Kate Lilley has published three volumes of poetry, including Grace Levin Prize winner Versary (2002) and the acclaimed Lady Like (2012). Her most recent collection, Tilt, won the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.
A poet of exceptional formal skill, Lilley’s poetry explores a profusion of ideas and themes that bespeaks a wild intelligence. Across three collections, her range of references and thematic concerns is overwhelming, from 16th-century England to 1970s Sydney, Viennese psychoanalysis, female sexuality and desire, Hollywood’s golden era, childhood trauma, and the conflicts and contradictions of the self ( daughter, poet, lover, teacher, patient). Yet Lilley’s erudition is always tempered by the poem’s urge to connect. As John Tranter wrote of Lady Like: “It is the wistful, euphoric person looking through the veil of art that seduces the reader.”
Lilley’s poetry also carries with it a wild wit. In “Pet,” Lilley playfully explores the complications and power dynamics of couple relationships, particularly the teacher/student relationship, while she manages the most brilliant and weakest of slanted rhymes (“Bottle of Gin” with “Olivia Newton John”), and one of my favorites final couplets. Happy Holidays.
The new teacher takes me out:
Orchestra, revolving restaurant, lesbian bar.
I burn my leg on the exhaust of her bike.
Next she comes over with a bottle of gin
and her admiration for Olivia Newton John.
Ashamed, I let her do whatever she wanted.
When she moves in with me and my friend, an alcoholic poet,
I get a fever like Villette (which I haven’t read yet).
On the bus to school she cries for other girls
Jobs she had to leave in a hurry.
She shows me her confused letters, I distance myself.
If I stop having sex with her
She calls me a middle-class bitch and joins a gun club.