Kris Hemensley was born in 1946 on the Isle of Wight, in the UK. His father was English, his mother from the illustrious Tawa family of Alexandria. The family lived in Egypt between 1949-52, returning to Southampton where Hemensley completed his schooling. Dropping out of full-time education in 1964, Hemensley had a succession of jobs as a dustman, encyclopedia salesman, railwayman, before working on the Fairstar in 1965, during which voyage he first saw Australia. The next year he emigrated to Melbourne.
In 1967 Hemensley met Loretta Garvey who introduced him to the New Theatre (Melbourne), where he edited some issues of the newsletter, Spotlight, and had his first play, The Soul Seekers, produced. He became a friend and ally of Betti Burstall and her La Mama Cafe Theatre in 1967; several of his plays were produced at La Mama between 1967-1989 and he directed the influential weekly poetry reading, the La Mama Poetry Workshop, 1968-9.
He met Ken Taylor at La Mama in 1967 and they collaborated with poetry readings, a book (Two Poets, 1968) and several radio programmes including "Kris Hemensley's Melbourne" on the ABC in 1969. Between 1969 and 1972 Hemensley lived in Southampton, UK with wife Loretta, where their son, the rock-n-roll musician Tim Hemensley (1972-2003) was born.
Hemensley threw himself into the English small-press poetry scene, publishing widely and editing the magazine Earth Ship (1970-72), as well as Our Glass (1968-9), The Ear in a Wheatfield (1973-76), The Merri Creek Or Nero (1978-80) and H/EAR (1981-85). A selection from The Ear in a Wheatfield, "The Best of The Ear", was published by Robert Kenny's Rigmarole Books in 1985. Rigmarole also published several collections of Hemensley’s poetry including Sulking in the Seventies, and prose, including Down Under, & Games, both in 1975.
Briefly a co-editor of New Poetry magazine for Bob Adamson (1973-4), Hemensley was also poetry editor of Meanjin Quarterly (1976-78), and Melbourne correspondent for P N Review (UK) in the 90s. In the late 70s, early 80s he was Melbourne commentator for ABC Radio's Books & Writing programme. In 1975 he read with other poets associated with the Grosseteste Review at the inaugural Cambridge Poetry Festival.
Since the late 80s, he has regularly visited the UK, basing himself in Dorset. While he continued to write poetry, works for theatre (such as European Features, 1989, whose cast included the young Cate Blanchett) and for radio, he began withdrawing from publishing in the late '80s. After 1986 he didn’t publish another collection in Australia until My Life in Theatre an Audio CD and booklet in 2009. This has been followed with the chapbook Exile Triptych from Vagabond Press’s Rare Object series in 2011.
Lisa Gorton says of My Life in Theatre “..a wayward, assailable and intriguing collection,… the work of a solitary romantic”. Gorton notes that poems often turn on conversations, or something overheard. Place and its evocation are important elements in Hemensley’s work, the paradoxical substantiality and elusiveness of the past in England with its evocation of landscape and animals, as in ‘The Badger’, and the present in his surreally urban directions on how to cope with the human landscape of Melbourne in ‘Asking directions to McDonalds’.
For many years Hemensley has run the poetry bookshop, Collected Works on Swanston St, Melbourne. He also edits The Collected Works Poetry and Ideas literary blog, a diary of the Melbourne literary scene which includes issues of The Merri Creek poetry magazine.
This recording, made in Melbourne in January 2009, by Carol Jenkins for River Road Press, catches Hemensley’s relish of sound in the spoken word and self-deprecating humour. The reading shows his easy theatricality, the underplay of words, and his intensity of feeling.
Kris Hemensley 's Favourite Poetry Sayings:
"It's an existential act, it's vocational, a necessity, a way of working things out.
(of writing poetry)"
- Kris Hemensley
2004 Christopher Brennan Award
1973 Australia Council Grants, Awards and Fellowships, Literature Board Fellowship
1975 Australia Council Grants, Awards and Fellowships, Literature Board Fellowship