Forest, in the voice of Australian farmer Ross McInerney. This was published by Faber and Faber and short-listed for the T S Eliot Prize in 1994. Spring Forest might be seen as an eclogue, exploring the pastoral, ideas of family and community, canvassing both character and environmental issues.
His work has a strong autobiographic bent, often focusing on older men, a subject which in his later work includes himself, in the wry and unflinching observances of poems like ‘Conversations in a Family Van’ and ‘Self Portrait at 62’. Humour and lucidity are important elements for Lehmann, a predilection reflected in his own work and in the several anthologies he has edited alone and in collaboration with the poet Robert Gray. The last of these collaborations, Australian Poetry Since 1788, was included in The Economist’s best books of 2011.
Lehmann has also drawn upon classical subjects, with commentators suggesting that his Roman poetry as a metaphor for the hedonism of Sydney and for the decay of cultures and regimes. This view of society is balanced by Lehmann’s family poetry, both acute and tender, locating the players within a complex matrix of relationships and urban culture, with vivid evocation of place and time played out with deft use of details— restaurants, shrubberies, pet animals, are balanced with a neat, nearly lawyerly, concision. Lehmann’s influences have included C. P. Cavafy and Kenneth Slessor.
In his most recent poetry there is a sceptical acceptance of his own mortality balanced by an optimism and curiosity about the survival of intelligent life in a universe that invents itself.
These poems were recorded by Carol Jenkins in 2012 in Mosman, NSW, and bring with them Lehmann’s brio and involvement in the poem’s substance. The inherent humour is delivered by adroit shifts in tempo and pitch, balanced by a knowing use of ‘white spaces’.