Perihelion: An Online Journal of Poetry and Mayhem
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David Musgrave

On Australian Poetry

Australian poetry is currently experiencing what is, by common agreement, its greatest efflorescence yet. It is perhaps odd for someone outside Australia to hear this said: after all, so little is known of Australian poetry beyond the confines of Australia, apart from a small number of names who are presumed by the educated reader to be the outstanding exemplars of the art. This is not necessarily the case. In Les Murray and Peter Porter, Australian poetry has had for a number of years strong overseas representation, and with the advent of Internet publishing, many more Australian poets are becoming better know abroad. Yet it might be odd for the English speaker to consider that English language poetry is reaching one of its apogees in a medium-sized country remote from other parts of the world (apart from New Zealand) where English is spoken as a first language.

This selection of poets gives a glimpse of some of the strengths of contemporary Australian poetry. By no means does it exhaust the best of what it has to offer: Murray, Porter, John Tranter, Judith Beveridge, Robert Adamson, Rosemary Dobson, Diane Fahey, Fay Zwicky and Robert Gray are other names who represent the best that poetry in Australia has to offer. Australian poetry is distinctive in the English-speaking world for a few very good reasons. Its intonation and stress patterns are different to American English (in orthography it follows UK English), and its sound is therefore unique; Australian English is one of  the language's the richest sources of slang and colloquialisms, and while these are on the decline in Australia, the legacy of their inventiveness can still be felt in the poetry of joanne burns and Pam Brown, for example. Both free verse and formalism are alive and strong in Australian poetry, the former having been strongly present in Australian verse for almost half a century. The themes of Australian poetry reflect also the combination of a relatively prosperous middle-sized nation reflecting on its good fortune while not being afraid to try the new: this is a consequence of a colonial heritage, with which many readers of American poetry may be able to identify. I hope you enjoy it.


Sydney 2009