Claire G. Coleman on What Dorothy Porter’s Writing Means to Her

Criticism in Verse by the Author of Terra Nullius

July 6, 2020  By Claire G. Coleman

The following poem was written in response to Dorothy Porter’s 1994 novel-in-verse, The Monkey’s Mask, as part of a Melbourne City of Literature series.


Dorothy’s Mask


Words can be incandescent

You taught me

Heat, light and heat

I let them warm me;

Like an antique bulb in a flammable, dangerous

Tangle of wires


So mis-wired, my home condemned

I am always prepared for flame


You taught me; what words can do; what poetry

Is; can be.


The mask burned away my insulation

I was inflammable; left stripped

And vulnerable




I might not have become the writer I am

The me I am

Without the Monkey’s Mask

And I can no longer breathe without words

I can never again close my eyes.



On the train home the Monkey’s Mask

Would not allow me rest;

Overwhelming, penetrating my senses

Until the mask was the face.


I was in words

I could not imagine wanting to escape


At Rushall Station; I sat as train

After train passed until

The last page had been consumed by my eyes

Was being digested by my mind

I thought I had possessed it, but

My mind was taken



How could such a thing happen

Poem-bound sex and violence

Murder; mystery

In the insular world of verse

In verse itself.


Carrying the story like a virus

If it kills me I deserve it



What does it say about me that I turn

To your discomforting, excoriating words for comfort?

That I find hope in the

Cold fire tail of a comet

That I am saved by words

That bleed me like razors


I would rather be flayed by your words than be comfortable.


The Monkey’s Mask hit

Like an oncoming train.

I was some

Sacrifice, dying to live

Reborn in time; my

Face behind a mask

Of my face.

Claire G. Coleman
Claire G. Coleman
Claire G. Coleman is a Noongar woman whose ancestral country is on the south coast of Western Australia. Born in Perth she has spent most of her life in Naarm. Her debut novel Terra Nullius, published by Hachette in Australia and Small Beer in the US, won a black&write! Fellowship and a Norma K. Hemming Award and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Aurealis Science Fiction Award among others. She writes poetry, short-fiction and essay and has featured in the Saturday Paper, the Guardian, Meanjin, Australian Poetry and others. The Old Lie (Hachette 2019) is her second novel.

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