[ilds] Peter Porter (1929 - 2010)

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat Apr 24 18:26:07 PDT 2010

Correction.  Peter Porter and Christine Berg did not accompany my wife and me to the Wadi Natrun.  I confused them with another couple.  I had other encounters with Peter, however, and he was always kind, gracious, and amusing.


On Apr 24, 2010, at 9:26 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:

> I met Peter Porter at the Durrell Celebration in Alexandria, 2007.  He gave the talk on Durrell's poetry, read from the poems, and did both very well.  He was a delightful speaker and had the poet's gift to make words come alive in an unforgettable way.  I can still hear his voice.  We talked afterwards and disagreed on matters of interpretation, but he was open to new ideas and made no claims on authority.  We also spent a day traveling to the western fringe of the Delta.  That was a memorable day, and Peter and his wife Christine helped to make it so.  The obituary below doesn't mentioned that Peter edited Lawrence Durrell:  Selected Poems (London, Faber, 2006), which is a good introduction to Durrell himself and to Peter's tastes, although I wish he'd included "Bitter Lemons" (1955).  Peter will be missed.
> Bruce
> On Apr 23, 2010, at 3:31 PM, Charles Sligh wrote:
>> Thanks to Michael Haag for calling my attention to the passing of Peter 
>> Porter.
>> CLS
>> ***
>> Peter Porter obituary
>> Australian-born poet whose moving, elegiac work was seen as among 
>> Britain's finest
>> http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/apr/23/peter-porter-obituary/print
>> * Robert Potts
>> * guardian.co.uk, Friday 23 April 2010
>>> Peter Porter, who has died of cancer, aged 81, was, though Australian 
>>> by birth, one of Britain's best-loved and most prolific poets. His 
>>> life and work exhibited a voracious and passionate care for European 
>>> and humanist culture, especially music, which he valued – though not 
>>> without a certain regret – even above poetry.
>>> Porter was born in Brisbane, Queensland, and was educated initially at 
>>> the Church of England grammar school there. In 1938, after the early 
>>> death of his mother, he was sent to board at Toowoomba grammar school, 
>>> which he later described as resembling a prison camp. "In fact, I'm 
>>> sure some people did not survive it. They are probably buried in the 
>>> grounds." He left school at 18 and did not attend university, since 
>>> his father was unable to afford it. Instead he worked as a journalist 
>>> in Brisbane, listened to music, wrote plays and was eventually sacked 
>>> for his "unworldliness".
>>> He first travelled to Britain in 1951. On the boat, he met the 
>>> novelist-to-be Jill Neville, whose 1966 novel Fall-girl portrayed 
>>> Porter as the character Seth. After taking various undemanding jobs, 
>>> he returned to Australia, sick of London, but 10 months later had 
>>> another shot at it. This time he found work at an advertising agency, 
>>> alongside a surprising number of poets and writers: William Trevor, 
>>> Gavin Ewart, Edwin Brock and Peter Redgrove.
>>> He also discovered a literary community. The Group was an informal 
>>> association of poets living in London, established in 1955 by Philip 
>>> Hobsbaum. The writers included Redgrove, George MacBeth, Martin Bell 
>>> and Edward Lucie-Smith, later joined by Fleur Adcock, Adrian Mitchell 
>>> and others. The Group offered an alternative to the prevailing 
>>> orthodoxies but did not form a coherent movement. Margaret Owen, 
>>> another member, recalled later that "no one else had Porter's note of 
>>> pain and indignation. But he also had a kind of gracelessness which 
>>> was potent and surely Australian."
>>> His first published poem appeared in a university magazine when he was 
>>> 28, but it was not until four years later that his first volume, Once 
>>> Bitten, Twice Bitten (1961), was published, by Scorpion Press. 
>>> Porter's 1960s work offered a satirical portrait of the period, with a 
>>> cast of artists and media types in swinging London. Oxford University 
>>> Press took up his fourth book, The Last of England (1970). They were 
>>> to publish him from then on, until the press's poetry division closed, 
>>> controversially, in 1999, just after they issued his Collected Poems. 
>>> Thereafter he was published by Picador.
>>> In 1961 Porter married Jannice Henry, with whom he had two daughters. 
>>> From 1968, having left advertising, Porter never worked for a salary 
>>> again, apart from odd teaching stints. He freelanced for the New 
>>> Statesman and the Times Literary Supplement, did readings for the 
>>> Third Programme (now Radio 3), and reviewed books. From 1973 to 1990 
>>> he was the "sporadically active" chief reviewer of poetry for the 
>>> Observer, and before that for the Guardian.
>>> In December 1974, Jannice killed herself. She was found dead in her 
>>> parents' house, in the nursery that had once been her own. Porter's 
>>> poems about this period, especially in The Cost of Seriousness (1978), 
>>> are among his most moving and arresting: "The time will come for me to 
>>> pay / When your slim shape from photographs / Stands at my door and 
>>> gently asks / If I have any work to do / Or will I come to bed with you."
>>> In the opinion of the poet and editor Mick Imlah: "It may be for these 
>>> Hardyesque poems about his wife that Porter will eventually be 
>>> remembered." In 1991, Porter married Christine Berg.
>>> In addition to these elegiac poems, and some candid and moving lyrics, 
>>> Porter's work from the 1970s became more meditative, packed with 
>>> allusions to myth, philosophy, art and music. With urbane wit, and 
>>> often in a colloquial or aphoristic tone, he investigated the 
>>> relationships between art, reality, death, suffering and language.
>>> Over the years, his sense of nationality gradually changed. "I haven't 
>>> an atom / in my body which I brought to Europe / in 1951," he once 
>>> wrote, and, in The Last of England, in 1970, he made a definite 
>>> statement: "I have made a conscious decision to change myself from an 
>>> Australian into a modern Englishman ... I am saying farewell to my 
>>> past and the country my family went to in the middle of last century." 
>>> Much later, he would remark that "I sometimes think that I belong to 
>>> the most notorious nationalist country; the country of 'me', so 
>>> patriotism and allegiances are small matters in comparison with my 
>>> egotism."
>>> In 1996 Porter edited The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse, an 
>>> anthology embracing several of the conflicting tendencies in 
>>> post-second world war poetry. "I think that by the time I was 
>>> finishing the anthology, I was a good deal more open-minded than when 
>>> I began it," he commented later.
>>> The publication of his Collected Poems demonstrated both the breadth 
>>> of his achievements and their variety. George Szirtes called attention 
>>> to that range: "All the apparatus of high culture ... cats, popes, 
>>> domestic sorrow, Auden, money, conspiracies, torture chambers, 
>>> concentration camps, consumer goods, sex, domesticity, agents of 
>>> political oppression, seediness, dreams of welfare state Britain, 
>>> corrupt institutions, great tracts of Shakespeare, the Bible and big 
>>> encyclopedias, the chatter of history and the chatter of the 
>>> chattering classes."
>>> Clive James described Porter's work as "so freighted with learned 
>>> references that I can't even tell if I don't know what they mean". 
>>> Other critics had similar notes of qualification: "A poet of superior 
>>> chit-chat"; "The second half of Collected Poems can read like the 
>>> Porter pocket guide to western culture, with guilt, religion, sex and 
>>> the decline of the west, all written up in a tone of the uttermost, 
>>> maddening reasonableness." Gerald Mangan noted that the later Porter 
>>> was "increasingly haunted by the later Auden, the gourmet-sage in 
>>> carpet slippers, whose eschatology is consoled by small sensual 
>>> pleasures".
>>> Porter, in the Collected Poems, wittily acknowledged the receipt of a 
>>> grant, for which, at the age of 70, "I am especially grateful ... at 
>>> such a crucial stage in my career as a writer". He had received awards 
>>> and prizes throughout, among them the 1983 Duff Cooper memorial prize; 
>>> the 1988 Whitbread poetry award (for The Automatic Oracle); the 2002 
>>> Forward prize, for Max Is Missing; and a Queen's gold medal for poetry 
>>> in 2002.He was honoured in Australia too. In 1998 he received an 
>>> emeritus award of A$30,000 from the country of his birth. Porter 
>>> published two further volumes: Afterburner (2004), whose post-meteoric 
>>> title wryly acknowledged his advanced years; and Better Than God (2009).
>>> Although frequently self-deprecating, with "a deep impulse towards 
>>> anonymity", he was a proud as well as modest man, whose lectures 
>>> rarely missed a chance to quote his own work, and whose conversation 
>>> at parties could sometimes resemble a lecture in itself.
>>> "What I have written, I have written, and I do the best I can," he 
>>> wrote in his late 60s. "But I don't think of poetry as an exalted 
>>> calling, as some poets do. I love music so much that, in poetry, I'm 
>>> always looking for an authority in language that is not wholly 
>>> dependent on meaning. I want meaning to be elsewhere. But that 
>>> authority, of course, cannot be found ... I am a baffled realist, 
>>> frustrated formalist and superstitious humanist. If there is a message 
>>> in my poetry, it is that human dilemmas are constant, evil exists 
>>> alongside some manifestations of good, and that one must write out of 
>>> all aspects of life as one encounters it."
>>> He also described himself as "an unmodified socialist" who believed 
>>> that "everybody should be paid the same wage or rewarded to the same 
>>> degree, irrespective of talent, application to work or contribution to 
>>> society". But he was sceptical about the place of politics in poetry: 
>>> "In general, however, it is in mapping out the world in as much detail 
>>> and complexity as the forms of verse allow that poets do most for 
>>> political enlightenment."
>>> He is survived by Christine, his two daughters and two stepdaughters.
>>> • Peter Neville Frederick Porter, poet, born 16 February 1929; died 23 
>>> April 2010
>> <><><><><><><><><><><>
>>> Poet Peter Porter dies aged 81
>>> Peter Porter, pictured in 1973
>>> Peter Porter's career was studded with accolades
>>> http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts_and_culture/8641050.stm
>>> Peter Porter, a winner of both the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and 
>>> the Forward Prize, has died at the age of 81 after being treated for 
>>> cancer.
>>> The Australian-born poet, who moved to England in 1951, worked as a 
>>> bookseller while he developed his literary career.
>>> His first collection, Once Bitten, Twice Bitten, was published in 1961.
>>> He won the Forward Prize, the UK's biggest annual award, for Max Is 
>>> Missing in 2002, the same year he was honoured with the Queen's Medal.
>>> In 1968, he became a full-time poet, journalist, reviewer and broadcaster.
>>> His 1978 anthology The Cost of Seriousness, written after the death of 
>>> his first wife in 1974, was regarded by critics as his best.
>>> His 2004 collection Afterburner was shortlisted for the TS Eliot 
>>> prize, while last year's Better Than God was shortlisted for the 2009 
>>> Forward Prize.
>>> Following his Forward Prize win, judge and National Poetry Day founder 
>>> William Sieghart described Porter as "one of the most distinguished 
>>> poets at work in Britain today".
>>> Mr Sieghart described Max Is Missing as "contemporary, witty, urbane 
>>> and vibrant". 
>> -- 
>> ********************************************
>> Charles L. Sligh
>> Assistant Professor
>> Department of English
>> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
>> charles-sligh at utc.edu
>> ********************************************
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