Geoffrey Dutton published 11 collections of poetry in Australia, a significant amount of non-fiction, children’s stories and novels, as well as a collection of short stories. This week we looked at one of those stories, ‘The Wedge-Tailed Eagle’, which I’d discovered in an old anthology, Modern Short Stories. It was first published in The Reporter in 1968.
I knew nothing about Dutton, although an obituary in the Independent newspaper writes: “He was a formidable force as a literary catalyst, founding some of his country’s best-known literary journals, as an editor for Penguin Australia and later co-founder of the publisher, Sun Books.” obituary-geoffrey-dutton-1200357.html
Dutton’s story lodged itself in my mind, partly because of its intense descriptions of flying and at one point Dutton echoes a saying that was on our mantelpiece at home when I was a child – the air is unforgiving of mistakes. (My father was an aircraft engineer). It polarised discussion, which was interesting. Dutton had been a flying instructor in the RAAF.
Dutton, born in 1922 (died 1998), was a friend of Laurie Lee, Patrick White and Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Russian poet. He established the Adelaide Festival of the Arts and among the journals he set up was The Angry Penguins modern-austn-poetry which published Dylan Thomas, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and James Dickey, among others. He published Peter Carey’s first short story in another journal, Australian Letters. Dutton’s collection of poems, Antipodes in Shoes, won the Grace Leven Prize. australia-s-avant-garde-angry-penguins-from-art-to-literature/.
I was first introduced to Robert Lowell’s poem ‘Skunk Hour’ but the poet Matthew Sweeney during the 1980s when I was working as a journalist. Sweeney encouraged me and other would-be writers to read the American poets he loved. The poem made an impression and it is one of those iconic texts many have heard of, even if they’ve never read it!
‘Skunk Hour’ was first published in Lowell’s 1959 collection, Life Studies, which has been listed as one of the most groundbreaking books of the 20th century because of its confessional quality, ushering in a new era in poetry. Lowell, born 1917 (died 1977), twice won the Pullitzer Prize and many other awards, including the National Book Award for that collection.
He is one of the most critically important American poets, a great friend of Elizabeth Bishop, the-armadillo-and-the-skunk, of Randall Jarrell and William Carlos Williams. He suffered mental illness throughout his life and spent periods of time in hospital. Lowell also wrote for the theatre.
He was a conscientious objector during WW2 and one of his most famous poems, alongside ‘Skunk Hour’, is ‘The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket’, an elegy to a cousin who was killed during that war poem/178941.
He taught at the universities of Essex and Kent and was visiting fellow at Oxford University in the 1970s.