About Susan Hampton
Susan Hampton (b. 1949) was born in Inverell, New South Wales. She taught literature and journalism and has been writer-in-residence at several Australian universities. Since 1992, she has lived in Canberra, where she works as a freelance editor. Hampton has published short stories and literary criticism. With Kate Llewellyn, she edited the landmark Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets, which gave point to the editors’ assertion that a suppressed tradition of left and feminist writing has long existed in Australia.
Hampton’s poetry is topically diverse and formally supple. Hampton seamlessly incorporates classicism in the vernacular odes and satires of Costumes, a book of verse souvenirs of childhood, travels in the UK and the ‘wifelife’, as well as humorous and mordant glances at adolescence, the teaching profession and urban unemployment. Her following White Dog Sonnets constitute a verse novella that rings the changes on moods of a relationship that offers no certainty. Classical music and literary allusions resonate in the demotic speech rhythms and shifting shapes of the story’s twenty-three sonnets. The editors of the Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1994) likened the sonnets and their companion poem, ‘Stranded in Paradise’ to ‘a modern feminist version’ of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella series.
Hampton’s shorter poems testify to her affinities with a lyric tradition that encompasses secular and religious poetry. More ambitious sequences playfully exhibit nuanced matching of contemporary dilemmas and conundrums with mythic themes and situations involving moral choices.
The impressive title poem of The Kindly Ones recounts the adventures of the sister Furies who, wearied by their task of exacting vengeance, leave the Underworld for a holiday on earth. Emerging in rural New South Wales, the sisters take in a plethora of tourist sites, and exchange their identities for those of waitress, dominatrix and telephone help-desk operator, to discover that the lives of humans are tragic, and people are brutalised into unconcern for others’ suffering. Images of Abu Ghraib, car crashes, decapitation, rape and other horrors punctuate the racy text, which concludes with the Fury Tisiphone’s return into Hell, grieving for her lover. The fluid narrative – for the most part composed in five-lines stanzas of varying length – is interspersed with crisp, often satirical, vignettes of contemporary Australian culture. Hampton’s speaker is curious and ruminative, her ironies tinged with elegy. The dialogue is impressively illuminated by sudden wit.
Hampton’s autobiographical poems, like her fabulist works, implicate the reader in considering the extent to which the past conditions the present, especially in the recent era of Australian debates about history and participation in global conflicts. Her poetry revolves on wisdom, plumbing myths in free verse that sounds like good talk. Hampton’s readings are characterised by precise enunciation, canny modulation and pace. She rewards her listeners’ attention with poems that strive toward transcendence of suffering and tragedy.