Mead, Philip (Stirling)
MEAD, Philip (Stirling)
Nationality: Australian. Born: Brisbane, Queensland, 31 August 1953. Education: Australian National University, Canberra, 1972–75,B.A. 1975; La Trobe University, Melbourne, 1976–80, M.A. 1981; Melbourne University, 1986–90, Ph.D. 1990. Family: Married Jenna Mead in 1974; one daughter. Career: Lockie Lecturer in Australian Writing, University of Melbourne, 1987–95. Since 1995 senior lecturer in English, University of Tasmania, Hobart. Founder, with Alan Gould, David Brooks, and Mark O'Connor, Canberra Poetry.Address: English Department, University of Tasmania, Hobart 7000, Australia.
Songs from Another Country. Canberra, Open Door Press, 1975.
Be Faithful to Go: Poems. London, Angus & Robertson, 1980.
The Spring-Mire: Poems. Canberra, Brindabella Press, 1982.
Editor, with Gerald Murnane and Jenny Lee, The Temperament of Generations: Fifty Years of Writing in Meanjin. Carlton, Victoria, Meanjin: Melborune University Press, 1990.
Editor, with John Tranter, The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin Books, 1991.
Editor, with John Tranter, The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1994.
Editor, Kenneth Slessor: Critical Essays. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1996.*
Manuscript Collection: National Library of Australia, Parkes.
Critical Study: "Mixed Motives, Mixed Diction: Recent Australian Poetry" by Chris Wallace-Crabbe, in Journal of Commonwealth Literature (East Sussex, England), 19(1), 1984.* * *
Philip Mead's early chapbook Songs from Another Country, now suppressed, announced his allegiance to the Bodalla district and his youthful enthusiasm for the romantic figures of the poet-horseman Adam Lindsay Gordon and the outlaw Ned Kelly. Its imprint, Open Door Press, recalls Mead's association with Kevin Hart and Alan Gould as youthful Canberra writers in the burgeoning poetry scene in Australia in the 1970s. Mead's editing of the magazine Canberra Poetry was an early demonstration of his interest in taking on an editorial role.
The poetic voice of Be Faithful to Go is characterized by thoughtful concentration. Mead alternates subjects from art (Bartók, Mondrian, Wallace Stevens, a Jules and Jim still, a Conder painting, a museum) with brief essays on passages of Australian landscape and monologues for the colonial orator Deniehy and the explorer Wills. The mode of "Chinese Graves in Beechworth Cemetery" is reflection:
...walking here, aware
to the rim of my eye, of what earth is for...
For those who were quietly digested
when the mine-shaft's yellow mud stomach caved in,
for those who died young, unjustly or sick
the glittering blood-crimson characters
spattered across their stone plugs...
The dying Wills's monologue, on the other hand, strikes an extreme of agony, perhaps that of a new identity:
Now...I am dying like an angel
wrapped in flame, one moment this, the next
bones knocking about the rock,
part of the desert's cranium …
… I am dying like the worst
in hell, the worst in hell shall know me.
Let the sun swing and gong against
the moon. I am dying like my God.
The Spring-Mire, a limited edition with fine drawings, is suggestive of Mead's later direction. There are several short pieces with observations that owe their style to Stevens:
The wind is always
moving against the trees here,
which is the way we move...
We are learning
to speak like the day
with the sun through
This River Is in the South (1984) collects poems Mead wished to preserve. The poet seems to have assessed his natural bent for a longlined, thoughtfully paced meditation that is nonetheless tight enough to be constantly resonant with meaning and with the sensation of feeling toward meaning.
Visual reference points are used in the fine "A Photograph of Delmore Schwartz" and in "Woman at a Window" (a Degas). In poems such as "The Henty River, Western Tasmania" a new primacy is discovered in experience of the land:
...you are travelling back ... BackThe impulse is to visit sacredness—"the place,"
across the spring-mire you can feel is valved and
But the returning is through change not distance
to the river. There is no distance through the forest
only a sudden thickening of secrecy and green shade,
the rain crowding through the leaves like applause. You
know this travelling and you will know the place. It is the
stations of forgiveness and of reverberating silence. And
"the secret place"—where earth and human being meet, as in "Magnificence":
I am saying there is
a declension in memory where the mind goes and is.
Where it is magnificent; where the wildflower bends in
Mead's perceptions assume even more importance in light of the fact that he has been poetry editor for Meanjin Quarterly for several years and also has become the joint editor of Hazard Press, which publishes Australian and New Zealand poets. Though he has been slow to write and to create his own style, he has a depth of feeling and subtlety in the course of his thought that arouses expectations.