BOOK REVIEW: Love Poems (Dorothy Porter, Black Inc.)

Obsession. Seduction. Heady passion. Wild sex. Sexual deviance. Quiet intimacy. Jealousy. Messy break-ups. Dorothy Porter reminded us—and how—that poetry could handle all this and more—indeed, that it could often handle it better than prose. How appropriate, therefore, that we now have a lovingly curated volume of her love poetry. This selection brings together poems and song lyrics from across her career, gathered into sections that suggest love in its various phases. At the end are generous selections from three of her verse novels, Akhenaten, The Monkey’s Mask and Wild Surmise. My first exposure to Dorothy Porter’s work was seeing her read from her first verse novel, Akhenaten, in Canberra in the early 1990s. It was high-octane performance of an extraordinarily erotic and sensuous work. While her ability to convey the heat of passion is a celebrated aspect of her repertoire, reading this marvelous volume makes one realise that she was a lot more than a purveyor of the hot stuff. Here are poems that explore the other aspects of love—intimacy, regret, fidelity, confusion, longing, friendship and companionship. For those who have only explored her verse novels, there is much here that will equally enthrall. For those who have not read much of her early work, some of the best is here too. For the rest, this is simply an essential collection of Australian poetry, revealing how one of our best writers explored a central theme in her work over a passionate lifetime.


Andrew Wilkins is director of Wilkins Farago and former publisher of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. He published some of Porter’s works in the 1990s. This review first appeared in the October 2010r issue.

Top picks from the current issue

Which books got good reviews in the October issue of Bookseller+Publisher you ask?


The proof copy of Caroline Overington’s novel I Came to Say Goodbye came covered in glowing quotes from Random House staff who’ve read the book and our reviewer Scott Whitmont has joined the chorus. He calls the novel ‘a gripping blockbuster that booksellers can recommend unreservedly’ and predicts Overington’s following ‘is destined to grow in leaps and bounds’.

Toni Whitmont was impressed with That Deadman Dance by Miles Franklin winner Kim Scott (Picador, October), suggesting it will ‘surely attract consideration for a raft of major prizes’. ‘While the story is compelling,’ writes Whitmont, ‘what makes this an extraordinary book is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers.’

Andrew Wilkins was equally taken with a collection of work by the late Dorothy Porter. Love Poems (Black Inc., October) ‘brings together poems and song lyrics from across Porter’s career, gathered into sections that suggest love in its various phases’ and is ‘simply an essential collection of Australian poetry,’ says Wilkins.

Other eagerly awaited books being reviewed in this issue include Tim Flannery’s Here On Earth (Text, October), which Eliza Metcalf says is ‘an important read’. ‘Flannery traces our species’ evolution and expansion out of Africa and across the globe, noting the trail of destruction we left in our wake,’ she writes. ‘The picture he paints is a fairly devastating one, but also quite awe-inspiring.’

Paul Landymore assures readers that When Colts Ran, the new novel by Roger McDonald (Vintage, November), lives up to expectations raised by the author’s Miles Franklin win in 2006. ‘If you’re a fan of Australian literature then I’m sure you will find this book, as I did, a deeply satisfying read,’ writes Landymore.

Deborah Crabtree, our regular music book columnist, was taken with Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy (Hamish Hamilton, October), a book that grew out of series of performances Kelly put on in 2004. ‘Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns,’ writes Crabtree, adding that the book gives Kelly ‘space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world’.

And that’s not to mention Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World (Text, October), Kate Holden’s The Romantic (Text, October), Things Bogans Like (E C McSween et al, Hachette, November), Toni Jordan’s Fall Girl (Text, October), and many, many more…

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