1985 Tour

John Tranter  — Senior Fellowship,
Report on Tour of USA and Canada,
April-May 1985

Items in [square brackets] are
later interpolations, from 2017. J.T.

Paragraph One follows — 1:

In 1984 I travelled through the United States, England and Europe for ten weeks, at my own expense, staying for two weeks at the Literature Board’s Venice flat. The trip was worthwhile in many ways: a poem I wrote en route from Venice to Munich won the Australian’s twentieth anniversary celebration poetry prize, and my writing generally benefitted greatly from the change of scene. I also made many useful contacts in the United States, and was asked to read in New York in April 1985 by the Academy of American Poets, and at the Harbourfront Series in Toronto around the same time.


When I returned to Australia I set about contacting various reading venues in North America, and ended up with some seventeen engagements in April and May 1985. The Literature Board of the Australia Council was kind enough to assist with a grant to subsidise travel and accommodation expenses, and the Department of Foreign Affairs gave invaluable assistance with book purchases and overseas telephoning and mailing costs. [Alas, DFAT no longer involves itself with these useful tasks.]


What follows is a summary, on a diary basis, of my travels from Sydney via Honolulu and San Francisco to New York, thence to Buffalo, Toronto, Washington D.C. and Middletown, Connecticut; and back again via New York, Denver, Colorado; an unscheduled night diversion to Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco, Eugene, Oregon; San Francisco, Honolulu and home to the land of Vegemite and common sense.


At the end of the report I append a list of names and addresses that may be of use to others; and for the Literature Board, a summary of expenditure.


I might add that my experiences and the contacts I made were useful in helping my wife Lyn plan her tour of North America by four Australian poets in October-December 1985.


I would also like to note that the highly visible presence of Australian film in the United States has played a distinct part in creating a favourable image of Australia there. I hope that my tour, and my energetic promotion of modern Australian poetry in general, has helped to give that image an added depth and colour.


Tuesday 2 April. Depart Sydney 1.40 pm. Arrive 10:00 am local time in Honolulu. Met by Joe Chadwick, a lecturer in the English Department of the University of Hawaii at Manoa (Honolulu). My accommodation was in Lincoln Hall, a residential hall of the East-West Center, and was cheap and comfortable, though a brisk walk from the nearest shop and bus stop.


Tuesday 2 April, 7:30 pm. Read at Windward Community College, Oahu, Hawaii. Lorna Evans kindly drove me the half hour there and back, and Lillian Cunningham introduced me. The audience was mostly first-year tertiary students of English, and I read some of the less-difficult poetry I had with me, taking some time to introduce each piece in an informal way.


Wednesday 3 April, 9 am. Australian Consul Garry Wong telephoned with suggested alterations to my New-York-Buffalo travel schedule courtesy the Australian Embassy in Washington. He or Bill Fisher would be glad to offer assistance if I should need it. Local phone 524 5050.


Same day, 6 pm. Dinner at Joe Chadwick’s with Jim Kraus and Professor John Unterecker (poet and biographer of Hart Crane; visited Flinders in 1983.) Professor Unterecker is connected with the Hawaii Literary Arts Council, and active on the literary scene, despite a heart condition.


Same day, 8 pm. Read my poems in the Korean Studies Center venue at the State University of Hawaii. Marjorie Edel, of the Hawaii Literary Arts Council, introduced my work. A reception afterwards allowed me to meet some of the audience.


Thursday 4 April, 3:30 pm. Address the English Department in the Green Room of the Library: ‘An Australian poet looks at contemporary American poetry.’ The venue was deliberately casual, and my address was aimed at the relationship between mid-twentieth century American poetry and the Australian poetry that was developing around that time. About twenty people responded well, and the atmosphere was interested and friendly. That evening, dinner out with Professor Unterecker, Joe Chadwick, and Jim Kraus.


Friday 5 April. A free day. Lorna Evans kindly drove me sightseeing around part of the island, and invited me to a Hawaiian evening meal with her family.


Saturday 6 April. Travel to San Francisco. I was met at airport by the poet August Kleinzahler, whose work I first became enthusiastic about when I saw it in Scripsi magazine.


Monday 8 April. Meet Carl Rakosi, supposedly a member of the ‘Objectivist’ school of American poetry that featured Olson and Zukovsky, and the late George Oppen. He has appeared in Scripsi magazine. A fit and keen-minded eighty-five, he left me puffing after a brisk walk around San Francisco’s lovely Golden Gate Park in the chilly Spring dusk.


Same day, later. Meet George Evans, a poet who has lived in Japan and travelled in England, and who now lives in San Francisco. He also is a contributor to Scripsi. He is currently employed as a poetry consultant to an advertising space-brokerage firm to select small poems for display on unused bus advertising space; this project has placed poems by the likes of Charles Olson in front of a potential audience of 8 million people per day in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles and every working day for the last year. Now why can’t we do something as simple and effective as that?


Tuesday 9 April, 4:30 pm. A one-and-a-half hour bus trip down San Francisco Bay to Palo Alto. Read my poems to the Faculty Club, English Department, Stanford University. Reception afterwards at the home of Professor Gelpi, who has visited Australia and has an interest in our writing. Renewed acquaintance with Harte Weiner, whom I had met at the Academy of American Poets in New York the previous year. Diane Middlebrook, Dean of Women’s Studies, mentioned that the Djerassi Foundation runs a ranch near Palo Alto where free accommodation is available to writers and artists; she suggested that Australian poets could apply to stay there. Sayed overnight with the Gelpis, returned to San Francisco the next day. The temperature dropped from 76 degrees Fahrenheit to 53 degrees as we travelled from Stanford to the fog-shrouded city.


Wednesday 10 April, 8 pm. Read my work and other Australian poetry to an appreciative audience at the New College of California, San Francisco. Drinks and discussion afterward with the organiser, the unwilling and obstinate Duncan McNaughton, and friends August Kleinzahler, Alex Katz and Bill Berkson.


Thursday 11 April. Meet poet and editor (of the defunct Big Sky magazine) Bill Berkson at the San Francisco Art Institute where he teaches art history. Arrange to do interview in May.


Same day, later. Dinner with Sam Wellbaum, who teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University.


Friday 12 April. Travel arrangements. Dinner out with George Evans and his wife Lissa, August Kleinzahler, his friend Caroline, and friends.


Monday 15 April. 6:50 am. Depart San Francisco for New York, arriving at 4:30 pm at Newark airport. Rain, heavy traffic; arrive at Pickwick Arms hotel in New York about 7:30 pm. Eat out, later stare at a hotel room the size of a wardrobe. Request larger room for the next day.


Tuesday 16 April. Meet Rachel Berghash, Radio Pacifica WBAI-FM, New York. Arrange for me to read for her station later in the month.


Same day, 6:30 pm. Read my poems for the Academy of American Poets at the Donnell Library, New York City, introduced by the critic Mr Dana Gioia, who threw me a curve ball as the Americans say by introducing me as ‘one of the two or three best poets of the New York School.’ Share reading with English poet Ken Smith, who obviously disliked American possession of nuclear weapons. An enjoyable reading, an appreciative audience. Dinner and drinks afterwards with Academy Executive Director Henri Cole, Assistant Director Nancy Schoenberger, Ms Leni Spencer, Dana Gioia, Ken Smith, and poet and friend Lawrence (Larry) Joseph. I had met Mrs Spencer previously in Sydney, and was very appreciative of her kind offer to have me stay with her and her husband in their apartment while I was in New York.


Wednesday 17 April. Attend poetry reading in the Cooper Union for the Arts and Sciences, New York. David Shapiro, Michael Palmer visiting from San Francisco, and Rilke translator Edward Snow. Indian food later in the East Village.


Monday 22 April, noon. Buffalo State College. Read, and address English class on modern Australian poetry.


Monday 22 April, 4 pm. State University of New York at Buffalo, Capen Hall Library, Lockwood Room. The only audience was organiser Robert Bertholf and his two secretaries. Read my poems.


Tuesday 23 April, 12:15 pm. Buffalo State College, public reading.


Tuesday 23 April, 8:30 pm. Toronto Harbourfront Reading Series. Share reading with two Canadian writers.


Wednesday 24 April, 4 pm. Georgetown University, Washington D.C. Read to students and faculty, English Department.


Thursday 25 April, 8 pm. Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut. Reading and reception, Honors College Hall.


Tuesday 30 April, 1 pm. Reading and interview with Rachel Berghash, Radio Pacifica WBAI-FM, New York.


Monday 6 May, 2:30 PM. Reading and interview on local radio station at the University of Oregon at Eugene, Oregon, in the Pacific North-west.


Monday 6 May, 7:30 PM. Read to the Faculty Club, University of Oregon at Eugene.


Tuesday 7 May, 12:30 pm. Address and read to John Haislip’s poetry workshop class at the University of Oregon. Discuss Australian poetry.


Thursday 9 May, 10:30 am. Address the East-West Center, State University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii. ‘The Exotic and the Indigenous in Australian Poetry.’ Read some Australian poetry. Lively panel discussion.


Tuesday 14 May, 10:30 am. Arrive Sydney, tired but happy.


While in the United States I talked with many people about the relationship between American and Australian poetry, emphasising in particular the advances our writers have made, and the variety and vigour of their work. In general I was treated with great courtesy, and received a genuinely interested response. Some of the people I spoke with were:


Henri Cole, Jean D’Amico and Nancy Schoenberger of the Academy of American Poets; John Ashbery, Robert Bertholf (editor of Creedences magazine), Rachel Berghash of WBAI-FM, Bill Berkson (poet and sometime editor of Big Sky magazine), Jack Bennett of the University of Oregon, John Haislip ditto, Robert Duncan, George Evans, Roland Flint (Georgetown University), Greg Gatenby (Harbourfront Toronto), Professor Gelpi and other faculty members at Stanford including Creative Writing Program Director John L’Hereux and Diane Middlebrook, Dean of Women’s Studies; the poets Michael Palmer, David Shapiro, Cark Rakosi, August Kleinzahler, Dennis Lee (Canada), Carolyn Forché, Thom Gunn, the critic Dana Gioia, Daniel Halpern (editor of Antaeus magazine and Ecco Press), Richard Howard, Professor Herbert Jaffa (author of the Gale standard reference bibliography of modern Australian poetry), Kenneth Koch, James Laughlin (owner of New Directions press), Duncan McNaughton of the New College of California, Professor John Unterecker, John Benedict (editor for Norton Publishers), poet and senior art critic for the Village Voice Peter Schjeldahl, James Schuyler, Leni Spencer, Jean Maynard (Director of the Honors College at Wesleyan University), and Jennifer Moyer, the manager of the Coordinating Council of Little Magazines.


I interviewed the writers listed below. Each interview was couched in general terms, focussing on the development of American poetry since 1950, with follow-up questions on the writer’s latest poems. Average duration was 40 minutes, though some went to an hour and a half. The recordings are broadcast quality, and will be offered to the ABC and/or to public radio in Australia. Scripsi magazine at the University of Melbourne has expressed interest in publishing edited transcripts of most of the material, and Meanjin is currently evaluating the Carolyn Forché tape.

List of us interviews, USA, April-May 1985

John Ashbery
Bill Berkson
Robert Duncan
George Evans
Carolyn Forché
Thom Gunn
Daniel Halpern
Richard Howard
August Kleinzahler
Kenneth Koch
Peter Schjeldahl

John Tranter, senior fellowship for 1985: Report to the Literature Board, 1986


1. POEMS. During 1985 I wrote quite a number of poems that I felt were successful. A list of these is attached, noting those poems that have been published.


2. NORTH AMERICAN READING TOUR. I travelled to Canada and the USA on a reading tour partly sponsored by the Board. A full report on the tour is attached; you will note that it was generally a success, and played a large part in enabling my wife Lyn to organise and carry out an even more successful reading tour with four poets in October-November 1985.
A report is attached.


3. MACQUARIE WRITER-IN-RESIDENCE. I undertook a residency at Macquarie University in Sydney from 16 September to 15 November 1985. That also went very well, and a two-page report is attached (this is a copy of my recent report to the Board on the subject.)


4. ASAL CONFERENCE, ARMIDALE. I was invited to attend the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature at Armidale University for a week in August, and read my poems there. I made many useful contacts, and the atmosphere was friendly and positive.


5. LYN TRANTER’S TOUR OF NORTH AMERICA. I spent a lot of time helping my wife Lyn organise the complex preliminaries of her tour of North America mentioned above.


6. PETER SCHJELDAHL VISIT. I also spent time organising, with Lyn, for the art critic (and poet) Peter Schjeldahl to undertake a twelve-venue, four-week tour of Australia over the month of March, 1986. He begins by delivering the keynote address to open Artists Week at the Adelaide Festival, and will deliver talks on art, and read his poetry, in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra.


7. SYDNEY WRITERS CENTRE. During the year I spent a great deal of effort encouraging the development of a Sydney Writers Centre, among writers, critics, arts administrators and other interested parties, including the relevant Minister. A set of notes, summarising the general position on this front at the end of 1985, is attached.


8. READINGS ANTHOLOGY. Late in the year I consulted with the Gungo Ho Community Centre organisers (Carol Christie and others) and the organisers of the Harold Park Hotel reading series (including Kim O’Brien and George Papaellinas) about the possible publication of an anthology of work from writers who have read at these venues. Some half-dozen people are involved with this project. With some luck and some hard work, this should be published in mid-1986.


9. TAX. Despite the services of an excellent accountant, I was hit with provisional tax for the first time in late 1985, as a result of earning a large part of my income untaxed-at-source. This means that I have to find some $10,500 by April 1986. (It sounds a dreadful amount of money, but it’s two years’ tax, and the actual tax rate is not unreasonable.) I mention this not to complain about the problems of having a grant — heaven forbid! — but because I think the Board should be generally aware of this sort of thing. More damaging to writers is the removal of entertainment expenses from the tax-deductible category. The working life of most writers develops through social contact, and this is inevitably expensive. I’m going to be about a thousand dollars short this year as a result of this change in the tax regulations, and I’m not a ‘creative agency’ copywriter with a Porsche and a lunch account.


10. CONTACT SPORTS. In addition to all the above, and despite Mr Keating (the Australian Prime Minister at that time), I kept up my literary social contacts. During the year I met and talked writing with: (in no particular order)


David Kelly, Hilary McPhee, Tom Shapcott, Judith Rodriguez, Martin Johnston, Roseanne Bonney, John Forbes, Michael Heyward, Peter Craven, Kirsten Garrett, Allie and Axel Clark, Richard Stern, Andrew McDonald, Jean Bedford, Mark O’Connor (the real Mark O’Connor), Robert Adamson, Laurie Duggan, Rudi Krausmann, Michael Driscoll, Leni Spencer, Angela Wales, George Alexander, Barry Oakley, Raymond Carver, John Scott, Drusilla Modjeska, Peter Porter, Patrick Alexander, Dorothy Hewett, Rae Desmond Jones, Nigel Roberts, Phillip Hammial, Andrew Taylor, Arnie Goldman, Susan Hampton, Sasha Soldatow, Edwin Thumboo (Singapore), Geoff Lehmann, Carl Harrison-Ford, Lindsay Sharpe, Peter Root, Adam Aitken, Pamela Brown, Amanda Stewart, Carol Christie, Joanne Burns, Brian Kiernan, Galway Kinnell, Dipti Sara, Gig Ryan, Pat and Livio Dobrez, Rose Creswell, Geoffrey Dutton.



January: Melbourne: visit Scripsi and Meanjin editors, Kris Hemensley, McPhee-Gribble publishers, poets Laurie Duggan and Alan Wearne and others.


January: visit Canberra


20 Jan: Glebe Books annual party


23 Jan: lunch with Renate Metraux, Lufthansa representative in Sydney, to discuss my poem ‘Lufthansa’.


16 February: poetry reading, The Print Source, Oxford Street, Paddington/Darlinghurst


12 March: 2JJJ book launch at the ABC offices


14 March: meet American author Raymond Carver, with others, for lunch


16 March: meet Canadian poets George and Marilyn Bowering and Robert Bringhurst (later the author of the amazing book on typography, The Elements of Typographic Style)


2 April: leave for reading tour of USA and Canada; see separate report attached


14 May: return from USA


28 May: read and discuss my poetry to class of engineering students at NSWIT


2 June: read, Free Speech Committee benefit, the Stables


4 June: attend launch by Minister Barry Cohen at Barry Stern Galleries of ‘Josephs Coat’ anthology


6 June: attend ABC Radio studios to sit in on production of my prose piece ‘The Subtitles’


9 June: discussion with Edwin Thumboo, Dean of Arts and Professor of English at Singapore National Uni


11 June: discussion with John Moffat, Norton publishers


Ditto: attend Poets Union meeting


15 June: attend poetry book launching: Laurie Duggan’s The Great Divide and Martin Johnston’s ‘The Typewriter Considered as a Bee-Trap’ at the Courthouse Hotel, Newtown


18 June: attend launch of Bobbin Up by Dorothy Hewett


5 July: attend Poets Union reading at Performance Space


9 July: record talk in ABC studios about my poem ‘Butterfly
’ for ABC Education Department


1 August: lunch with Lindsay Sharpe, director of the Power House Museum, and the project director, Peter Root: discuss Sydney Writers Centre possible activities in collaboration with the Museum


6 August: lunch with Bob Debus, Minister for Finance and Employment and Minister Assisting the Minister for the Arts (Mr Wran), with a view to persuading the State Government to set up a Sydney Writers Centre


6 August: watch ABC-TV A Big Country showing a poet writing underwater with a special pen; note the importance of this process for writers working in marine national parks


7 August: attend reading by American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carolyn Kizer at NSWIT


8 August: attend launching: the last issue of Aspect magazine at the Performance Space


16 August: attend poetry reading at the Gung Ho Community Centre (so named after a motto of Chairman Mao’s made famous in the eponymous 1943 Randolph Scott war movie)


5 to 31 August: attend ASAL Association for the Study of Australian Literature at Armidale University; attend sessions, read poems, etc.


11 September: lunch and poetry reading at Sydney University with American poet Galway Kinnell and others


14 September: attend poetry book launching at Erskineville Hotel: Mark Roberts, Les Wicks


16 September to 15 November: undertake Writer-in-Residence at Macquarie University — see report attached


18 September: read my work at NSW Institute of Technology


19 September: meeting at my place to discuss Sydney Writers Centre; about eight people


20 September: German author Wolfgang Ebert to dinner, and later attend poetry reading at Gung Ho Community Centre


22 September: Pat and Livio Dobrez from ANU call to discuss Michael Dransfield, his life and works


26 September: discussion with Denise Yates and Ken Methold about the Sydney Writers Centre


29 September: meeting at my place; about eight people, discuss Sydney Writers Centre planning; see attached notes


13 October: my wife Lyn leaves for the USA, managing a team of four poets on a 16-venue reading tour of North America


18 October: attend poetry reading at the Gung Ho centre


27 October: read, Courthouse Hotel; the last Gung Ho reading


11 November: meeting with Mrs Leni Spencer, Executive Director of Poets’ House in New York; discuss Sydney Writers Centre, her connections with the Maison de la Poesie in Paris, etc.


20 November: my wife Lyn returns today; meeting — Lyn, Leni Spencer, and Tom Shapcott


28 November: dinner with Judy Brett, editor of Meanjin, and Anna Rutherford, editor of Kunapipi.


26 December: visit Melbourne, Paul Foss, Michael Heyward, Peter Craven, Penny Hueston, Laurie Duggan, Robert Kenny, Kris Hemensley, Jim Davidson, etc.


LIST OF POEMS WRITTEN DURING 1985 — Copies of poems attached (* = published, or accepted for publication)


* A Big Country AUSTRALIAN
Three Epigrams
The Latin Motto
Lingua Franca NEW POETRY?
* On Looking Into The American Anthology KUNAPIPI
* Niche
South Coast After Rain, 1960 The Uniform
* Sex Chemistry — a group of 22 poems (for SCRIPSI)
1. Childhood
2. Boarding School
3. Papyrus
4. After the Dance
5. Party Line
6. Haberdashery
7. Spin the Bottle
8. Three Hand-coloured Photographs
9. At the Newcastle
10. The Little Engine
11. Sonnet: Country Music
12. Affairs of the Heart
13. Delirium
14. Trolley
15. Life Class
16. Khaki
17. Modern Art
18. Malaya, 1926
19. La Pulqueria
20. Hack Writer
21. California Poppies