John Tranter: Feints, Apparitions and Mode of Locomotion: The Influence of Anxiety in the Poetry of John Tranter.
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A 94-page paper prepared for the Monash University Poetry and the Trace International Conference held at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, from 13 to 16 July 2008.
Paragraph 1 follows:
The topic of my talk today is a particular thread that runs through the poetry of John Tranter. Why choose this author? Well, I happen to know the work fairly well. Also, I have spent the last year or two working on a doctoral thesis for the University of Wollongong which — in a happy coincidence — looks at the traces of other writers’ work as they emerge, fractured and distorted, in John Tranter’s more experimental poetry. Two works that bracket this paper are T.S. Eliot’s influential essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (first published in 1919), and Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence, 1997.
For decades now John Tranter has been stealing other people’s poems and doing things to them: translating them, mistranslating them, rewriting them, poking them with a stick, traducing them, eviscerating them, pissing on them, and then publishing them and calling them his own. It’s about time people knew what he has been up to while our backs were turned. This paper spills the beans, stirs in some chilli powder, heats them up and presents them for your enjoyment.
Most of the poems discussed are available in Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected, (UQP, 2006) by John Tranter. The rest are provided in this paper, and also in a PDF version available on my Main Site homepage, at http://johntranter.com/
A bad start, 1963: Stealing A.D. Hope’s rhymes
When I was twenty I wrote a poem that answered A.D. Hope’s poem Australia, using some of Hope’s 28 rhymes, changing the rhyme scheme from abba to abab, using and abusing many of Hope’s metaphors, and filling in the rest of the poem with my own dismissive and contemptuous words. I disagreed angrily with Hope’s poem, perhaps because he was old and I was young, perhaps because he was a successful academic and I was, at that time, a failed one, but I can’t remember now exactly what I was exercised about.
My poem has some of the iconoclastic flavour of the times, a good example of which is Allen Ginsberg’s notorious 1959 jibe (Ginsberg 414–18 ) at academic poets:
I wasn’t as firm as Mr Ginsberg — no references to anal rape in my poem, thank you — but I could have been kinder to Alec Hope, a poet born, as I had been, in the Southern Highlands town of Cooma. Decades later, in his old age, a courteous Alec Hope kindly cooked a lovely dinner for my wife and me — avocado vinaigrette, roast chicken, dessert — and we shared a bottle of whisky.
Here’s A.D. Hope’s poem.
In the field uniform of modern wars,
Darkens her hills, those endless, outstretched paws
Of Sphinx demolished or stone lion worn away.
They call her a young country, but they lie:
She is the last of lands, the emptiest,
A woman beyond her change of life, a breast
Still tender but within the womb is dry.
Without songs, architecture, history:
The emotions and superstitions of younger lands,
Her rivers of water drown among inland sands,
The river of her immense stupidity
Floods her monotonous tribes from Cairns to Perth.
In them at last the ultimate men arrive
Whose boast is not: ‘we live’ but ‘we survive’,
A type who will inhabit the dying earth.
And her five cities, like five teeming sores,
Each drains her: a vast parasite robber-state
Where second-hand Europeans pullulate
Timidly on the edge of alien shores.
Yet there are some like me turn gladly home
From the lush jungle of modem thought, to find
The Arabian desert of the human mind,
Hoping, if still from the deserts the prophets come,
Such savage and scarlet as no green hills dare
Springs in that waste, some spirit which escapes
The learned doubt, the chatter of cultured apes
Which is called civilization over there.
And here is my rather confused rejoinder: [See endnote 1]
Concerned only with inter-faculty wars,
Darkens her Sphinx-like hills, which oft a hack
Contrives to use in worn-out metaphors.
They call her an old country, but they talk
Through their academic rectums — she is but
A woman having her periods, her walk
Bandy legg’d, a kangaroo in rut.
With top-forty songs and second-hand
Pseudo-Gothic buildings, and the coy cupidity
Of amateur poets burbling of sunburnt sand,
The swamps of her immense stupidity
Flood her monotonous poets from head to feet.
In them at last the dreary men arrive
Whose cry is not ‘create!’ but ‘we repeat!’,
Whose verse is often less than half-alive.
And her universities, like steaming sores,
Where ageing poetasters tread the boards,
Where a second-hand professor bores
His audience, which dutifully applauds.
Yes, some like you turn timidly back to find
In the rotting jungle of traditional thought
Your little patch of desert for your mind
To safely dream away, and come to naught.
No learned doubt, your fixed preoccupation
With the Great Australian Cliché, with the Capes
And Deserts of the New Vogue affectation
Of cultured and reactionary apes.
Replacing the metaphor:
‘An Absolutely Extraordinary Recital’
Les Murray’s poem ‘An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow’ has two secrets. First, it is not really about a man crying in Martin Place. Second, it is not quite as original as it looks. To take the first point first, this is what the poem is really about. [Note 2]
the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
at Tattersals, men look up from their sheet of numbers,
the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There’s a fellow reciting Les Murray’s poems
in Martin Plaza. They can’t stop him.
The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There’s a fellow reciting Les Murray’s poems
down there. No one can stop him.
The man we surround, the man no one approaches
simply recites, and does not cover it, reads aloud
not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
rhyme very emphatically — yet the dignity of his reading
holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
in the midday light, in his pentagram of poetry,
and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to stop him reciting
stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
longing for the effects of Les Murray’s poetry
as children for a rainbow.
Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
of force stood around him. There is no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
the toughest reserve, the slickest intellectual amongst us
trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
positive judgements. Some in the concourse scream
who thought themselves satisfied with Mark O’Connor.
Only the smallest children
and such as look out of Paradise come near him
and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.
Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit —
and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
and shake as she receives the gift of Les’s verse;
as many as follow her also receive it
and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
but the man performing Les Murray’s poetry,
like the earth, requires nothing,
the man who recites ignores us, and cries out
of his writhen face and ordinary body
not words, but verse; not messages, but poetry
hard as the earth, sheer, voluminous as the sea —
and when he stops, he simply walks between us
mopping his face with the dignity of one
man who has read aloud Les Murray’s wonderful poetry,
and now has finished his recital.
Evading autograph hounds, he hurries off down Pitt Street.
‘An Absolutely Extraordinary Recital’ is of course an interpretation of ‘An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow’, a poem by Les Murray (Murray 28), the ostensible subject of which — a man who weeps without apparent reason, causing onlookers to wonder why — is unique in Australian poetry. It is not unique in modern poetry, however. More than a decade before Les Murray published this poem, the Greek poet George Seferis (Giorgos Seferiadis) published a poem titled ‘Narration’ with an oddly similar unusual central event. Here is his poem.
That man walks along weeping
no one knows why
sometimes they think he’s weeping for lost loves
like those that torture us so much
on summer beaches with the gramophones.
Other people go about their business
endless paper, children growing up, women
He has two eyes like poppies
like cut spring poppies
and two trickles in the corners of his eyes.
He walks along the streets, never lies down
striding small squares on the earth’s back
instrument of a boundless pain
that’s finally lost all significance.
Some have heard him speak
to himself as he passed by
about mirrors broken years ago
about broken forms in the mirrors
that no one can ever put together again.
Others have heard him talk about sleep
images of horror on the threshold of sleep
faces unbearable in their tenderness.
We’ve grown used to him; he’s presentable and quiet
only that he walks along weeping continually
like willows on a riverbank you see from the train
as you wake uncomfortably some clouded dawn.
We’ve grown used to him; like everything else you’re used to
he doesn’t stand for anything
and I talk to you about him because I can’t find
anything that you’re not used to;
I pay my respects.
Unlike the Seferis poem [Note 3], Les Murray’s poem about a weeping man presents an optimistic quasi-religious epiphany, and is couched in quasi-religious language. It appeared in his volume The Weatherboard Cathedral in 1969. When it was reprinted in Alexander Craig’s 1970 anthology (craig 206-7) it had the words ‘Penarth, 1967’ appended, which implies that the poem was written in Wales during a trip to Europe that Les Murray made in 1967. While in Britain he may have seen the newly-released 1967 American edition of Seferis’s Collected Poems 1924–1955. The details, the verbal texture and the conclusion of Seferis’s poem ‘Narration’ are all quite unlike those of Les Murray’s poem, though the unusual central drama is interestingly similar.[Note 4]
Translation: Staking a claim: Callimachus and others
Robert Frost said that ‘poetry is what gets lost in translation’. On the other hand, a good translation can sometimes improve the original. Accidental harmonies and assonances and flashes of fortuitous alliteration often appear in the different language of the translated version. Whatever kind of work gets produced, a translation always involves modification and appropriation.
In 2000 and 2001, I lived in England for six months, in Jesus College, Cambridge, as a visiting scholar. While I was there I wrote a dozen poems which were loose translations — mistranslations, really — of poems by other writers. Basically I took the gist of a poem — by Callimachus, say, a writer who lived in ancient Alexandria more than two thousand years ago — and placed the events in a contemporary setting. I also touched up the background and improved the interior decoration. Here’s an epigram by Callimachus (Callimachus 166–7) , translated by A.W. Mair from the Greek, for the 1921 Loeb edition where it is numbered 44:
In my clumsy hands the work is three times as long, and titled ‘Harry’s Bar’, which you will find on page 222 of Urban Myths, along with nine other mistranslations.
Translation as Treason: ‘After Rilke’
The Italians have a saying: ‘Traduttore traditore’… a translator is a traitor. An extreme form of translation argues, disagrees with and betrays the values embodied in the original poem.
I’ve occasionally suspected that the poet Rainer Maria Rilke was a bullshit artist, so when I turned my attention to his Duino Elegies it was not out of kindness. The critic Marjorie Perloff, in an article in Jacket magazine (number 14) on the difficulties of translation, notes the opening of his First Duino Elegy, to wit:
This line has been translated into English literally dozens of times, she writes, but, as William Gass points out in his recent Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation, (Gass 57-58) none of the translations seem satisfactory. Here are a few examples:
A. J. Poulin (1977) — And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic orders?
Stephen Cohn (1989) — Who, if I cried out, would hear me — among the ranked Angels?
Gass (says Perloff) is very critical of these, but his own is (to her ear) no better:
As I was typesetting Marjorie’s article, I remembered reading something very similar recently. Indeed, I had typeset it. I found it in an earlier issue of Jacket magazine number 16, among a group of poems by Californian poet Rachel Loden. Her poem ‘My Angels, Their Pink Wings’ opens with these lines:
blink a powdered eyelid
among the angelic orders? The night sky
is indifferent and glittery with facts.
Well, if Rachel can do it, I can do it, I thought. My version of Rilke’s First Duino Elegy is titled ‘After Rilke’ (Tranter UM 214) and begins thus:
among the seven thousand starlets in Hollywood
would give a flying fuck? Or suppose some tired
studio executive, taken by my boyish beauty — no,
I’d suffocate. Charm is only makeup-deep,
I reckon, and staring in the mirror too long
can give you the horrors: that thing in the glass,
it doesn’t care…
Translation: Homophonomania: Mocking Mallarmé
There is another much simpler mode of translation, though it has the disadvantage of appearing to be deeply stupid. This is so-called ‘homophonic translation’. My poem ‘Desmond’s Coupé’ is a mainly homophonic mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 poem ‘Un coup de dés…’ (’A throw of the dice will never abolish chance…’)
A homophonic translation is of course not a translation at all: you simply try to find English words that sound like the poem spoken in the original language, in this case French. So in my travesty, Mallarmé’s phrase ‘sous une inclinaison plane désespérément’ becomes ‘Susan’s inclination was plainly desperate,’ and so forth. Naturally this is fun, and sometimes funny, which is a bonus.
Yet as a poet you want to write a good poem, not merely nonsense. And you want to create something that does glance off or comment on the various meanings of the original. So I have taken liberties, and sometimes translated a French phrase into its genuine English equivalent; and I’ve sometimes added or subtracted words or phrases.
Mallarmé is often taken very seriously, as indeed he seemed to take himself, and I hope my disrespectful pie in the face of his epoch-making poem restores some human balance to his relationship with his disciples and literary descendants.
And of course dealing with the work of an important poet like Mallarmé takes us into the realm of the anxiety of influence, as Harold Bloom labelled it: the need to learn from past masters without being overwhelmed by their mastery, and the need for any artist to clear the undergrowth of history to make room for her or his own new work. That uneasy mixture of respect and aggression colours my poem, which is printed as an appendix to this paper.[Note 5]
Before I leave this topic I should mention that the Australian poet Christopher Brennan wrote a parody of Mallarmé’s poem a few weeks after ‘Un coup de dés…’ was published in the May 1897 issue of the Paris journal Cosmopolis. Brennan’s poem was titled ’Musicopoematographiscope’, and it was published as a book by the Sydney firm of Hale and Iremonger in 1981. I reviewed that book in the Sydney Morning Herald of 9 January 1982.
Another Australian poet called Christopher, Chris Edwards, has published his own homophonic version of ‘Un coup de dés…’. His poem is prior to mine, and Chris encouraged me to finish my poem as a kind of friendly rival to his. His book A Fluke, a mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘Un coup de dés…’ with parallel French text, was first published in 2005 in a handsome edition by Monogene. ’A Fluke’ also appears in Jacket magazine number 29.
Machine Translation: Tom Haltwarden and Joy H. Breshan
These notes are from an article I wrote in 1990 which attempts to explain the text analysis algorithms employed by the computer program Brekdown. The odd spelling is a relic of the days of DOS computers, where filenames could only be eight letters long. What follows is a very brief summary; the complete article is available on my homepage, at <http://johntranter.com/prose/brekdown.shtml>
‘Brekdown’ is a text analysis and text generation program written in Turbo Pascal for IBM-compatible personal computers, devised in 1985.[Note 6]
What does it do?
First, Brekdown requires a typed text to work on. For example, you can feed it a few pages of a sermon on brotherly love, or a set of instructions for building a kayak, or a short story written in Italian, or whatever text you wish. Brekdown scans the text and counts the frequency of letter-groups of a particular “chunk” size — this can be set form three to seven alphabetical and punctuation characters, including the spacebar. Brekdown keeps a record — in the form of an index and a frequency table — of which character occurs immediately after a particular ‘chunk’. Brekdown can generate a ‘reconstruction’ of that text based on the probabilities of the occurence of each character after a particular group of other characters.
The ‘style’ of a piece of writing can be described in virtually value-free terms by the frequency table generated by Brekdown. The likelihood of a particular character following another group of characters can be seen as a function of the language’s ‘personality’ as much as the writer’s ‘personality’.
Using the program nearly twenty years ago, I constructed two different texts in the ‘styles’ of two poets whose work I enjoy. First, I fed the machine some poetry by Matthew Arnold, then a dozen pages of John Ashbery. I tidied up and roughly lineated the resulting drafts.
The Matthew Arnold example was published as ‘What Mortal End’, by ‘Tom Haltwarden’, and the John Ashbery example as ‘Her Shy Banjo’ by ‘Joy H.Breshan’.
Both the poem titles and the bogus authors’ names are anagrams of ‘Matthew Arnold’ and ‘John Ashbery’ respectively, created by another Neil Rubenking program, ‘Namegram’.
Machine Translation: Different Hands
I also used the Brekdown program to provide the first rough drafts for what became seven experimental prose pieces, published in 1998 in a collection titled Different Hands.It’s difficult to explain, but Brekdown allows you to blend the styles of two different pieces of text, and can produce a fresh text with the blended characteristics of both. The piece titled ‘Howling Twins’, for example, blended Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’ with the first fifteen pages of The Bobbsey Twins on a Bicycle Trip;and ‘Neuromancing Miss Stein’ was made up from a blend of William Gibson’s science-fiction novel Neuromancer, and Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas.
That particular text is analysed in a detailed and luminously intelligent way in Philip Mead’s new book Networking Language (Mead 338–98).
Machine Translation: ‘The Malley Variations’
‘Ern Malley’ was a hoax poet concocted in 1943 by two conservative young Australian poets, Harold Stewart and James McAuley.[Note 7] I was born the year Malley died; a case of what James Joyce called ‘metempsychosis’, or the transmigration of souls, perhaps.[Note 8] Many poets of my generation looked to Ern Malley as a patron saint of experimental verse, and found his works more interesting than the serious poetry produced by the hoaxers.[Note 9] That hoax is analysed perceptively and at length in Networking Language (Mead 87–105).
Using the Brekdown computer program I mentioned earlier, I constructed ten votive verses written in or through the ‘voice’ of Ern Malley, speaking in turn through the voices of other writers, in a kind of double ventriloquy. I called the sequence of ten poems “The Malley Variations”, and they include:
‘The Urn of Loneliness’, Ern Malley and Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness.
‘Smaller Women’, Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
‘Under Tuscan Skies’, Ern Malley and E.M. Forster, Room With a View.
All the ten ‘Malley Variations’ can be found in Urban Myths (pp. 276–292).
Machine Translation: Listening to Mr Ashbery
And now for something entirely different. I am currently writing a book of poems as part of the doctoral thesis I mentioned earlier. [Which became the collection Starlight: 150 Poems, published by the University of Queensland Press in 2010. JT, 2014.] Part of that typescript is a group or sequence of poems titled ‘Electrical Disturbance: A dramatic interlude’. The sequence is laid out like a script for a radio play or feature for two voices. That’s a form that I am familiar with from my years as a radio play and features producer for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.[Note 10]
This text is based on parts of a radio program in which John Ashbery read some of his poems and spoke with John Tranter. The program was produced by me and broadcast on the ABC’s ‘Radio Helicon’ program in 1988.
Fast-forward two decades: an audio recording of the radio program was audited and translated by the Microsoft Windows speech-to-text function (as best it could, given that it had been trained to recognise an Australian, not an American, accent) and extensively rewritten by me over the next year or two. The are two speaking parts, ‘A’ and ‘B’. They do not have a one-to-one connection with the original vocal texts; the speech divisions occur more or less at random. More or less. The title comes from an early line of John Ashbery’s from his book Some Trees: ‘My child, I love any vast electrical disturbance.’ (Ashbery 20) The poem has been published in number 26 of New American Writing.[Note 11]
Machine Translation: Speaking French
Also part of my current thesis is a group or sequence of thirty-three poems derived from Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’, a group of 47 prose-poems which were not published during Rimbaud’s lifetime. The process was loosely similar to that of ‘Electrical Disturbance…’, but with an important difference. My motto: You can always take things just a little further.
In this case, Rimbaud’s prose-poems were read into the microphone by me, in French. Now the computer’s speech-recognition program had not been trained in French; that is, its dictionary consisted of only English words. Nonetheless it made valiant attempts to ‘make sense’ of the Australian-accented French it was given. And indeed some of the lines that resulted are quite reasonable: who could argue with the statement ‘No one wants an incontinent hostage’?
Here is one of the poems:
The kids should visit a history museum
in their senior year, to understand disgrace as
one form of Clinton’s victory. On the other hand
the European Community foreign debt gives
everybody bad dreams. So we do need to solve
the problem of students reading difficult things
that will lead them astray: why did Rimbaud
turn from socialism to capitalism? As if
it matters. We’d be delighted to have his uniform.
The name from the dish multiplies twenty black men.
We want to see all the modern art stuff, too.
Thank you. Press the button marked ‘monument’
and see what happens: a recorded voice says
‘I have wasted my life’, and we pay to listen.
Trimming the fat: Five Quartets
Four Quartets, a book consisting of a group of four related poems by T.S. Eliot, was published in 1942. Their titles are ‘Burnt Norton’, ‘East Coker’, ‘The Dry Salvages’, and ‘Little Gidding’. Apparently Eliot considered Four Quartets to be his masterpiece, which gives you some idea how important an editor — or the absence of an editor — can be. Valerie Eliot notes that in January 1922 Eliot ‘returned to London, after spending a few days in Paris, where he submitted the manuscript of ‘The Waste Land’ to Pound’s maieutic skill.’ (Facsimile Introduction xxii) Ezra Pound had admired the poem, but edited the manuscript ruthlessly. At one point T.S. Eliot had meant to title the first part of the poem ‘He Do the Police in Different Voices’, a thought that didn’t survive into the printed version. (Facsimile 4) Where Eliot had written on page 3 of the typescript ‘And perhaps a weekend at the Metropole’, Pound scrawled in the margin ‘dam per’apsez’ (31), and where Eliot had written on page 4 ‘Perhaps his inclinations touch the stage’, Pound had admonished him thus: ‘Perhaps be damned’. (45) But alas, Pound was not in England in the 1930s to rescue ‘Four Quartets’. Here’s the beginning of Eliot’s poem sequence:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present …
I had the feeling that ‘Four Quartets’ was far too overgrown — at nearly a thousand lines — and much too stodgy, and set about fixing both those deficiencies, as best I could, by pruning the poem severely. In my version — titled ’Five Quartets’ — the poem runs to 75 lines, and is printed as an appendix to this paper.
Trimming the fat: The Tempest and Blackout
I had always wanted to ‘do something’ with Shakespeare’s The Tempest. My first brush with it was not as a stage play, but as science-fiction, when I was thirteen: the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet was loosely based on The Tempest — it starred Leslie Neilsen as a spaceship captain with a helmet of beautifully Brylcreemed hair, Robbie The Robot, and others — all mixed in with a good dose of Sigmund Freud, and a lot of business with ray guns and invisible monsters from the Id.
Eventually I borrowed — all right, eventually I stole an idea from the New York poet Ted Berrigan. He had bought a second-hand western novel (western as in cowboy) and, using the typewriter eraser ‘White-Out’, had obliterated most of the words, leaving a strange and fragmented narrative he called Clear the Range.[Note 12] Using a computer, I did the same to The Tempest, and called mine (of course) Blackout.
The quaint diction made Blackout feel a little odd, so I added fragments from two more contemporary pieces of fiction: a chapter from Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’, and the article ‘Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream’ by Joan Didion. Blackout as it now stands consists of The Tempest and those other two texts, with most of the words removed, and the remaining words and phrases interleaved, though in the same order as they appear in the original texts. A selection from Blackout appears in Urban Myths (pp. 180–85)
Acrostics and Double Acrostics
Poetry and acrostics seem a good fit: Lewis Carroll addressed a number of acrostic occasional verses to the young girls of his acquaintance, and Gwen Harwood’s wicked acrostic poem published in the Sydney weekly the Bulletin decades ago is notorious in Australia.
Of course, part of the pleasure in writing an acrostic poem is the knowledge that hardly any readers of the poem will notice the message concealed within it. This is of course a simple-minded pleasure, and a simple acrostic is not that difficult to construct.
I was asked to write a poem for a booklet of poems to be presented at the 2000 Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry (Cambridge U.K.) by its editor, Drew Milne. He had asked for a love lyric for the poet Mina Loy, so I took that as my starting point, and adopted the pen-name “Ethel Malley” for the exercise. Here’s the poem:
from Horace Horsecollar (on Mina Loy)
Eheu fugaces, sad to think how
Ecstatic angel can decline to wretch —
Neither mad nor bad, yes nor no,
Yet dangerous to know: how Patterson’s
‘Map of Tasmania’
Ever beckons the navigator is the nub
And lever of love and mania.
Now dick’s declension from hopeful to wretched
Is Richard’s ratchet’s angle of dwell.
Ever hungry, never sated, I
Muse on the message the Muse has set
Into love’s Pavlova — Miss Piggy’s treat.
Now bring home the bacon, lard it well
And ponder Percy’s porcine
Lucubrations, trace of my nib:
Oh how I love – alas, fleeting! – love you – O,
You wise and wicked little boy.
There are other things in this odd poem apart from acrostics: the pun on the name of the Roman poet Horace — Horace Horsecollar,[Note 13]. For those younger than I, Horace Horsecollar was a cartoon character from the 1930s, a horse, friend of Clarabelle Cow, as I recall. The Latin poet Horace of course being the author of the lament ‘eheu fugaces’ (’Alas, Fleeting’, in its English translation). Then there’s the mention of Sir Les Patterson’s metaphor for the female pudenda: ‘Map of Tasmania’, and so forth.
But the acrostics: the first letter of each line spells “Eeny Meanie Mina Loy”, and the last letter of each line spells “Who’s a bad little boy?”
A similar acrostic technique was used for a poem I wrote recently as part of my doctoral thesis already mentioned, also involving a double acrostic. It was much harder, because much longer, and it involved the French philosopher Jacques Lacan.
I have always liked Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo. One of my two poems about that movie is titled ‘Girl in Water’. The similarity of a mirror image to a portrait painting plays a vital role in the film, and betrays the heroine’s (that is, Kim Novak’s) secret double life; indeed the plot of the film is doubled: the main story happens twice: the first time as tragedy, the second time as tragedy.
In my double acrostic, one message mirrors the other. That’s Lacan for you: mirrors everywhere. I won’t read from it here: it is simply too weird, and too long. It appears in Urban Myths (pp. 315–6).
The US poet, editor and critic Brian Henry has studied and summarised a technique I have often used; as I confessed earlier, the habit began forty-five years ago, in 1963, when I stole some of Alec Hope’s rhymes. Not all poets rhyme.[Note 14] In the case of poets who incline to blank verse, or free verse (which is blank verse without metre) I steal the last word or two of each line, and call the process ‘terminals’.
I introduced John Ashbery’s reading at the University of Sydney in September 1992 [Note 15]. One of the poems he read was the double sestina from his book Flow Chart. In his preamble to the poem he confessed — admitted — stated — that his double sestina uses the end-words of another double sestina, that of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s ‘The Complaint of Lisa’ (1870). Sestinas are of course based on a string of repeated and rearranged end-words, not on rhyme or on any particular metrical shape. Extend the idea to other kinds of poems — you can always take things just a little further — and you have the “terminal”.
I have written nearly a dozen poems in this mode, stealing end-words from Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden, Barbara Guest, John Keats, Frank O’Hara, Banjo Paterson and others. Brian Henry says, inter alia:
I lack the time to read out all of Brian Henry’s excellent paper, but it can be found on the internet here.
Replacing the Chicken in the Sandwich: The Anaglyph
A year or two ago the magazine The Modern Review, based in Toronto, Canada, sent me a request: ‘We are attempting,’ they wrote, ‘to assemble a group of critically interested writers / [and] readers to respond to John Ashbery’s poem ‘Clepsydra’, by means of a critical essay, poem, personal response, etc. The author is in complete control of response type, content, and length.’
Now John Ashbery’s poem ‘Clepsydra’ is a very strange poem. It’s title is unusual — a clepsydra (‘water-stealer’) is a kind of water-driven clock used by the ancient Greeks [Note 16] — and the poem’s method is odd, too. It is also very long: 253 lines long, to be precise: nearly a dozen pages. It was written in 1965 and first collected in book form in the 1977 volume Rivers and Mountains. After wrestling with it for a while, I felt that it needed demolishing and rebuilding, and — with Mr Ashbery’s permission — that is what I did.
I took the last word of two of each line from ‘Clepsydra’, as with my earlier experiments with terminals, and also the first word or two from each line. Thus each line of my reworked poem had its beginning and ending given to me; my task was to replace the meat in the sandwich, as it were:to turn a cold chicken salad into a hot pastrami and pickle sandwich. So my poem is a reinvented, perhaps flawed, or perhaps improved, version of that master poem, which is here reduced to the status of mere ancestor, model, maquette, or template.
My poem — titled ‘The Anaglyph’ — is partly about its own process — that is, the deconstructing and reconstructing of a poem, and it is also about my relationship as a developing poet with John Ashbery as a person (we have been friends for more than twenty years) and with his poetry, which is a different matter.
The word ‘blazon’ gives us a clue to one of the poem’s effects (‘Deep within its complex innards a purple jewel / Exists as a blazon, rotating slowly…). In the essay on John Ashbery in his remarkable study of forty-one US poets Alone With America, Richard Howard points out that Ashbery often buries a small ‘blazon’ in his poems, and quotes André Gide: ‘I like discovering in a work of art… transposed to the scale of the characters, the very subject of that work… Thus in certain paintings… a tiny dark convex mirror reflects the interior of the room where the scene painted occurs… the comparison with that method in heraldry which consists of putting a second blazon in the center of the first, en abyme.’ (pp.19–20) That is, inside the poem is a reduced diagram of the poem itself, ‘a tiny mirror for the plot, or maybe narrative’, as Tranter says, referring to just this device, in his 1976 poem ‘The Alphabet Murders’. Can that really be thirty-two years ago? The buried presence of Ashbery’s poem — that is, the line-beginnings and line-endings from it — haunts ‘The Anaglyph’ as a kind of fragmented and half-buried blazon.
The title of the poem itself, ‘The Anaglyph’, is embodied in some of the poem’s ‘business’, for example in the line ‘their left and right perceptual fields, red and green’. This hints at the anaglyph’s dependence on binocular vision. An anaglyph is an image usually drawn or printed in red and bluish-green ink that, when viewed through spectacles containing one bluish-green lens and one red lens, presents a three-dimensional image. As such, an anaglyph is a binary image consisting of two superimposed and differently-coloured views of the same scene. Each version of the scene is perceived from a slightly different viewpoint.
‘The Anaglyph’ is printed elsewhere on this website.
Appendix 1: Desmond’s coupé
Desmond’s coupé is full of jam. He’s in a quandary:
a bean lance, or a dance of circumstances.
He’s eternally fond of his own naivety.
A swanky beam spells out a white
Susan’s inclination was
An ailment common in Siena
makes him think he’s dead and buried
or makes him realise he’s a bad dresser
on a plane, or in jail, but you don’t dress for jail
and people don’t wear a jacket on a plane any more.
Raise the bonds.
His three résumes — swallowed — he’s just
a shadow of his former self — fooey! — a deep violet colour,
or an alternative he’ll just have to adapt to
by the verge of the road.
Deep beans: his aunt has a rooster.
She’s getting battier every year,
a fish in one hand, a peach in the other.
The Master of Surges,
or so we infer.
In the flames we see the communist menace —
uniquely, they’ve got the numbers, no?
But they hesitate when the corpse waves its arms.
Pluto (not Mickey) wants to play,
oh, what a nut! Chained
at the party, a name for the horse floats,
an old horse works it out,
tapping his hoof on the floor, good trick,
but then forgetting how old he is
behind the jade barrier.
These pedals take you to an agreeable horizon,
You old git, free meals,
a bad smell on the dratted train —
now he’s heading for the air vents
in another carriage —
that’s the spirit — actually, a jet plane
would be quite a temptation.
You could re-employ a division of passing firemen.
The secret item on the menu,
the chef’s envy, even now
is cooling on the barbecue, or so you surmise.
Look straight at the homosexual:
nerveless, not very important, yet vain,
an old Hoover in his hand.
are found in the deli, useless for a téte-â-tète.
He takes a disprin and feels legless, then he
has another one, then he feels
ambiguous. His ulterior plans
and unforgettably demonic.
He feels nothing
for the empty countries, Alaska, let’s say,
home of the Inuit. This old idiot
had a chance to meet The Supremes, probably —
say, Louie, your son is some puerile hombre,
caressing a policeman and renting out a lavatory,
eating soup and getting vaguer —
a soup full of hard bones,
now he enters the aisle, bending his knee
like a bat flapping into the sea.
The old tenant reads Lowell [’s poem] against the sea,
a chance to ooze poetry —
financially speaking, that is — no, don’t —
a voile handkerchief is an illusion
as antsy as having a phantom for a guest
in the chancellery
but that won’t abolish folly
like this insinuating silence
or Dan’s squelchy high-voltage approach —
he’s simply rolling around and laughing ironically.
Ooo! — A mystery!
A billion turbots! Laughter and horror
with the author Jimmy Guiffre (on guitar),
but no junkies, please,
and that old berk verging on the index
like so, a lonely puff of smoke at Purdue —
so far, so good,
where recounting the effluent is the talk of the minute,
and it immobilises you.
A chiffon and velour coffee-coloured sombrero
for this stiff old white man
is derisory, an opposition horse seal,
rather tropical, the sombrero, quite unmarked,
exhumed, quite conkers,
the American prince who loves the cool,
he gives a little heroic cough.
Irresistible maize container!
Par for the course, but a pretty feeble reason to be acting virile
and like a foodie, maybe the ulcers explain his puberty
or mute his loose and bossy vinaigrette
(invisible from the front)
sparkling with umbrage,
with the stature of a shadowy filet mignon
and with the torsion of a siren
impatient at squeamish ultimatums.
A rare, yes, and vertiginous debut.
Time to snaffle
a bifurcated soufflé,
thinks the old bird.
His manner is rather false.
All up, with a toilet next to the bedroom,
impose an unborn infinite state
issuing from the stars — que sera, sera —
a pyre doesn’t disadvantage the minors,
they’re indifferent to the mutants,
that is, to the number of mutants that exist
apart from those agonising, sparse
hallucinations of mutants which start when they stop
and never seem to close, apparently, with an infant.
The park elk and his profusion of expandable rarities —
see, then the chief rat is ill —
evidence that the Battle of the Somme, for one of us at least
was a poor thing, though somehow illuminating
and written up in Hansard.
Choose a pen.
A left-hand drive car with a rhythmic suspension
that levels itself, an ox and some original scum,
no more wars, a delirious sound and just one crime
fleeing without identifying Jimmy Guiffre’s true neutrality.
Rein in a memorable crisis
as you see fit.
Your venomous accomplice can view the results: nothing!
Nothing human, that is.
In lieu of an aura of elevation,
the absence of ordinary verse.
In the loo, an inferior kind of clap
is likely to disperse and conquer
those who act in a poor video.
Abruptly key the synonym.
Parson, men’s songs are fond of perdition.
A dance, in the garage full of vague parables,
and which reality is dissolved?
Except where the altitude peters out
and an Aussie’s loins are right on.
A few swans, a vector dealer and
a horse of interest —
and a quantity of signals in general sell on,
tell obliquities, part Elle’s declivities —
the furs, poems, see what theatre
a septuagenarian from the far north of Australia
see in the stars — freezing, oblique and full of suet —
pass the aunt —
a killer from Noumea —
and this vacant surface is superior
to any successive hurt.
Side-rail was meant —
done, counted, totalled information
and a veiled ant, doubts, the rolls…
brilliantly meditating before the ratter
whose pointed bum is sacred —
and all the pensioners met Des and his coupé.
Appendix 2: Five Quartets
All might have been speculation.
What might have been opened?
I do not inhabit the garden.
There they were dignified, invisible,
over the dead bird, in response to
the flowers that are our guests,
in the drained pool.
Dry water, bird children,
garlic and mud in the blood
dance along the sodden floor.
Below, the practical Erhebung without
elimination, its partial ecstasy,
its horror. Yet the body cannot
allow a little dim light: neither
rotation nor strained fancies
with no men. Bits of wind in unwholesome
eructation, the torpid gloomy hills of Putney,
twittering into inoperancy and the other.
Abstention from its metalled bell
carries the cling wing.
Words move the Chinese violin, while
the words between the foliage
waste a factory, or a by-pass.
There is a time for the wind to break
and to shake the field-mouse with a silent motto.
You lean against a van
and the deep village, the sultry dahlias,
wait for the early pipe.
And the little man and woman
round and round the fire
leaping through the laughter
lifting the milking and the coupling
of man and woman of dung and wrinkles.
I am here in heat, and writhing high
into grey roses filled with thunder.
The rolling cars weep and hunt the ice.
That was not very worn-out.
Poetical fashion, wrestle with poetry.
Calm and wisdom deceived us, the dead secrets
into which they turned their every moment
and shocking monsters, fancy old men,
can hope to acquire houses under the Stock Exchange.
The Directory of cold lost the funeral.
I said to the dark, the lights are hollow,
with a bold rolled train in the tube
and the conversation fades into the mental ether,
the mind is in the garden, pointing and repeating
‘There is no ecstasy!’ The wounded steel,
the fever chart, is the disease,
the dying nurse our hospital.
The millionaire ascends from feet to mental wires.
I must quake in our only drink, blood.
Trying to use a failure, because one has
shabby equipment in the mess of emotion,
and to conquer men, is no competition.
Home is older, stranger, intense.
But the old lamplight is nearly here,
with the explorers.
I think that the patient is forgotten.
Men choose the machine, but the nursery bedroom
in the winter gaslight is within us,
also, the algae and the dead men.
The sea has the water,
the groaner and the women.
Where is there an end of it?
Where is the end of the wastage?
We have to think of them,
while the money is ineffable:
we appreciate the agony of others,
covered by dead negroes.
Ashbery, John. Flow Chart: A Poem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
Ashbery, John. Some Trees. New York: Corinth Books, 1970. First published by Yale University Press as volume 52 in the Yale Series of Younger Poets, 1956. The quoted line is from the poem ‘A Boy’, page 20 in the Corinth edition.
Berrigan, Ted. Clear the Range. New York: Adventures in Poetry/Coach House South, 1977. An excerpt is available in Jacket magazine number 16 at <http://jacketmagazine.com/16/ah-ber1.html>
Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (2nd ed.) New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Brennan, Christopher. Musicopoematographoscope. Introduction by Axel Clark. Sydney, Australia: Hale and Iremonger, 1981.
Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921.
Craig, Alexander (Ed.). 12 Poets 1950–1970. Milton, Queensland: Jacaranda Press, 1970.
Didion, Joan. ‘Life Styles in the Golden Land: Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream’, in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Noonday Press, 1968. ‘Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream’ first appeared in 1961 in The Saturday Evening Post as ‘How Can I Tell There’s Nothing Left’.
Edwards, Chris. ‘A Fluke: a mistranslation into English of Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 poem ‘Un coup de dés…’ with parallel French text.’ In Jacket 29 (April 2006) at <http://jacketmagazine.com/29/fluke00intro.shtml>
Edwards, Chris. A Fluke: a mistranslation into English of Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 poem ‘Un coup de dés…’ with parallel French text. Thirroul: Monogene (PO Box 224, Thirroul NSW 2515, Australia: ISBN 0975138324.)
Eliot, T.S. Four Quartets. London : Faber, 1942.
Gass, William H. Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Ginsberg, Allen. ‘Notes for Howl and other poems’ (Fantasy 7006, 1959), reprinted in Allen, Donald (editor). The New American Poetry 1945–1960. New York: Grove Press, 1960, pp. 414–18.
Henry, Brian. ‘John Tranter ‘s New Form(alism): The Terminal’, Antipodes: A North American Journal of Australian Literature, June 2004, pp 36–43. It is reprinted as an appendix to this paper, with the footnotes that were absent in the Antipodes version.
Howard, Richard. ‘John Ashbery’. In Alone With America: The Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950. London: Thames and Hudson, 1970.
Loden, Rachel. ‘Two poems.’ Jacket 16 (March 2002) at <http://jacketmagazine.com/16/ov-lode.html>
Mallarmé, Stéphane. ‘Un coup de dés…’ (‘A throw of the dice will never abolish chance…’), Paris: Cosmopolis magazine, 1897. Mallarmé’s poem can be found at <http://www.mallarme.net/Coup_de_dés>
Mead, Philip. Networking Language. Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008.
Murray, Les A. (Leslie Allan). Collected Poems. Melbourne: Black Inc., 2006.
Perloff, Marjorie. ‘‘But isn’t the same at least the same?’: Translatability in Wittgenstein, Duchamp, and Jacques Roubaud.’ In Jacket 14 (July 2001) at ?<http://jacketmagazine.com/14/perl-witt.html>
Seferis, George. Collected Poems 1924–1955. Translated, edited and introduced by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967; London: Jonathan Cape, 1969.
Tranter, John. ‘Mr Rubenking’s Breakdown.’ Melbourne: Meanjin magazine (number 4, 1991). Republished in Virginia: _Postmodern Culture_ v.3 n.1 (September, 1992) at <http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/pmc/text-only/issue.992/pop-cult.992> PMC was one of the very earliest internet-only magazines.
Tranter, John. ‘Neuromancing Miss Stein’ Picador New Writing, 1995. Sydney: Picador, 1995. Republished in Urban Myths, pp.167–73.
Tranter, John. ‘The Anaglyph’. The Modern Review. Richmond Hill: The Modern Review, June 2007. Summer 2004. Volume II Issue 4. pp. 120–128.
Tranter, John. A note. Rhizome magazine: postgraduate research at the University of Wollongong. Number 1. Wollongong University Postgraduate Association, 2006. pp 12-13.
Tranter, John. Different Hands. North Fremantle (Australia): Folio/ Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1998. 80pp, paperback. ISBN 1863682414: PO Box 158, North Fremantle WA 6159, Australia.
Tranter, John. Studio Moon. Cambridge UK: Salt Publishing, 2003.
Tranter, John. The Alphabet Murders: Notes from a Work in Progress. Poets of the Month series. Sydney: Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1976.
Tranter, John. Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected. St. Lucia Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 2006.
Tymoczko, Maria. The Irish Ulysses. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1994 1994. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft5s200743/
Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.
 The poem, written circa 1963, is previously unpublished.
 The poem is previously unpublished.
 The theme that lies behind the Seferis poem may derive from the wars and occupations that have disfigured Europe, or the destruction of the city of Smyrna in 1922, or perhaps from the inevitability of loss and illness and death, and from the further fact that complaining about those such things becomes tedious to those who have perhaps endured enough, and don’t want to know about another’s suffering. In his novel Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky has his protagonist Raskolnikov complain that ‘Man can get used to anything — the beast!’ At the end of Seferis’s poem the narrator, speaking perhaps to the reader of the poem, employs a similar concept: ‘I talk to you about him because I can’t find anything that you’re not used to.’ There is a pervasive and very European disillusionment behind the poem.
 I have Edmund Keeley to thank for bringing the Seferis poem, and this similarity, to my attention.
 These notes on Mallarmé’s poem are based on my note published in Rhizome magazine.
 The program was created by the San Francisco programmer Neil J. Rubenking. It is based on an earlier Unix program called Travesty (another eight-letter title), by computer programmer Brian Hayes and literary critic the late Professor Hugh Kenner.
 Seventeen experimental poems in the manner of Dylan Thomas and Henry Treece were sent to Max Harris, the 22-year-old editor of Angry Penguins magazine, who published them all in a special issue in 1944, hailing the recently-dead young poet’s genius. Public exposure of the hoax embarrassed Harris, who was further humiliated when the police in his home town of Adelaide prosecuted him for publishing Malley’s ‘obscene’ verses. He was found guilty and fined. (You can read the entire 70-page transcript of that trial on the site of the Australian poetry library: <http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/>
 As Maria Tymoczko points out in The Irish Ulysses: “Metempsychosis, the word that reverberates through Ulysses like the thunderclap in Finnegans Wake, refers not only to the rebirth of Ulysses, Penelope, and Telemachus but also to the rebirth of Ireland’s avatars from The Book of Invasions: in Ulysses the types of Hebraic Milesian, Greek Tuatha De, and Spanish female reappear in contemporary Dublin. The motif of metempsychosis permits Joyce’s characters to represent simultaneously characters from the Odyssey, The Book of Invasions, Hamlet, and the other mythic schemes that Joyce has used partially or wholly in Ulysses; Bloom is at once Ulysses, Milesian, the Wandering Jew, and Hamlet’s father. In the repertory of mythic elements that Joyce uses in Ulysses, metempsychosis is in fact the mainspring; it coordinates and drives all the mythic systems of the book (Tymoczko 44).
 The public have agreed: Ern Malley’s oeuvre has been widely discussed and has remained in print in several different editions in the six decades since his death, while the poems of Stewart and McAuley are hard to find, and are now neglected by the young.
 In the 1970s Tranter produced (that is, edited and directed) some forty radio plays and features for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (it is now called a Corporation) as well as writing some original plays; in the 1980s he acted as executive producer of the national arts program Radio Helicon for two years, commissioning, supervising or producing over one hundred two-hour programs.
 New American Writing 26. Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover, Eds. OINK! Press, 369 Molino Ave, Mill Valley CA 94941, USA. 2008.
 Kit Robinson mentions this novel in a post to listserv.buffalo.edu: ‘Don’t forget Clear the Range, a western novel by Ted Berrigan, written using the cross-out method on a dime paperback. It’s hilarious, stately, and strange.’ 29 March 1995. Later (8 June 1999) Bob Perelman also on listserv.buffalo.edu mentions it: ‘I can’t remember if Ted Berrigan’s white-out novel, Clear the Range, has been mentioned. It’s a pure example of finding a text inside another.’
 Horace Horsecollar was created by Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney. Horace first appeared as Mickey’s plough horse in the cartoon The Plow Boy in 1929. He next appeared later that same year, in The Jazz Fool, and after that he became a regular member of the Disney supporting cast, along with Clarabelle Cow, Clara Cluck and others even more minor. Characterized as a cheerful know-it-all, Horace helped Mickey on his sleuthing expeditions in the comics before Goofy was created.
 You can’t blame them: Milton called the process ‘The ‘troublesome and modern bondage of Rhyming,’ and went on to say that rhyme was ‘no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame metre.’ (‘The Verse.’ Milton, Preface to Paradise Lost, 1668.)
 The reading was held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday 16 September 1992 in Room N395, Woolley Building , University of Sydney. The poet David Brooks was co-host.
 An ancient device for measuring time by the regulated flow of water or mercury through a small aperture. [1640–50; from L from Gk klepsýdra, equiv. to kleps- (klep-, s. of kléptein to steal, conceal + -s- formative in derivation) + hydra, deriv. of hýdr water] Random House Webster’s Unabridged Electronic Dictionary, 1996. Wikipedia adds: ‘While never reaching a level of accuracy comparable to today’s standards of timekeeping, the water clock was the most accurate and commonly used timekeeping device for millennia, until it was replaced by more accurate pendulum clocks in 17th-century Europe.’