23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023
Portrait Robert Gray
© Hartwig Klappert

Robert Gray

The poet Robert Gray was born in Port Macquarie, Australia, in 1945 and grew up on the coast of New South Wales. Due to the diagnosis of a life-threatening heart condition, which turned out to be mistaken, he stopped going to school. He became a journalist and began writing poems. In 1963 Gray went to Sydney, where he worked as a copywriter, a buyer for bookshops, a teacher for creative writing and reviewer of new publications for the radio broadcaster ABC and the daily newspaper »Sydney Morning Herald«.

Following his poetic début with »Introspect, Retrospect« (1970) he became known for »Creekwater Journal« (1974). Grants and teaching posts at various universities in Australia and at Tokyo’s Meiji University both encouraged and enabled him to complete further works – exclusively poetry – including »Grass Script« (1979), »The Skylight« (1984), »Piano« (1988) and »Certain Things« (1993).

Gray is regarded as an outstanding landscape poet and, alongside Les Murray, is one of the most significant Australian poets. He sees himself in the tradition of Edward Thomas, D.H. Lawrence and William Carlos Williams and is an unflinching realist, in the sense of the philosophical concept that there is nothing in the mind except what was first in the senses. His poems impress through precise images of life’s incessant changes, rhythmic independence and an accurate portrayal of mental states – all without slipping into sentimentality or pathos. His commitment to graphic quality is clear in the volume »Lineations« (1996), which made Gray well-known outside the English-speaking world. Here he adheres to a configuration of poems and drawings where he maintains an open and almost naïve perspective – even towards the most profane and horrid things.

The poem »Flames and Dangling Water« (from the anthology »New Selected Poems«, 1998), presents unsettling impressions of a garbage dump with the motifs of Skull Hill as analogous to a dark vision of the future that ist not entirely devoid of hope. His poetry’s claim to unify contrasts shows Taoist and Buddhist influences: »And I think writing does that, to give us our lives, but give it to us more abundantly, more richly, instead of everything disappearing, thrown out on the dark river of time and carried away… So I think that we actually see through language.«

The author has also edited various poetry anthologies and the painter John Olsen’s journals. In 2006 he published a collection of Joachim Sartorius’ poems in translation. Gray’s work has been awarded all of the most important Australian literary prizes, including the New South Wales Premier’s Poetry Award, the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry, the Patrick White Award, the Adelaide Festival of the Arts Award, the Grace Leven Poetry Prize, the Age Poetry Book of the Year Award and the C.J. Dennis Prize for Poetry. The poet lives in Sydney.

© international literature festival berlin


Introspect, Retrospect
Lyre-Bird Writers
Sydney, 1970

Angus & Robertson
North Ryde, New South Wales, 1988

Duffy & Snellgrove
Potts Point, New South Wales, 1996

New Selected Poems
Duffy & Snellgrove
Potts Point, New South Wales, 1998

The Land I Came Through Last
Artarmon, 2008

Joachim Sartorius