About Peter Porter
Peter Porter’s (1929-2010) urbane poetry was first published in 1961, since when he published sixteen collections and much journalism, collaborated with visual arts, and was Writer-in-Residence at several universities, including Hull, Reading, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Sydney. He was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, won the Duff Cooper and the Whitbread prizes, and was the subject of a special issue of Poetry Review.
Porter’s work is rooted in a recognisably modern civilisation, but is aware of what that civilisation covers up – his poem ‘The Sadness of the Creatures’ opens with “We live in a third-floor flat / among gentle predators”. This grounding allows his poetry to range among subjects, from a stoic elegy to his dead wife (‘Non Piangere, Liu’), to a sardonic take on life’s trivia in ‘Civilization and its Disney Contents’, and keeps his intelligence accessible.
His masterly control of tone allows him to transform interest in a subject into celebration of it – the Australian town ‘Woop Woop’, for instance, is neither mocked nor defended, but presented with a confidence that its essence will come through. That mastery is also able to present the image on ‘A Chagall Postcard’ in strong, vibrant imagery – “the blazing cock, the bride aloof” – then turn it smartly on itself to see the darkness beneath those images, finding a shroud in the bride’s train. That this is achieved in tight, closely-rhymed stanzas adds rhetorical weight to this turn.
His reading style is clear and measured, letting his images and effects, including his elegant use of rhyme and set forms, speak for themselves. Although his voice shows the effects of living in London since 1951, it has not lost an Australian tone; as a result, listeners are given a sense of ‘somewhere else’ that lends the poems, completely appropriately, the weight of external observations without becoming coldly clinical. He quotes Auden’s “Be subtle, various, ornamental, clever” approvingly; these qualities are all to be heard in Porter’s poetry on this CD.
Peter Porter’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:
“Be subtle, various, ornamental, clever, / And do not listen to those critics ever / Whose crude provincial gullets crave in books / Plain cooking made still plainer by plain cooks, / As though the Muse preferred her half-wit sons; / Good poets have a weakness for bad puns.” – W.H. Auden (From ‘The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning’)
“An old art spreading rumours about / Paradise, it begs outside the gates / Of the gods: the active gods come out.” – Peter Porter (from ‘Poetry’)
Peter's recording was made on 9 July 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by Peter Porter
Featured in the Archive
Books by Peter Porter
Once Bitten Twice Bitten
Scorpion Press, 1961
Living in a Calm Country
Oxford University Press, 1975
Oxford University Press, 1983
The Automatic Oracle
Oxford University Press, 1987
A Porter Selected: Poems 1959–1989
Oxford University Press, 1989
Dragons in Their Pleasant Palaces
Oxford University Press, 1997
Collected Poems. 2 vols. Oxford & Melbourne
Oxford University Press, 1999
Better Than God
Duff Cooper Memorial Prize for his first Collected Poems
Whitbread Poetry Award for Automatic Oracle
Australian Literature Society Gold Medal for Possible Worlds
Age Book of the Year Poetry Prize Co-winner for Dragons in their Pleasant Palaces
The First King's Lynn Award for Merit in Poetry
Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal at the Mildura Writer's Festival
Forward Poetry Prize for Max Is Missing
Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry
Medal of the Order of Australia
Honorary Fellow of the English Association, UK
Royal Society of Literature Companion of Literature
Honorary Doctorate, Nottingham Trent University
Age Book of the Year Poetry Prize for Better Than God