Southern Barbarians – John Mateer (Giramondo Publishing)
The Portuguese traders who brought Europe to Japan in the sixteenth century were known as ‘southern barbarians’. John Mateer offers a contemporary re-charting of the Portuguese Empire, the hemisphere of influence which ties Portugal to Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Australia, Timor, Macau and Japan. This empire is a fugitive one, notable for its ‘saudade’, 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’.
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).
A widely-travelled poet, John Mateer has translated his own internationalism into that of Portugal, a country which was, in its heyday, granted half the world. In his keenly evocative lyrics he becomes a version of many, ranging from that country’s national poet, Camoes, to its fluid modernist, Pessoa, and touching many parts of a now-platonic empire. He writes as traveller, nomad, barbarian, at home nowhere, yet vividly present in the many places which his spirit briefly inhabits. Mateer is one of Australia’s most brilliant poets of place and its significant essence.