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Thomas W. Shapcott (1935 – )

Tom Shapcott, photo by Mark Fitzgerald ph 08-8362-3054 Tom Shapcott, photo by Mark Fitzgerald ph 08-8362-3054

Thomas Shapcott was born in Ipswich, Queensland, on 21 March 1935, into a family of Scottish and Cornish descent. He was one of four brothers and also a twin, something that has featured in his poetry. After attending Ipswich Grammar School, he spent six months at a business college, and then joined his father's accountancy firm in 1951. During three months of then-compulsory national service in 1954, Shapcott began to write poetry seriously for the first time. His first published poem appeared in the Sydney Bulletin in 1956. Shapcott subsequently enrolled at the University of Queensland, completing an Accounting degree in 1961, and his Bachelor of Arts in 1967. He established his own accountancy firm in 1972, specialising in taxation advice for writers, artists and academics, which he ran until receiving a Literature Board Fellowship in 1975 and becoming a full-time writer.
Shapcott’s first collection of poems, Time on Fire (1961), won the Grace Leven Poetry Prize for that year, while his fourth, A Taste of Salt Water: Poems (1967) received the Myer Award for Australian Poetry. In 1971 he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to visit America, a trip which led to the autobiographical poems in Shabbytown Calendar (1975) as well as the important  anthology Contemporary American and Australian Poetry (1976) . In 1973 Shapcott was appointed to the newly constituted Literature Board of the Australia Council by the Whitlam Government and served as its Director from 1983 to 1990. Later he served as the Executive Director of the National Book Council from 1991 to 1997, when he became the inaugural Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide, retiring from the position in 2005.

As well as his many volumes of poetry, Shapcott has written many novels, short stories, libretti, plays and reviews. He has received numerous awards for his contribution to Australian literature, including the Canada-Australia Literary Award in 1978, the Yugoslavia Struga International Poetry Festival Golden Wreath Award, 1989, the FAW Christopher Brennan Award, 1995, the Wesley Michel Wright Prize for Poetry, 1996, the New South Wales Premier’s Special Literary Award in 1996 and the Patrick White Award in 2000. In 1989 he made an Officer of the Order of Australia; he has also received honorary Doctrates from Macquarie University and the University of Queensland.

Poetry Collections

Time on Fire (Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1961).
The Mankind Thing (Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1964).
Sonnets 1960-1963 (Brisbane: Officina Donagheana, 1964).
A Taste of Salt Water: poems (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1967).
Fingers at Air: experimental poems 1969 (Ipswich, Qld: The Author, 1969).
Inwards to the Sun: poems (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1969).
Interim Report: some poems 1970/1971 (Ipswich, Qld: The Author, 1971).
Begin With Walking (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1972).
Two Voices: poems (Ipswich, Qld: The Author, 1973).
Shabbytown Calendar (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1975).
Seventh Avenue Poems (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1976).
Selected Poems (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1978).
Turning Full Circle (Sydney: New Poetry, 1979).
Welcome! (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1983).
Travel Dice (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1987).
Selected Poems 1956-1988 (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1989).
In the Beginning (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1990).
The City of Home (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1995).
The Sun’s Waste is Our Energy (Cambridge, UK: Folio/Salt, 1998).
Cities in Exile (Bucharest,  Romania: Editura Integral, 1998).
Checkov’s Mongoose (Applecross, WA: Salt Publishing, 2000).
Music Circus and other poems (Warners Bay, NSW: Picaro Press, 2004).
The City of Empty Rooms (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2006).
Adelaide Lunch Sonnets (Mont Albert, Vic: The Author, 2006).
The Book of Hanging Gardens (Warners Bay, NSW: Picaro Press, 2009).
Parts of Us (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2010).
Suggested Further Reading
Naomi Brewer, ‘Tom Shapcott,’ in Ioana Petrescu, and Naomi Brewer, eds., Heart of the Matter: An Introduction to Eighteen South Australian Poets (Adelaide: Lythrum Press, 2004), pp. 215-33.
Jim Davidson, ‘Interview: Thomas Shapcott,’ Meanjin 38.1 (1979), pp. 56-68.
Carl Harrison-Ford, ‘The Dance of Form: The Poetry of Thomas W. Shapcott,’ Meanjin Quarterly 31.3 (1972), pp. 176-195.
Deborah Jordan, ‘Thomas W. Shapcott,’ in Selina Samuels, ed., Australian Writers, 1950-1975 (Detroit, USA: Gale Research, 2004), pp. 268-77.
David McCooey, ‘An Interview with Thomas Shapcott,’ Australian Literary Studies 18.1 (1997), pp. 79-84.
David McCooey, ‘ “What is Gone is Not Gone”: Intimations in the Poetry of Thomas Shapcott,’ Australian Literary Studies 18.1 (1997), pp. 21-30.
Barbara Williams, ‘Thomas Shapcott,’ Westerly 34.1 (1989), pp. 43-52. http://purl.library.usyd.edu.au/setis/westerly/pdfs/101486