Peter Skrzynecki Old / New World Poetry Year 12 English 2017


Peter Skrzynecki Old / New World Poetry 

About the Poet Peter Skrzynecki

Peter Skrzynecki (pronounced sher-neski) is an Australian poet and author of Polish-Ukrainian descent.  He was born in Germany in 1945 and migrated to Australia with his Polish parents in 1949.  After a four week sea voyage, Skrzynecki’s family arrived in Sydney on 11th November 1949.  They lived in a migrant camp in Bathurst for two weeks before being moved to the Parkes Migrant Centre, NSW.  In 1951 the family moved to the working class Sydney suburb of Regents Park where a home had been purchased at 10 Mary Street.  Peter’s father, Feliks Skrzynecki, worked as a labourer for the Water Board and his mother Kornelia found work as a domestic in Strathfield.  In 1956 Skrzynecki began school at St Patrick’s College, Strathfield, where he completed his Leaving Certificate in 1963.

After a year at Sydney University in 1964, he completed a Primary Teacher Training Course at Sydney Teachers’ College in 1965-66 and began teaching in small schools in 1967.  In 1968 he recommenced his university studies at the University of New England where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1975.  Post Graduate studies include a Master of Arts from the University of Sydney in 1984 and a Master of Letters from the University of New England in 1986.  From 1987 he started teaching at the University of Western Sydney as a Senior Lecturer.

About the Volume Old/New World: New and Selected Poems

Year 12, VCE Mainstream English students for 2017, Area of Study 1, Unit 3: Reading and Creating Texts, taken from VCAA’s List 1, will study Peter Skrzynecki’s new volume of poetry entitled Old/New World.  This volume contains over 180 poems selected from eight collections published between 1970 and 2000 and the 2006 collection, Blood Plums.  The book’s strength is its bringing together of old and new poems in a single collection, allowing the reader to become immersed in Skrzynecki’s poetry and to gauge his development as a poet over many years of writing practice.

Skrzynecki’s Style of Poetry

Skrzynecki mainly writes three kinds of poems, all in a similarly distinctive, almost prosaic style:

  1. the family poem, in which he often displays a deft ability to portray character through description;
  2. the immigrant experience, which ranges between the new and old worlds and often has a documentary quality; and
  3. the landscape poem, which is often idyllic, with a poetic persona not that dissimilar to a boy wandering and meditating in a garden or countryside.

Surprisingly, the poems that focus on family and the poems that observe people, primarily, stand out in this book, rather than specific accounts of the immigrant experience, although this theme is rarely absent from his work.

Skrzynecki’s Poetry Rhythm & Imagery

Skrzynecki’s poetry has a delicate rhythm, which suits (or emerges from) his frequently plain diction, which often takes the form of naming things, usually in a garden or a landscape. There are few fireworks in his writing and his understated, occasionally beautiful images appear all the more striking as a consequence.

Notable examples include the description of the road in A Year at Kunghur (p.189), which is “like a ribbon of dust mended/ with patches of bitumen”, or the moving Elegy for Roland Robinson (p.193), where the desolate cry of a spur-winged plover leads to the conclusion:

that when the cry of such a bird
is lodged in the heart
that moment is the start
of eternity.

Poems from The Immigrant Chronicle

Poems from Peter’s collection called The Immigrant Chronicle first published in 1975 are some of my favourite poems in his new volume, which I studied and taught in relation to Standard HSC English in NSW under the Concepts of ‘Journeys’ and ‘Belonging’.  In these poems Peter chronicles his own family’s experiences as well as other immigrant’s experiences in 1951.  In Immigrants at Central Station (p.34) Peter reminisces about his family’s immigrant journey and the promise of a new life as immigrants wait with fear and anxiety on Central Station in Sydney to board a train to a new future that they have no control over.  He uses personification in the second stanza as: “Time waited anxiously with us” and a metaphor to describe the choking emotions of the travellers: “The air was crowded with a dampness that slowly sank into our thoughts”.

Belonging in Feliks Skrzynecki

In many poems Peter belongs to his new home in Australia where he has grown up but his father Felik’s bond is still with his past which becomes a barrier to his belonging.  It becomes apparent to Peter that his mother and father find assimilating in their new environment and culture more difficult as they get older.  As such, Feliks never really ‘belongs’ in Australia.  This is evident in the poem Feliks Skrzynecki (p.36).  Feliks recreates his life with his garden, his work and his Polish friends but continues to latch onto the past.  Reminiscing about pre-war Poland reminds him of his youth and happier, uncomplicated times before the trauma of war and the destruction of everything he knew.  As Peter grows, school represents the growing chasm between Feliks and himself.  It is another area where he and Feliks are divided by experience and adds depth of meaning to the battle that ends up occurring between Peter and his father.

Themes in the New Collection

The poems in this new and selected edition represent lived experiences from an often-nostalgic perspective, as demonstrated in The Wind in the Pines (p.228).  Past and present, old and new are embedded structures in the majority of these poems, as the poet revisits landscapes (predominantly Australian) remembering significant places and phases of his life. Birds are often the subject of Skrzynecki’s poems and this collection is alive with ravaging lorikeets, fearless seabirds, mythological bellbirds, sparrows, swans, apostlebirds, finches and black cockatoos. Animals, fish and reptiles also feature.

Skrzynecki’s character portraits capture and express the little details of everyday life that make his subjects live on the page.  Feliks Skrzynecki, the poet’s father, later revealed not to be his biological father, ‘loved his garden like an only child’; we see him sweeping paths, holding the broom with his cement-darkened hands and cracked fingers, smoking on the back steps, watching the stars.

The theme of old and new worlds encompasses the poems of migration, the elegies, the character poems and is used in the poem Leukaemia (p.199) to signify hope:

[waiting] for a new world
to take over your body
so the old can be defeated,
left behind

Old/New World is peopled with a lifetime of poems, chronicling the forging of new lives in new countries and the adjustments to be made when old familiar worlds are changed forever by trauma or grief.  The journey is not merely one of physical travel, but of spiritual quest and emotional travail punctuated by moments of joy and nostalgic remembering.


Poetry Analysis Step by Step

Why Read Poems?

Some people say they don’t like poetry, it’s boring or they don’t understand it.  I think poetry is more like a song, the more you hear it the more you like it.  The words are very similar to poetry; in fact we can break down the verses of songs and see the meaning as poetry.

Poetry doesn’t have to be boring; it can also be funny like limericks.

Start with a Step by Step Analysis

Have a look at this Poetry Analysis Step by Step Flow Chart in PowerPoint to show you the way to read and understand a poem.  Follow it below as well with a full explanation of the Poetry Analysis Step by Step.

Poetry Analysis flow chart

1. Read a poem 2 or 3 times

Each time you read a poem you notice different things

When you read the poem a second time you pick up on ideas and themes that you may have missed the first time you read it.  Also the poet can have ideas hidden just below the surface of the words and as you read it again, the new ideas can jump out.

2. Paraphrase the poem by stanza next to the original text

Writing it in your own words is a good idea to make sense of the poem, so you know what it means in simple terms

Stanza means the verses of the poem just like a song

How the poet organises the stanzas in a poem is often an important aspect of the poem’s structure.  Nothing in a poem is by accident.  Poets choose their words carefully as well as giving careful thought to the form and layout of the poem.  You should ask yourself why the poet has done this or that because there will be a reason and there is an effect for everything in a poem.

3. Answer the 5 W’s

Who? Who is the poet referring to?

What? What is the poem about?

Why? Why is the poet writing about it?

When? When is the poem set, the time period?

Where? Where is the poem, the place the poet is taking about, the setting?

4. Identify the theme, message or topic

What is the poet trying to say? What is the poet’s message in the poem?

What is the point? Is the poet trying to make a specific point in the poem?

5. Identify and Highlight Examples of Literary Techniques


Definition: Simile is when you compare two nouns (persons, places or things) that are unlike, with “like” or “as.” “The water is like the sun.”  “The water is like the sun” is an example of simile because water and the sun have little in common, and yet they’re being compared to one another. The “is” is also part of what makes this stanza an example of simile. “The rain falls like the sun,rising upon the mountains.”


When something is described in terms of something else, ‘her eyes are the stars in the sky’ is a metaphor as one thing her eyes is being described in terms of another thing the stars. Metaphors are comparisons that show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way. Metaphors are a way to describe something. Authors use them to make their writing more interesting or entertaining. Unlike similes that use the words “as” or “like” to make a comparison, metaphors state that something is something else.


Poets use words to create images in your mind.


This is the repetition of a consonant sound in the words.  For example slippery slithering snake is alliteration.


This is where human qualities or emotions are given to non human things.  The wind howled in agony all day.  He gazed at the angry sea.


The overall mood of the poem, the emotions can be sad, optimistic, solemn.

Point of View

From what point of view is the poet writing.

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