Geoffrey Lehmann

Image by Piers Laverty

About Geoffrey Lehmann

Geoffrey Lehmann was born in Sydney in 1940, his childhood was spent at McMahon's Point on Sydney Harbour.  Educated at Anglican schools, Lehmann went on to study arts and law, graduating from the University of Sydney in 1960 and 1963 respectively. While at university he co-edited the university magazines Arna and Hermes with the poet Les Murray. Lehmann worked as a solicitor, had his own legal firm, lectured in law and taxation at the University of New South Wales, and became a tax law partner in an international accounting firm.

Lehmann's first volume of poetry, The Ilex Tree (1965) was a collaboration with Les Murray. Since then his poetry has been published regularly and collected in a number of volumes. Lehmann explores human nature with poems of diverse settings, from ancient Rome to rural New South Wales. The latter setting is exemplified in Spring Forest, in the voice of Australian farmer Ross McInerney. This was published by Faber and Faber and short-listed for the T S Eliot Prize in 1994. Spring Forest might be seen as an eclogue, exploring the pastoral, ideas of family and community, canvassing both character and environmental issues. 

His work has a strong autobiographic bent, often focusing on older men, a subject  which in his later work includes himself, in the wry and unflinching observances of poems like ‘Conversations in a Family Van’ and ‘Self Portrait at 62’.  Humour and lucidity are important elements for Lehmann, a predilection reflected in his own work and in the several anthologies he has edited alone and in collaboration with the poet Robert Gray.  The last of these collaborations, Australian Poetry Since 1788, was included in The Economist’s best books of 2011.

Lehmann has also drawn upon classical subjects, with commentators suggesting that his Roman poetry as a metaphor for the hedonism of Sydney and for the decay of cultures and regimes. This view of society is balanced by Lehmann's family poetry, both acute and tender, locating the players within a complex matrix of relationships and urban culture, with vivid evocation of place and time played out with deft use of details— restaurants, shrubberies, pet animals, are balanced with  a neat, nearly lawyerly, concision. Lehmann's influences have included C. P. Cavafy and Kenneth Slessor.

In his most recent poetry there is a sceptical acceptance of his own mortality balanced by an optimism and curiosity about the survival of intelligent life in a universe that invents itself.

These poems were recorded by Carol Jenkins in 2012 in Mosman, NSW, and bring with them Lehmann’s brio and involvement in the poem’s substance. The  inherent humour is delivered by adroit shifts in  tempo  and pitch, balanced by a knowing use of ‘white spaces’.

The Ilex Tree, with Les Murray, Australian National...

Buy

Conversation with a Rider, Cremorne: Angus and Robertson...

Buy

Nero's Poems: Translations of the Public and Private...

Buy

Children's Games, Angus and Robertson, 1990

Buy

Collected Poems, Heinemann, 1997

Buy

Spring Forest, Faber, 1994

Buy

Poems 1957-2013, University of Western Australia Press,...

Buy

Prizes

1998 Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, Collected Poems

Prize website

1994 T S Eliot Prize (shortlist), Spring Forest

Prize website

1981 Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, Nero's Poems: Translations of the Public and Private Poems of the Emperor Nero

Prize website

Books by Geoffrey Lehmann