Introducting Peter Minter

Peter MinterPeter Minter is a leading contemporary Australian poet, editor and scholar.

He was born in Newcastle into a family of coal miners, sailors and fishermen, descendant of a mix of English, Scottish and Aboriginal heritage. He spent his earliest days on the waters of Lake Macquarie and the beaches near Swansea, just south of Newcastle, where from an early age he learnt to fish, catch prawns and crabs with miners’ lamps on new-moon nights, and surf during the days after school. At the age of fifteen he moved with his family to Quorrobolong, near the Watagan Mountains of the lower Hunter Valley, and soon took a strong interest in writing, painting and photography. He spent many a day reading or wandering through the bush, closely observing the rural and forested environment around his home, and recording ideas for his earliest stories and poems.

Peter began publishing poetry in local publications from the age of seventeen. While still at school he was invited to attend the University of Newcastle’s celebrated Morpeth poetry camps, where he met poets such as Roland Robinson and Norman and Jean Talbot. He started editing and producing ‘zines, joined the People for Nuclear Disarmament and hosted an anti-nuclear radio show on the University radio station. After high school he travelled and lived for a year in Japan, where he learnt Japanese, translated Japanese poetry and practiced calligraphy, beginning a lifelong interest in Japanese culture and thought. On his return to Australia he attended the University of Sydney to study English, Japanese and Philosophy, and began writing poetry full-time between attending lectures and exploring his new home, Sydney.

After graduating from university Peter returned to the Hunter Valley and worked in the vineyards of the Pokolbin wine-growing district near Quorrobolong. He continued to write, and began to see his work published in journals throughout Australia. In 1993 he moved to the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, and began teaching at the Durali Aboriginal Centre at the University of Western Sydney. It was here that he forged an ongoing commitment to both Australian literature and Indigenous culture.

In 1995 Peter’s first volume of poems, Rhythm in a Dorsal Fin was selected and published as part of the Five Islands Press New Poets Publishing Program. Praised for its lyrical intensity and contemporary approach to language and landscape, Rhythm in a Dorsal Fin was shortlisted for the distinguished New South Wales Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, making Peter the youngest ever poet to be shortlisted for the prize. In the Blue Mountains he was part of a community of writers that formed around the Varuna Writers’ Centre, where he edited the Varuna New Poetry Broadsheet and curated a series of legendary poetry readings that featured poets such as Robert Adamson, Dorothy Hewett, John Tranter, Les Murray, JS Harry, Anthony Lawrence, Adam Aitken and Nicolette Stasko, among many others. He also co-founded and co-edited a groundbreaking new poetry journal, Cordite Poetry and Poetics Review, which is now available online and continues to feature work by strong new Australian poets.

Since 2000 Peter has been at the forefront of a new generation of contemporary Australian poets. In that year he won The Age Poetry Book of the Year award for his brilliant second collection, Empty Texas (Paper Bark Press), which was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement as a work of ‘conclusive, unillusioned, poetic and visionary possibility.’ He was also awarded the prestigious Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship (Poetry), with which he represented Australia at the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry, and co-edited the landmark poetry anthology Calyx: 30 Contemporary Australian Poetry. He was also appointed Poetry Editor for the eminent Australian journal Meanjin, a position he held until 2005. He has since been honoured by grants and fellowships from the Literature Board of the Australian Council for the Arts, and the publication of his poetry, essays and reviews in a broad range of prominent Australian and international print and electronic publications, including The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry.

Throughout this time Peter continued to dedicate his working life to Indigenous education and literature. He taught Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Sydney until 2000, assisting in the development of the first Bachelor of Aboriginal Studies degree and writing the first subject in Aboriginal literature to be offered by the university. In his present position as Lecturer in Indigenous Studies at the Koori Centre, University of Sydney, he teaches Indigenous cultural, legal and literary studies, specialising particularly in ecopoetics and aesthetic responses to country, sovereignty and identity. Peter also works tirelessly to promote contemporary Aboriginal poetry, literature and ideas. In addition to his work on the Macquarie PEN Anthologies, he has also edited a special Indigenous issue of Meanjin (‘Blak Times’, 2006) and, with the Chilean Embassy of Australia, a bi-lingual anthology of Chilean Indigenous Mapuches and Australian Aboriginal poetry, entitled Earth Mirror.

Peter’s most recent collection of poetry, blue grass, was published by Salt Publishing in Cambridge, England, in 2006. For more information about Peter’s publications and activities, and to read his blog, please visit

Peter’s poetry

Blue Grass coverPoem from blue grass (Salt Publishing, 2006):

Click here to download his poem Australiana (PDF)

(Permission to reprint these poems obtained from Salt Publishing).

 Spotlight on editor, Peter Minter

 1. Of all the art forms why literature?
I have a strong interest in a wide range of art-forms and practices — if it looks like art, smells like art, tastes like art, then it’s art to me, and I’ll take notice of it.  I am interested in painting, photography, film, music, sculpture, as well as literature in all its manifestations. I have located my own art practice within literature because I have a particular interest in language and its representational and political capacities. My enthusiasm for poetry started at a very young age, when I started discovering twentieth century poetry from North and South America and Europe. As I came to learn more about Australian literature I decided that I wanted to write, and have done so for a couple of decades.

2. You’re most well known for your poetry. Why that genre?
For me, of all the literary genres poetry is the most distilled and lyrically engaging.  I love reading good novels and short stories, but I am most interested in poetry for its energy, not just as a ‘reflection’ in the traditional sense, but also as a mode of inquiry. I am interested in creating linguistic spaces in which the lyrical voice can encounter life.

3. What is your major goal as a poet?
To encounter the world and share my encounters with other people.

4. What or whom would you say influences your writing most?
My writing is most influenced by day-to-day living. I think that one of the great challenges for an artist or writer is to maintain a candid openness to experience, a liveliness and keenness in the imagination and spirit. I frequently find myself influenced by music I have just listened to or books I have just read, if I am moved by the energy of their imagination.

5. What role does Indigenous poetry / literature play in Australian society today?
Indigenous literature in all its forms is a resounding answer-back to the machineries of European invasion and colonisation. It records the memory of people and events that European authority attempted to silence, and in doing so it signifies the survival of Indigenous ways of being and thinking. It also expresses the experiences, hopes and aspirations of contemporary Indigenous peoples who live in the wake of a terrible history, but who are also at the prow of a great cultural resurgence. This Indigenous literary renewal is happening alongside some very deep and positive developments in settler Australian culture and literature, and when taken together they reveal very significant transformations going on in the Australian human condition.

6. If you could recommend only one book, what would it be?
The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature.

Pete’s weblinks:

Peter Minter:

Interview with Peter Minter by Rosanna Lacri, Stylus Poetry Journal 2002

Author information at Paper Bark Press, with links:

blue grass notes:

Review of blue grass by Tim Thorne, Famous Reporter 34:

Review of blue grass by Peter Riley, Jacket 31:

Review of blue grass by Tom Shapcott, The Australian, October 13, 2007:,25197,22556526-5003900,00.html

Review of blue grass by Bev Braune, Cordite 2007: