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Ken Taylor (1930 – )

Ken Taylor was born in Ballarat in 1930, and grew up against the backdrop of the Depression and the Second World War. He was sent as a boarder to Ballarat Grammar School, before leaving at the age of 17 to work as a cadet reporter, first in Ballarat, then in New Zealand, covering the shipping rounds for a daily newspaper. He subsequently went to sea as a fireman-wiper on British meat boats; his experiences of life at sea later provided thematic material for some of his poems. After living in Europe for two years, he returned to Australia, where he worked in various occupations, including journalism with the Melbourne Sun, farming in Queensland, and teaching in Ballarat, before returning to Melbourne to work with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In the mid-1960s, Taylor was awarded a Harkness Fellowship, which enabled him to go the United States to study at Yale University (1965) and Cornell University (1966). At Cornell, he was able to benefit from the guidance of the poet-in-residence, A. R. Ammons, and from conversations with other writers and students. Returning to Australia in the late 1960s, Taylor was one of the founding members of the famous poetry workshops and performances at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, and he maintained an association with other 'La Mama' poets, including Kris Hemensley and Robert Kenny. He continued his work for the ABC, and in 1969 founded the ABC's Natural History Unit, which led to a number of highly-regarded documentaries for radio and television, including the 'Wild Australia' series.

Taylor's first poetry collection, At Valentines: Poems 1966-1969, was published in 1975, and his second, A Secret Australia: Selected and New Poems, appeared ten years later. In the interim, Taylor had suffered the devastating loss of his home and possessions, including much of his writing and notes, in the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983. His next poetry collection, Africa (2000), in which his feelings of grief and loss were worked through, met with considerable success, winning the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in 2001.
Poetry Collections

At Valentines: poems 1966-1969 (Melbourne: Contempa Publications, 1975).

A Secret Australia: Selected and New Poems (Melbourne: Rigmorale Books, 1985).

Africa (Wollongong: Five Islands Press, 2000).

Suggested Further Reading

John Bartlett, 'Fire and Water:: John Bartlett talks to prize-winning poet and filmmaker Charles (Ken)
Taylor,' Meanjin 62.1 (2003), pp. 207-13.

Gary Catalano, 'An American Education: the poetry of Ken Taylor,' Overland no.131 (1993), pp. 74-77.

Martin Duwell, 'Ken Taylor,' A Possible Comtemporary Poetry: Interviews with Thirteen Poets from the New Australian Poetry (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1982), pp. 38-49.

Robert Kenny, 'A Secret Australia: On the Poetry of Ken Taylor,' in Taylor, A Secret Australia (Melbourne: Rigmorale Books), pp. 85-95.

Geoff Page, 'Escape and Containment,' Island Magazine no.30 (1987), pp. 64-67.