Peter Minter

Peter Minter: Feral habitus

Peter Minter is one of the greatest poets I read, and one of the greatest poets I know. I regard him, his conversation, his attention, his criticism, his aesthetics and his ethics as militantly tender, tenderly militant. Minter is uncompromising and committed in the things he makes and does, and his politics are manifest in his making and doing, interfacing variously with discourses and methodologies of an eco-anarchist left.

CB: Cryptic chill

From all accounts, Christopher Brennan (1870 - 1932) was an unusal Australian poet. This in two senses: he was an unusual poet and scholar, and he was unusually "Australian". Unlike a good slab of his contemporaries, Brennan was not at all interested in contributing to a national colonial poetic. He once said in an interview that he may as well have written from China, so unimportant was place and national identity in his work. His interest in the French Symbolists, especially Mallarmé, has been well documented, but even where that longterm engagement is concerned, Brennan never imagined he was a Symbolist. His way of describing his aesthetic affinities was to say simply that one must live in one's time, and must find others to get along with. The Symbolists happened to be those closest to his own conceit.

Nevertheless, he was utterly committed to a thoroughly European poetics. Some of his manuscripts are collected at the State Library of NSW, and when I looked through a box of his materials, I found extensive lecture notes, poems, lists, essays, criticism and correspondence in Latin, Greek, French and German.

Material criticism

Anthology endpapers
Anthology endpapers

At a recent Australian Poetry symposium, Peter Minter showed the importance of a different kind of close reading, the material reading. A video of his talk can be seen below.

Minter points out the numerous Indigenous poets excluded from Australian Poetry Since 1788, a recent anthology (as well as pointing to some other exclusions). He frames the anthology itself as an editors' folly (the editors being Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray, who have made anthologies together before) and as kitsch. But while such terms are subjective, and arguments about the exclusions from anthologies - thought objective facts - seem to boil down to the subjective in the end: it is the ends, finally, that Minter takes issue with. Minter's presentation was a model criticism, in terms of disarming those in the audience who were included in the anthology (assuming any needed to be disarmed) — but the kicker is Minter's discovery that the endpapers (shown as the image for this post, above) are actually fauxboriginal themselves, a folly of settler curtainmaking from the 1950s: they are, if anything is, kitsch. They suggest an Aboriginal design, but merely serve to give a frisson of nativism to a settlement verse project.

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