Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Elegy for Peter Porter


This is written almost fourteen years

after you died, Peter, and yet it seems apt —

            your ‘obituary’ for William Trevor

            was published over six years


after your own death, and even concludes

with ‘survived by’ — that editorial

            interpolation that is journalistic

            détournement, an ornamental


inlay in the valley of death

or just an augmenting — a post-modern reality:

            facts are facts. That review reminds

            me of so much personal stuff


as I walk past a Church of Ireland outpost,

and I hear of what happened to ‘its fields’,

            those plots of stolen land, and I double

            up against Ascendancy (as you would yourself)


and the plays of English ‘de-haut-en-bas’,

speaking painfully of the Brexit irony

            that galloped over the years as the form

            of cultural sundering. These verbal


plays that surround images of loss:

even recently, walking past St Martin’s

            I promised to look out for you, and in the gallery

            I visited our stations, those angel-paintings


we were going to write to add to our

'Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil' — a Spanish

            presence. An exquisite revelation.

            How long we sat and watched


the paint continue to dry, hoping it wouldn’t

flake away, that it would outlast eternity.

            A poem barely serves as authenticity,

            as a competent mode of restoration.


The loss of my father is continuing

to confound me, Peter — how to match

            our differences, our arranging of a timeline

            incorporating death, inheritance, and sites


of life and burial. He thought himself

Irish, though it was mid-nineteenth-century

            escapee stuff, and the chopping of trees

            with roots deeply set was an acerbic familiarity.


You and I often talked of ‘the colonial’, and what you’d

escaped or deserted to go back to the source of the problem.

            And though I left, too, I couldn’t stay away.

            We bantered over the term ‘expatriate’


because it was painful in obvious

and hidden ways. Discussions about cats,

            gardens, ruins, and the art of Italy,

            encounters with artists and travellers,


the music we didn’t hear together but knew.

An elegy doesn’t need to be written

            straight after a death... and maybe one’s

            own death catches up before the obituary


we write is published. It might be something

like re-arranging modernism into structurally

            sound lines, or discussing the context

of metaphors in poems about London and friendship.




John Kinsella is a poet, novelist, critic, essayist and editor. He is a Emeritus Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University and a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.


Topic tags: John Kinsella, poetry



submit a comment

Similar Articles

Justice and Hope

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 07 June 2024

Raimond Gaita insists that there is something precious in each human being. He does not rest this conviction on a particular religious or philosophical grounding. It flows, rather, from a rich reading of human possibilities and questioning of the meaning of life.


Autumn's parting prayer

  • Warwick McFadyen
  • 06 June 2024

The chill of winter is now upon us. It is said that landscape is a defining factor in how a people have developed and how their behaviour is formed and modified. So too it is for the season. So thank you, autumn.