The Rest on the Flight: Selected Poems

The Rest on the Flight: Selected Poems

Peter Porter
Allen & Unwin, $39.99

More than ever, how can we encourage a people mired in mediocrity and sleaze to appreciate its finest poets?

Well, here’s one: Peter Porter, estranged Aussie, born in Brisbane in 1929, emigrating to England in 1951, whose work, winning many poetry prizes, was “prolific, knotty, satirical, full of apophthegms and cunning”, dying last year aged 81.

Porter has been described as satirist, philosopher, elegist, aphorist, cultural historian “one of the finest poets since the second world war”, “an undoctrinaire socialist”, “not a conventionally religious” but …

David Malouf (Introduction) and Clive James (concluding essay) note his self-deprecation, the darkness and despair. Even attempting to be classical broke his heart.

He was a denizen of public libraries and thought an interest in poetry, painting, music and politics was the stuff of life.

Sean O’Brien said for Porter life was a blessing and nightmare and that art offered both a near-divine transcendence and a stained confession.

Porter was an outsider, satirising what he considered an age of decadence.

His work — his eye for bold connections, his satires, reflections on art and literature, and his elegies — is honest and human but literarily and historically allusive to the point of being elusive.

Each morning before Christmas I read a poem a day and will not challenge the publicist’s assertion that this book is a one-volume education.

Porter, who meditated on death and was angry at a “careful but uncaring God”, reportedly said, “I don’t think Auden really loved God; he was just attracted to him.”

How can you not be not be drawn to a bloke for whom behind the fabric of reality, “creatures with shears spit and wait”?

Another of our finest poets with a new “collected poems” is Francis Webb (UWA Publishing, $32.95).

Stephen Webb

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