Dorothy_littel_hoodlum.jpgDorothy Porter Tribute1954 - 2008Dorothy_young_rebel_rebel.gif

I stand my ground
in the undaunted spray
and company
of my own words.

- Dorothy Porter, from 'The Ninth Hour'

Dorothy Porter, a well remembered, admired and dearly loved Australian poet died on Wednesday December 10th 2008.

"She died. Dorothy Porter did not pass away, she died. Dorothy Porter was too passionately in love with life and language to "pass away". Nothing as mealy-mouthed or wishy-washy would have done for her. She died. Too young and already much missed."(Diana Simmonds)

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…we all have so much to bear

the slip
the slide
the sense of the dark
frigid nothing
under our warm blooded mortal feet
but when the ice takes our young
we know we’ll never have happiness
or find our deluded footing

Melbourne poet Dorothy Porter dies from cancer, aged 54

Herald Sun
Edwina Scott
December 11, 2008

DOROTHY Porter, the acclaimed poet and author, has died in Melbourne from complications with cancer, aged 54.

A poet, who wrote to the staccato rhythms of rock `n' roll and never received a writing grant, was like a "Victorian gentleman", agent and friend Jenny Darling said. "She was interested in everything ... life on other planets, all creatures in the world," Ms Darling said, "She was a grand theme person, a sensualist and a romantic and that's how she approached it." Porter, who moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1993 "for love", lived in the inner-city suburb of Clifton Hill with her partner Andrea Goldsmith. Her most recent publication El Dorado, her fifth verse novel, was short-listed for the Dinny O'Hearn Poetry Prize (Age Book of the Year Award), the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, the Prime Minister's Literary Award for fiction and Best Fiction in the Ned Kelly Awards. She authored six collections of poetry, two novels for young adults and three previous verse novels, Akhenaten, The Monkey's Mask and What a Piece of Work. Her verse novel Wild Surmise published in 2002 was awarded the Adelaide Festival Award's 2004 John Bray Memorial Prize for Poetry as well as the overall Premier's Award, the first book of poetry ever awarded the prize. It was also short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award in 2003. Monkey's Mask was made into a film in 2000, starring Susie Porter and Kelly McGillis, and directed by Samantha Lang. No-one read their own poetry better than Porter, Ms Darling said. "Dot was always out there, willing to talk to her readers and always with books and ready to sort of sell them things," she said. "You put her in front of an audience and they just got it, they're with her." She recalls Porter reading from her first verse novel Akhenaten at a nursing home, eliciting the remark from a frail 90 year-old woman: "I was a cat in ancient Egypt." "That was the perfect response to Dot," Ms Darling said. "She made everyone comfortable with poetry. "She was able to distil big emotions into a very small number of words."

Dorothy Porter dies

The Sydney morning Herald
Matt Buchanan
December 11, 2008

The Australian arts community is mourning the unexpected loss of one its true originals, the writer and poet Dorothy Porter, who died yesterday morning in Melbourne, aged 54, from complications from breast cancer.Porter is best known for her verse novels, among them The Monkey's Mask a thriller about a lesbian detective, published in 1994. It won the National Book Council's Poetry Prize in 1995 and was shortlisted for several other literary awards, before being published in the United States, Canada, Britain and Germany. A film version, directed by Samantha Lang and starring Susie Porter and Kelly McGillis, was released in Australia in 2001. Her verse novels What A Piece Work (1999), and Wild Surmise (2003) were shortlisted for Australia's most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award. Porter's most recent publication was El Dorado, her fifth verse novel, about a serial child killer. It was nominated for several awards including the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Award in 2007, and Best Fiction in the Ned Kelly Awards.

"She had such a vitality and a grasp of life," said David Malouf, who remembers teaching Porter at Sydney University when she was a first-year student. "She had enormous energy and she was a really feisty person. And I think you see that in the way she made her poetry work, in very spare tight verse. And she not only found a readership for her verse novels, she found a very large readership," Malouf said. "It's just very sad, and I think there'll be a lot of people out there who admire her, and are fond of her and will miss her very much."

Porter, whose talents as a writer found many outlets, including fiction for young adults and libretti for chamber opera, was collaborating on a rock opera called January with Tim Finn at the time of her passing. "I was extremely shocked and saddened," Finn said. "We heard this morning. We knew she was ill but we didn't how ill. She was a very real person, with no bullshit, and this raw honesty. You would want to meet her on that level. Her work was streetwise and sensuous. She could write with heightened language, and never be waffly or precious, and there was always the unexpected image. She was a really great writer."

Porter wrote the lyrics for January, which is being pitched for this year's Sydney Festival, and which Finn describes as the toxic events leading to and after New Year Eve as experienced by Marnie O'Hara, an ageing singer who is mired in delusion. "Dorothy said she'd had a dream about a rock opera, so now we want to go at it with renewed purpose," Finn said.

Porter was first diagnosed with breast cancer about four years ago, and many thought her to be winning the battle. "She was a very private person," said her agent Jenny Darling. "Three weeks ago she got very sick and was admitted into hospital, but didn't want to tell anybody. She was in intensive care for the past 10 days." Porter was that rare poet who earned a living from her poetry. She also earned a reputation for performing it memorably. "I think anybody whoever saw Dot perform would not forget the performance," Malouf said."She was filled with a vitality and a grasp of life that was quite extraordinary. And she was very brave. I knew she had had her first diagnosis about four years ago, and when I saw her I'd always ask her how she was. I last saw her at the Adelaide Writers week in March and she said she was all fine. It would seem she was not fine. That was the sort of thing she did not like to make a performance of."

Porter is the daughter of retired Sydney barrister Chester Porter. She was educated at the Queenwood School for Girls, in Sydney, before studying at Sydney University. In 1993 she moved to Melbourne to be with her partner, and fellow writer, Andrea Goldsmith. In 2003 the couple earned the unusual honour of both being shortlisted in the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Porter dedicated Wild Surmise to "Andy". Goldsmith dedicated her novel The Prosperous Thief to "Dot". At the time Porter said she was "amazed and gobsmacked" at their nomination while Goldsmith said being shortlisted with Porter gave her "double the pleasure".

Dorothy Porter

Time Out Sydney
Ruth Hessey
Issue 31: June 11-17, 2008

One of Australia's most acclaimed poets, Dorothy Porter does her best work listening to rock music, and has adapted her work for film and opera. Dorothy writes poetic novels about a lesbian detective and penned a libretto for Julien Temple's "The Eternity Man"

"Music has been the key for me since I was a teenager. I've been writing stories since I was eight. But I didn't start seeing myself as a poet till I was about 16. I wanted to tap into that dark potency of rock and roll, and I still write to music every day. It puts me into a kind of trance which helps me get those hallucinatory images. At the moment my iPod, (which is my favourite modern invention) is shuffling Joy Division, Puccini, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Kelly . . .

I grew up in the Northern Beaches (and Sydney still holds a powerful enchantment for me). I remember the extraordinary excitement whenever the new Bob Dylan or Beatles album came out. I had interesting parents and very fertile influences. Our house was full of books and animals. I loved Enid Blyton, and Rudyard Kipling, and the histories of the ancient world. My father had no interest in music except Gilbert and Sullivan, and my mother is passionate about classical music, so she introduced me to Beethoven.

I won my first poetry prize in my first year at Sydney Uni, and in 1974, I became president of the campus Poetry Society, which I took very seriously. But I've always stayed on the outside of the factions. The poetry scene in Australia is small, querulous and has always been distinctly unglamorous, even ratty looking, involving
a lot of drinking. It was - and still is - quite male dominated, which is ironic given that some of Australia's finest poets have been women: Judith Wright, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewitt. The advantage I had early on was that I studied acting, and I was a very good performer at a time when poetry was basically mumbled. I could dramatise and that got me noticed.

In the 80s, which were all about business and suits, the poetry scene changed. The emphasis was on theory. I found it all quite bewildering, but it encouraged people to be more experimental, iconoclastic. I became fascinated by genre writing which is why I started to explore lesbian crime fiction. I was teaching at UTS when I started writing Monkey's Mask. I had enormous freedom there, and wonderful students. I got a lot of support.

But what changed everything for me, were the verse novels (Akhenaten, The Monkey's Mask and What a Piece of Work. Wild Surmise). Other artists, particularly musicians have been drawn to them, so I've had some extraordinary collaborations. I'm working on a project with Tim Finn right now. That's how I got into film, (Monkey's Mask was adapted for radio, then film in 2001) and opera (The Ghost Wife was performed at the Sydney opera House in 2001, and also enjoyed a London season).

Working on The Eternity Man with the British director Julien Temple has been inspiring and really liberating. He went with all the risks I tried in the libretto and created such a vivid, rich carnivale atmosphere. It doesn't look like it was made on a mean television budget. But then there's such a renaissance in clever television coming out of America, you get such a huge audience with television, I'm very excited about it. I don't like my work to be too complicated or difficult. I like it to be direct, lucid, emotional but simple. With an opera you have to be very aware that the music is going to muffle the lyrics, so I try to pick words that will glow. Music needs a lot of space, the lyrics have to breathe.

I read all day, and when I'm in the zone I write very quickly. I have squillions of books, and I'm a print junkie. I find reading on the computer very uncomfortable, and it's making us all fat. I prefer a coffee and a newspaper. I've been extraordinarily lucky, but I've taken every opportunity that's been offered to me. My most cinematic novel to date is the crime novel, El Dorado which Picador has re-released. I really hope someone wants to make it into a film."

Dorothy Porter's verse novel El Dorado is out in July through Picador. Eternity Man premieres on June 14 at 5pm at the Sydney Opera House.

What lies beneath Dorothy Porter

Article from: The Advertiser
Deborah Bogle
June 02, 2007
The beauty of poetry exposes the dark currents flowing though society in a new verse crime novel, writes DEBORAH BOGLE.

Early on in Dorothy Porter's new verse novel, El Dorado, there's a poem called Thin Ice. Porter regards it as the best in the book. Bill Buchanan, the sad, blowzy detective inspector heading the hunt for a serial child killer, is interviewing the father of the third victim. In Bill's voice, Porter writes: "He would like to tell him at aggrieved length how all of us no matter how brave or timid are walking on thin ice that for no good nor fair reason could crack under us at any time.'' In Porter's view, crime fiction is about what's beneath the crack in the ice, and poetry, rather than prose, illuminates it best, in all its chilling intensity.

The child victims in El Dorado are lured to a gentle death - their little corpses bear no sign of violence - by a killer whose identifying mark is the gold thumbprint on their foreheads. With no leads and pressure mounting from his superiors, Buchanan calls on his childhood friend Cath, who has left Bill behind for Hollywood and a successful career as an ``imaginary worlds special director''. Cath, he hopes, will be the wild card who will lead him inside the sick mind of El Dorado. On a sunny afternoon in Adelaide, there's nothing about Porter - lively, red-lipsticked and wrapped in a bright blue scarf - to suggest the dark themes distilled so potently in El Dorado.

Murder, child abduction and criminal investigations are not new territory in Porter's work. Her most successful verse novel to date, The Monkey's Mask, is also a gritty murder mystery. Released in 1994, it has sold more than 50,000 copies, been adapted for stage, screen and, now, radio, in a BBC dramatisation. There have been two other verse novels - What a Piece of Work and Wild Surmise - both short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award; six collections of poetry; libretti with composer Jonathan Mills; jazz lyrics for Paul Grabowsky and a couple of novels for young adults.

As a reader, Porter describes herself as a crime-fiction addict and this has fed her fascination for the marriage between poetry and crime fiction, between poets and crime writers. She's intrigued by stories of T.S. Eliot reading crime fiction on the train, by the fact that Yeats was given Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced at his last Christmas, and by the dedication to Robert Graves in one of Christie's novels. I think there's a sense that both poetry and crime are about matters of life and death,'' Porter says. They're about experience at its most intense.'' Both deal with what she calls ``the crack through the normal world'', the dark abyss that lurks just beneath the surface of everyday existence. Thin Ice leaves us in no doubt that we walk a precarious path that can, and does, crack under us without warning.

As in the best poetry, she says, you have no idea when it's going to happen, nor what will follow.It's the same with crime fiction. You've got no idea whether you're going to be the victim of some violent murder, and often that's part of the vicarious thrill of reading crime fiction.'' That vicarious thrill, the suspense, the unstoppable momentum of the plots, help to make crime the most popular form of genre fiction. On that level, El Dorado is a satisfying - and brisk - read. But there are much deeper layers of meaning to be revealed on closer reading. Themes of friendship, fantasy and innocence are threaded through Porter's taut verse. It's rich in allusions to myths, both ancient and modern: Gilgamesh, Atlantis, El Dorado. Friendship is the most enduring, the most real game in human relations,'' says Porter, ``while fantasy is the most fraught. Fantasy is what enchants us. It's what entraps us. Fantasy can be not just a private distraction and daydream; it can also be lethal delusion, a quagmire.''

Porter now lives in Melbourne with her partner, writer Andrea Goldsmith. But it was Sydney that shaped her and where she enjoyed a free-spirited, tomboyish childhood, not unlike the one shared by her characters, Cath and Bill. The mangrove swamps of their cherished memories are vivid replicas of the Pittwater shores where young Dorothy played with her friends, the closest of them boys. The daughter of renowned Sydney crime barrister Chester Porter, she was raised on true-life crime stories and for a while nursed an ambition to follow her father's career. Writing, however, exerted its power early. She produced her first novel at 12, another at 14, and kept her school friends enthralled with episodic readings. But it was music that awoke in her an awareness of poetry's power. In the late 1960s, the music of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and Janis Joplin turned my head around'', she says. I think it changed my brain chemistry,'' she adds. ``That was when I seriously started wanting that kind of demonic power in my own work.'' In El Dorado, that raw, rock'n'roll force grips you to the final page.


Added December 12 - 15 2008

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC radio national

Added December 21 2008