Friday, May 6, 2016

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Gorgeous Breasts
By Dorothy Porter (1954-2008)

After our first time
    we went to a Chinese restaurant
    and counted on our
        charged fingers

the relatives
the friends
    who'd never be the same

we were breathless
in the high wind
of our secret

that first kiss
like a dancer
    in the bullring
    over the bull's horns
        on a quick breath

what a flirt
before the gorgeous breasts
        of the crowd!

(from her book 'Crete')

Dynamic, award-winning Australian poet Dorothy Porter died too young, from cancer, at 54, but left a fine body of unique poetry. The blurb from the posthumous Penguin volume, The Best 100 Poems of Dorothy Porter, says: 'Dorothy Porter was one of Australia's true originals, renowned for her passionate, punchy poetry and verse novels.' 

The verse novels were very readable as stories. One of the first, the detective story The Monkey's Mask, was made into a film. She also wrote the libretto of an opera, Eternity Man, by composer Jonathan Mills, which was staged at the Sydney Opera House and later adapted into a 64-minute film. In addition, Porter wrote young adult fiction, libretti for chamber operas, and at the time of her death was collaborating on a rock opera with musician Tim Finn.

Her Wikipedia entry notes: 'Porter was an open lesbian and in 1993 moved to Melbourne [from Sydney] to be with her partner, fellow writer Andrea Goldsmith. The couple were coincidentally both shortlisted in the 2003 Miles Franklin Award for literature. In 2009, Porter was posthumously recognised by the website as one of the most influential gay and lesbian Australians.'

A fascinating interview from early in her career, republished at the time of her death, is largely about her poetic influences. It's well worth a read. (The rather startling photo featured is the cover illustration of her exciting first book, Little Hoodlum, published when she was 21.)

Google seems to be the best place to shop for her books. And you can read an extensive collection of her poems at Australian Poetry Library, along with a good, concise article about her life and work.

All her poems are wonderful, but with so many of them being part of full-length narratives, and others being rich with specifically Australian allusions, I looked for a piece that could stand alone and be accessible to all readers. I love its delicious joy and slight cheekiness, both qualities characteristic of her poetry.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).


  1. I love the excitement, tenderness and partnership of those charged fingers - it seems to fit with the midweek motif.. Some things we say change things forever.. A secret becomes sure and the hands of the one we love...the detail of the Chinese restaurant in comparison to the buzz made me smile too...funny how events unfurl at times - and a sad loss to the poetry world

    1. Thanks for noting the secrets here and how it fits our Midweek Motif! Very cool.

  2. A wonderful poem. The poet's life story sounds very intriguing, wish she had written her memoir...............I love the "electric fingers" in the Chinese restaurant.

  3. Oh, first love, first times, delicious poetry!

  4. The emotion in the second stanza strikes me most. I wonder if there is a shadow of desperation underlying. Wish she had lived long. Thanks for the post Rosemary.

  5. What a fascinating article, Rosemary. Really sad that she died so young. Ha, I didn't know what to expect when I saw the title of the poem. I admire the poet for living and writing authentically. And yes, this poem IS a joyful one. Thank you for this delight.


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