Australian Poets – Joan Kerr
September 26, 2013 — 4:27

Author: Dorothy Johnston  Category: Australian poetry  Comments: 2

This is the second of my promised blog posts featuring Australian poets – this time it’s Joan Kerr, who writes delectable prose as well as poetry – more of that below.

Joan’s poetry has been widely published in Australia, including two appearances in Best Australian Poems (Black Inc, 2004, 2006). Joan has been published in the US and the UK and has been featured on Radio National’s PoeticA. She has won numerous poetry prizes including the John Shaw Neilson Poetry Prize, the Henry Kendall Poetry Prize, the Woorilla Prize, the W.B. Yeats prize and the Dorothy Porter Poetry Award, and minor prizes in the Gwen Harwood, Max Harris, Val Vallis, Tom Collins, Rosemary Dobson and Melbourne Poets awards.Her collection Human Voices was shortlisted for a Varuna Publisher’s Award in 2012. A selection is included in Triptych Poets Issue 3 (Blemish Press 2012). She also has a poem in the recently published Australian Love Poems (Inkerman& Blunt)



that time of year thou mayst in me behold                                      joan_at_reception


cloud light                               arches giving onto fields

and sometimes water, lying by the land

what are my walls       what is sky     water or earth

clouds the air’s shadow          over the walls

like a gliding loss

the sound of my steps                                    in vanishing corridors


under fog the water is so still

each boat stands on its own stiff shadow

and autumn     burns the trees again

From: This vision thing (Melbourne Poets’ Union 2003)




 When the phone rings in the night to tell him someone’s died

not unexpectedly, and without giving trouble,

he thinks as he lies down of the hurt red setter

he had to shoot, what, forty years ago? His heart flinches again.


His house flowering quietly around him

in this contented suburb, he lies awake until

the trees step out of the shadows.  Fifty.

He wonders what he did for the rest of that day

and why he’s never seen, these forty years,

those trees with the ripped and shaggy bark

and under it, the silky heifer skin.  That sky

so clean and glittering

it makes you want to weep.


‘Doctor’  was  broadcast on RN PoeticA 12/3/2000



The autobiography of Alice B. Toklas


You knew genius when you saw it, you said.

Perhaps your cultivated

insignificance created shadow


in which it shone more brightly.  Gertrude Stein

was your own household genius, not so much loved

as taken on, as an oriental monk


takes on the burden of the gods, whose service

depends on order. Bells are rung

to rule, and certain kinds of sweeping must be done.


For monks, it goes without saying

the gods are not indifferent to menu,

or to trademarks, or to fashion


and all their foibles are a kind of glorious cheek.

Because they can, they do

and this works well, as long as the god is stone.


But you are bolder and more knowing than monks

and you want more. Because you know

that genius is not stone, because you understand


how genius needs accomplices.

How like a blubbering child your genius is

standing at the head of the stairs


uncombed, half-dressed and pleading for your kindness.

You whisk by towards the kitchen.

Some third person is picking up its pen.

From:  Best Australian Poems 2006 (Black Inc)


Here are some thoughts about poetry that Joan would like to share:

A poem is “an experience, a story, a piece of music, a set of images…”  (Steve Kowit, In the palm of your hand, p. 125)

“Poetry expresses the passage from not-knowing to knowing through which we represent the world, including the perspectives of others, to ourselves and those around us.” (Kowit, p.14)

“The substance of a poem is not merely an expression of individual impulses and experiences.  Those become a matter of art only when they come to participate in something universal…” (Theodor Adorno, quoted in Susan Stewart, Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, p. 43)

Mary Kinzie (A Poet’s Guide to Poetry) advises both reader and writer of a poem to think about:

“Words: you are not just reading messages or extracting meanings or drafting editorials to put into lines: you are thinking in words. You are thinking so hard in the atmosphere created by words that they enter you like your breathing. This means, first, looking at words by themselves, with all their weight and subtlety; it helps to think about their length, complexity, and language of origin too.

Sentence versus line: along with the form and sound of words by themselves, you are concerned with their connection into sentences, in whole or in part; some of these parts fall neatly into lines, others work against the lines.”  (Kinzie, p. 6)


With her sister Gabrielle Daly, Joan writes comic novels under the pen name Gert Loveday. Writing Is Easy, by Gert Loveday, has recently been released as an ebook and you can find it on Authors Unlimited. It’s a great read!

Gert writes with authority on peculiar diets, exercise regimes, body makeovers, extreme fashion, gurus, pigeons, religion, poetry, politics, the health bureaucracy, gourmet cooking, reality TV and literature from the Norse Sagas to Jeffrey Archer, with a sharp eye for character foibles and the pricking of pomposity. Writing is Easy was shortlisted for a Varuna Publisher Fellowship in 2011.





  • Thank you for this Dorothy. Our conversations about poetry and Suzanne Edgar’s comment in an earlier post : ‘I agree with Camus: ‘Poetry that is clear has readers. Poetry that’s obscure has commentators’. I mistrust the current vogue, particularly among academics and their imitators, for writing poems in which meaning is cerebral, convoluted and difficult. They write only for the page, have turned poetry into words’, along with an online course I’m doing through Coursera on Modern American poets have got me thinking again about what poetry is to me. I don’t want to read or write poetry that’s purely self-referential, but nor do I want to read or write effusions of personal feeling. I think the first Steve Kowit quote gets the playful element and the Adorno gets the resonance that lifts some poems out of the ordinary, which is a matter of the distance that technique allows and the source of the greatest frustration when words “slip, slide under the tension/will not stay in place, will not stay still” as Eliot said.

    September 28, 2013 — 1:01
  • […] This is the third in my series of posts about Australian poets. The first two are  Suzanne Edgar and Joan Kerr. […]

    June 27, 2014 — 0:59
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