Driving Too Fast by Dorothy Porter

Dorothy Porter (1954-2008) published seven collections of poetry, two novels for young adults, two librettos for operas performed in Sydney, Melbourne and London, and four verse-novels. She received a number of awards for her work, including The Age Book of the Year Award and the National Book Council Award (Poetry) for ‘The Monkey’s Mask’, and the FAW Christopher Brennan Award for Poetry in 2001.

‘Driving Too Fast’ was published in 1989, and is the first of her collections of poetry I have read.  I will remedy this.  Reading poetry is very much mood-related for me, and I need the time to read and reflect, time to follow the poet’s words in order to visualise and analyse the images.  Between 1975 and 2009 life was usually too busy to take the time to enjoy poetry.  It certainly wasn’t a time for me to discover and appreciate new poets, although I continued to enjoy poems by Mark O’Connor, Judith Wright, T S Eliot, Emily Brontë and (some) Thomas Hardy.

So, when I picked up ‘Driving Too Fast’, I had no idea what to expect.  There are three sections in this, the fourth of Ms Porter’s poetry collections.  The first section (In Extremis) includes poems about Carmen, about Trucanini:

‘I’m trying to hear the Black Drive of 1830;

but hear instead the rattle of pneumonia

and the bedside voice of white Christianity’

and about the Antarctic explorers Oates:

‘We dug up Christopher’s head

and it was rotten –‘

and Wilson:

‘Cri de coeur

is simply

strength of character

whimpering to itself on sea-ice

that is yielding

to the spine

of a killer whale – ‘

The second section (‘A Girl Mad as Birds) moves from others towards the more personal: lorikeets flash with colour, kookaburras cackle.  And I smile at ‘The Lazy Poem’:

‘Writing poetry

is for the indolent.’

The third section (‘Amulet’) is personal.  These are ‘I‘ poems: about desire, dreams and love.

I need to read more of Dorothy Porter’s poetry.  While not all of these poems appeal to me, many of the images become real.  Consider the opening of the poem ‘Hawkesbury River’:

‘The light over the Hawkesbury River

Has been clawed at –

it’s a dismal warder of a river

winding around

its sandstone cells

its mangrove pits

like grey hair – ‘


I just wish I’d discovered Dorothy Porter earlier!

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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