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.)

2 Replies to “Free Grass: a dash of 1968!”

  1. John,

    Just the other minute (day?) I was musing about the fact that works originally written for and published in mimeograph format, by me and others, have never later seemed quite so marvelous as they did when one was typing them “blind” onto stencils, with no margin for error whatsoever, and thus no one to save oneself from oneself. All or nothing as it were. Over the years I probably did twenty five or thirty mimeo publications, each one more aggravating in the production phase than the one before, yet, looking back upon it, each one equally “authentic”. Blogging may appear a DYI form, but of course all the real work is done by vast tech agencies (in my case, Google Farms) far beyond our humble control.

  2. John Tranter:
    Very true, Tom. And of course with Internet publication (I should know: «Jacket» magazine has some eight thousand pages, all typeset by me!) you can always go back later and correct errors, or modify a foolish opinion uttered in a passing fit of blind rage to make it sound more thoughtful and considerate. I moved some articles about the Australian hoax poet “Ern Malley” from an early issue of «Jacket» to a later issue, to fit them into a better context of hoax poetry. Try doing that with, say, the «Paris Review».

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