Born: Established: 16 Feb 1929 Brisbane ; Died: 23 Apr 2010 London
Peter Porter, one of the best-known Australian poets and 'widely considered as one of the finest poets writing in English of the late twentieth century' (Oxford Companion to Australian Literature), grew up in Australia but spent the largest part of his life in England. He was therefore classified as an expatriate writer, a category about which Australian commentators had mixed feelings before the advent of a more internationalised cultural exchange: on the one hand that of pride in the achievements of the local boy as cultural ambassador, but on the other that of disappointment about the abandoning, or even betraying, of a nationalist spirit in favour of a more sophisticated and intellectually challenging European environment. It therefore took some time for Porter to establish the reputation he came to enjoy in his country of birth, a reputation that manifested itself in numerous honours and awards.
Porter lost his mother when he was nine and consequently continued his schooling as a rather unhappy boarder at the Church of England Grammar Schools in Brisbane and later Toowoomba, graduating in 1946. He started his working life as a cadet journalist for the Courier-Mail (1947-1948) and held several other jobs in Brisbane. In 1951 he, like many other artistically and intellectually aspiring young people of his generation, left Australia for England. There he established connections with other young poets (especially The Group) and worked as a bookseller, journalist, clerk and advertising copywriter in London.
In 1961 Porter married an English woman, Jannice Henry. After her sudden death in 1974, Porter brought up their two daughters. Having travelled widely in continental Europe, Porter was thoroughly familiar with European art and thought (particularly of Italy and Germany). In 1974 Porter returned to Australia for an extended stay at the invitation of the Adelaide Festival, and after that he visited Australia regularly, several times for longer periods as writer-in-residence at Australian universities. As a consequence, the Australian content of his writing gradually increased. Many of his unpublished radio scripts were broadcast by the BBC. As well as the works listed, Porter contributed individual poems to the broadsheets Words without Music (1968), Ariadne on Naxos (1976, with an illustration by Jahna Knyvett) and Les tres riches heures (1978, with a drawing by John Piper).
In 2001, Porter received a honorary Doctor of Letters from The University of Queensland.
For detailed information about Porter's biography and poetry, and the connections between the two, see Bruce Bennett's award-winning monograph Spirit in Exile: Peter Porter and His Poetry (1991).