Biography of Robert Gray
Robert William Geoffrey Gray is an Australian poet, freelance writer, and critic.
Gray grew up in Coffs Harbour and was educated in a country town on the north coast of New South Wales. He trained there as a journalist, and since then has worked in Sydney as an editor, advertising copywriter, reviewer and buyer for bookshops. His first book of poems, Creekwater Journal, was published in 1973.
Gray has been a writer-in-residence at Meiji University in Tokyo and at several universities throughout Australia including Geelong College in 1982. He has won the Adelaide Arts Festival and the New South Wales and Victorian Premiers' Awards for poetry. In 1990 he received the Patrick White Award. With Geoffrey Lehmann, he edited two anthologies, The Younger Australian Poets and Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century, and he is the editor of Selected Poems by Shaw Neilson, and Drawn from Life, the journals of the painter John Olsen. After Images is his latest collection of poetry.
2008 sees the much anticipated publication of his memoir, The Land I Came Through Last.
Robert Gray's Works:
The Land I Came Through Last (Giramond, 2008)
Nameless Earth (Carcanet, 2006)
Afterimages (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2002)
New Selected Poems (Duffy & Snellgrove, 1998)
Lineations (Duffy & Snellgrove, 1996)
Certain Things (William Heinemann Australia, 1993)
Selected Poems (Angus & Robertson, 1990)
Piano (Angus & Robertson, 1988)
Selected Poems 1963-1983 (Angus & Robertson, 1985)
The Skylight (Angus & Robertson, 1984)
Grass Script (Angus & Robertson, 1979)
Creekwater Journal (University of Queensland Press, 1974)
Introspect, Retrospect : Poems (Lyre-Bird Writers, c.1970)
The King's Wife : Five Queen Consorts (Secker & Warburg, 1990)
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Robert Gray Poems
In Departing Light
My mother all of ninety has to be tied up in her wheelchair, but still she leans far out of it sideways; she juts there brokenly, able to cut
She and I came wandering there through an empty park, and we laid our hands on a stone parapet’s fading life. Before us, across the oily, aubergine dark of the harbour, we could make out yachts –
A Bowl Of Pears
Swarthy as oilcloth and as squat as Sancho Panza wearing a beret’s little stalk the pear
She and I came wandering there through an empty park, and we laid our hands on a stone parapet's fading life. Before us, across the oily, aubergine dark of the harbour, we could make out yachts - beneath an overcast sky, that was mauve underlit, against a far shore of dark, crumbling bush. Part of the city, to our left, was fruit shop bright. After the summer day, a huge, moist hush. The yachts were far across their empty fields of water. One, at times, was gently rested like a quill. They seemed to whisper, slipping amongst each other, always hovering, as though resolve were ill. Away off, through the strung Bridge, a sky of mulberry and orange chiffon. Mauve-grey, each sloven sail - like nursing sisters in a deep corridor, some melancholy; or nuns, going to an evening confessional.
Byron Bay: Winter
Barely contained by the eyesight, the beach makes one great arc - blue ranges overlapped behind it; each of them a tide-mark.
These long stars on stalks
In some last inventory, I’ll have lost a season through the occlusion of summer by another hemisphere. Going there
Nine Bowls of Water
Clear water, in silvery tin dishes dented as ping pong balls: a lemon juice tinge of the staling light is in them; they've a faint lid of dust.
Flames and Dangling Wire
On a highway over the marshland. Off to one side, the smoke of different fires in a row, like fingers spread and dragged to smudge. It is the always-burning dump.
A BOWL OF PEARS
Swarthy as oilcloth and as squat as Sancho Panza wearing a beret's little stalk the pear itself suggests the application of some rigour the finest blade from the knife drawer here to freshen it is one slice and then another the north fall south fall facets of glacier the snow-clean juice with a slight crunch that is sweet I find lintels and plinths of white marble clean angled where there slides the perfume globule a freshness like the breeze that is felt upon the opening of day's fan Enku sculptor of pine stumps revealed the ten thousand Buddhas with his attacks the calligraphic axe Rationalised shape shaped with vertical strokes I have made of your jowled buttocks a squareness neatly pelvic A Sunday of rain and like a drain a pipe that was agog and is chock-a-block the limber thunder rebounds and bounds it comes pouring down a funnel the wrong way around broadcasts its buffoon militance over the houses all afternoon Undone the laces of rain dangle on the windows now slicing iron a butcher is sharpening the light of his favourite knife its shimmers carving stripes into the garden And I have carved the pear-shaped head with eyes close set as pips that Picasso saw his poor friend who had gone to war a cubist snowman the fragrant and fatal Apollinaire
IN DEPARTING LIGHT
My mother all of ninety has to be tied up in her wheelchair, but still she leans far out of it sideways; she juts there brokenly, able to cut with the sight of her someone who is close. She is hung like her hanging mouth in the dignity of her bleariness, and says that she is perfectly all right. It is impossible to get her to complain or to register anything for longer than a moment. She has made Stephen Hawking look healthy. It's as though she is being sucked out of existence sideways through a porthole and we've got hold of her feet. She's very calm. If you live long enough it isn't death you fear but what life can still do. And she appears to know this somewhere, even if there's no hope she could formulate it. Yet she is so calm you think of an immortal - a Tithonus withering forever on the edge of life, though never a moment's grievance. Taken out to air my mother seems in a motorcycle race, she the sidecar passenger who keeps the machine on the road, trying to lie far over beyond the wheel. Seriously, concentrated, she gazes ahead towards the line, as we go creeping around and around, through the thick syrups of a garden, behind the nursing home. Her mouth is full of chaos. My mother revolves her loose dentures like marbles ground upon each other, or idly clatters them, broken and chipped. Since they won't stay on her gums she spits them free with a sudden blurting cough, which seems to have stamped out of her an ultimate breath. Her teeth fly into her lap or onto the grass, breaking the hawsers of spittle. What we see in such age is for us the premature dissolution of a body, as it slips off the bones and back to protoplasm before it can be decently hidden away. And it's as though the synapses were almost all of them broken between her brain cells and now they waver about feebly on the draught of my voice and connect at random and wrongly and she has become a surrealist poet. ‘How is the sun on your back?' I ask. ‘The sun is mechanical,' she tells me, matter of fact. Wait a moment, I think, is she becoming profound? From nowhere she says, ‘The lake gets dusty.' There is no lake here, or in her past. ‘You'll have to dust the lake.' It could be She has grown deep, but then she says, ‘The little boy in the star is food,' or perhaps ‘The little boy is the star in food,' and you think, ‘More likely this appeals to my kind of superstition.' It is all a tangle, and interpretations, and hearing amiss, all just the slipperiness of her descent. We sit and listen to the bird-song, which is like wandering lines of wet paint - it is like an abstract expressionist at work, his flourishes and then the touches barely there, and is going on all over the stretched sky. If I read aloud skimmingly from the newspaper, she immediately falls asleep. I stroke her face and she wakes and looking at me intently she says something like, ‘That was a nice stick.' In our sitting about she has also said, relevant of nothing, ‘The desert is a tongue.' ‘A red tongue?' ‘That's right, it's a it's a sort of you know - it's a - it's a long motor car.' When I told her I might go to Cambridge for a time, she said to me, ‘Cambridge is a very old seat of learning. Be sure -' but it became too much - ‘be sure of the short Christmas flowers.' I get dizzy, nauseous, when I try to think about what is happening inside her head. I keep her out there for hours, propping her straight, as she dozes, and drifts into waking; away from the stench and the screams of the ward. The worst of all this, for me, is that despite such talk, now is the most peace I've known her to have. She reminisces, momentarily, thinking that I am one of her long-dead brothers. ‘Didn't we have some fun on those horses, when we were kids?' she'll say, giving her thigh a little slap. Alzheimer's is nirvana, in her case. She never mentions anything of what troubled her adult years - God, the evil passages of the Bible, her own mother's long, hard dying, my father. Nothing at all of my father, and nothing of her obsession with the religion that he drove her to. She says the magpie's song, which goes on and on, like an Irishman wheedling to himself, and which I have turned her chair towards, reminds her of a cup. A broken cup. I think that the chaos in her mind is bearable to her because it is revolving so slowly - slowly as dust motes in an empty room. The soul? The soul bas long been defeated, and is all but gone. She's only productive now of bristles on the chin, of an odour like old newspapers on a damp concrete floor, of garbled mutterings, of some crackling memories, and of a warmth (it was always there, the marsupial devotion), of a warmth that is just in the eyes now, particularly when I hold her and rock her for a while, as I lift her back to bed - a folded package, such as, I have seen from photographs, was made of the Ice Man. She says, ‘I like it when you - when when you...' I say to her, ‘My brown-eyed girl.' Although she doesn't remember the record, or me come home that time, I sing it to her: ‘Da da-dum, de-dum, da-dum ... And it's you, it's you,'- she smiles up, into my face -‘it's you, my brown-eyed girl.' My mother will get lost on the roads after death. Too lonely a figure to bear thinking of. As she did once, one time at least, in the new department store in our town; discovered hesitant among the aisles; turning around and around, becoming a still place. Looking too kind to reject even a wrong direction, outrightly. And she caught my eye, watching her, and knew I'd laugh and grinned. Or else, since many another spirit will be arriving over there, whatever those are - and all of them clamorous as seabirds, along the walls of death - she will be pushed aside easily, again. There are hierarchies in Heaven, we remember; and we know of its bungled schemes. Even if the last shall be first', as we have been told, she could not be first. It would not be her. But why become so fearful? This is all of your mother, in your arms. She who now, a moment after your game, has gone; who is confused and would like to ask why she is hanging here. No - she will be safe. She will be safe in the dry mouth of this red earth, in the place she has always been. She who hasn't survived living, how can we dream that she will survive her death?
These long stars on stalks that have grown up early and are like water plants and that stand in all the pools and the lake even at the brim of the dark cup before your mouth these are the one slit star
There comes trudging back across the home paddocks of the bay pushing its way waist-deep in the trembling seed-heads of the light the trawler, with flat roof and nets aloft,
The Dying Light
My mother all of ninety has to be tied up in her wheelchair, yet still she leans far out of it sideways; she juts there brokenly, able to cut
These long stars
that have grown up
and are like
plants and that stand
the pools and the lake
at the brim
the dark cup
your mouth these are