Martin Duwell: Profile

This website grew, perhaps unexpectedly, out of a long spell as one of the poetry book judges for what is now the Queensland Literary Awards. Reading almost every book of poetry published in Australia each year quickly gave me the feeling that there were many of these books that I would like to reread and explore. The idea of doing one a month was very appealing as long as one’s attention wasn’t too distracted by academic issues of teaching and administration. And so I took early retirement from my position in the Department of English, Media Studies and Art History at the University of Queensland in 2006 and began this series of reviews not with the aim to pass judgements about relative worth or get a keener sense of where Australian poetry was headed but to try to work out what individual poets were actually doing.

I want (to quote the Old English poet, Deor) to say this of myself: that I was born in Brighton on the south coast of England in 1948. I was an only child, my father having been a POW for most of the war. In 1957 the family followed my father’s sister to Bundaberg in Queensland as “ten pound” poms. As children were included gratis: I can say that Australia got me for free. I went to primary and secondary schools in Bundaberg before beginning at the University of Queensland as an honours (English) student in 1967. I stayed at the University of Queensland as student and lecturer pretty much until my retirement.

Having spent virtually all my intellectual life there, I owe a considerable debt to the University of Queensland, to my teachers, colleagues and students. Most especially to the late Stan Gerson who taught me Old English (I wasn’t initially a very apt student) in 1968 and to the late Hank Kylstra who taught me Old Norse (ditto) in 1969 and, miraculously, Homeric Greek for eighteen months some forty years later.

Like most people addicted to poetry, I began my love affair (a dangerous cliché) in my teens with the conventional canon of English poetry. But I knew instinctively even then that unless an interest in one of the arts is an interest in its contemporary manifestations (initially unappealing as they are likely to be) then it’s only a superficial engagement. With this in mind, and knowing nothing about what was happening in contemporary poetry in Australia, I took over the local students’ magazine, Makar, in my second undergraduate year. That, with the help of co-editors like Peter Annand and Rod Wissler, eventually grew from a student magazine to a full scale press publishing the Gargoyle poets series of chapbooks as well as a number of other books including John Tranter’s immensely important The New Australian Poetry.

During my academic career I worked on the scholarly journal Australian Literary Studies with its editor Laurie Hergenhan for a number of years and was also for a while the poetry editor of the University of Queensland Press. I’ve also worked as a co-editor with RMW (Bob) Dixon of two books of Aboriginal song poetry – a very educative experience.

Those interested in my policies about reviewing poetry and thinking critically about it, might like to read an interview conducted by my friend, Jeffrey Poacher, published in Jacket Magazine in 2010.