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Philip Salom (1950 – )

Philip Salom Photo courtesy of the poet

Philip Salom was born in 1950, near Perth, Western Australia. He grew up on a dairy farm outside Brunswick Junction, and later attended Bunbury Senior High School, boarding at a hostel in Bunbury. He subsequently enrolled at Muresk Agricultural College, and spent time working on a cattle research station, before enrolling at the University of Western Australia, where he studied Agricultural Science while also pursuing his interest in visual arts. After dropping out of university he held casual jobs as a gardener and painter. During a trip to New Zealand in 1972, he began to develop an interest in writing, and on his return to Western Australia enrolled in a Literature and Creative Writing degree at Curtin University. He began writing poetry as part of his coursework, and took up poetry writing in earnest from the late 1970s.

Salom’s first collection of poems, The Silent Piano, was published in 1980 by Fremantle Press. The book won the (British) Commonwealth Poetry Prize for best first collection of poetry in 1981. He has since published ten further poetry collections, including a volume of new and selected poems (1998). His work has garnered significant critical acclaim and a number of prestigious awards. His thematic collection Sky Poems (1987) won the Western Australian Week Literary Award for poetry, the Age Book of the Year award, and the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for best poetry collection. He has also won the Newcastle Poetry Prize twice (1996, 2000), and in 2003 was awarded the Fellowship of Australian Writers Christopher Brennan Award. He has been the recipient of a number of writing grants and fellowships, has travelled widely as a guest writer and lecturer, and has taught creative writing at a number of Australian universities including Murdoch, Curtin, Deakin, and the University of Melbourne.

His poetry is often concerned with the nature of consciousness, exploring the relationship between narrative and poetic form and his books are unusually different from title to title. Not content with imagery that limits itself to the visual and sensory, Salom creates metaphor and cross-association as a more layered, conceptual language of perception. His poems frequently mix registers  and are unusually inclusive, often running to 50 lines or more. They are frequently dramatic, combining perception with narrative and intellectual awareness. But more characteristically, he creates an imagined and dramatised ‘world’ or focus within each book. Thus his major stylistic differences are not so much within poms as across books. Indeed, his book Tocata and Rain, while categorised as a novel, is a hybrid of poetry and prose, the prose narrative in third person and the 70 or so poems - loosely structured sonnets and ghazals - interrupting the narration as first-person introspections and observations within character.

His first book of poetry was his first publication, something quite rare for publishing in the 1980s when most literary magazines were quarterlies and published a strong quota of poetry. The Silent Piano is a first collection of double direction: half the poems are about farming life and tend to a lyrical sense of physicality and death (the starker side of the rural pastoral) and the other poems focus on historical figures and settings. His next book is a book-long verse-novel based around a family of grotesques and the theme of projection, both literally and pychologically. Sky Poems, his third collection establishes the first fabulist / imagined world of his writing - a ‘metaphysical’ and ironic virtual world. Most of his subsequent books explore consciousness and various ontologies.

Salom has also written two novels, Playback (1991), and Toccata and Rain (2004), has written reviews and critical articles, and has been Poetry Editor for the poetry magazine Blue Dog.


Poetry Collections
  • The Silent Piano: poems (Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1980).
  • The Projectionist: a sequence (Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1983).
  • Sky Poems (Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1987).
  • Barbeque of the Primatives (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1989).
  • [with John Kinsella], Poems (Applecross, WA: Folio, 1991).
  • Tremors (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1992).
  • Feeding the Ghost (Ringwood, Vic: Penguin, 1993).
  • The Rome Air Naked (Ringwood, Vic: Penguin, 1996).
  • New and Selected Poems (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1998).
  • A Cretive Life (Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2001).
  • The Well Mouth (Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2005).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Philip Salom's Poetry Site. Internet. http://philipsalom.com.au
  • Hazel de Berg, ‘Conversation with Philip Salom.’ (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1981). Sound tape reel.
  • John Jenkins, ‘Provincial to Post-Modern: The Poetry of Philip Salom,’ Heat no.3 (2002)
  • [John Kinsella], ‘Interview with Philip Salom,’ Salt 1.1 (1990), pp. 43–52.
  • Peter Minter, ‘One Body, or Many?’ Cordite: Poetry and Poetics Review no.2 (1997), pp. 2–3, 14–15, 22. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/14234/20010621/cordite.org.au/back-issues/cordite_02.pdf
  • Geoff Page, ‘Philip Salom,’ A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1995), pp. 257–61.
  • Kirsten Holst Peterson, ‘Sojourn in the Sky: Conventions of Exile in Philip Salom’s Sky Poems,’ Westerly 33.2 (1988), pp. 67–74. http://purl.library.usyd.edu.au/setis/westerly/pdfs/96314
  • Philip Salom, ‘Anzac and Why I Write,’ Kunapipi 18.2-3 (1996), pp. 339–41.
  • Philip Salom, ‘Risking/Writing the Emotions,’ Australian Book Review no.192 (1997), p. 56.
  • Barbara William, ‘Philip Salom,’ Westerly 33.4 (1988), pp. 59–65. http://purl.library.usyd.edu.au/setis/westerly/pdfs/239817