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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Until this morning
I’ve been woken up
by a red wattle bird
flinging himself
at the glass
of my half-open window
calling throatily
with raucous cheek
as he prances the wood
of my balcony rail ... (read more)

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

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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Movies are often criticised for their lack of fidelity, for not keeping faith with their sources, especially novels, their audience, or their glorious antecedents. Infidelity is also a key plot device, especially of genre films: melodrama, comedy, crime, even the western. We keep going back to the movies partly because they don’t give us what we want. The New York poet Frank O’Hara suggests this in ‘An Image of Leda’, his breathless adaptation of the myth of Leda and the Swan as an allegory for watching films:

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