Southern Barbarians



The Portuguese traders who brought Europe to Japan in the sixteenth century were known as ‘southern barbarians’. In his new collection John Mateer offers a contemporary re-charting of the Portuguese Empire, the hemisphere of influence which ties Portugal to Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Australia, Timor, Malacca, Macau and Japan.

This empire is a fugitive one, notable for its saudade, its awareness of loss, its yearning for a world that appears only intermittently in this one, as an echo, a trace, a memory. At its heart is the figure of the poet, as migrant, tourist, desterrado. His identity is inhabited by other identities, just as the place he is in reminds him of other places.

He is Camões, author of Os Lusíadas, he is Pessoa of the multiple heteronyms. Haunted by doubles and reflections, accompanied by ‘spirit guides’ who pass between this world and the other, he is both ghostly andconnected wherever he goes, connected in his ghostliness.

‘He is a barbarian, in the best sense of the word. Etymologically, one whose language denotes a different mode of speech, an interpreter, translator, foreigner…when he speaks, it is in gentle acknowledgement of solitude and of the strange.’ – Brian Castro, Introduction

What can be stressed here, despite the particular choice of poems or the way in which said poems bring us memories and uncommon images, is an “I” rightfully translated into the language, itself nomadic, of Camões, Pessanha or Gil de Carvalho (a poet with whom, surprisingly, Mateer shares some affinities.)’Manuel de Freitas, Expresso (Portugal)


Print ISBN : 978-1-920882-58-7
pp : 96
June 2011

John Mateer has published books in Australia, and booklets that have appeared in Australia, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Macau and Portugal. In 2001 he was awarded the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry and he is a recipient of a Centenary Medal for his contribution to Australian literature. His latest books are Ex-White: South African Poems (2009) and The West: Australian Poems 1989-2009 (Fremantle Press, 2010).  Southern Barbarians is his seventh collection of poems published in Australia.