Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Dorothy Porter’s funeral gained notice in the two main broadsheets of Sydney, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, but in the former (page 3) Porter’s story fell underneath a splash photo of Kylie Minogue and in the latter it only achieved page 5 coverage (images at bottom of this post).

Since her death, announced last Wednesday (10 December), most coverage has mentioned The Monkey’s Mask (1994), a verse novel (more, a verse crime novel). This is the 2001 Picador cover, showing a man and a woman in bed together, the woman on top of the man.

Both have their arms stretched out and their hands touch.

But who knows this work? It’s about a lesbian cop who meets a lawyer and falls in love. It’s not about a man and a woman.

Porter’s scenario is not too farfetched but how often in the past 15 years has such a scheme shaped a cultural product in our mainstream? Porter, and writers like her, influence things in ways that are not always immediately evident.

The truth will out. We see a trend occurring and remember that it was THIS poet who first sung that tune, or THAT novelist who had the idea before anyone else. This way of seeing the world, not so much at second hand but more as the echo of a conversation heard years before, should be more well thought of. Unfortunately, inspired poets with eccentric lifestyles do not often say things that gain instant admission to the nation’s living room.

Steve Irwin did, so did Peter Brock, because their way was completely uncontentious. Irwin married a nice, geeky Midwestern American and Brock had a cut out marriage with a lively blonde who was always going to be successful.

Porter still exists on the sidelines, as it were. We can hear her earthy cries as she eggs on a player who may or may not be talented, but she’s dressed funny and she may even be drunk. Can’t have that.

You get more prominence in the broadsheets if you’re a first-tier TV actor or a second-tier sportsman. When Peter Brock died, the papers went full pelt. When Steve Irwin died, they entered a state of frenzy usually associated with prehistoric sea creatures. Online, the SMH gave more prominence to Porter’s father, Chester, a Queen’s Council, than to her life partner, a novelist.

The SMH followed up on the page 3 story with another item, by resident book doyenne Susan Wyndham, in the ‘Arts & Entertainment’ section (page 12). This piece chronicles future tributes, with which the action moves from Melbourne (the city Porter moved to “for love”) to Sydney, and the Opera House. A film Porter helped write, The Eternity Man, will screen on the ABC on 9 January. A week from now the same TV station will screen “a tribute” to Porter.

The images below demonstrate the importance, as reflected in the national press, we as a nation have decided to give to Porter’s death. May she gain greater acceptance in future. May she finally, one day, be a head on a banknote.

I like Porter. I like her writing and I like her persona. In an interview recorded for the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club, Porter said that Pynchon is overrated. Yeah, babe! I second that.

1 comment:

Eugenia Vena said...

absolutely. pynchon is so difficult to read. makes life so much easier when you find someone of relative fame and cache to agree with..from now on, i will quote YOU instead of porter whenever the conversation gears towards gravity's rainbow. I'll just blurt out "yeah babe! i second that." and i'm looking forward to their baffled expressions