The Australian poet and author Peter Nicholson was born in Waverley, New South Wales, growing up in the Sydney suburbs of Woollahra and Epping. He was educated at Armidale Teachers College and Macquarie University from which he graduated in 1978 with an honours thesis concerning the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Between 2005 and 2008 he wrote a monthly Poetry and Culture column for the blog 3 Quarks Daily.
Nicholson published A Temporary Grace in 1991. It includes the collections At the Water’s Edge and Views To A Bridge. Also included is the short fiction Fast Forward, styled a ‘poetic narrative’ and set in Sydney’s urban milieu. Such Sweet Thunder was published in 1994 and includes Shadow Of A Doubt, Prometheus and S.S. Snakebite. A third volume, A Dwelling Place, was published in 1997. Speech To A Mountain and New Affection, New Noise are separated by Notebook, a series of commentaries, opinions and questions about aesthetics. Michael Costigan, former Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, wrote of this book, ‘Nicholson . . . emerges with this collection as a significant and versatile figure in the crowded world of Australian poets born in the decade after World War II.’ 1 The novella Hammerhead was published as a paperback and eBook in 2011. New & Selected Poems was published in 2012 in paperback, eBook and ePub formats. N & SP includes three new collections of verse, Bush Imperial, Up To The Living and A Bit Black together with a selection of poetry from his earlier books.
Themes and Subjects
The poet’s subject matter and prosody extend from an affectionate parody of the bush ballad tradition (‘The Speewah Ballad’) to blank verse explorations of topical subject matter (‘Ascent’), his admiration for European and American culture underpinned by a sceptical Australian temperament . He admires writers such as the Australian poets Francis Webb and Gwen Harwood, and also those artists from the past in whose work he finds a living presence and inspiration—Shakespeare, Bruckner, Emily Dickinson and van Gogh. 2 Not surprisingly, for a writer who has said that he sees himself as a twenty-first century writer with roots in the nineteenth century, the transfigurative Romantic element remains important to him, coexisting beside postmodern revisionism.
Nicholson has written with a knowledge of the Modernists and the transatlantic developments that have followed in their wake. However, his idiom is not conditioned by critical orthodoxy. His language ranges from the vernacular to the theatrical, as in Condemned At Kangaroo Court, a work that can be acted on the stage or read as a dramatic poem. 3 He has said at his website that he wants his poetry to be ‘feeling that thinks’ about the word and the world and the human factor which links them. His poetry has been criticised for its sometimes apocalyptic tone and avoidance of specific descriptive detail. Seriousness, which does not exclude humour and word play, seems to be a necessary antidote to the ironic mode which he sees as enervating, reducing poetry to the status of a language game. 4 In an interview with the Indian academic Pradeep Trikha he describes himself as an engaged writer who believes that language can express complexity without recourse to ideology: ‘There is a kind of litterateur about these days who needs to be thought politically correct and who implies that he or she is untouched by the impurities, the difficulties, the massive contradictoriness of life. But I like artists who have that divided self and who reflect that in their work. To me, that is the way you get art that the public will eventually get around to reading or listening to or looking at.’ 5
By the mid-nineteen nineties the growing availability of the Internet was set to challenge the status quo. Through his website, activated in March 1998 and archived by the National Library of Australia in 2002, Nicholson acquired a diverse readership, as did other independently-published Australian writers. Previously subject to ‘the tyranny of distance’ (historian Geoffrey Blainey’s phrase), these writers welcomed the availability of a new kind of readership.
Nicholson is not an Australian nationalist, nor does his work duplicate prevailing stylistics. His aesthetic idealism is real, yet it is based on an awareness of contemporary realities, political, scientific and technological. Living in a country of diverse ethnic and social influences, and belonging to a literary culture that has absorbed the old city/bush dualisms, Nicholson writes, as he puts it in ‘Asking Auden’, ‘To summon up fresh energy / For the new century of the race / Called sapiens, whose language grabs / From past and future tense / Continuing words of grace.’ 6
Bibliography Books, Poetry, Anthologies, Articles, print and online references
1970 Anthology The Arts Magazine of Armidale Teachers College Art, Fiction, Poetry ed. Peter Nicholson
1978 Wallace Stevens and the Poetry of the Earth Honours thesis Macquarie University
1991 A Temporary Grace At The Water’s Edge, Fast Forward (prose), Views To A Bridge Wellington Lane Press 133 pp.
1994 Such Sweet Thunder Shadow Of A Doubt, Prometheus, S.S. Snakebite Wellington Lane Press 108 pp.
1997 A Dwelling Place Speech To A Mountain, Notebook (prose), New Affection, New Noise Wellington Lane Press 106 pp.
2000 Host City of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, poetry and photographs City of Sydney Council Excerpt from ‘Sydney’
2000 Visiting Emily Poems inspired by the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson eds. Sheila Coghill & Thom Tammaro University of Iowa Press ‘Emily—’ pp. 69–70
2001 Wagner ‘Orpheus Ascending: A Reassessment of Wagner and Wagnerism’ Wagner Society of the United Kingdom March 2001 Volume 21 No 1 pp. 3–37
2002 New World The Siemens Magazine ‘What managers can learn from literature’ Hoffmann und Campe Verlag GmBH p. 7
2002 Departures: How Australia Reinvents Itself ed. Xavier Pons Melbourne University Press
2006 The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations ed. Dennis O’Driscoll Bloodaxe Books
2007 Delphic Intimations Dialogues with Australian Writers and Critics ed. Pradeep Trikha Sarap & Sons Interview with Peter Nicholson pp. 46–54
2008 Prosopisia Vol I. 2008 Prose and poetry from Indian and other writers eds. Jayanta Mahapatra, Pradeep Trikha To Seek and Find: Poetry and Limitations of the Ironic Mode in the New Millennium Arawalii pp. 44–46
2008 Robert Helpmann A Servant of Art Anna Bemrose University of Queensland Press Epilogue ‘e je danse’ p. 312
2009 Cabinet A Quarterly of Art and Culture ed. Sina Najafi Issue 33 Deception Spring Ernest Lalor Malley: The poet who wasn’t there Margaret Wertheim References Peter Nicholson’s essay on Ern Malley.
2009 Private International Review of Photographs No. 45 Summer 2009 Development as an Ecological Question Saint-Brisson Poetry with accompanying photographs ‘Bienvenue à Boom Boom’ p. 33, ‘World Without Tigers’ p. 62
2009 The International Reception of Emily Dickinson Continuum Reception Studies eds. Domhnall Mitchell, Maria Stuart Bloomsbury Academic
2010 Zeitschrift für Australienstudien ed. Adi Wimmer Association for Australian Studies University of Klagenfurt Nummer 24/2010, with poetry by the author p. 93
2010 Explorations in Australian Poetry ed. Kanwar Dinesh Singh Sarup Book Publishers, including Peter Nicholson’s essay Ern Malley: Doppelgänger in the Desert pp. 80–88
2011 Hammerhead Novella ‘We will be the hammerhead shark in the filthy ocean of corruption that comprises our present sorry state.’ Wollstonecraft Press 167 pp.
2011 The Reader No. 44 ed. Philip Davis University of Liverpool ‘From Verse To Worse’ pp. 88–90
2011 PoemCafe ed. Hanyong Jeong Anthology of Korean and other poets in Korean and English, with Peter Nicholson’s ‘Up To The Living’ pp. 182–183
2011 Rupkatha Journal Contemporary Poetry in English Vol 3 No. 2 ed. Tirtha Prasad Mukhopadhyay, with poetry by the author pp. 372–374
2012 New & Selected Poems Wollstonecraft Press, with selected poems from A Temporary Grace, Such Sweet Thunder and A Dwelling Place together with three new collections, Bush Imperial, Up To The Living and A Bit Black 267 pp.
2013 Indo-Australian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry Vibrant Voices eds. Sunil Sharma, Rob Harle, Sangeeta Sharma AuthorsPress pp. 375–377
2013 Australian History Live!: Eyewitness Accounts from the Past ed. Ian Warden National Library of Australia, including Peter Nicholson’s Winged Victory: The Sydney Opera House p. 265
2014 Indo-Australian Anthology of Short Fiction eds. Rob Harle, Sunil Sharma, Sangeeta Sharma, including the author’s short story ‘This Brilliant Book’ pp. 309–316
2014 Voices Across The Ocean Poems From Australia & India eds. Rob Harle, Jaydeep Sarangi Cyberwit pp. 40–48
2014 Contemporary Authors New Revision Series ed. Mary Ruby Gale e-document and hardback
2015 The Land Landscape Poetry by Australian and Indian Poets eds. Jaydeep Sarangi, Rob Harle Cyberwit pp. 94–99
2016 Searching For The Sublime eds. Jaydeep Sarangi, Rob Harle Cyberwit pp. 111-119
2016 Van Gogh’s Ear ed. Tina Hall Anthology including Peter Nicholson’s ‘ICI REPOSE VINCENT van GOGH’
2017 A Decent Girl: To Read 23 Young Poets Abroad (A Decent Girl title from a poem by Lidja Dimkovska) Translated into Korean and edited by Hanyong Jeong, including poetry by the author DiziBooks eBook pp. 231–242
1 Australian Book Review August 1997 p. 52
2 For example, see ‘Emily—’, Visiting Emily eds. Sheila Coghill, Thom Tammaro University of Iowa Press 2000 pp. 69–70
3 See CAKC https://peternicholson.com.au
4 See To Seek and Find: Poetry and Limitations of the Ironic Mode in the New Millennium Prosopisia ed. Jayanta Mahapatra Vol. 1 2008 pp. 44–56
5 Delphic Intimations Dialogues with Australian Writers and Critics ed. Pradeep Trikha Sarup & Sons 2007 p. 50
6 ‘Asking Auden’ A Temporary Grace Wellington Lane Press 1991 pp. 94–95
Austlit The Australian Literature Resource
Official website https://peternicholson.com.au
Archived website National Library of Australia
Poetry and Culture columns 3 Quarks Daily https://3quarksdaily.blogs.com/3quarksdaily/MondayMusings.html#peter