I matured late as a poet. If maturing is what you’d call it.
A lot of my writing students, women and men in their middle years, say they wrote poetry when they were young. They say it as though it’s a thing one outgrows; for me it’s a thing I grew into. I didn’t write many poems until I was forty; suddenly it’s most of what I write. I guess I was making myself ready, and poetry’s a thing you need to be ready for. Poetry is writing from which everything approximate and inessential has been scoured. It is a reduction. And, to pull it off, it helps to know something about loss and a fair bit more about language and art and human nature—about everything—than I knew when I was younger.
Poetry is story without plot; it is song without music; it is philosophy without jargon; it is dreaming without sleeping; it is thinking beyond reason. It is the truest writing—writing stripped bare. It is where a writer like me might well end up: someone more sold on rhythm and voice than on plot and invention; someone more given to exploration than to fabrication; someone committed to making beautiful sense. It is where I have ended up, anyway. Not that I’ve abandoned prose; I still write essays, though they become leaner and more musical by the moment. I write under the influence of what poetry has taught me.
In my book, The Land’s Wild Music, I spend some time, as many have done before me, trying to say what makes a poem a poem. What I say there—and I’m far from the first person to say it—is this. What distinguishes poetry from prose is form—the moulds into which the poet pours language, and what she must do to language to make it fit and yet still make sense—transcendent sense, in fact. What the poet must do is compress language and make it vivid and apt, shapely and suggestive. A poem is, as Archibald McLeish once said; it does not merely mean. It is a sculpture and a chant and an oracle.
My favourite poets and others who’ve influenced me, and whose voices you may hear in my own: Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Crisp, T S Eliot Robert Frost, James Galvin, Robert Gray, Martin Harrison, Kevin Hart, Gwen Harwood, Robertson Jeffers, Laurie Kutchins, Czeslaw Milosz, Mary Oliver, Louise Oxley, Kenneth Rexroth, Douglas Stewart, Frank Stewart, William Carlos Williams, Charles Wright, Judith Wright, Walt Whitman.
As we speak, I’m gathering my poems and hoping they amount to a book and hoping that book gets published soon. My poems have been published in journals: Island, Australian Book Review, Manoa and PAN. Some of them appear in anthologies: the anthology of the Broadway Prize (2006) and of the Newcastle Prize (2006). But until my book appears, and because my poems are not easy to find, and because they are easy to share, I include a few here.