Michael Sharkey (b. 1946) grew up in country and suburban New South Wales, the eldest of six children. His parents farmed, then moved to the suburbs. His mother was a painter and his father a science and humanities teacher. After studying to be a science teacher himself, then working in the public service and in publishing, he studied English and History at Sydney University. He moved to New Zealand where he completed a PhD on Byron. He taught at Auckland University and several universities in Australia and China. He is now an associate professor at the University of New England.
He was introduced to the balladry of Europe and Australia, and Roman and Greek poetry by his parents and their friends. Chaucer caught his attention early. He began writing after reading modern and medieval French poetry. His first book, Woodcuts, was published when he was thirty-two.
Sharkey's poetry has affinities with that of Prévert and Auden. . Over the last 30 years Michael Sharkey has published 19 books. Each of his collections is rich with ideas including experiments with rhyme and measure. Sharkey's poetry has a casual ease with the formal demands of poetry, employing the vernacular without losing opportunities for irony, wit or for the exercise of a disillusion that somehow sparks joyously off its misanthropic energy. His poems are consistently compelling. When he begins the poem 'Anything Goes' with: "The truth is life is mostly very dull,/ and peace and war are ordinary things./ Most jumbo jets don't fall out of the sky,/ most bills get paid. Most people do not die/ by firing squad", the direction is both surprising and intuitively appealing, using a five-beat line with stabbed out rhymes that give us both Sharkey's voice and an echo of, perhaps, Blake. In that poem he celebrates the fact that "Decency that's learnt/in little things remains", and this steady faith in the ordinary lives of ordinary people has been an anchor for his poetry.
Though Sharkey's poetry is always aware of itself as public speech, sometimes this encompasses intimacy and delicacy of feeling: "Without you/ all music/ would be late quartets and blues:/ there'd be no news/ to fuel poems ... the birds would sing/ and I would not." Sharkey's poetry is about stylishness as well as style.
Michael Sharkey has worked as an academic specializing in Australian colonial poetry, American literature, Byron, women's poetry of the First World War, and rhetorical analysis at the University of New England in New South Wales. . He has edited a number of anthologies, collections of poetry, and in 1988 he edited the Illustrated Treasury of Australian Humour. He was editor of the respected literary journal Ulitarra from 1992 until 2001.
Sharkey's reading gives a sense of his low-key theatricality, giving the listener a pocket compass to navigate his imagined geographies, a taste of his wry and compassionate humour, and perhaps best of all, his impeccable timing. The audio was recorded in January 2007 (Fairy Meadow), April 2007 (Mosman) and January 2008 (Bundanon) by Carol Jenkins for River Road Press.