Peter Goldsworthy

Peter Goldsworthy was born in Minlaton, South Australia, and grew up in various country towns, finishing his schooling at Darwin High School. Since graduating in medicine from the University of Adelaide, he has divided his time equally between medicine and writing.

His novels have sold more than a quarter of a million copies in Australia alone, and have been translated into many European and Asian languages.

His 1989 novel Maestro also published on CD-ROM Multimedia, and has just been reissued as part of the A&R Australian Classics series. It is the novel chosen this year for the inaugural Australian ‘One Book-One Town’ project.

Among his numerous literary awards are the 1982 ‘Commonwealth Poetry Prize’, and the ‘Australian Bicentennial Literary Prize’ (poetry) in 1988. His 1991 novel Honk If You Are Jesus was a Times Literary Supplement International Book of the Year.

His first novel for six years will be published in Australia by Penguin next year. His selected Poems was published in Australia and the UK last year, his Collected Stories will be published in both countries next year.

A book-length study of his work, The Ironic Eye, by Andrew Riemer, is published by Harper Collins

His poetry has been set to music by leading Australian composers including Graeme Koehne, Richard Mills, and Matthew Hindson. Goldsworthy wrote the libretto for the Richard Mills’ operas, ‘Batavia’ (2001, Opera Australia, Melbourne) for which he shared the 2002 Helpmann Award for Best New Australian Work with Mills, and a specially created Green Room Award for Creative Achievement. The opera won three Helpmanns and Seven Green Room awards.

He is a member of the Australia Council, and Chair of its Literature Board.

Three of his novels are currently being adapted for film.

For more information visit Peter’s website:

After Babel

I read once of a valley
where men and women
spoke a different tongue.

I know that any uncooked theory
can find its tribe
– but this might just be true.

For us there are three languages
– yours, mine, and the English between,
a wall of noises.

At times our children interpret,
or music connects our moods.
There are also monosyllables,

the deeper grammar of fucking,
a language too subjective
for nouns.

But even after conjugation
the tense is still the same
– present imperfect.

We take our mouths from each other.
We carry away our tongues,
and the separate dictionaries of our heads.

From Friendly Street No. 5 and Tuesday Night Live

Mass for the Middle-Aged

1. Lacrimosa

Suddenly breakfast is over
and all the years before,

and my dog is dead,
and my children grown old.

It all seems so overnight,
like catching a death of something

or preferring Mozart:
the turning world slips

another ratchet-tooth
and I awake, alarmed.

For the first time
regrets outnumber dreams.

To have been more useful.
To have fed the hungry

or persuaded the damned.
There was also that night

in the backseat at the Drive-in:
if only I had known.

2. Confutatis

Slowly the future grows cold,
the best water spills
over the edge, displaced,
the fear of death
becomes the longing for death,
the only sure resolution.

3. Libera Me

Deliver me, Lord, from the threat
of heaven, from becoming the angel
who is not me, who smiles
faintly, fondly
before shrugging me off
like some stiff, quaint pupal case:
the battered leather jacket of the flesh,
evidence of misspent youth.

Grant me, Lord, this last request:
to wear bikie colours in heaven,
and grub among the butterflies.
And this: to take all memories with me,

all memories that are me,
intact, seized first
like snapshot albums
from a burning house.

Answer, Lord, these prayers,
for I would rather
be nothing
than improved.

4. In Paradisum

With any luck heaven will be much
like here, now, on a good day: pleasant,
but not too, its joys unsaturated, its lusts
remaining, fractionally, lusts.
I see a kind of Swiss Patent Office
with time to think, and skylights.
Somewhere music teases, distant
as Latin, and the volumes on its shelves
are always one page too slim.
As promised, there will be no pain:
each bare nerve-end rewired instead
for tickle. At meal times I will rise
from my small exquisite portions,
still hungry, just, and mildly restless,

From Friendly Street No. 13 and Tuesday Night Live

This Goes With This

Significance everywhere, you say, recalling
the day I smote my cheek against a wall
chasing a wide backhand, only hours
after threatening to punch you in the face.

Must all things be explained?
I mention the distribution of knife wounds
seen once in a slab of flesh on a stainless sink,
or the pattern of tea-leaves glued inside these cups.

I even show you this poem so far, these images
selected by hunch and coin-flip: Exhibits A, B, D…
Chaos gets on your nerves, you tell me, and besides,
it’s obvious: this goes with this goes with this,

and always will. Somewhere deep inside
the dangling seventh must resolve,
the laws of grammar will not be broke.
There are even numbers which predict

the swirling accidents of rising smoke,
or if there are not, scientific Americans
will soon discover them. We sit sipping tea
in silence. You scribble solutions in the margins

of Mathematical Games, I adjust my poem.
On a screen in a corner a dog dies, a child weeps.
Not true, you tease me. Never happened.
But knowledge is no cure, or escape.

From Friendly Street No. 12 and Tuesday Night Live