Simpson, R(onald) A(lbert)

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SIMPSON, R(onald) A(lbert)

Nationality: Australian. Born: Melbourne, Victoria, 1 February 1929. Education: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Associateship Diploma of Art; Melbourne Teachers' College, Primary Teachers' Certificate 1951. Family: Married Pamela Bowles in 1955; one son and one daughter. Career: Primary school teacher, Melbourne, and in England, 1951–57; art teacher in secondary schools in Melbourne, 1958–61; sub-editor, Department of Education, Melbourne, 1962–67; lecturer in art, 1968–71, and senior lecturer, 1972–87, Chisholm Institute of Technology, Melbourne. Poetry editor, The Bulletin, Sydney, 1963–65. Since 1969 poetry editor, The Age, Melbourne. Awards: Australian Arts Council travel grant, 1977; fellowship, 1986; FAW Christopher Brennan award, 1992. Address: 29 Omama Road, Murrumbeena, Melbourne, Victoria 3163, Australia.



The Walk along the Beach. Sydney, Edwards and Shaw, 1960.

This Real Pompeii. Brisbane, Jacaranda Press, 1964.

After the Assassination and Other Poems. Brisbane, Jacaranda Press, 1968.

Diver. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1972.

Poems from Murrumbeena. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1976.

The Forbidden City. Sydney, Edwards and Shaw, 1979.

Selected Poems. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1981.

Words for a Journey: Poems 1980–1985. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1986.

Dancing Table: Poems and Drawings 1986–1991. Melbourne, Penguin Books, 1992.

The Impossible: And Other Poems. Wollongong, New South Wales, Five Islands Press, 1998.

The Midday Clock. Melbourne, Macmillan/The Age, 1999.


Editor, Poems from "The Age" 1967–79. Melbourne, Hyland House, 1979.


Manuscript Collection: National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Critical Studies: The Literature of Australia edited by Geoffrey Dutton, Melbourne, Penguin, 1976; "On UQP's Selection" by Graham Rowlands, in Overland (Melbourne), 88, July 1982; "Mixed Motives, Mixed Diction: Recent Australian Poetry" by Chris Wallace-Crabbe, in Journal of Commonwealth Literature (East Sussex, England), 19 (1), 1984.

R.A. Simpson comments:

As a poet I use words in an effort to understand and clarify experiences. I get my main joy from poetry in the use of words; the struggle for clarification is the painful region. My early poetry was stiff and formal. I believe, and hope, that my recent work shows greater ease and freedom. My background as an art teacher contributed to my experiments in concrete poetry, an area I no longer find interesting.

I do not see myself merely as an Australian poet, though there are obvious Australian attitudes in my poetry and I have used Australian themes. Most present-day Australian poets would seriously believe that the best poetry being written today here and overseas reflects some kind of international style, a sense of the poet's responsibility to human beings in general. Australian poets feel part of the larger flow of ideas and are now making significant contributions.

*  *  *

One of a group of Melbourne poets who came to prominence in the 1950s and then became influential in the 1960s, R.A. Simpson has carefully maintained certain essential characteristics more consistently than have his fellow poets Vincent Buckley, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, and Evan Jones, all of whom have modified their original formal regularity and slightly academic (or at least cloistered) affectations of irony and equipoise. In his first collection, The Walk along the Beach, Simpson quite firmly demonstrated a mind concerned with paring language down, with understatement, and with letting the image work with a minimum of encumbrances. The early poems were often overtly concerned, however, with the heritage of a Roman Catholic boyhood, the subsequent loss of faith, and the aftermath of guilt. Indeed, even as late as Simpson's poetry in Diver, the innate direction of mind is through channels of justification or expiation. Though there may be no God for Simpson, there is still an implied judgment.

The verse style that worries its way through these concerns is, however, strangely tight-lipped and reticent. At its weakest it seems hesitant, hardly daring to indulge even in connectives. At its best it is a strikingly taut and resonant instrument capable of playing upon (and preying upon) those central nervous gropings and ambivalences that our own speech can enmesh us in. Simpson's poetry is not graceful or elegant. It is self-guarded, and it keeps catching itself off guard. Both in the 1960s and the 1970s it remained outside the current fashions, but its essential honesty sustains it. It is a poetry one can return to many times and always with a gain.

The later collections The Forbidden City and Words for a Journey maintain Simpson's tightness and restraint but are enhanced by something of the sparkle of travel and the honing of his sense of quiet wit. There are still macabre overtones, but there is also an element of gentle play that has mellowed the poet's voice. His later work seems somehow more gregarious without losing any sense of honesty or intensity. In many ways Dancing Table: Poems & Drawings 1986–1991, published in 1992, sharpens the rueful wit and observation of its predecessors. The more his works look toward mortality and loss, the more the sense of play resurfaces, with life seen as a balancing act and the dancing table as a hollow board. His prizewinning collection The Impossible and the volume The Midday Clock reinforce the grave playfulness of Simpson's later work and seem to reach a new audience for his characteristic ruefulness and wit.

—Thomas W. Shapcott

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Simpson, R(onald) A(lbert)

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