Birthday poems are often addressed to a family member or friend of the poet, most often to parents or children. An early poet, Caroline Leakey, included ‘My Father’s Birthday’ in her Lyra Australis (1854). Emily Mary Barton, grandmother of Banjo Paterson, published her collection Straws in the Stream (1910) late in life. A number of her poems deal with birthdays, including ‘My Mother’s Birthday’ and ‘Birthday Card’. In a more comic vein, David Campbell wrote ‘To My Mother On Her Ninety-first Birthday’, noting that she always kept a rifle handy since she ‘loved birds so shot cats.’ In his ‘Birthday Poem’ from Inside the Whale (1960), Evan Jones celebrates a significant day for his daughter, though he does not make it clear whether it is her 18th birthday or her 21st birthday. Vincent Buckley, however, helpfully notes the particular birthday he is celebrating in the title of his poem: ‘For Brigid on Her Twentieth’, as does Bruce Beaver in his ‘For Kate’s Twenty-first Birthday’. Poems can also be addressed to friends’ children, as Kate Llewellyn does in ‘Chloe’s Birthday’, about a twelve-year-old girl.
It is also common for poets to celebrate, or at least contemplate, their own birthdays. Jan Owen has written a funny birthday poem about the big party she was given when she turned five, ‘The Birthday Party’. In ‘My Tenth Birthday’, from his 1979 collection Where I Come From, Robert Adamson recalls a birthday outing to Pumpkin Point, ‘the best picnic beach on the river’, the river being the Hawkesbury, where he grew up. Another famous Australian poet, David Malouf, writes about turning thirty. His ‘Birthday Poem’ concludes wryly: ‘Another/day. So far, so good!’ Although he does not tell us his age, Rudi Krausmann’s ‘The Present’ is another funny birthday poem, describing what he received on his birthday: ‘a fully automatic refrigerator’!
Perhaps it is surprising to find so few love poems among the birthday poems, though Jennifer Strauss’s ‘Birthday Poem’ is addressed to a lover.