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.