Vale J S Harry

JS Harry (1939-2015). Photo Jenni Nixon
J S Harry (1939-2015). Photo Jenni Nixon

J S Harry, one of Australia’s leading poets, died on Wednesday 20th May.

Nicolette Stasko, in a moving tribute on the Southerly website, said “J S Harry, one of Australian poetry’s “great transgressors”, described by Peter Porter in 2007 as “the most arresting poet working in Australia today”, died peacefully in her sleep Wednesday morning 20th May. It followed a long and debilitating illness, which she bore uncomplainingly with the good humour and grace that was so typical of her. Until her final days she continued to respond with wisdom, acuteness and appreciation to visiting family and friends”.

The complete tribute can be read at

On a personal level J S Harry was one of the first Australian poets I came across as a teenager when I found a copy of New Poetry in Abbey’s bookshop in 1976 (Vol 24:3: Romance is Taking Over). This issue contained ‘This explains’, a long poems by Harry, which begins:

The difference between a chimney & a ferry
is that one….carries an insubstantial “substance”
in a vertical direction…..without moving upward
& the other …..carries solids
in a horizontal direction… its own movement

This issue of New Poetry was my first real introduction to contemporary Australian poetry and among the poets in this issue, which included Robert Adamason, Phillip Roberts, David Malouf and Geoffrey Lehmann, Harry’s poem stood out to this sixteen year old hungry to learn about poetry and I have followed her work ever since. Her death is a great loss.

– Mark Roberts




  1. Thanks for this. I’ve always thought Jann Harry criminally under the poetic radar. A real original, indebted to no school or fashion.
    As stones go into water
    as grass goes into ground
    the words containing
    stones and grass
    go into you…

  2. SOLSTICE [for J.S.H.]

    I’ve touched wood -.
    You were
    The tallest
    Of trees
    In such
    A short paddock.

    What’s more,
    The facsimile
    Of for-

    Right there
    – Near
    The once named
    Of it -.

    [Stefanie Bennett]

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