Vivian Smith


A Note to Alvaro de Campos
You can be happy in Australia, as long as you don’t go there.
   — Alvaro de Campos, 4 June 1931

A poem is a clear defiant thing
and what you wrote in 1931
sounds funny from a naval engineer
who never saw the place where I was born.
You lacked a certain gravitas and calm
unlike your captain friend Pierre Loti.
Yours is a sad bewildered poem.

My home town was pretty much like yours,
a great port on the sea lanes of the world.
I remember the liners, the merchant ships, the yachts,
the wailing of the sirens, the swooping cries of gulls
and fishing boats at morning round the wharves,
the hidden melodies of sea and sky.

Imagined places might be best of all,
perhaps that is what you were saying.
Geography is destiny I’ve heard.
We do not choose the place where we are born



Vivian Smith, born in Hobart, has lived in Sydney for many years. His work includes nine collections of poems, most recently Here, There and Elsewhere, Giramondo, as well books on Vance and Nettie Palmer, and Robert Lowell. His study of Nineteenth Century Australian Poetry appeared in The Cambridge History of Australian Literature, edited by Peter Pierce.