An important figure in contemporary Australian poetry, Lawrence has received numerous grants, awards and prizes, is widely read and anthologized, with 12 collections of poetry. Besides poetry he has written a novel, In the Half Light (Picador, 2000). Fishing, the coast and the ocean are recurrent subjects in Lawrence’s work, as is death and poets. Lawrence’s poetry ranges widely in its geography, very often landscape is tied inextricably to a poem’s ostensible theme, such as in “Whistling Foxes’, where an acute observation of his father, brings with it a window on death, ethics and the land. His might be described in some ways as a coastal poetry, salty and intrinsically Australian, detailed with a clear and elegant evocation of both place and character. This, along with his with brilliant phrasing and narrative drive combines to give his work a lyric intensity.
Lawrence writes to be accessible, and moves with ease between the vernacular, rhetorical and at times, oracular modes. His work is often visceral in detail, as in early poems like ‘Cro-kill’, or later with a cooler, nearly clinical eye in ‘Stingers.’ Lawrence’s work confronts the world’s harshness directly, in a way that connects the natural world, its animal nature and human emotion. Often his work achieves a form of mysticism, which some observers describe as religious.
Lawrence’s life and travels – through Ireland, Canada, Italy, Tibet and Italy – have provided a rich material which gives both a sense of adventure and immediacy to his work. Stephen Edgar, reviewing Lawrence’s 1995 collection, Cold Wires of Rain note; ‘As ever, I was immediately struck by his work's energy – at once fluent and restless – and the plenitude of its observations, an abundance which, though by no means lacking its darker side, leads you exuberantly through a catalogue of experience.’
Lawrence can also make a smooth transition from the naturalist to the natural larrikin, and his work often contains witty parodies of other poets’ conceits, such as his 2010 poem ‘Seeing Goats’. There is sense of physicality to Lawrence’s work, the details he describes are often almost cinematically tactile. On craft he writes: ‘With poetry, I work very slowly, word by word, line by line, with (mostly) absolutely no idea of where I'm going. I don't care. Direction takes care of itself, thematically and technically. I trust my imagination and love of language to get me there.'
He cites as his major influences a mixture of mostly 20th Century Australian and American collections, including Robert Lowell's Life Studies, the selected poems of Philip Levine, Philip Hodgins' Selected Poems, The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds, W.S. Merwin's books, Robert Adamson's Swamp Riddles, Cross the Border and The Clean Dark, the books of Judith Beveridge, James Dickey's Collected Poems, and Richard Hugo's ‘sprawling, breathtaking’ Making Certain It Goes On.
The poems in this selection were recorded in Sydney in 2010 for Lawrence’s Audio CD Flying Low in a Minor Key for the River Road Poetry Series by Carol Jenkins. Lawrence’s delivery is clear and sonorous, alive to the complex music of the poems, and his well-tuned variations in tone and pace deliver the poems’ dynamic energy with the warmth and immediacy of true story telling.