Maybe Barbie should have gone to school in Australia

barbieMaybe Barbie should have gone to school in Australia:… Back in 2010, “Computer Engineer Barbie” was released… The book shows Barbie attempting to write a computer game. However, instead of writing the code, she enlists two boys to write the code as she just does the design. She then proceeds to infect her computer and her sister’s computer with a virus and must enlist the boys to fix that for her as well. In the end she takes all the credit, and proclaims “I guess I can be a computer engineer!” A blog post commenting on the book (as well as giving pictures of the book and its text) has been moved to Gizmodo due to high demand: at
And in Australia? “Teenage boys are often thought to be the geeks of the computer world. But a major international study released Thursday found Australian girls are more computer-literate than their male classmates. Year 8 students from Australia performed higher than students in almost all 21 education systems on the 2013 International Computer and Information Literacy Study – the only exception being the Czech Republic…” More at

Wordstar 4.0!!


Photo: Author George R. R. Martin

I’ve always admired Australian technical journalist Charles Wright for his incisive stories about computer software. This is a good one: later in the piece he talks about Scrivener and Aeon Timeline, programs I use every day:
“Novelist George R. R. Martin shocked a lot of readers a couple of weeks ago when he revealed to TV host Conan O’Brien that he does all his work on a 1980s MS-DOS computer, using a long-defunct word processor called Word Star 4.0.
“The thought that such a gripping, inconceivably dense, seven-novel epic as A Song of Ice and Fire (so far we’ve only seen the first five) could be hammered out on a long-discarded operating system and creaky, keyboard-oriented, command-line-driven software from the era of dot-matrix printers, completely insulated from the internet, was all but inconceivable to generations raised in the era of icons and touch-screens.” More at

JPR is growing

JPR 01 Contents: A descriptive list (JPR can be found here.

Early days yet: no articles, but so far the magazine is full of resources for your research into mid-twentieth-century Australian poetry:
Research Resources:

Warning: these resources reveal a strong gender bias typical of the period. See if you can guess what it is.

[Link:] Vivian Smith: Australian Poetry in the sixties: Some Mid-Century Notes. ‘What is most likely to strike the viewer of the Australian scene is the prevailing conservatism of most of the poetry written here.’ [Link:] Robert Kenny: Welcome Stranger: An Introduction to Applestealers — a collection of the New Poetry in Australia, 1974. ‘[T]he one quality that stands out when reading the bulk of Australian Poetry written prior to the sixties is an abnormal mediocrity’. [Link:] Kris Hemensley: The Beginnings — a note on La Mama (1973-74): ‘”Vietnam” was the shorthand for all that was ugly, evil and obsolescent in the world. The need for the new was felt by many people in every situation from the socio-political to the literary.’ Continue reading “JPR is growing”

Good girl!

PM is write-on

Sydney Morning Herald Letters, 27 May 2014

THERE ARE PRESSING ISSUES for the book industry. Ensuring book­sellers are competitive demands the imposition of GST on offshore online retailers. Fair remuneration for copyright creators and creat­ors across all platforms is imperat­ive if Australian writing is to con­tinue to flourish. However, captur­ing the attention of the govern­ment of the day is never easy for the cultural industries.

The announcement of the con­tinuation of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards is therefore wel­come (“Tony Abbott chooses con­servatives to judge the Prime Min­ister’s literary awards”,, May 24). Book people aren’t generally conservative in their voting preferences so credit is surely due to both the Prime Minis­ter and Minister for the Arts for attending the Australian book in­dustry’s “night of nights”. No shoes were thrown as the Prime Minister addressed the 400 attendees, nor were there mass walkouts as some­what breathlessly predicted.

If Tony Abbott’s legacy is to be known as the Prime Minister for Books, that can only benefit Aus­tralian writers and readers.

Louise Adler
President of the Australian Publishers Association,
Carlton (Vic)

James Phillip McAuley (12 October 1917 – 15 October 1976)


Photo: poet James McAuley and Catholic Cardinal Freeman, plotting the overthrow of Communism.
Cardinal Freeman: “Of course God will punish us sinners dreadfully…”
McAuley: “Yes, yes…”
Cardinal Freeman: “But of course not all of us. Those who regularly take confession, for example…”
McAuley: “Yes, yes…”
Cardinal Freeman: “Things will go much easier for them, at least we hope so…”
McAuley: “Yes, yes…”

Behind the cardboard clown figures of our recently-announced right-wing Prime Minister’s Literary Prize judges lurks the shadow of poet James McAuley, who founded Quadrant magazine in the 1950s. ‘The Magian Heresy’ is the title of an article by McAuley — one half of the 1943 hoax poet ‘Ern Malley’ — in Quadrant magazine in 1957. In it McAuley attempts to turn back the tide of the postmodern by insisting on a return to the literary values of ancient Rome, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where the presumptions of a disobedient mankind will be ‘corrected’ by a severe dressing-down from the gods:

“After modernity, what? One cannot escape the impression that poetic modernity, whose inmost impulse was the Magian Heresy, has come to an end. It does not seem possible to go further along this road when the futility of the enterprise has been so patently demonstrated. […] The beginning of recovery is to recognise that the magian ambition did not in fact bring poetry into a vaster domain but into a smaller and darker one.
“It is by lowering the transcendental pretensions of poetry that, strangely enough, its true greatness opens once more before us: we come out of the romantic-modernist labyrinth into the broad and high world of Virgil and Chaucer and Dante and Shakespeare, where the true proportions of things are recognised, and the presumption of man is corrected by the measures of the gods.” (McAuley 1957 70–71)

This cramped and punitive view of the varied energies of Romantic and Modernist poetry is dismaying to read. It was published a year after John Ashbery’s book Some Trees appeared in the United States. Twenty-three years later, McAuley’s mood had grown even darker:

“Yet it is an easy prophecy that our conservatism will not much longer prevent the emergence of black poetry, with its verbal violence, its formlessness, its antinomian and analogical frenzy, its pretence that all that is needed, to attain the realm of freedom and love ‘out there’, is to violate all decencies and tear down all conventions, and its secret winking inner light of wicked knowledge that ‘out there’ is neither freedom nor love but only one shelf of the vast hell of the egotists — the Poets’ Shelf, no doubt, though there may be room for some critics as well.” (McAuley 1970 62)

By ‘black poetry’ McAuley does not mean either Australian aboriginal or Afro-American poetry, but rather modern free verse, common since 1910 and widespread since about 1930.

The Blog is Dead.

A recent article by Kerryn Goldsworthy in «Australian Book Review» (May 2013) discusses the art of criticism: what use are book critics anyway? Kerryn is a former Editor of «ABR» (1986–87) and one of Australia’s most prolific and respected literary critics. She taught for almost two decades at the University of Melbourne. Towards the end of her thoughtful piece, she writes:

I found that posting at my blog, something I did at least and usually about once a week for more than five years and usually about books and writing… freed up the mind in new and unanticipated ways.”

I too started a blog (I prefer the word “journal” for obvious reasons) a year ago. I was in New York recently, talking to Charles Bernstein, who said that Facebook was the way to reach people. Blogs were dead; no one looked at them any more. Gulp.

I immediately talked to a bright young person (much younger and brighter than myself), a woman who has French and Latin and who slogged through ten years at an American university founded before the American Revolution to earn a PhD. The topic? Early modern English poetry, specifically Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” — hundreds of pages of rhyming poetry. She and her husband own several computing devices between them. What did she think? Should I open a Facebook account and sell my soul to Mark Zuckerberg? Surely not!

“Of course,” she said. “I used to read blogs, years ago, but not any more. Everyone’s on Facebook now.”

Maybe I can use the little snippets of brain food that Facebook denizens thrive on to lure readers to my longer, more thoughtful Journal pieces… no?

Difficult Rider

easy-riderJohn Tranter comments on David Malouf’s review of the movie «Easy Rider» This Letter to the Editor first appeared in The «Union Recorder»: The weekly newspaper of the University of Sydney Men’s Union: 28 April 1970. I was in my twenties at the time. “…the barbiturate effect of such a comforting juxtaposition is purchased at the cost of a certain failure to appreciate the importance of the intervening variables: Fonda, though essentially a creature of the seventies, could not have existed without the youth revolution of the fifties.”

More on my Home Site here.

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.[…]

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.”

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.]

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.)

Uncle Wystan

Auden cover image

Available on my Main Site, my 1995 review of Auden, by Richard Davenport-Hines.

… Worse, perhaps, to an Australian reviewer spoiled by a society in which hot showers are plentiful, he seems to have been staggeringly dirty in his habits. He summarised his appearance, rather charitably, as “untidy and grubby”. A franker appraisal came from Stravinsky, who called him “the dirtiest man I had ever liked.” His clothes were often stained and frayed, and Paul Bowles described him not long after his move to New York in 1939 as “pretty eccentric … does strange things like picking his nose and eating what he finds … however he’s very bright and fun to talk to.” In old age he talked rather too brightly about farts, and about the fun of peeing in the bath. Perhaps he was trying to live out an aphorism articulated when he was twenty, and perhaps borrowed from Oscar Wilde: “Real artists are not nice people; all their best feelings go into their work, and life has the residue.”…

More here:

Auckland: Short Takes on Long Poems

Here are three pages from my Tapa Notebook, which I filled in as an aide memoire for my time in Auckland in late March 2012, at a symposium sponsored by the University of Auckland. The notebook has been sent to the University Library for safekeeping. Tapa? “Tapa” is a cloth made from the bark of the Paper Mulberry tree, a decorated and valuable cloth common in Oceania. A panel of Tapa cloth decorates the front cover of these notebooks. See all 110 pages here: my Tapa Notebook.

John Tranter's Tapa Notebook page 53

John Tranter's Tapa Notebook page 85

John Tranter's Tapa Notebook page 99