Category Archives: Poetry

John Tranter has served his time as a poet, with more than twenty books to his credit, including four large anthologies containing over a thousand pages of other people’s work.


John Tranter: Advice to a New Writer

I’ve been writing and publishing poetry for half a century. Now and then I receive enquiries from people starting out to be a writer, 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 lots of personal letters, and since what I say is always the same, here it is.

Find another career.

Continue reading Advice…

The Difficult William Empson

Martin Johnston outside Exiles bookshop, Oxford Square, Sydney, 1980, at a reading for Canberra poet Robert BrissendenMJ: “…I remember a poetry reading years ago which William Empson gave at a pub in London. And he read a series of very, very opaque poems, and made two comments on them. One of them was “By God I was good, when I wrote that!”. The other was “I can’t really see what the difficulty is.” And his audience evidently could.” Australian poet Martin Johnston, being interviewed by John Tranter, Radio Helicon, ABC Radio National, 1987.
Photo: Martin Johnston, Oxford Street, Taylor Square, Sydney, 1980, outside Exiles bookshop. The poster in the background is a silkscreen poster by John Tranter: “We’re With you, Ray! (Ray Denning, fugitive from Justice, later killed). It’s better to be up and doing than down and being done.” Photo by John Tranter.

Morris’s Horace

Is this a silly fantasy, or is it deeply valuable? William Morris: The Odes of Horace, written and decorated by hand.

‘We seem to have been granted access to a treasure: vulnerable, threatened by the very transience that Horace’s odes resist and lament, and therefore all the more highly to be prized’ Clive Wilmer

The genius of William Morris found expression in many different media. Here, for the first time, we have reproduced one of his gems of manuscript illumination: The Odes of Horace, a treasure of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Produced by the Folio Society.

Production Details: • Limited to 980 copies • Facsimile volume • Printed on Tatami paper in coloured inks with gold and silver foil • Bound in Indian smooth-grain goatskin with 5 raised bands on the spine • Gold blocked on spine, edges and doublures • Shuffled pages • 192 pages • 6¾” x 5″ (I’m not sure what “shuffled pages” means. Cards, yes. JT)

American Women

“…these efforts are an integral part of what appears to be a larger and longer-term trend in American verse: the emergence of a generation of women poets whose visibility, authority, and regard within the national poetry community, judging from the available hard data, notably outstrips that of their male counterparts. Indeed, after many decades of patriarchal hegemony, the new gender gap in American poetry is both significant and widening.” More at


Over thirty years ago: seems like yesterday: At the 1981 launch of Surfers Paradise magazine at the Courthouse Hotel, Newtown: photo of (L to R) Nigel Roberts, (unknown), Richard Stern (late of a Bookshop in Macleay Street, Potts Point), Eve Jennings, Mark O’Connor (sporting a Van Dyke beard), Kathy Davidson (with Richard Stern). Photo by John Tranter, Olympus XA, Technical Pan film, split-toned in Adobe Lightroom in 2014.

The Mewar Ramayana

Welcome to one of the world’s most beautiful Ramayana manuscripts. The original was prepared for Maharana Jagat Singh, the ruler of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, in the middle of the seventeenth century.

Most volumes of the manuscript are now in the British Library. They were presented by Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar to Colonel James Tod who brought them back to Britain in 1823. Other parts have remained in India, held today in three separate institutions and one private collection.

Digitisation has made it possible for this long-divided manuscript to be brought together again for the first time in almost 200 years. The majority of text pages in the manuscript have been digitised as well as the paintings so that Valmiki’s work can be read in the original Sanskrit.

Link here:

Auden, Ashbery, Brodsky and The Nobel


From my FaceBook page: Photo, above: Ashbery and Auden at the Poetry International Festival in London in 1972: Auden’s friend the Nobel-greedy Joseph Brodsky is sucking up to them both but his image has been trimmed from the RHS of the photo. Auden cheerfully knocked back the Nobel Prize in 1964… did you know that? I didn’t. You must read this recent piece from the NYTBR by Edward Mendelson on Auden: “W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it… Auden… seems to have mentioned the incident only once, when he went to dinner with his friend Lincoln Kirstein the same evening and said, “There goes the Nobel Prize.” The prize went to Jean-Paul Sartre, who refused it.” More At

Parmagianino: Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, circa 1524.


The painting John Ashbery was referring to in his 1975 poem “Sef-portrait in a Convex Mirror”…

Of the origin of Francesco Parmigianino’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” 16th century painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote: “He began to draw himself as he appeared in a barber’s convex glass. He had a ball of wood made at a turner’s and divided in half, and on this he set himself to paint all that he saw in the glass. Because the mirror enlarged everything that was near and diminished what was distant, he painted the hand a little large.”

Four centuries later, poet John Ashbery took up the painting in the title poem of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror:

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises.

Ashbery’s ecphrastic poetry is unique because, as poet David Lehman has remarked, Ashbery uses specific paintings “as points of departure that discover themselves by meditating on objets d’art, and thus displacing them. . . . Gazing at the painting, the poet comes virtually to inhabit its room, to make its quarters his own.”

– See more at:

Not sure about the hair… but: Nice Jacket!!

The Gaslight Poetry Café, 1961

The Coen Brothers’ movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” (late 2013) takes place mainly in the folk singing venue the Gaslight Poetry Café, Greenwich Village, New York, in 1961. In the movie, the last folkie seen to take the stage bears a suspicious resemblance to the young Bob Dylan, not long after he left his rightful name (Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing Minnesota) behind for good. Yes, Bob played the Gaslight, in 1961. Here’s the album to prove it.


The Olsonite

Is an “Olsonite” a committed follower of the poetry of the great US poet Charles Olson, 1910 to 1970, poet and literary theorist, widely credited with first using the term “postmodern” in discussing American poetry and known for his association with the Black Mountain poets and for his influence on the generation of American poets who emerged after World War II?


Or just the material used to manufacture a toilet lid in the Durant Hotel in Berkeley, California?


No offence meant to the career, work or reputation of a great American poet. He can’t help being accidentally related to the American plastics industry.


No, not a memorial to US poet Frank O’Hara, as poetry lovers might imagine, or John O’Hara, for those who prefer prose. Two of three such devices, much-trodden-on, let into the sidewalk of Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, California, long ago and discovered in December 2013 and photographed by John Tranter. Once upon a time the O’Hara Company made these little brass lids for under-sidewalk pipes — for fuel oil, perhaps — some ten centimeters square, about the size of a CD cover. The address of the firm in Los Angeles, some three hundred and fifty miles away, is now (in 2013) a near-derelict building not far from the Los Angeles Galvanizing Company.


Auckland, 16 December 2013

Anyone in Auckland New Zealand next Monday 16 December, drop by the Auckland City Library at 5:50 in the evening to drink some wine and hear some poetry by John Tranter, Michele Leggott, Anne Kennedy and Robert Sullivan! Phone Auckland 377 0209.

Starlight John Tranter poetry A4

Reading Poetry again


I had a great time performing some of my poetry (about half an hour’s reading) at this event recently: The Sydney Readings: fiction from Michelle de Kretser and poetry from John Tranter, sponsored by The English Association and “Southerly” magazine, on Saturday, October 12, 2013 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM (PDT), at The Footbridge Theatre, University of Sydney, Parramatta Road, Sydney, New South Wales 2006. Among the dozen poems I read were two sonnets from my chapbook “Ten Sonnets”, published recently by Vagabond Press. For photos from that event, see this link.

Here are the two sonnets from that reading. The first has a title taken from poet Pam Brown, and is based on the Shakespearean sonnet form. It was written en route to LA in a 747, 24 March 2013:

747 Sonnet

A, tint of ash, pastel grey
And pale amber flakes, E, a feast
Of emerald ice-blocks at the break of day
When blood and gold tincture the mystic East.
I, less an order, more a hint
Of Eau de Nil, flavours the local square
Where cobblestones hacked from the local flint
Bear a skin of ice that dazzles the air.
O for a beaker full of the warm South
Where tourists faint in the sticky Roman heat
And U offer purple promises of love
To be redeemed the next time we meet.
Qantas perfects its algorithm for seat yield;
a truck dumps rakes and shovels onto a field.

The next poem, read last, uses the so-called “Pushkin” sonnet form, a quirky tetrameter form used by Pushkin in his novel “Yevgeny Onegin”. It is a tribute to T.S. Eliot’s notable poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, first published in 1915 in the Chicago magazine “Poetry”. The poem also gave me a chance to use a rhyme I had concocted a year or two before for the word “winklepickers” (a sharply-pointed shoe fashionable among Teddy-Boys and popular music performers in London in the 1950s). The supposition that J. Edgar Hoover was secretly a cross-dresser or was gay (or both) has a weird aptness, but it is probably untrue.

The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover

Punish me with jugs of honey
Tie me down with bramble twine,
Stuff my mouth with wads of money –
Please be mine.

Kick me with your winklepickers,
Gag me with your wrinkled knickers,
Make me lick your brutal shoe:
Love me do.

Garnish me with couch and fescue,
Dress me in an acid dressing,
Telegram your roughest blessing,
Be my howling search and rescue –
When I’m lost and all alone,
Take me home.

Poetry Book Party!

The launch of “Ten Sonnets” by John Tranter, “Realia” by Kate Lilley and “The Tulip Beds” by A.J. (Andy) Carruthers, launched by Professor John Frow with a short poetry reading from each of the three poets, at Gleebooks bookstore, Glebe, Sydney, on 2013-09-29: you can see 25 photos from the event taken by John Tranter, at his photo page on the Internet here.
Among the busy throng, these lucky few: John Tranter, Kate Lilley, Melissa Hardie, Andy Carruthers, Professor John Frow, Michelle Kelly, Sharon Jones, Fiona Hile, Nel Wolf, Rory Dufficy, Alexander Dennis, Alex Burns, Nicola Parsons, Monique Rooney, Fergus Armstrong, Chris Edwards, Rozanna Lilley, Sarah Gleeson-White, Jennifer Egan, Amelia McCormack, Gae Bloodworth, Sandra Hawker, Judith Barbour, Brigitta Olubas, Elaine Minor, Adrian Jones, Toby Fitch, Alice Grundy, Professor Elizabeth Webby, Sam Moginie, Elizabeth McMahon, and Elizabeth Allen.
I’ve done my best with my faulty memory to name each person properly: please let me know if there are any errors!
Apologies for the occasional double posting: better twice than never!
best, John Tranter
Photo: Gleebooks, the perfect bookstore: books, poetry parties, drinks!