Peter Porter

Peter Porter’s collection Dragons in Their Pleasant Palaces came out in 1997.

(A version of Schubert’s ‘Klage an das Volk’)

Youth of our Days, gone like the Days of our Youth! The People’s strength, unnumbered impotence, The Crowd’s gross pressure without consequence, The Insignificant our only glimpse of Truth!

The Power I wield springs always from my Pain, That remnant of a preternatural striving. I cannot act, and Time with its...

Two Poems

Peter Porter, 12 January 1995

About Auden’s Juvenilia

He knew he would be great   And told his tutor so But lots of second-rate   Ramshackle lines ‘to go’ Like pizzas on a plate   He ordered up: we know His Hardy phase, his Yeats.

But as we sort out from   The country metaphors (That almanac birdsong,   Those Edward Thomas spores) The few bits which...

They knew they were some kind of a solution But wouldn’t risk their legendary horses, Battle wagons: they’d read about pollution, High-rise slums and poisoned watercourses.

To keep their army healthy they ran races On plains and let our cameramen record them – Nightly the same professional drained faces Fronted clips on TV and deplored them.

Their Great Khan broadcast from...

Poem: ‘Serious Drinking’

Peter Porter, 27 October 1988

It comes from wanting to be perfect. All human pain from spite to rape Is just a reading on the grape And all these living counterfeits Are for philosophers’ defeats. A discontent so undivine Moves water one notch up to wine. Put it away, here comes the prefect.

The sinner is paid in his own coin. Blood is love’s apotheosis And brings the liver to cirrhosis, The flowers of sleep...

Two Poems

Peter Porter, 9 July 1987

The Story of U

And now the track is snowed with words, The poor train of childhood followed, A good aunt picking out the thirds On an old piano, gutted, hollowed By years which left the trees the same Adding one storey to the house In others’ hands – and can you claim That here sex showed you her old powers?

The little ghosts which charmingly In gentle masochism shone Grew up and...

Like a row of books by Faber

Peter Porter, 22 January 1987

It was the young Auden, writing at about the time he was composing his ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, who declared that you could tell if someone was going to be a poet by considering his love of words. If he found words fascinating – their sounds, their peculiar symmetries and associations, their chimes, rhymes, assonances and quiddities – then he was likely to prove the real thing. If, on the other hand, he regarded words as the medium for important ideas he wished to impart, then, however impassioned or crusading he might be, he wasn’t going to be primarily a poet, even if he cast his messages to the world in verse. This nostrum begs many questions, but it remains a good rule-of-thumb. By this test, Clive James is a true poet. Line after line of his has a characteristic personal tone, a kind of end-stopped singingness which is almost independent of what it says. The following are taken at random from Other Passports:’

Poem: ‘Spiderwise’

Peter Porter, 4 September 1986

To Clive James


The origin of metaphor is strange. As boys we used (but don’t let me forget I only watched, I wasn’t very brave) To put two spiders in a bottle, wave It over flame, which usually made them fight, Or flood them from their deep holes for a change.

These were the deadly trapdoors whose one bite Sent an inclusive poison racing through Your veins: I think we...

Poem: ‘Sticking to the text’

Peter Porter, 2 May 1985

In the Great Book of Beginning we read That the word was God and was with God And are betrayed by the tiniest seed Of all the world’s beginnings, to thrash Like sprats in a bucket, caught in deed As in essence by shapes of ourselves, Our sounds the only bargains we may plead.

So starts this solipsistic essay about words, Its first stanza chasing its own tail, Since no word will betray...

Three Poems

Peter Porter, 20 December 1984

Pisa Oscura

You know how images keep coming back, The lifted arm before the heart attack, Yet out of all the basket-work of shapes And plots, those vandalised electroscapes Of daytime dreaming, how remarkable The least significant of them is able To light the mind and flood the memory! Don’t introspect if you want honesty, And that’s what Freudians presumably Intend when fixing...

Poem: ‘The Cast of Campagnatico’

Peter Porter, 1 April 1982

Since a harebrained devil has changed the world To scenes from a Nature Documentary, There are those of us who will forever seek Rational landscapes, dotted with walled cemeteries, Unquestioned rivers of familiar fords And an efficient bus from which adulteresses Alight before the ascent to the neighbour village. Not that His blocked thumb is absent: those English families tooting along the...



4 September 1986

Peter Porter writes: I should have known better (and so should Mr Kendrick) than to attribute the invention of any verse form to an individual writer, especially as I had read (but forgotten) the Keith Douglas poems. My attribution to Clive James of this shining piece of invention was all my own doing: he didn’t make any such claim.

Bad Dreams: Peter Porter

Robert Crawford, 6 October 2011

One of the greatest elegies of the 20th century was written in a flat-roofed Australian beach house beside scribbly-gums and banksias in 1975. The poem and the circumstances out of which it grew...

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Davie’s Rap

Neil Corcoran, 25 January 1990

One of the finest things in Donald Davie’s Under Briggflatts is a sustained, learned and densely implicative comparison of two poems about horses: Edwin Muir’s well-known,...

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Robert Crawford, 20 April 1989

‘Where do you come from?’ asks one of the most important questions in contemporary poetry – where’s home? Answering the pulls and torsions of that question produces much...

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Every three years

Blake Morrison, 3 March 1988

Now that poetry has been brought into the marketplace, and publishers have discovered how to make a modest profit from it, and now that publication outlets can be found in any good-sized store,...

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Players, please

Jonathan Bate, 6 December 1984

The Great War was the war of the great war poets. Was ‘the war to end all wars’ also the war to end all war poetry? The best part of Jon Stallworthy’s introduction to his Oxford...

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Craig Raine, 6 October 1983

My subject-matter is subject-matter. Is it true, as it sometimes seems, that certain subjects are inevitably more interesting than others, however much we may protest that they are merely...

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Moving Pictures

Claude Rawson, 16 July 1981

Peter Porter’s imagination tends towards the epigram, but not quite in the popular sense which suggests brief, pithy encapsulations of wit or wisdom: Believe me, Flaccus, the epigram is...

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