Peter Porter: a tribute

Peter Porter, a member of the Poetry Society for nearly 50 years, has died aged 81. Born in Brisbane, Australia in 1929, he died in London on 23 April 2010. His first collection of poetry, Once Bitten, Twice Bitten appeared in 1961. His most recent collection, Better than God, was published in 2009.

OH MR PORTER! Poetry Review Volume 99:1

The Spring 2009 issue of Poetry Review carried new poems by Porter, plus a 26-page tribute: "Oh! Mr Porter: Poems Written for Peter Porter's Eightieth Birthday". The poets contributing celebratory poems were John Fuller, Les Murray, Ian Duhig, Gwyneth Lewis, Andrew Motion, Tiffany Atkinson, Sean O'Brien, Christopher Wallace-Crabbe, Tim Liardet, Alan Brownjohn, Clive James, Alan Jenkins, George Szirtes, Evan Jones and Douglas Houston. With kind permission of the author, we reprint Houston's poem below.





Douglas Houston
Peter Porter Abov Nant-yr-Arian, 1992

John 19:22
Your oeuvre went into orbit
The same year that Gagarin did –
Once Bitten…, 1961.
Yuri touched down within two hours,
But you never lose altitude.

 The voice you are that bears you on,
Uncondescending and uncowed,
Homes on the affirmative pole,

Imagination continuous

With all the props of how we live.

The ten-tiered city rises on
Conviction’s syntax spanning space
With walkway buttresses that form
The network linking discourses
In sudden contiguities.
Back then, a red kite’s killer eye
Perhaps glimpsed figures on the ridge,
You gazing through the sunlit air
Across the forest stretched below
To the mountains and sky beyond.

Peter Porter: Endnote

I’m on a river bank. I think I see
The farther side: a choice of nothingness
Or Paradise. My poems wait for me,
They look away, they threaten and they bless.

                                                                      – ‘River Quatrains’, Peter Porter


Peter Porter’s generosity, both on and off the page, will be sorely missed.  Porter has been the great demotic thinker of contemporary poetry, the one to, in his own words, “take up the baton from Auden’s 30s generation and bring back intellectualism and populism”.  The omnivorous quality of his work, which synthesizes cats and Scarlatti, Wittgenstein and iPods, indicates its author’s tremendous intelligence and human and intellectual curiosity. Proverbial without being pompous, wearing its learning lightly, Porter’s poetry can be wry, questioning – and very moving.

In his last individual collection, 2009’s Better Than God, Porter wrote of his beloved Haydn’s ‘Opus 77’: “What works you did will be yourself when you / Have left the present.”  As usual, and luckily for us, he was right.  He received his new selected poems, The Rest on the Flight, from the printers’ the day before he died, and this distillation and revisiting of one of the great bodies of literary work of recent decades will be a major cultural milestone when it’s published in a couple of weeks’ time. For once, though, Peter was also partly wrong. The man himself – his sing-song wit, his extraordinary knowledge, his passionate musicality and his kindness to younger poets – has left the present, and for this no poem can stand in.

Fiona Sampson, Editor of Poetry Review, 23.04.2010