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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Peter Porter has died - aged 81

Death is immaculate: we must not write of it,
Living in the scenery of its sick wit.

Peter Porter

How sad. I was skimming a list of poetry matters when the news was simply there in blunt terms. Death is always blunt, isn't it, the full stop in the middle of a sentence of unknown length until it is finished. A mortal tale has a mortal end.

I stopped typing just now to pat my dog who was looking for attention. I patted her, reflecting on a day some years ago now when the great Australian poet who had gone and lived in England for so long, came for a visit to Perth. The practicalities of his visit were of no interest to me, but the man himself was. A friend of mine, one of this State's best poets ever, William Grono, invited me to an afternoon with Peter Porter, at his and his wife, Janet's, place. I eagerly said Yes. Sex and the Over Forties, Morts aux Chats ... I read them and a few others afresh to anybody who was handy.

My daughter Alice and I attended that afternoon. And we met Peter Porter, a gentle man with an English accent, and sat down to chat. Instead of a few bon mots about poetry and poetics, Peter P wanted to talk about advertising - a job we had both had but he had escaped. I was still in its clutches. Well, to have more than a kind 'How do you do' was very nice, but to talk about advertising wasn't the way I wanted things to go, but my core shyness stopped me trying bluntly to change the subject. (He had no doubt spent the air journey writing a review of a few poetry books and preparing whatever paper he had to deliver in my home town. He may well have been sick of the subject of Poetry! The idea never occurred to my over-eager young mind.)

Some months later, an English teacher mentioned Peter Porter or alluded to one of his poems in a class at the high school Alice attended. She proudly declared, 'I've met him.' The teacher - I can only guess at the tone of her reproach - said, 'I don't think so, Alice. He lives in England.' And I don't know how far my daughter went in challenging her teacher - my daughter does have a mind of her own - but it is just another instance where teachers of a certain style lose the confidence of their students. But that's a hobbyhorse for another time ...

So, Peter Porter has gone. I will pull out his books today and have a reading of my favourites - including The Great Poet comes here in Winter, What I have Written I Have Written and On First Looking into Chapman's Hesiod - I won't wear a long face or tell everyone I meet my small anecdote, but a small corner of my heart will wear black for another dead poet.



Nicholas Pounder said...

Thanks Andrew


lou said...

yes thanks Mr Burke, I met Peter Porter through you and the anecdote with your daughter is "rich" :) Lots of underlying meanings etc. All this tks to Jennifer Compton, poet (Melbourne.)