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By Swetha Das


French writer, Jean Cocteau, once said that “the poet doesn’t invent. He listens”.

A poet has countless influences, but for Kate Lilley and Geoffrey Lehmann, their experiences have drawn out the narratives in their work.

“A Life in Words”, hosted by the University of Sydney’s Luke Fischer, delved into the significance of familial interactions to the writings of panellists Lilley and Lehmann.

Lilley is an award winning poet, author of the anthologies ‘Versary’ and ‘Ladylike’, and is an Associate Professor of English at the Sydney University.

Lehmann is an interesting combination of poet and taxation lawyer. He has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize in 1994.

Both poets have found that their relationships with their parents have guided the content for a lot of their poetry.

The intense relationship with her mother was a motivator for Lilley to pursue this artistic career as well as providing inspiration for her poetry.

“Doing things artistic and useless was encouraged.”

Lilley’s mother was the celebrated writer, poet and academic, Dorothy Hewett, whose controversial political views and heartfelt poetry dominated the arts sector in the 60s and 70s.

‘Dress Circle’, a short poem by Lilley, which describes the changing nature of a mother-daughter dynamic, was read out by Lilley. It was a powerful imagining of a relationship that had such a significant influence on Lilley’s work.

Along the same vein, Lehmann illustrated the contrast between his own artistic pursuit and his father’s practical working-class attitude.

Initially disliking poetry during his school years, Lehmann found that eventually an influential teacher twisted his thinking.

“Poems were like detective stories, they have several meanings in them.”

Lehmann also read out a few of his poems, all of which have a realistic but humorous tone to them.
A consistent motif that was emphasised during the panel was that the traumatic but impactful situations in life are what spurs creativity. “I’m interested in the real”, said Lilley.

As Jean Cocteau’s quote noted that poetry is a reflection of the world around them, it was a pleasure to watch two poets harness their skills to capture vulnerability and love through their art.

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