September 2009

Arts & Letters

‘The Bee Hut’ by Dorothy Porter

By Lisa Gorton

Dorothy Porter’s poems often work like blues songs. Their progress depends not on structures of logic but on patterns of imagery and sound. This gives her poetry a directness of feeling rare in the Australian tradition and Porter combines the blues-style looseness with a tough-minded, conversational tone. The Bee Hut is the most formally beautiful of her collections; it is also the most personal.

It is impossible to read The Bee Hut without a constant awareness of Porter’s early death. Gathering poems written in her last five years, it is explicitly concerned with last things: with travel and with deliberate joy – a collection, as her last poem puts it, “exorbitantly flamboyant / for a hospital room / landscape”. Porter was interested in the mythic dimension of individual human life. The Bee Hut suggests she found this, facing death, in her Romantic sense of the poet’s vocation:

William Blake / as he was dying / craned forward / towards a country / he’d always wanted to see. / His rapturous curiosity / always / an unsettling inspiration.

In her foreword, Andrea Goldsmith describes Porter carrying poetry with her everywhere. The Bee Hut’s range of influence shows how Porter regarded poetry as a vital tradition, a language of thought. For instance, Porter’s ‘The Hampstead Heath Toad’ recalls Marianne Moore’s definition of poems as “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”. Porter’s poem ends, “The toad in the hand / stank real”. As this might suggest, there is a complex art to Porter’s clarity. Many of her two- or three-line opening stanzas could work as single five-beat lines, like the classic opening to a sonnet, but she breaks them up for emphasis. Her next stanzas open out the rhythm, giving the poems a sense of expansiveness – the formal equivalent of her directness. 

The Bee Hut has eight parts, reflecting stints in hospital, collaborations with musicians, and travels overseas. Questions run through all of them, a sign of Porter’s concern to open up places of feeling. In fact, the real places she describes here also serve as emblems: “Imagine a city/ where it’s mostly/ imagine”. Porter has no interest in the strictures of imagism. Her poems work because, if they often call on large nouns – the sea, death and life – their imagery is insistently sensuous: smells, wounds, heat and cold. The effect is a strangely physical sense of exposure.

In an obituary, Kristin Henry listed “feral” and “lucid” as Porter’s favourite words. This is a feral and lucid last collection. 

Cover: September 2009

September 2009

From the front page

ScoMo-tion demise

The accidental PM appears accident prone

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

‘The Old Man and the Gun’ and the outlaw Robert Redford

David Lowery’s new film pays too much tribute to the Sundance Kid

Image from ‘House of Cards’

The magnificently messy ‘House of Cards’

The show that made Netflix a major player comes to a satisfying and ludicrous end

How you are when you leave

This must be how it feels to retire


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Miles Franklin & Joseph Furphy

The Indian Ocean solution

Christmas Island

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Ningaloo sharks

‘Inherent Vice’ by Thomas Pynchon


More in Arts & Letters

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

‘The Old Man and the Gun’ and the outlaw Robert Redford

David Lowery’s new film pays too much tribute to the Sundance Kid

Image of Eddie Perfect

Eddie Perfect goes to Broadway

The Australian composer has two musicals – ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘King Kong’ – opening in New York

Image of Julia Holter

A bigger, shinier cage: Julia Holter’s ‘Aviary’

A classically schooled composer seeks shelter from the cacophony of modern life

Detail of a painting of Barron Field

Barron Field and the myth of terra nullius

How a minor poet made a major historical error


More in Noted

Cover of Killing Commendatore

‘Killing Commendatore’ by Haruki Murakami

Art, music and mystery abound in the Japanese author’s latest novel

Cover of ‘The End’

‘The End’ by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The ‘My Struggle’ series arrives at a typically exhausting conclusion

Cover of ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’

‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk

Offbeat intrigue from a Booker Prize winner

‘One Hundred Years of Dirt’ by Rick Morton

A social affairs reporter turns the pen on himself


Read on

Image from ‘House of Cards’

The magnificently messy ‘House of Cards’

The show that made Netflix a major player comes to a satisfying and ludicrous end

Image of Scott Morrison and the ScoMo Express

The ScoMo Express backfires

The PM’s farcical bus tour cements spin over substance as his brand

Image from ‘Suspiria’

Twisted sisters: Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’

Sentimentality ruins the magic of this otherwise unsettling and actively cruel film

Image from ‘The Other Side of the Wind’

Orson Welles’s ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ and Morgan Neville’s ‘They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead’

The auteur’s messy mockumentary and the documentary that seeks to explain it are imperfect but better together


×
×