Poetry: Peter Porter | clivejames.com
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Peter Porter

Always dominant in the Audio section of this website and now finally taking his due place among its guest poets, Peter Porter can be thought of as the household god of the whole enterprise. When I first arrived in London from Australia in the early 1960s, it was from his poetry that I got my first confirmation that the idea of cultural simultaneity might be a vision of the world. A decade before, he had made the same trip carrying the same notion, but he had already done a lot with it. For ten years at least – he was already writing seriously before he left home – his poetry had been teeming with the facts of contemporary life. The effigy of Phar Lap had been left behind in the Melbourne museum.  Now there were Jensen and MG sports cars burbling down the King’s Road and vanishing on the road to Haslemere.  But there were also updated epigrams from Martial, cantatas by Bach, paintings by Hieronymous Bosch. His poetry had everything, and all at once. It was classicism seen in terms of the modern age and the modern age seen in terms of the whole of history. It was a world in itself, but intimately connected to the world we were living in: connected by bonds of slang, wit, form and rhythm. It was so amazing that I couldn’t stand the pace, and for too long I tried to resist. But once I got to know the poetry better, resistance crumbled, and once I got to know the man who wrote it, I was enslaved. Like all his friends, I found his speaking voice an extension of what he wrote. The most learned and entertaining conversationalist in London, he was too modest to notice why his table was always crowded: nobody wanted to go home.

With his 80th birthday approaching, I have taken the cue to mount a selection of his poems here, but the reader should be aware that this is only the smallest sample of a body of achievement that needs to be taken on in its entirety. The poet who named one of his many collections Once Bitten, Twice Bitten was not only making an ironic reference to himself, he was sending a direct signal to his readers about the addictive nature of his poetic voice. To the links leading to the poems, other links are appended, leading to all the other material by and about Peter Porter that can be found on the site. I am lucky enough to have my own name involved with quite a lot of it, from critical articles about his work to a whole swathe of recorded dialogues, one of them on video and a full 36 of them on audio, the latter collection being, as you might imagine, one of the most rewarding ventures I was ever caught up in. But his was the guiding light, no question. There are also links to some of his articles and solo broadcasts about the arts. Dedicated to his calling, he writes critical prose on a par with his verse, and really he has never written anything in either form that we can afford to ignore.

— London, 2008
Photograph by Richard H. Smith

Peter Porter died in London on  April 23rd, 2010. The TLS memorial page written for him by Clive James can be read here.