My first experience with Robert Gray's poetry was in ninth grade english. Over the space of a week our teacher guided us in dissecting his poem 'late ferry', until the imagery was meaningless and there was only a smattering of words left on the blackboard. I found the entire experience quite disturbing, and it was only a few years ago that I picked up my copy of 'The Selected Poems of Robert Gray' once more; and in reading through it, found myself spellbound by the images captured between its pages.
'... as an imagist, he is without a rival in the English-speaking world.'
Robert Gray was born in Australia in 1945. He spent his childhood, in a small country town on the north coast of New South Wales, where his father owned a tropical fruit plantation. He was educated there, and trained as a journalist, before moving to Sydney in the 1960's to begin work as a freelance writer, and editor.
After making the conscious decision not to become a painter (despite that being the chosen path of many of his earliest and closest friends), Robert Gray turned to his love of language, and began to paint with words. During his lifetime he has written numerous collections of poetry, each filled with vivid imagery, and abstract similes which reflect the physical world in amazing passion. Woven with tenderness, each poem is a masterpiece. As the poet himself once said, it is all 'about visual experience becoming language'.
With the release of 'Creek Water Journal', Robert Gray managed to establish himself as a truly original imagist. Even Les Murray, declared that 'Mr Gray has an eye, and the verbal felicity which must accompany such an eye. He can use an epithet and image to perfection and catch a whole world of sensory under-standing in a word or a phrase.' Les had until then firmly refused to review the writing of any contemporary poet.
It is difficult to make a living out of writing poetry, and so Robert has resorted to working various jobs over the years. He has enjoyed working in a bookshop ('the books, at least, are interesting'), as a reviewer, a buyer for bookshops, and an advertising copywriter. He has done a lot of freelance writing, has had Literature Board grants, and overseas travelling scholarships. Along with being a writer in residence at universities around Australia, he has been in residence at Meiji University in Tokyo.
The poetry of Robert Gray has become required reading in many schools around Australia due to it's unique use of imagery, and the english language. His works reflect the Australian culture, and explore the beauty which can be found in the simple, and ordinary aspects of life.
'My poetry is really about what is sublime being right here in the ordinary. I've always felt that the deepest mystery, and whatever answer there might be, is nowhere else but here, right on the surface of life. My poetry's about this sense, and at the same time about "the great interests of man: air and light, the joy of having a body, the voluptuousness of looking".'
Robert Gray has been quoted saying that his poetry is about 'Vividness... Simplicity, purity, and clarity of outline', and his work definitely embraces these things. He has won the Adelaide Arts Festival and the New South Wales and Victorian Premiers' Awards for poetry, amongst others. And in 1990 he received the Patrick White Award. His poetry is ageless, having a life of it's own, I doubt it will ever vanish from the shelves of libraries or from school reading lists. Robert Gray will be known forever as one of Australia's great poets.
Published works by Robert
The Australian Reader's Digest Book of Do-It-Yourself Home Repairs (1964)
Introspect, Retrospect (1970)
Creekwater Journal (1974)
Grass Script (1979)
The Skylight (1984)
Selected Poems (1985)
Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century* (1991)
The Younger Australian Poets*
Certain Things (1993)
Selected Poems by Shaw Neilson*
Drawn from Life*
New Selected Poems (1998)
After Images (2002)
* editing credit
Interview with Don Anderson - May 1986
Interview with Barbara Williams - 1990
Sydney Morning Herald
Selected poems of Robert Gray - A&R Modern Poets