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Hodgins, Ian Philip (1959–1995)

by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

This article was published online in 2019

Philip Hodgins, by Alec Bolton, 1993

Philip Hodgins, by Alec Bolton, 1993

National Library of Australia, 14466001

Ian Philip Hodgins (1959–1995), poet, was born on 28 January 1959 at Shepparton, Victoria, only child of Samuel Walter Hodgins and his wife Rhoda Cromie, née McKee, dairy farmers who had been born in Northern Ireland. Philip grew up on the family farm at Katandra West and was educated at the local primary school and Shepparton High School, before attending Geelong College (1972–76) as a boarder. Although he displayed talent and discipline in athletics, breaking a school high jump record in 1972, he was a rebellious student and was suspended several times. Moving to Melbourne, he began work at the publishing firm Macmillan Co. of Australia Pty Ltd as a storeman and later as a sales representative. While there he formed a close friendship with the Polish-born poet Alex Skovron, who would recall that ‘it was our passion for poetry that initially drew us together’ (1988, 57). In 1980 Hodgins’s poem ‘Platform Verse’ appeared in the literary journal Meanjin.

Late in 1983 Hodgins was diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia, and told that he had three years to live. He was to survive for twelve and, for most of that time, was an immensely productive writer. In 1986 he took subjects in arts at the University of Melbourne, a course that he would not complete. Living for a while in Abbotsford, he shared a house with the countertenor Hartley Newnham, and the Italian-born cultural activist and chef Stefano de Pieri. Hodgins would travel to Italy more than once, intrigued by its culture and by European history more generally. Always blunt and clear, even grim, his first book of poems, Blood and Bone, was published in 1986. Among them were some of his ‘needle poems’ that confronted his illness. In 1987 the collection won the New South Wales premier’s literary award for poetry. He was frequently in hospital and his writing was partly supported by fellowships awarded by the literature board of the Australia Council for the Arts in 1988 and 1991. He married the writer Janet Anne Shaw in 1989 and settled near Maryborough.

Animal Warmth (1990) demonstrated the qualities that made Hodgins a prolific and respected poet. His work ranged from the open flow of his nine-page ‘Second Thoughts on The Georgics’ to a memorable haiku about a five thousand-acre (2,023 ha) paddock—‘There was only one/ tree in all that space and he/ drove straight into it’ (Hodgins 1990, 51). Common to his poetry was his commitment to plain-language pastoral. Focused on factual experience, he had frequently worked on his parents’ dairy farm and carried that practical knowledge of the land and its labour with him.

Always wary of intellectual pretension, Hodgins once complained about some clever types that ‘they might know all about Wittgenstein … but they couldn’t track an elephant through the snow’ (Skovron 1998, 58). His own poetry held firmly to the work, the reality, and the pain of farming life and to such traditional forms as the Elizabethan sonnet and the villanelle, which easily accommodated his realism. After Up on All Fours (1993) and the pamphlet, The End of the Season (1993), he varied his predominantly lyrical style by publishing a book-length narrative poem, Dispossessed (1994). Of it Clive James commented ruefully that ‘nothing can stop all the characters turning into poets’ (2003, 27). In 1995 Hodgins and de Pieri helped to found the Mildura Writers’ Festival.

Hodgins’s fertile creativity moved toward the daring, deadpan signal that was the final book of his lifetime: Things Happen (1995). With dogged realism, he rediscovered ‘the authentic rural voice of Australia’ (Kane 2015, xii), its blood and bone and fodder. The collection’s strong poems shift from such traditional subjects as ‘Two Dogs’ and ‘Those Yabbies’ back to the cold facts of his cancer and impending mortality. As it happened 1995 was the year in which his ever-present enemy, leukaemia, took its toll. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died on 18 August at Maryborough and was buried in the nearby Timor cemetery at Bowenvale. The next year the Mildura Writers’ Festival established a prize in his name, and a volume of New Selected Poems was published in 2000.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Academy Library, University of New South Wales, Canberra. MSS 13, Papers of Philip Hodgins
  • Hodgins, Philip. Animal Warmth. North Ryde, NSW: Angus and Robertson, 1990
  • Hodgins, Philip. Interview by Diana Ritch, 7 March 1988. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • James, Clive. ‘The Meaning of Recognition.’ Australian Book Review, September 2003, 21–29
  • Kane, Paul. ‘A Note on Philip Hodgins.’ In First Light: A Selection of Poems by Philip Hodgins, by Philip Hodgins, i–xiii, New York: George Braziller, 2015
  • Ryan, Brendan. ‘Vulnerable Landscapes: Pastoral in the Poetry of Philip Hodgins.’ Antipodes 15, no. 1 (June 2001): 26–30
  • Shaw, Janet. Personal communication
  • Skovron, Alex. Personal communication
  • Skovron, Alex. ‘Plain Speaking about Philip Hodgins.’ Metaphysical Review, no. 26/27 (July 1998): 57–58

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Wallace-Crabbe, 'Hodgins, Ian Philip (1959–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hodgins-ian-philip-23841/text32715, published online 2019, accessed online 23 October 2019.

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