A passion for the impossible

Volume 6 Number 3 March 8 - April 12 2010

Written just before its author passed away in 2008, On Passion is a wonderful, ultimately joyous, insight into the creative life of one of our best-loved poets. By Silvia Dropulich.

When I interviewed Dorothy Porter over a decade ago, the then writer-in-residence in the University of Melbourne’s English Department (now part of the School of Culture and Communication) had a poster tacked to her door depicting Europa, a moon of Jupiter, from which she drew inspiration.

The love of possibilities and the unknown was still with the poet just before her death in December 2008.

In the new book On Passion, written just before her death and published by Melbourne University Press, Porter re-affirms her love of astrobiology.

“I love the whole notion of astrobiology because it is brazenly optimistic. It rests on the belief that there is life elsewhere and we earthlings may be forced one day to embrace lifeforms, even alien civilisations, that now seem fanciful – if not impossible.”

Already exploration in our own solar system had yielded images of landscapes, like the volcanoes on Jupiter’s fiery moon Io, and the recently discovered ice geysers of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which no-one had guessed were there.

Porter is astonished that very few of her fellow writers, apart from the science fiction community, share her passion for this extraordinary human adventure into space.

“I have no doubt that if John Donne were writing his metaphysical poetry today he’d be as mad with excitement for this fresh treasure-trove of knowledge and imagery as I am,” says Porter.

“The astronomers I have been fortunate enough to meet have been among the happiest and most energised people I have ever known.”

In On Passion Porter discusses other sources of inspiration, and her creative life. Her first “interesting” poem was inspired by the Spanish Inquisition.

“I was 17, in my last year at school, and cheerfully morbid,” she recalls.

Books, of course, are also acknowledged as a passion for Porter.

“I wonder if some of the most deeply passionate experiences of my life have happened between the covers of a book,” she says.

On a more profound level, for Porter, there is something very unsettling about a book. Something uncanny.

“A book written by a now dead author – and most are (indeed there will come a time when I’m a dead author myself) – is nothing less than a haunted house, which lures the reader into conversation with a loquacious, enchanting ghost.

“We forget how mysterious, verging on the supernatural, reading is,” says Porter.