Stephen Edgar (b. 1951) has been described by Clive James as standing out “among recent Australian poets for the perfection of his craft, a limitless wealth of cultural reference and an unmatched ability to make science a living subject for lyrical verse”. He was born in Sydney, where he now lives again after some years in London in the 1970s and several decades in Hobart, Tasmania. He studied Classics and later librarianship at the University of Tasmania. He has published six collections of poetry, with a seventh due to be published in early 2009. Although slow to receive much critical attention, he has in recent years been awarded the prestigious Grace Leven Poetry Prize and the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature.
What is most immediately distinctive about Edgar’s work, certainly among poets of his generation, is his commitment to formal verse “and for showing considerable panache in handling [it]” (Kevin Hart, Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry). This has drawn comparisons, in Australia, with poets such as A D Hope and Gwen Harwood, but also to the likes of Anthony Hecht and Richard Wilbur. Poetry Chicago says of him that “he achieves, overall, a supple classicism that earns him a place next to the best twentieth-century American formalists.”
A reviewer once dryly observed that Edgar’s work gives the impression that he spends a lot of time looking out of windows, and indeed an Edgar poem is often an extended meditation in which a visual surface, whether a natural scene or social occasion or painting, is “probed and questioned in the most delicately nuanced ways” (Paul Stevens, The Chimaera). His imagination “inhabits the enigmatic and the transient… the ‘going... going...’ of things which refuse nonetheless to be gone” (Peter Steele) and “the labyrinth just behind Creation’s serene surface” (Alan Gould). As this description may imply, much of his work is objective and impersonal in character, at least in so far as Edgar generally avoids intruding as an actor in his own poems. Nevertheless, he has also written numerous poems of a more personal and passionate character, especially in recent years. The most notable example may be the sequence “Consume My Heart Away” from his book Other Summers, described by one reviewer as “pretty much as good as anything in the 800-year-old history of love poetry in English” (Geoff Page, ABC Radio National).
In his 2008 CD Photography for Beginners, a selection of his poems ranging over his last 12 years in print, his reading is characterized by clarity and expressiveness, accompanied at times by an understated sense of humour. The CD was recorded on 26 July 2008 for The River Road Press Poetry Series in Sydney, Australia.. Producer: Carol Jenkins.
List of Prizes
Harri Jones Memorial Prize, awarded by the English Department of the University of Newcastle (NSW) for an outstanding body of work by a younger poet. 1984
Grace Leven Poetry Prize 2004
William Baylebridge Memorial Prize 2004.
Australian Book Review Poetry Prize 2005
Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature. 2006