Thursday 15 January 2015

I is for If She Rings by Dorothy Porter

Christmas, New Year and our summer holidays got the better of me.

I missed a couple of Alphabe-Thursday posts in my Aussie Author Challenge *tsk tsk!

And now we're up to the letter I...eek!
To make this letter work for me I've had to stretch my rules a little to find an Australian author that I've actually read.

Therefore this week I give you Australian poet Dorothy Porter and her poem, If She Rings.

Dorothy Porter was born in 26th March 1954 in Sydney. Her parents were Jean & Chester Porter. Chester was the QC who defended Lindy Chamberlain.

She attended Sydney Uni, graduating in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts (English & History). One of her teachers was poet, writer & essayist David Malouf.

In 1993 she moved to Melbourne to be with her partner, writer Andrea Goldsmith. They shared a cat called Wystan, named after WH Auden.

In different articles and interviews over the years, Porter cited Emily Dickinson, Basho, Raymond Chandler & Dorothy Parker as important influences on her work.
According to friends, 'lucid' and 'feral' were her two favourite words.

Dorothy Porter: " Music has been the key for me since I was a teenager ... I wanted to tap into that dark potency of rock'n'roll, and I still write to music every day."

 "The poetry scene in Australia is small, querulous, and has always been distinctly unglamorous. The advantage I had early on was that I studied acting, and I was a very good performer at a time when poetry was basically mumbled. I could dramatise and that got me noticed."

"I'm longing for poetry that just smacks me across the head."

Andrea Goldsmith:  "Her work is romantic without being sentimental; it’s lyrical, insightful and emotionally resonant. And it is sharply contemporary in its honesty, its imagery, its unwavering grasp of the jugular. Most of all it illuminates love, which is, after all, the most powerful of human experiences."

David Malouf:  "She had such a vitality and a grasp of life, I think you see that in the way she made her poetry work, in very spare tight verse ... she had enormous energy."

Tim Finn:  "She was a very real person, with no bullshit, and this raw honesty. You would want to meet her on that level. Her work was streetwise and sensuous. She could write with heightened language, and never be waffly or precious, and there was always the unexpected image. She was a really great writer."

Michael Brennan:  "Porter is a defiant voice against the obscure and effete in poetry, unafraid to see poetry as a popular art form in the twentieth century, a feast open to all, immersed in the sweat, blood and tears of contemporary life, its hum-drum realities and headlong rush."

Porter died of breast cancer on the 10th December 2008. At the time of her death, she was working with Tim Finn on a rock opera - I would have loved to have seen (and heard) that!

Porter was one of the few Australian poets fortunate enough to actually make a living from her work.

Poetry collections
  • Little Hoodlum (1975)
  • Bison (1979)
  • The Night Parrot (1984)
  • Driving too Fast (1989)
  • Crete (1996)
  • Other Worlds: Poems 1997–2001 (2001)
    Dorothy Porter by Rick Amor (2001-2002)
  • Poems January–August 2004 (2004)
  • The Bee Hut (2009, Posthumous)
  • "Love Poems" (2010, Posthumous)
  • The Best 100 Poems of Dorothy Porter (2013)
Libretti (with composer Jonathan Mills)
  • The Ghost Wife (2000)
  • The Eternity Man (2005)
Verse novels
  • Akhenaten (1992)
  • The Monkey's Mask (1994)
  • What a Piece of Work (1999)          shortlisted for the Miles Franklin
  • Wild Surmise (2002)          shortlisted for the Miles Franklin      
  • El Dorado (2007)            shortlisted for the inaugural Prime Ministers Award
Fiction for young adults
  • Rookwood (1991)
  • The Witch Number (1993)

A film of The Monkey Mask starring Susie Porter & Kelly McGillis was released in 2001 (thank you wikipedia).

I have read The Bee Hut and The Best 100 Poems (compiled after her death).
It has been wonderful to have an excuse to browse through them again for this post.
Reading Porter's poems is a very sensual, earthy and heart-wrenching experience. Repeat visits are a must.

I don't find it easy to review a book of poetry as I never read the poems in one sitting or in order. I pull out the pieces that speak to my mood of the moment. I return to favourites, I circle verses, underline words & asterix whole sections.
I love spotting a heavily marked poem that obviously meant a lot to me on one reading, but now I go 'meh'!
Rereading my books of poetry would be a quick, easy way to view my emotional growth & life journey (if only I dated my scribblings!)

But for now I will leave you with a few of Porter's 'I' poems.

If She Rings (from The Best 100 Poems)

she said
she'd ring in a week

two weeks ago

we were walking along
Balmoral Beach

we were almost
holding hands

we were watching

our salty lips
her nervy hand
skipping chips
through the sand

she said
she was marking essays
she said
she'd ring in a week

two weeks ago

this morning
I'm not witing by the phone

this morning
I'm packing my bags

if she rings in an hour
I'll be on the train

if she rings later
I'll be on the plane

if she rings tonight
I'll be in Brisbane

at least a hundred beaches

IV: I Touch  (Poems from the Verse Novel El Dorado)
I touch her lovely wild

I've been here before.

The white beach.
The glistening trees.
The staring savages
on the shore.

Imagination  (from The Bee Hut)

Sung with hypnotising allure by a counter-tenor
dressed in very dirty black silk pyjamas

I'm your real world

I'm your bottomless pool
of sucking
black mud

trust me 
trust me
I'm so soft and warm

and dirty

trust me
trust me
you can sink
so sweet and safely
right to the calling
and calling
of me

I prmoise
I'll make the journey 
worth you while

trust me
trust me
the dark and fabulous
you'll learn and know
from the dissolving roots
of your hair
to the soft slow burn
of your lost lost

the dark and fabulous
I'll show
will never leave you
will never let
you go

I'm your real world
your bottomless pool
of black and sucking

I'll seep right
through you
I'll change forever
your bones, soul
and blood

I'm your real world

trust me
trust me
I'm so soft and warm
and dirty

trust me
trust me
take my journey
take the plunge

you can sink
you can sink
so sweet and safely
right to the calling
and calling 
of me.

I've always loved how Porter's poems stir & disturb my conservative emotions, but typing up these three poems, one by one, word by word, has been extraordinary. 

Her words got right under my skin, they sunk in, black & sucking, soft and warm until they felt a part of me.I suddenly felt lucid...and well, a little feral!
How glorious that someone else's words can have such an immediate & physical effect.

I really must read one of her verse novels soon.

This post is part of Alphabe-Thursday as well as being my very first post for the AWW2015 challenge.


  1. She did have a gift for poetry! lovely...

  2. All new to me - now I'm off to google because I'd like to read more.

  3. I enjoyed reading all 3 poems but If She Rings is the one that will stay with me for awhile. Thank you for posting this tribute to a poet I would never have known if not for you.

  4. Don't know this author ! Sounds interesting !

  5. Thank you for introducing me to Dorothy Porter. I like her words and her style. I shall look for more.

  6. I like her writing, Brona. I might try what you do, copy with typing her verse. Or someone else's. I checked our library, we do not have any of Dorothy P's works. I do have access to another library and will check there too. I liked reading her poems, from the first I could sense that she was lesbian. Too bad she died so young.

    Coming over to Auckland in January 2013, I sat beside a song writer from NZee. He owned a farm along the eastern coast but lived in Nashville, Tennessee and Phoenix, Arizona. He wrote Country but wouldn't tell his real name or any of the songs he had written. He had one in the works that he thought would pay off.

    My other blog, Jim's Little Photo and Poem Place, has some of my poetry. It isn't very good but I enjoy writing it. I write with two on-line-blogging poetry writing groups. I really don't know a good poem from a bad one. I like the mechanics involved in rhyming and meter, not many do either anymore.

  7. 'If she rings' - that so well captures that feeling. Gorgeous and sad. Also sad is the loss to the Tim Finn rock opera - wow.

  8. Anonymous21/1/15

    The holidays are busy, but also a time for reflection, a gathering of thoughts, gratitude, and inspiration. Have a glorious 2015.


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