Nationality: Australian. Born: London, England, 5 July 1954; moved to Australia in 1966. Education: Australian National University, Canberra (Tillyard award, 1976), 1973–76, B.A. (honors) 1977; Stanford University, California (Stegner fellow), 1977–78; University of Melbourne, 1983–86, Ph.D. 1987. Family: Married; two children. Career: Coordinator, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Geelong College, Victoria, 1979–83; part-time lecturer in philosophy, 1984–85, and lecturer in English, 1986–87, Melbourne University; lecturer in literary studies, Deakin University, Victoria, 1987–90. Associate professor of English, 1991–94, and since 1994 professor of English and comparative literature, Monash University, Victoria. Visiting professor, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1996–97. Awards: Neilson prize, 1977; Australian Literature Board fellowship, 1977; Fulbright award, 1977; Harri Jones award, 1983; Wesley Michael Wright award, 1984; Victorian Premier's award, 1985; New South Wales Premier's award, 1985; Grace Leven award, 1991. Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1994. Agent: Colin Golvan, 21a Mary Street, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122, Australia. Address: 247 Richardson Street, North Carlton, Victoria 3054, Australia.
Nebuchadnezzar. Canberra, Open Door Press, 1976.
The Departure. Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1978.
The Lines of the Hand: Poems 1976–1979. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1981.
Your Shadow. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1984.
Peniel. Melbourne, Golvan Arts, 1990.
The Buried Harbour: Selected Poems of Giuseppe Ungaretti. Canberra, Leros, 1990.
New and Selected Poems. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1995.
Dark Angel. Dublin, Dedalus Press, 1996.
Nineteen Songs. Sydney, Vagabond Press, 1999.
Wicked Heat. Sydney, Paperbark Press, 1999.
The Trespass of the Sign: Deconstruction, Theology, and Philosophy. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
A.D. Hope. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1992.
Editor, Shifting Frames: English/Literature/Writing. Waurn Ponds, Victoria, Deakin University, 1988.
Editor, The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1994.*
Manuscript Collection: National Library, Canberra.
Critical Studies: "The Canberra Poets: The New Australian Poetry" by Kevin F. Pearson, in Poetry of the Pacific Region, edited by Paul Sharrad, Adelaide, Centre for Research in the New Literatures in English, 1984; "Reading the Signs" by Philip Mead, in The Adelaide Review (Adelaide), 25, 1986; "The Weight of Things" by Gary Catalano, in Overland (Melbourne), 104, 1986; "Secret Truths: The Poetry of Kevin Hart" by David McCooey, in Southerly (Southerly, Australia), 55 (4), 1995; "Horizons of the Name" by Martin Harrison, in Ulitarra, 10, 1996; "What Bliss to Be Her Slave!: Discipline, Silence and Death in the Symboliste Project" by Michael Brennan, in Masochism: Disciplines of Desire, Aesthetics of Cruelty, Politics of Danger, edited by Natalya Lusty and Ruth Walker, Sydney, PG ARC Publications, 1998; "In the Mirror: On the Poetic Identify of Kevin Hart" by Gary Catalano, in Imago, 10 (3), 1999.* * *
Kevin Hart is an accomplished poet in a variety of forms, ranging from the prose poem to the sonnet and sestina. His early book The Departure perhaps leaned too heavily on an empty formalism deriving from the Movement poets of the 1950s and ultimately from the much richer formalism of Auden. This formalism produced a number of tired lines such as these: "Those years rise up and peel away. I see /I cannot exempt myself from history." But already in this book Hart was capable of the tough precision and brilliance of the sonnet "Lovers," which concludes,
I stroke you slowly
downwards, then kiss and sip the chalice
between your thighs. I shift again,
closer, and push into your body
hard, until you close around me—
immediate, suffuse. Your eyes
are jammed open with joy and strain
as all about us darkness dies.
His next two books, The Lines of the Hand and Your Shadow, demonstrate an increasing emancipation of verse form that coincided with his conversion to the Anglican and later the Roman Catholic Church. It seems likely that the formalized passion of Christianity provided a channel for the genuine religious emotion of these books, freeing language as well as feeling.
His devotional poems look back to the Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century, particularly George Herbert, for their inspiration. This affectionate pietism can be heard in the opening lines of "To Christ Our Lord":
My only friend,
whose face I could not recognize in a
whose voice would not make me turn,
forgive me for thinking such things important,
for trusting in only what I can touch.
But it is also a tone of voice that is typically twentieth-century European, as distinct from Anglo-Saxon, and abstract in its sensibility, employing symbols such as clocks, fields, the wind, and trees as objects in a dream landscape having no reference to a particular time or place. Both volumes include a number of translations from modern European poets. Perhaps his most successful translation is "The Flies" from the Spanish of Antonio Machado.
Your Shadow presents itself as a spiritual livre composé, a pilgrimage from darkness into light. The volume contains a number of poems called "Your Shadow." These "shadow" poems, with their invocation of "your body's very own black flower," tend to be too genteel and morbid in their introversion. The dualism and belief in original sin that permeate the poems are difficult for the non-Christian to appreciate, although Hart's poems of religious affirmation and celebration will be enjoyed by most readers. "Easter Psalm" is an affectionate and controlled poem with a classic simplicity and restraint. The book concludes with "Poem to the Sun," which is an exultation in Christ and is equally fine.
These two later volumes include a different vein of poetry that is just as successful as the devotional poems. "The Members of the Orchestra" and "Nadia Comanechi" are successful this-worldly poems with great energy and control of language. These lines from "The Hammer" demonstrate equal power:
This is the sanctus, the pause for preparation, for
screwing the mind's energies tightly into muscle;
this is the archer's erasure of himself from his tense
matrix of forces, the moment of conditioned release
when the mind delights in its freedom to step outside
and adore the body, a perfected instrument of will.
And so the instant comes, intense and blurred, the head
strikes the nail through the knotted grain, jumping
back as though appalled by such precise violence and
for a moment containing the man's mind, pure energy.