Peter Porter was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1929. He moved to London in 1951, and became associated with ‘The Group’ of poets including Martin Bell and Phillip Hobsbaum. Porter worked in bookselling and advertising before becoming a freelance writer and broadcaster in 1968, working for The Observer as poetry critic. In 1999, OUP published two volumes of Porter’s poetry covering the years 1961-1981 (volume 1), and 1984 -1999 (volume 2).
In 2001, 50 years after leaving Australia, he returned to Melbourne for the premiere of The voice of Love, a song cycle combining the words of Peter Porter, and the music of the British composer Nicholas Maw. In the same year, he was Poet-in-Residence for the Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall.
Arguably, the most distinguished poet working in Britain today – and one profoundly informed by European history and culture – is an Australian. Peter Porter was born in Brisbane and moved to London at the age of twenty-one. Porter’s extraordinary body of work includes eighteen collections of poetry, highly-influential edited volumes and a monumental two-volume Collected Poems, published by OUP in 1999.
Despite his profile and high-octane intellectual presence, Porter is a poet whose influence on British poetry has taken the singularly healthy form of inspiring admirers rather than spawning imitators. He remains, in other words, sui generis. The movement of pure intellection in his verse has undoubtedly been permission - giving to the middle generation of male poets in particular – poets as various as Paul Farley and Mick Imlah have escaped the old- fashioned lyric tendency in ways which would not have been possible without Porter’s refusal of easy music and sentiment. However, the characteristic Porter cadence – slightly questioning, always as if amazed at the ease with which the complexity of the world can be observed – is his alone.
Evidence of this generous diffusion can be found in the catholicity of his editorial work: The English Poets (co-edited with Anthony Thwaite, 1974), the revised 4th Edition of the Faber Book of Modern Verse (1982), The Complete Poems of Martin Bell (1988), The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse (1988) and the British Council’s New Writing (with A.S.Byatt, 1997). But it’s most apparent in the poetry itself; to read which is to encounter a fabulously well-furnished mind, emotional intelligence – and the kind of wit which wears poetic technique so lightly it seems artless.
Porter’s first collection, Once Bitten, Twice Bitten, was published in 1961. The Cost of Seriousness (1978) was written after the death of his first wife. His first Collected Poems (1983) won the Duff Cooper Prize and The Automatic Oracle (1987) the Whitbread Poetry Award in 1988. He was awarded the Gold Medal for Australian Literature in 1990.
These poems are taken from Peter Porter’s new collection, Better than God, that will be published by Picador in February 2009. With the exception of ‘This page insists that I explain myself’, these poems were first published in Poetry Review.
Once Bitten, Twice Bitten, Scorpion Press, London, 1961
After Martial, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1972
Living in a Calm Country, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975
The Cost of Seriousness, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1978
English Subtitles, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1981
Collected Poems, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1983
The Automatic Oracle, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987
Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse (editor), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988
Possible Worlds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989
The Chair of Babel, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992
Millennial Fables, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994
Dragons in their Pleasant Palaces, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997
Collected Poems Volume 1: 1961-1981, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999
Collected Poems Volume 2: 1984-1999, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999
Max is Missing, Picador, London 2001
Afterburner, Picador, London, 2004
Peter Porter on Poetry Archive
Here you can listen to a special recording for Poetry Archive
Peter Porter on BBC Radio 3
In 2001, Porter was Poet - in - Residence at the 'Proms', here you can listen to his poem in progress