Judith Beveridge was born in England in 1956 and migrated to Australia in 1960. She has published three books of poetry: The Domesticity of Giraffes, Accidental Grace, and more recently Wolf Notes. These three volumes have won Judith many of Australia’s major poetry awards including the Dame Mary Gilmore Award, the NSW Premier’s Award, the Victorian Premier’s Award, the Judith Wright Calanthe Poetry Prize and the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize. Her poems have been translated into several languages. She currently teaches Creative Writing at Newcastle and Sydney Universities, and is poetry editor of Meanjin.
Central to Judith Beveridge’s poetry is an ongoing, modest but profound spiritual quest that steps beyond the fracture lines of national or cultural boundaries and moves toward a rich humanist vision of community and commonality. Vested in a Buddhist sense of detachment and compassion, Beveridge’s poetry is attuned to the daily circumstances of being, the minituae of existence, uncovering ritual rather than simply habit, revealing meaning and fullness in each passing moment. Take for example the simple grace of one of Beveridge’s early poems, ‘Girl Swinging’:
A swing grinds on its chains.
A child sits pushing.
There’s no eucalyptus,
atlas pine, or flowering ash,
no other child is calling
from the tender modulations of leaves:
just each note
of her ringing hear,
the feeling of being pushed
into the air.
There is a seeming effortlessness to the reading of Beveridge’s work, an ease that sets upon the reader thanks to the clarity and precision of voice and vision that she has delievered unerringly since her very first collection. Behind the poetry is an agile and flexible mind that seems to exist wholly within the body, within a full sense of being that does not allow for the mind, for the devilish trickeries and vagaries of language, to obscure the experience of either the poetry or the world that it presents. Equally, Beveridge’s musicality is remarkable, absorbing and unfolding the cadences, the sonority and dissonance of being in the world, of each of her various subjects’ differing songs, so that the reader is not simply given an image, but the slow evolution of a presence touching upon the various senses. From the musicality of ‘To the Islands’:
I will use the sound of wind and the splash of the cormorant diving and the musicany boatman will hear in the running threads as they sing about leaving for the Islands.
I will use a sinker’s zinc arpeggio as it rolls across a wooden jetty and the soundof crabs in the shifting gravel and the scrape of awls across the hulls of yachts.
I will use the wash-board chorus of the sea and the boats and the skiffler’s skirlof tide-steered surf taken out by the wind through the cliffs.
To the physicality of ‘The Fisherman’s Son’:
Perhaps it was when he first felt his shouldersroll an oar, or when he pulled the thick boots on.Perhaps it was when he saw the curved thin rodof the moon angle into his father’s face and hookhis mouth into an ugly grin
Beveridge is one of Australia’s most gifted poets of both the natural and the human world, often allowing the interconnection between these two realms to shine forth in moments of both praise and deep consciousness. She is both a spiritual (though not religious) poet and a poet of conscience. Her latest poetry, specifically the magnificent Wolf Notes, are hymns to the transient, the disempowered and the humble, that do not transform their subjects through a poetic gaze but communicate with simplicity and clarity the endless transformations of being and its underlying wonder. The poems presented here are but a small sample of a poet whose gentle and exacting touch and sure-poetic skills bear witness to a broad human vision capable of expressing and engendering compassion, insight and grace.
New Poems on PIW
The Domesticity of Giraffes
Mud Crabs, Low Tide
Mulla Mulla Beach
To the Islands
The Fisherman’s Son
Poems published earlier on PIW
The Domesticity of Giraffes, Black Lightning Press, 1987
Accidental Grace, Giramondo, 1996
Wolf Notes, Giramondo, 2003
Websites featuring Beveridge
‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’, poem from eponymous collection.
Review of Wolf Notes by David McCooey.
The author reading her work.