By John MateerPoetryGiramondo Poets

Southern Barbarians

In his seventh collection, John Mateer explores the legacy of colonialism through the Portugese epic Os Lusíadas, by the heroic poet-traveller Camões. Mateer, a poet-traveller himself, brings his own perspective as an observant wanderer (originally from South Africa) to bear.

The Portugese traders of the sixteenth century were known as ‘southern barbarians’. Mateer offers a contemporary re-charting of the Portugese empire, the hemisphere of influence that ties Portugal to Australia, as well as Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Timor, Macau and Japan.

This empire is a fugitive one, notable for its awareness of loss, its yearning for a world that appears only intermittently in this one – as an echo, a trace, a memory. At its heart is the figure of the poet: as migrant, tourist, ‘desterrado’.

Reviewing the collection in Cordite, Adam Aiken calls it ‘wonderfully generous and sensitive to the economy of difficult cultural encounters’.

Portrait of John Mateer

John Mateer

John Mateer has published books in Australia, and booklets that have appeared in Australia, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Macau and Portugal.

In 2001 he was awarded the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry and he is a recipient of a Centenary Medal for his contribution to Australian literature.

His latest books are Ex-White: South African Poems (2009) and The West: Australian Poems 1989-2009 (Fremantle Press, 2010). Southern Barbarians is his seventh collection of poems published in Australia.

Judges’ report

John Mateer has long been one of Australia’s most cosmopolitan poets, and his past books have testified to the diversity and cross-cultural complexity of his poetics. With Southern Barbarians, however, he launches a powerful new vision of poetic universalism. By seeking the traces of the colonial empires of the past amidst the interstices of our contemporary globalised world, Mateer explores the exhilarating spaces between history and belonging, civilisation and its dark shadows, and travel and longing; and by so doing he encourages us to “set sail in our caravels to discover New Worlds.”

The Premier’s 21 Shortlist