Rosemary Dobson in conversation with John Tranter, 2004

Rosemary Dobson, photo by Kate Callas, Sydney Morning Herald, 2011

The Australian poet Rosemary Dobson, whose first book «In a Convex Mirror» was published in 1944, and whose new «Collected Poems» came out in early 2012, passed away on 27 June 2012. She was 92 and had been living in a Canberra nursing home. John Tranter interviewed her at her home in 2004.

Rosemary Dobson: I was born in 1920. It wasn’t a very good time. I was born in Sydney. But I want to go further back than that, actually, because… my mother was Australian, my father was English. Nobody had… none of these families that I was connected with had any money… it was all a very simple life. Of course that period was very simple, anyway. My father was the son of the English poet Austin Dobson.

[Henry Austin Dobson (18 January 1840–2 September 1921) was an English poet, critic, biographer and bureaucrat at the Board of Trade. He was noted for introducing French forms into English verse and for his studies in eighteenth-century literature. There were nine other children.]

Austin Dobson wrote [on] eighteenth-century criticism; there were quite a lot of his books… I heard about them from a fairly early age, but not before I had started writing poetry myself at about seven years.

But he [my father] (Arthur Dobson) came to Australia by way of South America. He was an engineer. And my mother really always wanted better education than she had and worked towards this, and I suppose it was natural that when they met… here was this son of an English literary family. It would have appealed to her very much to be interested in him… anyway, he was on his own in Australia. He had come here for his health. And so they got married.

I was the second child. There were two of us; myself and my sister Ruth. We lived in a house in Northbridge in Sydney. It’s quite different now.[…]

Robot Doll


Why does this doll look so unsettling?

Is it because she is hung on a tree? Or because she looks foolishly optimistic? Or because she looks almost human?

It’s a robot, right? Is it a she?

Weird stuff.

Headline of the Year

Topless feminist disrupts psychic pig’s feeding time

topless feminist

A topless protest by a Ukrainian feminist group livened up feeding time for Ukraine’s Euro 2012 psychic pig Funtik, as soccer fans waited to see who he would choose to win this morning’s quarter-final.

Ukraine’s tournament mascot had been dozing in his pen in Kiev but stirred and got up when he heard the familiar sound of the gate opening for his afternoon meal.

Funtik is given two bowls daily to eat from, each marked with the national flag of two teams playing each other at the finals.

Those who have faith in his psychic powers say the bowl he eats from first will prove to be the winner on the night.

But even before a fan zone steward could bring in his food – a bowlful each for Portugal and the Czech Republic – an activist from feminist group Femen barged into the pen.

Olexandra Nemchinova, 31, threw off her blouse to reveal the words “F… Euro 2012” on her torso and began shouting slogans denouncing the tournament, being co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland.

Stewards led Ms Nemchinova out of the pen and handed her over to the local police.

(Thanks to AAP/Reuters; photo Reuters: Gleb Garanich)

Jacket 6

Nathaniel Tarn, 1953
Check out Jacket 6: full of brain food and good things, including:

Nathaniel Tarn Feature:

Nathaniel Tarn (with Martín Prechtel): Scandals in the House of Birds: Shamans and Priests on Lake Atitlán, (New York: Marsilio 1997) xiv + 397pp, $24.95

Based on a thirty-year span of fieldwork in Guatemala, «Scandals in the House of Birds» is a multi-voiced epic of a sacred crime, and its tangled mythic, religious, and political ramifications

Scandals reviewed : Shamoon Zamir

“Scandals is a synthesising of over forty years of fieldwork among, research on and thinking about the Tzutujil Maya living on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala (“House of Birds” is a translation of the indigenous name for the pre-Columbian Tzutujil capital, now in ruins at the foot of Volcano San Pedro). Narrated through multiple narratives and many voices, the book deals with a religious conflict between indigenous religion and Christianity. The theft of masks covering Maximón, a Mayan wooden statue venerated since pre-Columbian times, and the later return of one of the masks over twenty years later, is the core around which are spun accounts of Mayan mythology, ritual practices, religious festivals, individual life histories, local social conflicts and the horrors of Guatemala’s national politics. Nine years before the publication of the book, writing of the struggle between poetry and anthropology throughout his career as “the battle between the angel of creation and the angel of the record”, Tarn refers to the project as “the last possible (for me) throw to the record.” More recently, with the book in press, Tarn has referred to it as “a sort of experimental ethnography”.”

Nathaniel Tarn : on new poetic forms

“I must confess in a belief that poetry represents… the ground and constitution of a perpetual opposition which is ill served by the depths of social isolationism into which we have allowed our vocation to sink.”

Nathaniel Tarn : Poem : Ancestors


Frank O’Hara — WHAT’S WITH MODERN ART? — reviews of art shows from Art News, 1953–55 — and a rare O’Hara photo by Renate Ponsold Motherwell

Paul Hoover — THE PLOT AGAINST THE GIANT — a review of David Lehman’s ‘The Last Avant-Garde”

Eliot Weinberger : What Was Formalism?

John Kinsella: commentary on a poem by J.H.Prynne

And lots of poems and other literary nourishment: Jacket 6

Three Australian Poets


I know what the tyranny of distance is all about. I grew up on an isolated farm five miles from the nearest country town, which was itself two hundred miles from the nearest city. Few if any of my school friends went on to university, and most became farmers. But I was lucky in my choice of parents: my father was a teacher, and my mother taught me to read before I went to school.

Not that my taste in reading was all that advanced. As a teenager my favorite books were about the adventures of the fictional air ace Biggles. I would visit the school library on Wednesday afternoons to search for the latest recounting of the aeronautical adventures of this plucky British chap. The so-called library was in fact a storeroom at the back of the Year Two classroom, and you had to push aside the cricket bats and scuffed leather basketballs to reach the shelf high at the back where the “B” titles began. When I had devoured the half dozen Biggles titles the school had invested in, I started over again, hoping that my lazy memory would make the twice-told tales seem fresh…

Sex and Anarchy

coombs-coverSee my three-page review of «Sex and Anarchy» by Anne Coombs, about the Sydney ‘Push’. 1996. [3pp]

“Like the grasshopper in the fable, they lazed in the sun or in the gloom of a hotel bar, gambling, drinking, fornicating and endlessly talking. Though they had a critique for every aspect of society, they had no remedies. They produced dozens of argumentative little magazines, but they created hardly any art, film or music. They were proud of their lack of illusions — their dedication to the truth seemed bracing to some, and brutal to others. They appeared to have no avarice, and they opposed violence of any sort. They could have been Zen saints dedicated to the life of contemplation and non-action, except for their sloth, lust, and jealousy. They were the Sydney “Push”, a loose and changing group of bohemian intellectuals, university lecturers, adventurous secretaries, journalists, gamblers, writers, free-thinking businessmen and students. [….]

For all their faults, it should be remembered that they were better people in many ways — more frank and honest, more socially aware and concerned — than those who chose the way of conformity and the compromises and hypocrisy that went with it.”

What is Skeuomorphism?

The immensely useful and free encyclopaedia Wikipedia provides a clear definition of “skeuomorphism” (skeuos vessel or tool, morphe shape). A skeuomorph is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original. Skeuomorphs may be deliberately employed to make the new item appear to be comfortably old and familiar, such as copper cladding on zinc coins, to make them look like old pennies, or computer printed postage with a circular town name and cancellation lines, meant to resemble the original circular stamps used by humans in post offices.

An alternative definition is “an element of design or structure that serves little or no purpose in the artifact fashioned from the new material but was essential to the object made from the original material”. This definition is narrower in scope and ties skeuomorphs to changes in materials.


The word is recently popular in English in 2012, I suspect because of the furore about Apple’s skeuomorphic designs for its ubiquitous computer software. See the little bit of torn paper just below the fake-leather strip across the head of the fake paper iCal calendar in the picture, just below the fake-embossed word “Year”? Torn paper? On a computer screen?!?! What were they thinking!?!?

But relax! The practice goes back to the birth of civilisation. Ancient Greek architecture abounds in skeuomorphism.

I like the Corinthian column, the capital (top) of which carries an ornate carved and originally painted stone representation of the acanthus leaf once used to decorate the top of the original wooden columns that long before had preceded the stone versions.



Egyptian columns, with their tops carved and painted to resemble plants abundant in the waters of the Nile — lilies or bundles of the lotus or the papyrus reed — were no doubt the inspiration for this later practice.

Wikipedia notes that blue jeans have authentic-looking brass rivet caps covering the functional steel rivet beneath; they further note that some digital cameras play a recorded audio clip of a conventional single-lens reflex camera mirror slap and shutter click. And so it goes.

Other examples:

I love these: they’re so silly! Tiny, non-functional handles on small glass maple syrup containers. The containers were once large earthenware jugs, which needed a handle. Not any more, but the handle still says “maple syrup”, even if the little bottle contains — yes, you need to take out your glasses and read the fine print — 99 per cent corn syrup.

Baudelaire in Balmain

kiera-photo-by-trish-daviesI was walking my dog, a Manchester Terrier bitch called Kiera, down to the local park early one recent morning – one of the many parks in the leafy Sydney harbourside suburb of Balmain. I noticed a local municipal council truck parked by the kerb. Two of the council workers were in the cab of the truck reading the paper, and standing by the truck was a worker I’d noticed from time to time, sweeping leaves from the street or clearing weeds from the park, or sitting in the shade of a tree during his lunch break, reading a book. That is, I recognised him, though I had no idea who he was, and we had never spoken.

As I walked by he said ‘I liked those Baudelaire poems of yours.’

I stopped. I must have looked surprised, for he said ‘You’re John Tranter, aren’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Uh… the Baudelaire poems…’

Thinks: My new poetry book, my twenty-second book, «Starlight: 150 Poems», included an ample section of poems which were my updated and drastically changed versions of poems by Charles Baudelaire in his collection «Les Fleurs du mal», second edition, published in Paris in 1861.

(You can read ten poems from that book on my Main Site.)

‘I thought they were great.’

‘Thanks, mate,’ I said, and continued my walk…

…Thinking that no council worker in London would have done that, nor, I suspect in Prague, Paris or New York.

Only in Australia.

Advice to a New Writer

Forlorn PoetI wrote and published poetry for half a century. Now and then I receive enquiries from people starting out to be a writers, asking me to read their manuscripts (for nothing) and tell them what they should do to become a famous published poet, or at least a published poet. I don’t have the time or the inclination to read poetry manuscripts or to write personal letters, and since what I say is always the same, here it is.

Find another career.

Please. Take up etching, or photography. Work the midnight to dawn shift in a fast food takeaway joint, become a university student, drop out, hitch-hike around the world, work in the pay office of a military repatriation unit, be a mail delivery person, operate a process camera and develop printing plates in a print workshop, edit English translations of television subtitles in a dozen foreign languages, direct radio plays, sweep the floors at an art gallery, drive an old limousine for a living. I have done all those things. You will meet a better class of people, have more fun and lead a more valuable life. But if you insist on being a poet, read on.

Here’s what you need to do. In brief:

— Read widely.
— If you can manage it, travel.
— Write a lot, and then rewrite a lot.
— Publish persistently in a wide range of poetry magazines.
— Pay attention to the feedback you receive.
— Give up the idea that you will ever be famous or even well-known. You won’t.
— Obtain a job that you like and submerge yourself in the human race. These people are the reason you write poems.
— Stay away from charlatans, sycophants and famous writers.

[continued on my Main Site here.]

The transitive verb “to grow”

From the Internet: Today’s readers seem incapable of being overwhelmed.

Scott Schiefelbein, a lawyer in Portland, Ore., wrote an enthusiastic review last month on of “Second Son,” a short story by Mr. Child that Mr. Schiefelbein read after buying his latest novel, “The Affair,” on his Kindle.

There is “no limit” to the number of Mr. Child’s books he would buy, Mr. Schiefelbein said.

“I’ll give basically anything he writes a chance,” he said. “With my favorite authors, I always want to read more from them.”

Some of the “biggest” authors have become so productive that they are nearly an impossible act for any other writer to follow. Airport bookstores these days can feature not just one stack of James Patterson books, but an entire rack of them, sometimes more than six titles at a time. Mr. Patterson produced 12 books last year, aided on some titles by co-writers. He will publish 13 this year.

“A lot of publishers and authors have looked at what James Patterson is doing and realized that they may not be able to publish nine books a year, but ‘certainly I can do two,'” said Brian Tart, the publisher of Dutton, an imprint of Penguin. “They were able to grow him and grow the readership using that strategy.”

(The new expectations do not apply to literary novelists like Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen, who can publish a new novel approximately every decade and still count on plenty of high-profile book reviews to promote it.)

Meanjin offers payment

Stop Press: I am glad to say that on Friday 1 June 2012 Sally Heath, journalist and editor of «Meanjin» magazine in Melbourne, rang me to tell me that «Meanjin» had reconsidered their earlier decision not to pay contributors to its forthcoming 400-page anthology, and will now offer all contributors a small fee: the sum of $50 for each author. It’s not a lot, but it signifies a respect for authors’ rights. I have agreed to let my little poem appear there. (See my earlier post complaining about «Meanjin»’s attitude here.)

Now for «Quadrant»…

Free Grass: a dash of 1968!

John Tranter, Sydney, c.1969«Free Grass» magazine splashed into the pond of little “underground” magazines in Australia in 1968. Like most of the others («The Great Auk», «Ourglass», «Mok», «Cross-currents», «Transit» and «Free Poetry») it was roneod, the editorial standards were loose, to say the least, and there was a strong counter-cultural flavour to the thing. Strangest of all, it lived up to its title: it was literally free. Dozens of copies landed gratis in alternative and literary bookstores, to be given away to the bemused customers, and into the mailboxes of young poets and their friends. But when the magazine’s keen fans tried to contact the editor, they discovered two things: even though the magazine quoted generous rates of payment for contributions, no editor’s name was given, and there was no postal address. The truth slowly leaked out: one morning in late 1968 I (Sydney poet John Tranter, editor of «Transit» magazine) had written the whole of «Free Grass», all five foolscap pages of it from nine imaginary contributors each with his or her distinctive approach to verse, typing it directly onto mimeograph stencils, interspersing my spontaneous lyric effusions with nonsense sentences and fragments from a list of cryptic crossword clues in the daily paper. I ran it off the next day, and mailed out the copies.

You can read all five foolscap pages on my Main Site here: both as photographic copies of each page as printed by the steam-driven Gestetner machine, and as smooth, searchable HTML text. (Photo: John Tranter, Sydney, circa 1969.)