Author and poet Peter Kocan was born in Newscastle, Australia, in 1947. Kocan left school at fourteen to work in country New South Wales as a laborer and station-hand, before returning to Sydney, where he gained work as a factory-hand in a dye factory. In 1966, Kocan’s failed attempt to assassinate federal opposition leader Arthur Calwell in Sydney saw him sentenced to life imprisonment. Later that same year Kocan was transferred from Sydney’s infamous Long Bay jail to Morisset hospital for the Criminally Insane. Kocan’s first books of poetry, Ceremonies for the lost (1974) and The Other Side of the Fence (1975), were published while he was at Morisset.

      He was released in 1976 and began rebuilding his life by writing about his experiences. Two autobiographical novellas, The Treatment and The Cure, told of his harrowing life in the asylum. The Cure won the 1983 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction.

      Kocan lived for many years on the Central Coast of New South Wales, teaching, acting, and writing drama, poetry, and fiction. He gained public recognition for his work and received regular support from the Literary Arts Board of the Australia Council. He graduated from the University of Newcastle in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), and recently obtained a Masters degree.

      In 2003, Kocan moved to Brisbane, Queensland.

      Fresh Fields, a fictionalised account of Kocan’s difficult youth, was named a Book of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement.


Click here to read Andrew’s reviews of two of Peter Kocan’s poetry collections.



Literary works by Peter Kocan 



1. The Other Side of the Fence

2. Armistice

3. Freedom to Breathe

4. Standing With Friends

5. Primary Loyalties (with Hal Colebatch & Andrew Lansdown)

6. Fighting in the Shade



1. The Treatment

2. The Cure

3. Flies of a Summer

4. Fresh Fields






** Fighting in the Shade **




Fighting in the Shade


Peter Kocan


Hale & Iremonger, 2000

ISBN: 086-806-689-3












Of the circle of people known to me,

    Not one appears to have an easy mind.

The more I look at them the more I see

    How this one falters, that one falls behind.


Money, health, careers, relationships,

    All areas of life seem under strain.

They all seem fundamentally at grips

    With nagging worry, weariness and pain.


I am speaking of merely local grief,

    Of little realms of personal despair;

Yet one might notice in a single leaf

    The blighting of the forest everywhere.

             from Fighting in the Shade

            © Peter Kocan




The Fathers


A little boy bewildered

    I made my way alone.

The world was full of fathers

    But none of them my own.


So it was no man’s duty

    To teach me what he knew,

To help me or defend me

    Or guide me as I grew.


But then I learned of heroes

    Long gone into the grave;

The legends of the loyal,

    The sagas of the brave.


Through history they laboured

    For me the friendless waif,

To see that I’d be happy,

    To see that I’d be safe.


And in their stern example,

    And in their sad renown,

I found the patrimony

    That they had handed down.


Those dead men who befriended

    A child they didn’t know

Were my heroic fathers

    Long centuries ago.

             from Fighting in the Shade

            © Peter Kocan




What It Takes


And every man in every generation,

Tossing in his dilemma on his bed,

Cries to the shadows of the noble dead.

—W. H. Auden


For decades they have crowded in my mind,

The Spartans and the Romans and the rest,

Lit by their tragic sunset from behind

And holding out at Duty’s curt behest.


But more and more of late I start to see

How I commit the treasons of despair,

Doubting that any duty’s left to me,

That anyone would notice or would care.


And in the darkness as I toss and turn,

And cry aloud to any passing wraith,

I understand that it is time to learn

A bit of what it takes to keep the faith—


For too long I complacently assumed

Those heroes perished in a golden glow,

And that they hardly minded being doomed

Knowing their myth would deepen and would grow.


Yet they were men of ordinary earth,

And perhaps each met the end he seemed to choose

In anguished wondering if it was worth

The one and only life he had to lose.


It’s one thing to see such heroism

Through the simplifying haze of the years,

Another to perform it at the time

Amid darkness and confusion and tears.

             from Fighting in the Shade

            © Peter Kocan





For Tracey Kesby and others


I’d thought of it as Epic,

    And opposing famous odds,

And attended by a chorus

    Of the heroes and the gods.


I’d thought it must be Saga,

    And that bravery must mean

The thunder and the lightning

    Of a great dramatic scene.


But now I’m growing wiser

    And I start to see the way

That courage has its essence

    In the ordinary day.


And now I often notice,

    In some unheroic face,

The spirit of the ages

    And the valour of the race.

             from Fighting in the Shade 

            © Peter Kocan





** Standing With Friends **




Standing With Friends


Peter Kocan


William Heinemann Australia, 1992

ISBN: 0-85561-491-9









Standing With Friends


Increasingly it starts to strike me how

We limit friendship to the here and now,

To those we are involved with face to face,

To people of a certain time and place,

To what the fleeting present will allow.


Yet think of the uncounted thousands, too,

Whose flesh and blood and spirit got us through,

Who brought the world along the single track

Which led to where we now stand looking back,

Those benefactors that we never knew.


They were the rulers who upheld the good,

The fighters who defended what they could,

The scholars who kept knowledge half-alive,

All those who had the courage and the drive

To do their duty as they understood.


And many more whose contribution lay

In simply being human in their day,

Who probably had little cause to think

Their ordinary lives would be the link

To us who live a thousand years away.


One can almost see them if one tries,

Those men and women in a quainter guise,

Those dear companions on their faded page,

Whom we, in this peculiar modern age,

Are prompted to belittle and despise.


But I will stand with friends beyond compare

Whose silent bones are littered everywhere,

Who fought and laboured for us long ago

Without the slightest evidence to show

Whether we’d deserve it or would care.

             from Standing With Friends

            © Peter Kocan




Poor Me


Poor me, one thinks, poor unfortunate me,

Nursing a cold, a migraine, a cut thumb;

Or when one is lost or broken or lonely;

Or if the awaited letter hasn’t come.


We call it being wrapped-up in oneself;

And yet, to feel compassionate must mean

That a part of the mind is standing off

And observing the pathos of the scene.


And this emotion, far from being false,

Might just as well be admirable and true

—Seeing yourself somehow as someone else

Who needs a little sympathy from you.

             from Standing With Friends

            © Peter Kocan




Beijing Massacre


If only they had kept it out of sight,

The way these things are usually done,

They could’ve murdered hundreds every night

And it would not have worried anyone.


If they had made the victims disappear

Discreetly in the dark by ones and twos,

They could’ve done the job without fear

That it would cause a ripple on the news.


If only the had had the sense to kill

More tidily, and in the proper place,

Then we in fairness would be lauding still

Their Communism-with-a-human-face.


If they had stuck to the accepted scheme,

Had butchered steadily, without fuss,

The patent good intent of the regime

Would’ve remained an axiom to us.


But carnage as a Media Event?

That was a mad, unprecedented move.

Their hideous miscalculation meant

We had no option but to disapprove.

             from Standing With Friends

            © Peter Kocan




A Baby Crying

When we are born, we cry that we are come

To this great stage of fools

                                                —King Lear


Nine pounds of undiluted blank despair

Shrieks all its tiny force into the air.

O what can ail the little fellow snug

Inside a nice embroidered bunny-rug?


The new arrival surely can’t have had

A chance to meet with anything so bad:

He doesn’t know a thing about the State,

Or Politics, or History or Fate.


Yet the harried listeners recognise

A just amount of anguish in the cries.

This small philippic from the cradle hurled

Is baby’s estimation of the world.


And baby’s wise to howl it at the start,

Considering how soon the years impart

A dire sense of being, in the main,

Too deeply implicated to complain.

             from Standing With Friends

            © Peter Kocan





** Freedom to Breathe **




Freedom to Breathe


Peter Kocan


Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1985

ISBN: 0 207 15190 3







AIDS, Among Other Things


The wages of sin is death. These words run

With a quiet persistence in my brain,

As though that biblical archaic phrase

Had been precisely meant to diagnose

What’s bothering an unreligious man


Like me today. The blasphemy was met

By sins of silence, cowardice and doubt,

And so we muddied what clear light might thresh

The good from the bad or merely foolish

When the consequences begin to hit.


I fear that we have too glibly mocked

For too long in the word and in the act

To hope we’ve any second chances owed

Or plead extenuation when we’re paid

The wages we knew always to expect.


We acquiesce to birth-in-bottles now,

Dissimulate on every law we knew

Was solemn in the covenants we had

With whatever we call Nature or God,

Yet we never think to reap what we sow.


The ills multiply as we unlearn

That ancient wise humility of men

Who saw, beyond the wreckage of taboos,

Despair and madness, hatred and disease—

The promised payment in the promised coin.

             from Freedom to Breathe

            © Peter Kocan




To My Godchild, Chloe


Newborn child, at your side

The long-dead generations crowd

Who wept and sweated to preserve

A light until you’d arrive.

I mean civilisation’s wick

That held so long against the dark

And shone a stumbling path clear

Through calamity and war.


Now the darkness gathers fresh

In empires of the lie and lash

Our candle’s guttering away

To outcomes we cannot see.

You are already summoned

To the battles of the mind

And hard experience will show

Past any word I offer now.


I have my own sins to face

Of folly and of cowardice,

But yet I say to choose your sides

Without measuring the odds;

As did Plataea, little town,

That sent its handful to join

Those reckless Athenians

Hurrying to Marathon.

             from Freedom to Breathe

            © Peter Kocan



See several more poems by Peter Kocan on this website
















































































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