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The Floor of Heaven has been a prescribed text for the New South Wales Higher School Certificate English Extension 1 course in various years. This module requires students to investigate, explore and evaluate the ways in which language shapes and reflects culture and values. Here are some questions that a reader might want to ask:
Q: Is the confusion about who is narrating each section of the poem meant to convey anything about how gender is shaped and reflected by language?
JT: Partly so. Though I got the idea for those unreliable narrators and the dream-within-a-dream shape from Luis Buñuel’s 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie.
Q: Are you challenging and blurring gender conventions and other assumptions about the sex of the narrator especially for example, at the end of Rain Part 3?
JT: As I began to write the last part of Rain, I had in mind that the narrator was a man — as I am, and as narrators often are in books and movies. But of course this assumption of who is telling which story can be questioned. I hope the complexities of the poem’s shifting roles might come as a pleasant surprise, and encourage the reader to query assumptions like that.
Q: Who is the narrator? Why is the identity of the narrator sometimes doubtful or obscure?
JT: There are different narrators for each of the poems. I like my readers to feel that they “own” the poems, that they can decide what the poem means at a deep level. A person’s dreams usually have a strong feeling of meaningfulness: they seem to mean something important, if only we could work out what it is. But when you have a dream, who is “narrating” the dream? It can’t be “you”, or you’d know exactly what the dream means, and you hardly ever do. The poems are meant to work a little like that.
These links may be useful for background research for The Floor of Heaven:
A review of the book:
A detailed critical analysis by Kate Lilley:
Textual Relations: John Tranter’s The Floor of Heaven. This piece was first published in Southerly magazine, Sydney, Volume 60, Number 2, September 2000. It is 3,200 words or about ten printed pages long.
A review of Kate Lilley’s critical analysis in Southerly Volume 60, Number 2, 2000. pp. 208. ISBN 1 875684 433
‘…as the thematics of desire, speaking and writing, are articulated in Kate Lilley’s study of John Tranter’s The Floor of Heaven. Moving through Shakespearean references (Merchant of Venice) and the politics of gendered voices, Tranter, in Lilley’s view, opts not for “the version of impersonality associated with language poetry but a feminized rhetoric of character, talk and affect which is ‘thick inlaid,’ and which recognizes, as a consequence of its critique, the necessity of rewriting and rereading classic homosocial narrative and compulsory heterosexuality” (110). Committed political statements such as this are rare…’
Kate Lilley interviews John Tranter:
An interview with John Kinsella which mentions the book several times:
A long discussion (in an MA thesis) of many poems including The Floor of Heaven (This is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format):
Katherine Furgol: Dwelling on The Floor of Heaven: An Analysis of John Tranter’s Verse Novel — B.A. Thesis by Katherine Furgol for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2006.
Some of my own notes to the poem ‘Breathless’, one of the four poems in the book, as it appeared in my book Urban Myths in 2006:
This poem is one of four similar long narrative poems – epyllia, really – in The Floor of Heaven, published in 1992 and set on the NSW school syllabus at various times under the general topic of ‘gender relations’. The book was widely reviewed; at least two female reviewers objected to its supposed masculine tone, and one gave away the ending.
Line 5 (in the version of the poem in Urban Myths): Florenzini’s] Among the dreary wowser wasteland of Sydney in the late 1950s and early 1960s there was one oasis of bohemian good cheer, cheap spaghetti and plentiful red wine: a coffee lounge in Elizabeth Street near Hunter Street called Lorenzini’s. It later moved to William Street near King’s Cross, and later (late 1960s, I think) closed. The Newcastle Hotel in George Street Sydney near Circular Quay was another gathering place for artists, journalists and others; it closed in the early 1970s and the Qantas building now occupies the site. A detailed description of it is given in chapter ten of Martin Johnston’s novel Cicada Gambit (Hale & Iremonger, GPO Box 2552, Sydney NSW 2001) where it is disguised as the Wessex Hotel. The walls were covered with bad student paintings for sale. These two places (plus a few others) are blended into Florenzini’s.
Line 479: some insurance executive from New Haven] In 1916 the poet Wallace Stevens joined the home office of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity and left New York City to live in Hartford, where he would remain the rest of his life. By 1934, he had been named Vice President of his company. One of his poems is titled ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ (1950).
Line 692: The Harbour flows always to the East] the poem which Mr Lee recites is a loose (and indeed rather clumsy) translation of the first and last stanzas of ‘Meditation at Red Cliff’, by Su Shih, the Sung Dynasty Chinese poet and scholar of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism whose literary name was Su Tung P’o, A.D. 1036–1101. A complete and more reliable version, translated by Yu Min-chuan, can be found in the anthology The White Pony, ed. Robert Payne, Mentor (The New American Library of World Literature), New York, 1960, page 266.
This link to two reviews of TFOH available for a fee from Australian Book Review via the State Library of NSW
Title: “Under the floorboards”
Author(s): Bird, Carmel, and Kenneally, Catherine
Source: Australian Book Review, 1992
Annotation: Two reviews of The Floor of Heaven which examine Tranter’s use of language in building narrative and creating images. The second review discusses Tranter’s poetic style; use of metre; rhythm and rhyme.
Similar to above:
Title: ‘Glimpsing heaven’;
Author(s): Nelson, Penelope;
Source: Quadrant, 1993:
Annotation: Discusses the four poems in The Floor of Heaven, the stories they tell and their primary themes. Key elements identified include: death, violence, the U.S., sex, love and art. Purchase details: Item No.: 0321; Pages: 2; Price: $3.00; + GST = $3.30
Finally, a PDF file of the first two poems in the book The Floor of Heaven. This file is free to read in its entirety.
The two other poems, ‘Breathless and ‘Rain’, are only available in the printed version of the book, available from the distributor, the University of Queensland Press at http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/.
Printed copies of this book can be purchased from the publisher’s website:
or from the University of Queensland Bookshop mail order department: phone (617+) 3346 9434, fax (617+) 3365 1988 and email at
The book can also be purchased on the internet:
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