Ramsay Writers: Poets Todd Turner and John Foulcher

Sep 18, 2023 | Announcements, News & Media

Sydney, 18 September 2023: A packed audience gathered at the Centre earlier this month to once again hear from some of Australia’s most respected poets as part of the Ramsay Writers Series.

The Ramsay Writers Series is a new Centre initiative designed to showcase established and emerging Australian writers. At each event, noteworthy writers read from their own work, as well as offer perspectives on influential past works. For 2023 the series is focussed on celebrating Australian poets.

For this most recent Ramsay Writers event, the fourth this year, the headline acts were poets Todd Turner and John Foulcher, with a special guest appearance from Luke Whitington.

Todd Turner is a poet, and goldsmith from Western Sydney whose work is rooted in lived experience and has been noted for its precision and attention to visual detail. His first two collections of poetry are Woodsmoke (Black Pepper Publishing) and Thorn (Puncher and Wattmann). His poems have been widely published and anthologised. He was awarded the Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman Poetry Prize and has been highly commended and short-listed for numerous awards including the Mary Gilmore Prize, the Anne Elder Award, the Blake and the Newcastle Poetry Prize. The poet, Anthony Lawrence, reputed Todd as being “an emerging major Australian poet” and poet, Robert Gray, remarked that he is “outstanding among his generation”. He is currently working on a manuscript for his third collection, Breathwork and is writing poems on the life of John Keats.

At the Ramsay Writers event, Todd spoke about researching the life of John Keats, who he only discovered late in his career, after pushing him aside “as the notion of romantic poetry at the time couldn’t compare with the kind of poets I was initially drawn to.”

“Unfortunately I had this impression of Keats as a stereotypically delicate, overly-sensitive male genius of the romantic pairing who as Byron quipped was snuffed out by an article or rather died of a bad review,” he said.

Todd said through his research into Keats’s life, he discovered that Keats’s writings, especially when they seem illusory, are grounded in real-life concerns. “As I looked further into Keats I was astonished with just how modern he was, and I wondered how did I miss this? How did I miss the complex depth of his vision and belief, his animalistic joy of melding the senses with the cerebral and his astounding ability to render the big picture. At such an early age it has been said that Keats wrote with the desperate energy of one already deceased. But when I read his letters I found myself thinking has there ever been anyone quite so alive? Soon enough I was making notes and contemplating thoughts for which he is known.”

Todd read three of his own poems that have been inspired by Keats called The Violet, Clinical Precision, and On the Vale of Soul-Making.

The second headline poet for the event, award-winning poet John Foulcher, has written twelve books of poetry. His latest book, Dancing with Stephen Hawking (Pitt Street Poetry 2021), was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Poetry Prize in 2022. He has received many awards, including the National Library Poetry Prize and the ACU Poetry Prize, and has been shortlisted for others, such as the Newcastle Poetry Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, the Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize and the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Poems from his first book, Light Pressure (Angus & Robertson 1983), were set for study on the NSW HSC syllabus for ten years. In 2010-11 he was the Literature Board of the Australia Council’s resident at the Keesing Studio in Paris. 

John spoke at length about two poems that had influenced his work, The Collar by George Herbert written in the 17th century and The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop written in the 20th century. He said the poems written 300 years apart had remarkable synergies, both dealing with the particularities of living. He said poets needed to have lives independent of writing that could inform them about the world and from which they could continue on a journey of discovery.

“For me poetry is a way of exploring the world and our place in it. It’s a process of discovery, of pulling something from the swirling depths of the unconscious and laying it out, trying to see just what its significance is,” he said.

John treated the audience to a reading of his award-winning poem, Revising Casuarinas, built around his observation of his poet friend Robert Gray, who is battling Parkinson’s disease.    

Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines said it was a delight to host two such talented poets and to hear how great works from the past influenced their thinking and creative processes. He said the series had been dedicated to poetry this year because it was the obvious starting point, remarking that, “…if poetry isn’t civilisation’s foundational form of thought then what is?” Luke Whitington who read a poem entitled Dante at the event concurred, asserting that “poetry is integral to civilisation.”

If you wish to be invited to future Ramsay Writers Events email ramsayevents@ramsaycentre.org

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/ sarah.switzer@ramsaycentre.org