Chris Wallace-Crabbe was born in 1934. His father was a journalist and his mother a pianist, and he describes his family tradition as 'military-bohemian Scots'. After leaving school he worked as cadet metallurgist at the Royal Mint, Melbourne, then, at diverse jobs, including six months in the RAAF, before attending the University of Melbourne. Graduating in English and philosophy, he became Lockie Fellow in Australian Literature and Creative Writing, Melbourne University, from1961 to 1963; Over the next decades he became Reader in English, and then held a Personal Chair from 1988. He was Harkness Fellow at Yale University, 1965-67, Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard, 1987-8, and Visiting Professor at the University of Venice, 1973 and 2005. He has given many readings of his poetry around the world.
Wallace-Crabbe is an important figure in Australian poetry, as a poet, a critic and as an advocate for poetry. Since his first book, The Music of Division, appeared in 1959, he has published more than twenty two volumes. In the eighties he began to publish with OUP, with The Amorous Cannibal. Wallace-Crabbe's poetry ranges from the syllogistic poems of his earlier career to the more public and political poems of his later career. Frequently set in Melbourne, the poems explore the dissolution of modern life and an ongoing search for joy that he believes all humans experience. The critic Ron Sharp says of Wallace-Crabbe's Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw: 'This sometimes comic, sometimes irreverent streak in Wallace-Crabbe is one of the great spurs to his imagination, and it extends to his unending delight in the antic accidents and felicities of the language itself." Overall his work offers a wry urbanity, 'playing with shifts of register, from the pungent demotic to sometimes noble speech', as Michael Sharkey observes, as well as a finely tuned sense of 'the absurdity of politics, deluded leaders and idealists, and the saving grace of comedy".
Chris Wallace-Crabbe chairs Australian Poetry Limited in The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne, Victoria. Since his retirement he has been Professor Emeritus in The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne. He has written a novel, published literary criticism, essays and artists' books in collaboration with the painter Bruno Levi, and edited many anthologies of essays and poetry.
This recording was made in Melbourne in January 2009 by Carol Jenkins for River Road Press, showing Wallace-Crabbe in fine form with a clear and nuanced reading that gives the poems room to do their work.
In 2011, Chris Wallace-Crabbe was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the arts as as a leading poet, critic and educator, and as an ambassador and advocate for the humanities both nationally and internationally, and through support for emerging writers.
Chris Wallace-Crabbe's Favourite Poetry Sayings:
"Poetry matters, because it distils its native language for the attention of the true reader, one who resembles Sir Walter Raleigh's 'judicious sharp spectator'"
- Chris Wallace-Crabbe
"Poetry will not teach us how to live well, but it will incite in us the wish to."
- David Constantine
"Poetry is chiefly a matter of gists and piths."
- Ezra Pound
1969 Farmer's Poetry Prize, Blood is the Water
1980 Christopher Brennan Award for Literature
1984 Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities
1985 Grace Leven Poetry Prize, for The Amorous Cannibal
1987 Dublin Prize for Arts and Sciences
1992 Human Rights Award for Poetry
1995 The Age Book of the Year Award,
1995 Dinny O'Hearn Poetry Prize, for Selected Poems: 1956-1994
2002 Centenary Medal, For service to Australian society and the humanities in the study of literature and the arts
2002 Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal
2006 Doctor of Letters honoris causa, University of Melbourne
2006 St Michael's Medal