John Watson was born in 1939 in the Bland district in NSW. He went on to study mathematics at the University of Sydney and worked as a high-school maths teacher for thirty years until taking early retirement at fifty-five. He then began writing poetry full-time.

His approach to poetry is discursive, deductive and systematic, reflecting his training in analytical methods and wide ranging interests in art, cinema, science and poetry. One of his trademarks is the love of form and he will take a single narrative incident, and as he says ‘versify’ into various traditional forms, frequently inventing new poetic forms and categories to extend the range. This approach can be seen in his poem ‘Freeze Frame’, in which he takes a comment by the film director Lars Von Trier and writes it in twelve different forms including sonnet, limerick, triolet, haiku, sestina, quatrain and something he dubs ‘Youth Speak’. The effect, turning over the way a simple story is amplified by serially taking up particular perspectives, works both cumulatively and synergistically, creating a slow sly joke, this varied method of telling paradoxically subsuming and amplifying the story. The due consideration and numeration of various qualities of any subject, and frequently central and ancillary themes, is a hallmark of Watson’s work. His control of tone, patient consideration, and intellectual rigour has seen him win a number of major Australian poetry prizes in the last few years.

Watson’s poems are rich with observations of the natural and literary worlds, showing his interest and enthusiasm for visual art and in particular landscape art and his constant fascination with clouds and water, over all of which presides his interest in humour and metaphysics. In a time when humour, the pun and jokes can be regarded as intellectually shallow, Watson persists in his witty poetic campaign to undermine stuffy conventionalities while remaining sincere. Of his own work Watson says he ‘prefers humour to severity, the playful or Menippean to the didactic or tragic’.

Since the publication of his first collection A First Reader (Five Islands Press) he was won numerous literary prizes and published thirteen further collections. The Australian poet and reviewer Geoff Page notes that Watson’s ‘…poems range considerably, from beautifully poised meditations in the manner of Wallace Stevens through to light-hearted satire and Edward Lear-style nonsense. Many of the poems in Occam’s Aftershave are joyfully and unapologetically ekphrastic. They are frequently self-aware but not at all postmodern – even if their creator is not shy about addressing the reader directly.’

While Watson’s reading of his poems falls within the tradition of the great Australian yarn, with its off-the-cuff tone and dry delivery, there are telling elements of stagecraft in the changes of pitch and tempo which underpin the subtleties of humour.

This recording was produced specifically for the Poetry Archive by Carol Jenkins. The poems were recorded in Sydney in 2010 and 2011.

Poems by John Watson

To the Faithful Reader - John Watson
The Man of Feeling at Sizzler: W. Maidment Dines Out - John Watson
How to Write a Poem (from ‘Three Instructive Poems’) - John Watson
A Recipe for Sea Water - John Watson


The Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize 2012

Prize website

Newcastle Poetry Prize (shortlist) 2011

Prize website

Newcastle Poetry Prize (shortlist) 2010

Prize website

Blake Poetry Prize (2009)

Prize website

The C.J. Dennis Prize for Poetry (shortlist) 2007

Prize website

Newcastle Poetry Prize 2001-2002

Prize website