© Image by Richard H Smith

Peter Porter

(1929 - 2010)

"One of the finest poets of our time" - Anthony Thwaite

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Once Bitten, Twice Bitten, Scorpion Press 1961 - out of print
  • Poems Ancient and Modern, Scorpion Press 1963 - out of print
  • The Last of England, Oxford University Press 1970 - out of print
  • Preaching to the Converted, Oxford University Press 1972 - out of print
  • After Martial (translator), Oxford University Press 1972 - out of print
  • Living in a Calm Country, Oxford University Press 1975 - out of print
  • The Cost of Seriousness, Oxford University Press 1978 - out of print
  • English Subtitles, Oxford University Press 1981 - out of print
  • Collected Poems 1961-1983, Oxford University Press 1983 - out of print
  • Fast Forward, Oxford University Press 1984 - out of print
  • The Automatic Oracle, Oxford University Press 1987 - out of print
  • Mars Carlton Books Ltd, 1988
  • Possible Worlds, Oxford University Press 1989 - out of print
  • The Chair of Babel, Oxford University Press 1992
  • Millennial Fables, Oxford University Press 1994 - out of print
  • Dragons in their Pleasant Palaces, Oxford University Press 1997
  • Both Ends Against the Middle, Oxford University Press 1999
  • Collected Poems 1961-1999, Oxford University Press 1999 - out of print
  • Max is Missing, Picador 2001
  • Saving from the Wreck, Trent Books 2001
  • Afterburner, Picador 2004
  • The Best Australian Poetry (editor), University of Queensland Press 2005
  • Peter Porter Reading from his Poems, The Poetry Archive 2005
  • Selected Poems of Lawrence Durrell (editor), Faber and Faber 2006
  • Better Than God, Picador 2009
  • The Rest on the Flight: Selected Poems Picador 2010
Peter Porter's (1929-2010) urbane poetry was first published in 1961, since when he published sixteen collections and much journalism, collaborated with visual arts, and was Writer-in-Residence at several universities, including Hull, Reading, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Sydney. He was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, won the Duff Cooper and the Whitbread prizes, and was the subject of a special issue of Poetry Review.

Porter's work is rooted in a recognisably modern civilisation, but is aware of what that civilisation covers up - his poem 'The Sadness of the Creatures' opens with "We live in a third-floor flat / among gentle predators". This grounding allows his poetry to range among subjects, from a stoic elegy to his dead wife ('Non Piangere, Liu'), to a sardonic take on life's trivia in 'Civilization and its Disney Contents', and keeps his intelligence accessible.

His masterly control of tone allows him to transform interest in a subject into celebration of it - the Australian town 'Woop Woop', for instance, is neither mocked nor defended, but presented with a confidence that its essence will come through. That mastery is also able to present the image on 'A Chagall Postcard' in strong, vibrant imagery - "the blazing cock, the bride aloof" - then turn it smartly on itself to see the darkness beneath those images, finding a shroud in the bride's train. That this is achieved in tight, closely-rhymed stanzas adds rhetorical weight to this turn.

His reading style is clear and measured, letting his images and effects, including his elegant use of rhyme and set forms, speak for themselves. Although his voice shows the effects of living in London since 1951, it has not lost an Australian tone; as a result, listeners are given a sense of 'somewhere else' that lends the poems, completely appropriately, the weight of external observations without becoming coldly clinical. He quotes Auden's "Be subtle, various, ornamental, clever" approvingly; these qualities are all to be heard in Porter's poetry on this CD.

His recording was made on 9 July 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Peter Porter's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Be subtle, various, ornamental, clever, / And do not listen to those critics ever / Whose crude provincial gullets crave in books / Plain cooking made still plainer by plain cooks, / As though the Muse preferred her half-wit sons; / Good poets have a weakness for bad puns." - W.H. Auden (From 'The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning')

"An old art spreading rumours about / Paradise, it begs outside the gates / Of the gods: the active gods come out." - Peter Porter (from 'Poetry')


1983 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize

1987 Whitbread Prize for Poetry

1990 Gold Medal of Australian Literary Society

2002 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry

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