Dorothy Porter

I heard the Egypt story countless times, but then Dorothy Porter believed that if a story was worth telling, it warranted multiple retellings. In the late 1980s, before Dot and I met, she visited Egypt to gather material for her verse novel Akhenaten (1992). In Cairo, she joined a tour group taking in the major historical sights ...

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Waiting on a reeking strange
     railway station –
then the dead-quiet but crowded
     night ferry.

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We were never married, Dido.
Cease weeping, let me leave and agree
we both knew real spouses.

Even as the ghost of my precious wife passed
through my clutching arms like mist

El Dorado by Dorothy Porter

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May 2007, no. 291

Dorothy Porter’s verse novels are delicious and distancing, formal, fiery and frenetic. With the possible exception of What a Piece of Work (1999), they get better and better. Early on, El Dorado smacks you in the face and strokes your imagination with a ‘little girl’s / dead hand / … sticking stiffly / up / as if reaching / to grab an angel’s / foot’. Framed by epigraphs from Gilgamesh, Peter Pan and Wallace Stevens, an enigmatic gesture of thanks ‘for the magic snakes’, a stanza from Yeats’s ‘The Stolen Child’ and a prologue invoking the ‘thick alien ice’ of Europa, Porter’s latest verse novel is contextualised with multiple, allusive legendry. This is a work that invokes and reimagines, iconoclastically, various fantasies (Atlantis, Neverland, El Dorado), mythologies (Greek, Roman, Christian) and pop-ular culture fantasists such as Disney, the Beatles, the Flintstones, and literary allusions to Shakespeare, Keats, Donne, Dickinson, Stevenson, Doyle, Carroll, Twain. El Dorado is as much about how fantasy works as it is a fantastic detective narrative.

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This six a.m. moment
in the cool-blue cool
of early morning
is not eternal.

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Dorothy Porter’s new verse novel, Wild Surmise, takes an almost classic form. The verse novel is now well-established as a modern genre, and Porter has stamped a distinctive signature and voice on the verse form, particularly with the phenomenal success of her racy, action-packed detective novel, The Monkey’s Mask (1994) ...

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It’s the silence. Even by the river, my ears are straining. It’s the silence. At this moment it’s a warmish humid silence with the grass outside lushly mesmerising the eye.

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Without the slightest hint of irony, Jewel Kilcher, the young Alaskan poet and singer whose first volume of free verse, A Night without Armor, was published to popular acclaim a year or two ago, quotes Dylan Thomas in her preface: ‘A good poem is a contribution to reality.’ Thomas, thankfully, was right, and although we might argue, as poets often do, about the shape reality might take, it remains true to this day that good poetry contributes more to what we know, as individuals and as communities, and helps provide the ground for knowing what our realities can become.

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Crete by Dorothy Porter

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April 1996, no. 179

‘Byron!’, said Max Beerbohm ‘– he would be all forgotten today if he had lived to be a florid old gentleman with iron-grey whiskers, writing very long, very able letters to The Times about the Repeal of the Com Laws.’ As we know, things turned out otherwise, and Byron lives on, in the hallowed phrase, as flash as a rat with a gold tooth.

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Dorothy Porter has been called an audacious poet. She has been called a sexy read. Doug Anderson described her as ‘One of our most exuberant and perceptive purveyors of passion.’ With the publication of her latest book, The Monkey’s Mask, Porter’s reputation stands firm.

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