The Rest On The Flight: Selected Poems: Peter Porter

Earlier this year, the English-speaking world lost that marvellous poet, Peter Porter. Now he is resurrected, for our delight, in The Rest on the Flight. Here is the marvellously witty, learned range of his sadnesses from more than half a century.

The earliest poems are those of a smartimmigrant in London, their worldly sparkle half way between Carnaby Street and admen. ‘Death in the Pergola Tea-Rooms’ is such an early gem. Soon, though, he took on the Continent, at home with German music and Italian painting and weaving them into ‘the lying art’ of his poetry. Yet he was always recalling and reviving Australia, as his early Phar Lap poem told us.His writing, jokes and all, stood up to its knees in darkness, not only that of self-doubt, but also of Auschwitz or the looming atomic bomb. He ranged on, fuelled by everything, hoping that ‘there is a shape to the world, more real/ than time, more absolute than music.’ However, the loss of his first wife brought on a deeper darkness, and wonderful elegiac poems like ‘Non Piangere, Liu’.As Clive James writes in a stylish epilogue, Porter was well used to ‘believing that even his good luck must be bad luck in disguise’.

The jaggedness and courteous eloquence were built on this, as we find in poems as different as ‘My Old Cat Dances’ and‘Civilization and its Disney Contents’.The very titles signal his unique blendof sparkle and feeling.

As an artist in language, Porter was an encyclopedia waltzing. Yet in one opening line he insisted that ‘We are all in it together’, quite persuasively. Genial quickness reigns everywhere in this book, likeness measured against contrast. Humans are found wanting, but we are still made most welcome by these richly civilised poems.

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