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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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The Bee Hut by Dorothy Porter

October 2009, no. 315

The Bee Hut, Dorothy Porter’s fifteenth book, is a collection of poems written between 2004 and her death in December 2009. Many poems address mortality: ‘nothing lasts / not Forster. not Cavafy’s eloquent doomed mediocrities. not you.’ Another important motif is travel and how it affects the traveller. There are two almost contrary themes in the travel poems: the recurring image of the artist as vulture or vampire, destroying what feeds it; and the stately museum or gallery preserving the past intact: ‘I hold in my hand / the greedy, bleeding / pen / that has always / gorged itself’ (‘Blackberries’); ‘Each new ghost in my life / living and dead / smells of mulch’ (‘Vampire’).

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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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The Best Australian Poetry 2006 edited by Judith Beveridge & The Best Australian Poems 2006 edited by Dorothy Porter

February 2007, no. 288

Seeing these two anthologies side by side in that obscure corner allocated to poetry by so many bookshops, a casual browser might note that both begin with Robert Adamson’s ‘A Visitation’ and conclude that uniformity rules and one volume will suffice. Not so: a full savouring of the past year’s poetic crop requires both. In fact, ‘A Visitation’ is the only poem common to both selections. Certainly, they share poets – and it is among these twenty that readers are likely to recognise ‘established’ names such as Alan Gould, Kate Llewellyn, Jan Owen, Peter Porter, Philip Salom (all in their egalitarian alphabetical order), but in each case the particular poem selected is different. Beyond that, there is substantial variation in the selection of poets: nineteen of Beveridge’s forty poets don’t appear among the eighty-two present in Porter’s more extensive volume.

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Starched hospital gown.
Frozen present tense.
Why am I smelling

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In the street

of my childhood

nothing is reliable.

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

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