The Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts is pleased to announce Australian poet Robert Gray as the recipient of this year’s $50,000 Australia Council Writers’ Emeritus award.
A poet, memoirist, editor, anthologist and book reviewer, Robert Gray has been awarded a number of Premier’s Prizes and, in 1990, was the recipient of the Patrick White Award.
His first collection, Creekwater Journal, was released in 1973 and while it gained him instant acclaim, he has tirelessly revised it, with all of these poems now being either substantially rewritten or discarded. The title points to his interest in the Australian landscape, both in itself and as a way of understanding ourselves, a fascination now synonymous with his work.
He has since released a further seven collections and many editions of Selected Poems, both in Australia and overseas and enjoyed the high esteem of writers and critics throughout the world.
“Robert Gray’s poems put him in a rare class of world poets whose work is likely to survive into the next century and beyond,” says Dennis Haskell, Chair of the Australia Council Literature Board. “He is arguably the best read of all Australian poets and has written pieces which are widely regarded as modern classics, are much studied, but which also hold a broad popular appeal.”
“Gray has the best eye in Australian poetry and his work is notable for its sharp visual images – a ‘tomato stake patch’ of yachts; a propped piano lid becomes an ‘urgent sail, far from home’ and Venice’s Grand Canal ‘a swan with its throat stretched out’,” says Dennis. “His memoir of 2008, The Land I Came Through Last, is a work so lyrical it reads like a long prose poem.”
On reading his memoir, fellow writer Helen Garner felt compelled to contact Robert saying “Your book filled me with joy. I wanted it to go on forever, so I could keep living in your way of writing, clear and severe, astonishingly rich and beautiful, and full of a dry tenderness.”
Robert has been a writer-in-residence at the prestigious Meiji University in Tokyo and is a translator of poetry of the German poet, Joachim Sartorius. His own work has been translated into many languages, including full collections of his works in Holland, China and Germany.
In 2009 Robert was one of the first two poets selected by Australian Poetry to tour Ireland, Scotland and Northern England; the success of which has paved the way for further tours and a bourgeoning relationship between the poetry scenes of Australia and the UK.
In October this year Robert, along with Geoffrey Lehmann, released the pivotal compendium, Australian Poetry Since 1788. The nearly 1100 page anthology features a myriad of Australian voices, themes and styles of poetry, which are accompanied by detailed notes on many of the poets. It is the culmination of over three decades of Gray and Lehmann’s anthology work.
“This is the largest and most comprehensive anthology of Australian poetry ever published, and provides a fresh – and sometimes controversial – view of the practice of the poetry,” says Dennis.
“In this major collection and in his own work, he’s become an important force in the preservation of our poetic heritage. Gray has a deep and equal respect for the art form, the world and the reader. It is a delight to honour his work with the Australia Council Writer’s Emeritus Award.”