Kenneth Adolf Slessor OBE (27 March 1901 – 30 June 1971) was an Australian poet and journalist. He was one of Australia's leading poets, notable particularly for the absorption of modernist influences into Australian poetry. The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry is named after him.
Slessor was born Kenneth Adolphe Schloesser in Orange, New South Wales. His family moved to Sydney in 1903. Slessor attended Mowbray House School (1910–1914) and the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (1915–1918), where he began to write poetry. His first published poem was in 1917 about a digger in Europe, remembering Sydney and its icons.
Slessor graduated in 1918 and joined the Sydney Sun as a journalist. In 1919, seven of his poems were published. Slessor married Noela Glasson, who was 28, on 18 August 1922. They lived in Chatswood, New South Wales.
Slessor made his living as a newspaper journalist, mostly for the Sydney Sun, and was a war correspondent during World War II (1939–1945). Slessor counted Norman Lindsay, Hugh McCrae and Jack Lindsay among his friends.
The bulk of Slessor's poetic work was produced before the end of the Second World War. His poem "Five Bells" – relating to Sydney Harbour, time, the past, memory, and the death of the artist, friend and colleague of Slessor at Smith's Weekly, Joe Lynch – remains probably his best known poem, followed by "Beach Burial", a tribute to Australian troops who fought in World War II.
In 1965, Australian writer Hal Porter wrote of having met and stayed with Slessor in the 1930s. He described Slessor as:
"...a city lover, fastidious and excessively courteous, in those qualities resembles Baudelaire, as he does in being incapable of sentimentalizing over vegetation, in finding in nature something cruel, something bordering on effrontery. He prefers chiselled stone to the disorganization of grass".
He died suddenly of a heart attack on 30 June 1971 at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, North Sydney.
- Thief of the Moon, Sydney: Hand press of J. T. Kirtley (1924)
- Earth-Visitors, London: Fanfrolico Press (1926)
- Trio: a book of poems, with Harley Matthews and Colin Simpson, Sydney: Sunnybrook Press (1931)
- Cuckooz Contrey, Sydney: Frank Johnson (1932)
- Darlinghurst Nights: and Morning glories: being 47 strange sights, Sydney (1933)
- Funny Farmyard: Nursery Rhymes and Painting Book, with drawings by Sydney Miller, Sydney: Frank Johnson (1933)
- Five Bells: XX Poems, Sydney: F.C. Johnson (1939)
- One Hundred Poems, 1919–1939, Sydney: Angus & Robertson (1944)
- "Beach Burial" 1944
- "The Night Ride"
- "Out of Time" 1930
- Bread and Wine, Sydney, Angus & Robertson (1970)
- Australian Poetry (1945)
- The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Verse (Melbourne, 1961)
- Slessor has a street in the Canberra suburb of McKellar named after him.
- The bells motif in "Five Bells" is referenced at the end of the 1999 song "You Gotta Love This City" by The Whitlams, which also involves a drowning death in Sydney Harbour.
- "MS 3020 Papers of Kenneth Adolf Slessor (1901–1971)". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
- Haskell, Dennis (2002). "Slessor, Kenneth Adolf (1901–1971)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
- "Incandescent Ivor Indyk turns down the heat" by Miriam Cosic, The Australian (26 February 2011);
- "Kenneth Slessor's 'Five Bells' by Ivor Indyk, Australian Literary Compendium
- It's an Honour
- Porter (1965) p. 40
- Headon, David (October 1999). "Up From the Ashes: The Phoenix of a Rugby League Literature" (PDF). Football Studies Volume 2, Issue 2. Football Studies Group. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
- Some of Slessor's poems at PoemHunter.com
- National Library of Australia – Papers of Kenneth Adolf Slessor (1901–1971)