The Well Mouth

Fremantle Press, 2005

2006   Adelaide Festival Awards for Poetry Award – Shortlisted

2005   Sydney Morning Herald,  a Poetry Book of the Year 

2005   Adelaide Review,  a Poetry Book of the Year 

2005   The Age Poetry Book of the Year – honourable mention

At the bottom of an abandoned well, a woman murdered and dumped there by corrupt police dreams the voices of people who have died but do not yet know it. Deep underground, she is silent witness and narrator of their earth poems – as she drifts in artesian streams towards the coast. One by one the newly dead replace each other in her imagination – whistleblower, brothel madam, long distance driver, woman lost in the bush, old soldier – some registering in sharp focus, others in brief faltering grabs, jostling and blurring in the pressure to be heard. The Well Mouth is a work of powerful immersion in empathy and unexpectedness.

 This expansive new collection recalls Philip Salom’s acclaimed Sky Poems and confirms his reputation as one of Australia’s leading poets of imagination and narrative invention. As a book, The Well Mouth is both lyrical and sardonic, humorous and bare. Containing many individually brilliant poems, it accumulates into a work of real beauty and force.

Praise for The Well Mouth

The Well Mouth is a strange, oracular testament – our very own Australian book of the dead, shining and savage.

The text achieves a music that is the dissolution of desire (often against one’s will): the messy ‘end-music’ of life. It’s quite extraordinary. This is uncanny and brilliant writing, and for a book so unremittingly about death I was surprised to find myself so often amused by the sardonic imagery, of the poems.

Jennifer Harrison 

In this story of horror, which modulates into a strange kind of beauty, Salom has affinities with American poet James Dickey. We are potently insinuated into the impossible consciousness, the reproach, the vengeance of the dead women. Salom’s long poem is one of the highlights of the year.

Peter Pierce, Sydney Morning Herald

Philip Salom’s tenth collection of poems offers readers an experience akin to falling over the edge of a well into a frightening subterranean world. (It) is dark, allusive, ironic, brutal, perplexing and confronting… One of the rewards of The Well Mouth is its formal and linguistic virtuosity. Salom exploits a wide frame of expression and reference, offering dazzling extended metaphors, poems rich in idiomatic play and ghazals. There is … black comedy too. The Well Mouth is absorbing and challenging.

Australian Book Review

The Well Mouth is a miracle of poetic engineering, a sharply-realized narrative which captures unforgettable images of what the next world might feel like. There are no obvious parallels to it in Anglophone writing, though passages in which Swedenbourg persuades us that he has first hand knowledge of the realm where dreams and death and imagination merge come to mind as a possible comparison. And though no-one is of course comparable to Dante, Salom’s poem does turn our attention convincingly in a similar direction.

Adelaide Review

The Well Mouth is really a long, lyrical poem comparable to William Carlos William’s Paterson rather than to The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter…. it is indeed that rare thing in poetry, a successful experiment. It’s not a verse novel; it’s not a ‘normal’ collection; it’s not an epic poem; it’s something situated very cleverly at the intersection of all these possibilities.

Geoff Page, The Australian

The Well Mouth is a remarkable enterprise. Salom’s poetic census of the dead or dying urges comparison with other big-scale undertakings in literary history. If those comparisons (Dante, Heaney, Homer) suggest the breadth of Salom’s ambition, his book is nevertheless firmly grounded in contemporary time and place… Salom projects himself into many situations and speakers; he maps with extraordinary thoroughness the forms of violence in our society and in our psyches. Salom is writing about areas of experience into which poetry rarely enters so thoroughly. He refuses to leave these areas to the sensationalism of popular film or rap music. This is admirable; The Well Mouth makes the usual selection of poetic lyrics look timid or humdrum by comparison.

Anthony Miller, The West Australian

Narratives blossom and fade and Salom’s facility with voice is admirable. He can do everyone – from a vulnerable young woman to an old soldier – changing metre and diction with the facility of a conjuror. Philip Salom’s tactile, multi-layered verse is compelling and challenging on so many levels that it is impossible to summarise. The verse is clever, witty, and allusive in places, deeply moving in others. The Well Mouth is a book that draws the reader in through many readings.


The Well Mouth is no longer available from the original publisher, but until final stocks run out, collectors in Australia can still purchase it at low cost from this website.