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Please see The Malley Variations: at: http://johntranter.net/poetry/john-tranter-the-malley-variations/,
part of the Poetry Category page. Here are the Notes:

Notes

These poems are collaborations, utilising the ‘Breakdown’ computer program; the voice of Ern Malley is inspired by and speaks through the voices of other writers at key moments in their careers.

— ‘An American in Paris’, Ern Malley and Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer.
— ‘Benzedrine’, Ern Malley and Allen Ginsberg, ‘Howl’.
— ‘The Master of the Black Stones’, Ern Malley and Yasunari Kawabata, The Master of Go.
— ‘Flying High’, Ern Malley and Captain W.E.Johns, Biggles Defies the Swastika.
— ‘Pussy Willow’, Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
— ‘Smaller Women’, Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
— ‘Transatlantic’, Ern Malley and Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas.
— ‘Under Tuscan Skies’, Ern Malley and Edward Morgan Forster, Room With a View.
— ‘Year Dot’, Ern Malley and real estate advertisements for properties offered for sale in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, June and July 1994.
— ‘The Urn of Loneliness’, Ern Malley and Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness.

 

Black Gold, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 — Hands
… In which Julie sleeps badly because of a nightmare, and is woken by a loud gunshot, or so she thinks. She goes to the kitchen and talks there to her father, who has also heard the shot. Julie has broken off her engagement to Mr Stern. Bell goes to his laboratory, and Julie goes back to bed. Paul Nouveau creeps in at dawn, and explains to the Doctor that Heeney’s younger brother had tried to stab him, but Paul had defended himself with his revolver. The Doctor patches up Paul’s cut, and shows him Jane Dorlac’s hands in formalin, then her hanged husband’s hands. Paul tells him of a dream he has had, about an Egyptian priest. They go to bed, and the next morning Frank arrives with the news that Mr Verheeren has been shot in his locked room, with the open window showing how the murderer escaped. He and Bell leave, and Julie and Paul go to visit Mrs Mackenzie at the boarding house. The unspoken question hangs over them: did Paul shoot Verheeren?

Paragraph One follows — 1:

Julie was dreaming. She was playing with a little golden-haired girl in the garden at the back of their old house in Goulburn, pushing her on a swing, back and forth. The swing made a rhythmic creaking noise, and with each swing, the child grew smaller and smaller. Julie was anxious — soon she would lose her altogether. She stopped the swing and held her, and tried to tie a ribbon in her hair so she could find her if she became lost, but the child wriggled out of her grasp and ran away. Julie searched for her, looking in among the bushes and flowers, but the foliage was tangled and overgrown. The further she went, the more the garden seemed like a jungle. Soon she had wandered down a gully buried under a dense tangle of quince trees, a long way from the house. As she pushed her way through the thicket it became darker, and now she was slipping in the muddy soil, grabbing the branches to steady herself. The bark discoloured her hands and the sap had an acrid smell. She tried to wipe it off, and found she’d stained her dress — now her mother would be angry.

2:

A creek ran along the bottom of the gully and the water made a trickling sound that grew louder and louder. She must be nearing the place where the creek ran into the flooded river — the water was stained red with mud and clay, and she could hear the rush and tumble of rapids near by. It was growing dark now, and a cold rain was beginning to patter on the leaves. A wood pigeon fluttered away into the gloom with a clatter of wings, then another one. She remembered that they always seemed to go about in pairs, perhaps out of loyalty to one another. But where was the little girl? Julie turned around, and realised she was lost.

3:

Close by there was a flash of light and a loud bang, like a charge of blasting powder exploding — her heart began to pound. Someone had fired a gun, that was it. She awoke, her pulse racing and her mouth dry with fear.

4:

But she was in her bedroom, quite safe. She shivered. What time was it? She got up and pulled a wrap around her shoulders and lit the little lamp beside her bed. She had won the lamp at the shooting gallery; perhaps that was what had made her dream of the sound of a gun. She went to the kitchen to get a cup of milk, and found her father there, reading by the light of the kitchen lamp.

5:

‘Father, you’ll ruin your eyesight!’

6:

‘What are you doing up, my dear? Can’t you sleep?’

Kitchen. From the internet.

7:

She told him about her dream, how she had searched for the little girl in the overgrown garden at the back of the house at Goulburn.

8:

He sighed, and rubbed his eyes. ‘Goulburn. Ah — it seems like yesterday. After your mother died the garden — the garden went to the dogs.’

9:

‘It’s like a hundred years ago, to me. A lifetime away.’

10:

‘Never mind, my dear. Never mind. It was just a dream. I’ve got the stove going, and the kettle’s boiled. Ah — make yourself a cup of tea, if you like.’

11:

‘I think I’ll make some warm milk. It might help me sleep.’ She poured some milk into a pan and put it on the stove.

12:

‘I noticed our guest hasn’t returned.’

13:

Julie looked around in alarm. ‘Paul?’ She checked the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘But it’s nearly morning.’

14:

‘I hope he knows what he’s doing, ah — wandering around in the dark. The moon’s gone now; it’s like pitch out there.’

15:

The window was dark, and reflected the lamplit kitchen. ‘I thought I heard — I mean, I dreamed I heard a shot,’ she said. She stirred a spoonful of chocolate into her milk, and some brown sugar.

16:

Her father looked at her. ‘I thought I heard a shot too, about ten minutes ago. Ah — but my hearing’s not so good any more. I thought perhaps I had imagined it.’

17:

‘I wish he wouldn’t carry that revolver about with him.’

18:

‘Well, after his — ah — his experience on the coach, I suppose he feels it’s an investment in his future.’

19:

She brought her cup of chocolate to the table. ‘Sometimes I think if there’d never been any men in the world, there would never have been any killing.’ As she sat down she noticed her father looking at her left hand. She put it out of sight on her lap. They looked at each other: she held her father’s gaze for a moment, then dropped her eyes.

20:

‘I see you’re not wearing Mr Stern’s ring,’ Bell said. ‘Ah — I noticed the other day, but I thought I’d not say anything. I thought perhaps it was a temporary thing. That — ah — that you might come to your senses.’

21:

‘But I have come to my senses. That’s what it’s all about, father. You saw what he did to Paul.’

Stern. From the internet.

22:

He frowned, and went to say something, and checked himself; then tried again. ‘Julie, you’re nearly thirty years of age. You put all that other business behind you, in Goulburn, years ago. Ah — you said you had made up your mind to marry him.’

23:

‘And I’ve made it up again, not to marry him. You can’t force me to.’

24:

‘You know quite well that I wouldn’t force you.’

25:

‘Well then.’

26:

Her father compressed his lips. ‘I — I hope I’ve done the right thing.’

27:

‘What do you mean?’

28:

‘Oh, over the years. I had to — Ah — I had to make my own life as best I could, and follow my studies in my spare time. It must have been hard on you growing up without a mother. I just don’t know if I did the right thing. And now it’s — it’s too late. If I got it wrong, well, ah — now it’s too late.’

29:

‘Oh, don’t be so gloomy, father. We always had a housekeeper. I never went hungry. I should have hated it if you’d gone to work in a bank or behind a counter in some grocer’s shop, so you could be a normal kind of parent keeping regular hours. Or if you’d married some woman just so I could have a mother in the house. You know that.’

30:

‘I did leave you alone rather too much.’

31:

‘I like being on my own.’

Little girl. From the internet.

32:

‘I remember one time — you must have been six or seven — ah — I came in very late one evening, and the housekeeper had gone home. A lamp had been lit in the kitchen, but the rest of the house was full of shadows. You were sitting there in the hall in the half-dark, playing with an old rag doll you’d had since you were two. When I came in the door you ran to me and hugged me so tightly I thought you’d never let me go. I felt so — I felt as though you had no one, no one for a friend.’

33:

‘You are being gloomy, aren’t you? You’re like Paul, too hard on yourself. I remember you used to read to me after dinner, every night. You used to take me on your rounds.’

34:

‘Some of that can’t have been very edifying. Ah — you must have seen some very sad things.’

35:

‘You’re musing again, father. I think I’ll try to get some more sleep.’

36:

‘I don’t feel sleepy. I’ve been reading up on Maxwell’s colour process. I think there’s a way to get the subtractive colour you need for printing colour positives — you use two sets of negative processes sequentially, using the complementaries of the three primaries. A double negative makes a positive, see? I think I’ll do some work downstairs.’ He paused at the door. ‘My dear — if you are sure — if you are sure about this Stern business, well, ah — I suppose you’ll have to do what you think is right. But I should like to think of you with a family of your own, some day. That’s all. Good night, my dear.’

37:

‘Good night, father.’

38:

Half an hour later Julie was fast asleep, and the sun was tinting the sky pink and gold. Paul arrived at the house and moved quietly around the back to avoid the squeaking front gate. As Julie had said, they didn’t use keys: the french doors on the veranda opened silently at his touch. In the chill light the daffodils stood silently in their vase. The petals gave out a dim, sulphurous glow, an underwater colour; they seemed to take fire from the glints of light in the crystal vase. The piano was mute. He tip-toed through to the darkened kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. The room felt warm, and he realised that the stove was still hot. He frowned, trying to work out why that should be so. Someone must have risen early and lit it, then gone back to bed. Or perhaps they’d stayed up late and kept the fire going. He was on his way to his room when he thought he heard a noise downstairs. He crept along the hall and down the steep brick steps to the basement. A light shone under the door of the workroom. He carefully opened the door and went in.

39:

‘Ah — Goodness, you startled me,’ Bell said. He’d been writing something in a notebook. ‘I thought I heard a gun go off, earlier on. My nerves have been on edge lately.’

40:

‘Yes,’ Paul said. ‘There was a gun, and it went off. This is not such a quiet town after all.’

41:

‘You’ve hurt yourself,’ said Bell. Paul was holding his left arm against his side.

42:

‘Just a cut,’ he said. ‘It would have been deeper, and nearer to my heart, but I moved quickly enough.’

43:

‘What happened?’

44:

‘Someone tried to kill me.’ He looked around the room. ‘Why do I do these things? To bring danger on myself? I could be killed.’ His eyes shifted around the room. Bell noticed a tension in his voice, a note of suppressed excitement or anxiety.

45:

‘Let me look at it.’

Medicine chest. From the internet.

46:

Paul took off his heavy woollen coat. The sleeve of his shirt had been cut, and it was stained with blood. ‘Hmmm, it’s not so bad,’ Bell said. ‘A small, narrow wound, more of a deep scratch. I’d better make sure it’s clean. Nothing is safe; not even a scratch from a rusty nail. Once infection sets in, there’s nothing you can do about it. I lost a patient a month ago that way.’ He led Paul over to the sink in the corner and cleaned the wound. Paul noticed his slight limp again.

47:

‘Is your rheumatism hurting?’ he asked Bell.

48:

‘No, no. I ignore it and it goes away.’

49:

‘Do I need the giant lizard ointment?’

50:

Bell laughed. ‘Goanna Salve? I don’t think so. Ah — just a bandage. There. That’s not too tight?’

51:

‘No, it’s just right.’

52:

‘Tell me, what happened? Here, sit on this stool.’ He went to move Paul’s coat and felt the weight of the gun. ‘What’s this?’ he asked, holding up the coat. ‘What’s in the pocket?’

53:

‘I’m sure you can guess. This, in the pocket, it’s an English revolver, heavy calibre, very well made. It’s what saved my life, for the second time, now. When I fired the gun there was a noise like thunder and a great flash, and I was hidden in a cloud of blue smoke like some oracle, or a god come down to earth from Mount Olympus to deliver great revelations amid storm and lightning. But I wasn’t a god, and when my gun spoke, it spoke to no effect. Can you not smell the burnt powder, Doctor?’

54:

Bell put the coat down on a bench. ‘Julie heard it too, in her sleep. Ah — what happened?’

55:

‘Some young man,’ said Paul, ‘wearing a cloth over his face, and waiting for the cover of darkness to attack. But I know who it was, it was the brother of Heeney, the man I killed, though he didn’t speak and I didn’t see his face. He must have followed me about the town all night long, watching what I was doing, where I was going. When I was coming home, when the moon had almost gone, he crept up on me. I could hear his steps dogging mine, his boots on the gravel following my own footsteps, and I had my hand on the gun. He stabbed at me, and I turned and made the shot quickly, and lost my footing and fell on the ground.’

56:

‘Good God, did you kill him?’

The dark bush at night. From the internet.

57:

‘No, no, I didn’t kill him. He ran away. Limping, is that what you say? Like this?’ He limped, in mime.

58:

‘Yes. Ah — limping.’

59:

‘So, this Heeney, he will try to kill me again. Well, what can I do? I am not the expert killer, I do not always hit my target. Ask Julie, she showed us all how to shoot with a rifle, at the sideshow. She is the top shot, the winner of the lamp.’ He went to the kerosene lamp on the bench, and held his hand over the glass chimney. ‘But me, I am just the amateur. I am afraid of guns. I will admit that to you. Especially when the barrel points at me. First the bushrangers, then the madman Verheeren, then Mr Lee, all pointing their guns at my head, all threatening to kill me.’

60:

‘Verheeren? He had a gun?’

61:

‘Perhaps it was just a toy. Who knows, until it fires? Then it is too late to know anything.’ Paul moved his hand back and forth in the wavering stream of heat. ‘You said Julie heard the shot in her sleep. What do you mean? How could you know this? Do you have mental contact with her while she sleeps?’

62:

Bell chuckled. ‘No, no. My scientific experiments haven’t taken me quite that far yet. Ah — I was reading in the kitchen an hour or so ago; Julie woke from a bad dream and came in to talk to me. She said she’d dreamed that she’d heard a gun go off.’

63:

‘Ah, so it was you who lit the stove. The room was warm. I thought someone had been awake.’

64:

‘Yes. It was cold. I see you’ve been practising the deductive method, as taught at the Edinburgh medical school. Yes, Julie and I talked for a while. She had a hot chocolate and went back to bed.’

65:

‘To sleep, to dream some more.’

66:

As Paul moved his hand in the flow of warm air from the lamp, the shadow of his arm moved against the wall and on the low ceiling. He was reminded of an illustration he’d seen as a child, in a book of fairy stories. A frightened little gnome carried a lamp through a cave, his own shadow huge and menacing on the wall behind him. Paul knew with a sudden certainty that human knowledge was like that, a frail and troubled lamp giving out a feeble glow, and creating giants and monsters made of shadows. His own fears, angers, vanities — for a moment he dimly understood them as somehow the product of his own intelligence, as it vainly cast a light onto things he didn’t understand and made shadows where it failed to grasp them. He had fought to subdue his own weaknesses, to burn away his faults and fears and hatreds, but they were his own nonetheless. They had faithfully followed him around the world, just like the gnome’s shadow.

67:

On the bench behind the lamp Paul could see perhaps a dozen large glass jars containing various animal specimens. One held a tiny embryo of a kangaroo floating in pale fluid like the ghost of a dreaming mouse; another held an octopus whose dark purple skin was patterned with pastel blue spots and rings. The light from the lamp, shining upwards from a low angle, gave them an especially sinister aspect. He gave a start as he saw, in a jar he hadn’t noticed previously, a pair of human hands. ‘What in the name of God is that?’

68:

‘Oh, they’re Jane’s hands,’ Bell said. ‘Now that’s a gruesome story.’

69:

‘I do not think I wish to hear it.’

70:

Bell grunted. ‘Ah — very well. Perhaps it’s best if you don’t. People say they want to hear it, and — ah — then they’re sorry.’

71:

Paul looked at the hands again. There was a ring on the wedding finger: an amethyst set in silver. ‘You shall have to tell me. I cannot believe the ring. That is — that is horrible.’

72:

Bell sat on a stool and took out a small cigar. ‘‘This all happened fifteen or twenty years ago,’ he said. There was a little spirit lamp burning under a beaker of liquid, and he lit the cigar with that. The smoke was scented with port or brandy; it was rich and sweet. When he had the cigar burning evenly, he went on: ‘Jane Dorlac was a pianist. Born in Birmingham. Her technique was not very good, according to the critics, but — ah — she had a vigorous spirit that came through in her playing, and it was much liked by the middle classes and by the London shopgirls and their fellows on a Saturday afternoon. She — ah — she played popular venues — a little higher than a music hall, perhaps, but not by much — in the days when it was unusual for women to perform on the piano in public. She specialised in bravura performances of heady, emotional stuff — Chopin, Liszt, gypsy melodies, mixed in with some popular romantic tunes. People — ah — people used to swoon.

73:

‘Her husband — Lemayne was his name — he acted as her manager; they took quite a bit of money, apparently. He was a violent man, and a jealous one — a big frame, and thick red hair — and he drank like a fish. They travelled around England and the Continent for a few years, mainly the holiday spots, building up her name, and drinking and quarrelling. One — ah — one northern winter they made a tour of the colonies — Capetown, Malaya, Sydney, Wellington. On the New Zealand leg, Jane’s husband caught her flirting with a baritone in Wanganui. Worse than flirting, actually: one moonlit night he found them together in the woodshed out the back of the hotel, at three in the morning. Lemayne grabbed the axe — he was drunk — and he — I can see his eyes glaring, I can see the damned axe glinting in the light — ah — he chopped off her hands. Thump! Thump! ”Now you won’t play the bloody piano,„ he said, ”and you won’t bloody-well play around, either!„ The poor woman died before they could get her proper medical help: shock, loss of blood.’

74:

‘The husband?’

Legal team. From the internet.

75:

‘They hanged him, of course. His only mistake, he said, was geographical. Well — ah — tragico-juridico-geographical, as Hamlet’s players might have put it.’

76:

‘What do you mean?’

77:

‘If he’d waited until they were in France on one of their tours, and then killed her while his blood was hot in a fit of jealous rage — which was certainly the case, in Wanganui — he would have got away scot free. The French understand such things. There’s — ah — there’s a certain leniency for a crime of passion.’

78:

‘Well, perhaps. The French execute murderers too, you know. But how did you — the hands, how did they end up here?’

79:

‘The coroner in Wellington was a friend, a colleague from my Edinburgh days. He remembered that I had been interested in galvanism, so when the case was over and things had quietened down, he sent them to me. At one stage I had an idea of doing some research — galvanic conduction in muscle tissue — but somehow I lacked the heart for it. The husband’s hands are there too, you see. My coroner friend obtained them, after the hanging.’ Bell moved the jar, and brought forward another from behind it, with a larger pair of hands moving slowly in the blue-green fluid. The nails were wide and blunt. Paul could see thick reddish hairs on the back of the hands. He felt ill, and looked away.

Woman playing piano. From the internet.

80:

‘Yes, it usually takes people like that,’ Bell said. ‘These days I don’t show them much, unless I’m asked. I — ah — I don’t know that I ever wanted to have the damned things.’ He looked around. ‘You know, sometimes I think the workshop is haunted. I think of the poor woman — there are times when I imagine I can hear Chopin being played faintly, perhaps from behind the wall over there, or in that dark corner, behind the Japanese screen. I — ah — I go to look, and the sound fades. At first I thought it might be Julie practising upstairs — the sound travels down through the floor. But no: Julie was out at the time, and in any case she thinks the Romantic composers are cheap. There are times when I conceive that I might have psychic capabilities; but — ah — I suppose it’s just an overworked imagination. Whatever the cause, it gives me the willies when it happens. I should throw the things out, but I can’t bring myself to do that.’

81:

‘Perhaps you should give them away.’

82:

‘But who would take them? The only museum who might want them would be one of those sideshow places full of gruesome murder mementoes, like Madame Tussaud’s. Or those fellows at the show, with their so-called Wild Man from Borneo and their deformed animals on display. Poor Jane deserves better than that.’ He stubbed out his cigar. He looked tired. ‘Sometimes I think my — ah — my workshop is really a kind of morgue; various dreams of mine are embalmed here, and lie sleeping in their bath of preservative.’

83:

Paul smiled at Bell’s gloomy tone. ‘I had a dream last night,’ he said. ‘I mean the night before last; this night I have not had any sleep. I wanted to tell you about it, since you are partly responsible. And it might cheer you up. I seem to have caught your dream, the way you might catch a fever from another person.’

84:

‘My dream? What do you mean?’

85:

‘You said an ancient Egyptian priest told you about magnetism.’

86:

‘Oh yes, that. Years ago.’ Bell gave a short laugh. ‘He — he hasn’t bothered to call again, with the details.’

87:

‘I had a dream, so complicated, and that old Egyptian appeared in it. I was being pursued — it is little wonder I have such dreams, so many people threaten me — I am being pursued by someone or something in the uniform of an officer, and wearing a long black cape. I have broken some military rule or regulation, and this officer, this creature — for he is like some kind of demon — he is trying to capture me, to take me back so the firing squad can shoot me. I try to escape, I run and run through the streets, into a large public garden, then the plants in the garden become larger, the bushes turn into trees, overhanging, now it is a forest, and I run further under the trees. Soon I shall have to face him, soon I shall have to turn like a cornered rat and fight. So at last, at the bottom of some ravine, with mud and branches everywhere, a kind of thick darkness in the air instead of light, I turn.

88:

‘I turn, and the thing is there close on my heels, panting and gnashing its teeth, and I fire my gun. Like tonight, there is a great flash and a blinding cloud of smoke. I am choking, I cannot see. I have killed someone, but I am already terribly afraid that it is a mistake. I should not have killed this person at all. The smoke clears, and I am in my family living room, in the house we used to own when I was a little boy. There is my father —’ Paul’s voice caught. He took a deep breath, composed himself, and continued. ‘There is my father, lying on the carpet. He has been horribly wounded in the belly, the blood has stained his white shirt, but he is holding a book over his stomach, so I shall not see the wound. He doesn’t want me to be frightened, to see the terrible thing I have done.’

89:

‘What is the book?’

90:

‘What? It’s just a book.’

91:

‘Yes, but what book? Perhaps it means something.’

92:

Paul stared at him intently for a moment, then he looked back at the lamp. ‘Yes, the book,’ he said to himself. His eyes stared into the lamp flame, but he was looking at something else. He shook himself. ‘But that is not important. The scene changes slightly, the mood shifts, and this man comes into the room. He is your Egyptian priest. He touches my shoulder, and I am carried away somehow. We are in Egypt, in the ancient city of Luxor, in the open courtyard of one of the temples there. The bright sun is pouring down onto the stone floor and lighting up the coloured hangings. He tells me to look up — and high on the wall among the beautiful hieroglyphics, green and scarlet, I can make out my own name inscribed in a kind of silver ink — ’ He stopped here, and gave Bell a quick look.

Luxor, Egypt, circa 1870s. From the internet.

93:

‘Nouveau,’ Bell said. ‘Didn’t you say that was your name?’

94:

‘Well,’ said Paul, with a slight smile, ‘I did say that.’ He frowned again. ‘The priest said that I had a task to perform, I suppose like the twelve labours of Hercules, when to do penance for killing his wife and children in a bout of insanity he had to clean out the Augean stables, and to do many other dangerous and impossible things. The priest said that when I have finished this task, this penance to make up for the crimes I have committed in my long fit of madness — then I shall be redeemed, and my name will be known throughout the world.’

95:

‘It’s a remarkable dream.’ Bell’s voice was solemn. ‘It’s like a fragment from a parable.’

96:

‘Absurd, isn’t it?’

97:

‘Absurd? No, not at all. It speaks in the secret language of your forgotten memories and your buried thoughts. And what is your task?’

98:

‘My task?’

99:

‘What did the priest give you to do?’

100:

Paul looked at him for a moment. ‘Why, to gather all the books in the world, and to consign them to the flames: to burn them, burn them all, until there was nothing but ashes left.’

101:

At breakfast, they were all uneasy. Paul had slept badly, and Bell’s laboratory work had not gone well. Julie awoke in a distracted mood, and allowed a saucepan of milk coffee to boil over. She wanted to talk to Paul, and he wanted to talk to her, but the presence of her father made that awkward. The meal was a subdued affair.

102:

They were finishing their porridge when there was an insistent knocking on the front door.

103:

Julie went to answer it, and they heard Frank’s voice in the hallway, sounding grave. ‘It certainly is a distressing thing,’ he said as he came into the room. ‘Miss Mackenzie was very upset. Good morning, Paul. Doctor Bell.’

104:

‘Oh good morning, Francis. Ah — you’re an early caller.’

105:

‘I’m afraid my news is rather unpleasant.’

106:

‘Oh? What is it?’

107:

Frank had his grey stetson hat in his hand, and he twisted the rim between his hands as he looked for the right words. Then he shrugged, and said ‘What the hell, there’s no way to say this politely. I’m afraid there’s been a murder.’

108:

‘A murder?!’ Julie’s hand went to her mouth. Bell put down his paper slowly on the table and looked over the top of his spectacles with a frown. ‘What’s — what has happened?’ he asked.

109:

‘It’s the old Belgian you saw on Saturday, Paul. Mr Verheeren. He was found shot dead in his room last night.’

110:

Paul stared at him. He had gone pale. There was a moment’s silence.

111:

‘In Miss Mackenzie’s boarding house?’ Bell asked. ‘Was anyone else hurt?’

112:

‘Shot dead?’ Julie cried out. ‘But why? Who would do such a terrible thing?’ She clutched her apron into a knot and held it tight against her waist.

113:

‘No one knows who did it. Some time after midnight, when everyone was in bed asleep, there was a gunshot. It was very loud — it woke everybody. When we ran up to his room — I had to break the door in — we found Verheeren on the floor, shot through the chest at point blank range. It was a heavy calibre revolver by the look of the wound. There was nothing anyone could do. Apparently the murderer escaped through the window and climbed down from the roof and got away.’

114:

‘Was it robbery?’ Bell asked.

115:

‘No one knows exactly what happened.’

116:

‘You might expect this kind on thing on the gold fields,’ Bell said, ‘but — ah — Wagga is a quiet farming town.’

117:

‘Poor Mr Verheeren,’ Julie said. ‘Why, I spoke to him only the other day. I was at Mr Koellner’s music shop, buying a piece of music which I wanted Mary to learn, and Mr Verheeren came in. He seemed distressed about something — you know how he is always muttering — that is, how he was always muttering to himself. He said he wanted a string for a double bass. It had to be the longest one, the lowest note, I can’t remember what they call it. He didn’t seem the musical type, to me. And now he’s dead.’

Music shop. From the internet.

118:

‘No one has any idea who would want to do a thing like that,’ Frank said. ‘Well, I can’t stay. I’m on my way to the Police Station to give what evidence I can. They took the body there. Oh, Doctor… Constable Sloesser asked me to mention that he’d like you to call by. It’s something to do with the Coroner’s inquiry.’

119:

Bell gathered himself. ‘Ah, yes, I expect so.’ He got up from the table and looked around. ‘Ah — I’ll just get my things.’

120:

‘Oh, and Julie, you might like to call on Miss Mackenzie. She’s putting on a tough front, but I know she’s upset.’

121:

‘The poor woman. Would you like to come with me, Paul?’

122:

‘What?’ His face was white, and he licked his lips. ‘To come to the boarding house? Well, yes. Of course. I — I should be glad to come along.’
 
[»»] Back to the Contents page

1970 Poetry Australia 32

 Just imagine it is 1970 again:

  Poetry Australia number 32:

  Preface to the Seventies: Introduction

— Provenance: Printed in 1970, Scanned and Edited by John Tranter in 2014.

Contact: writers and Estate Executors who wish to delete material, or who instead wish to give permission to reprint work in full, rather than truncated to 8 lines, as used occasionally herein to avoid the complex labyrinth of copyright, may contact me easily by phone, mail or email here.

pa-front-cover This section features parts of the February 1970 issue of Poetry Australia, the ‘Preface to the Seventies’ issue, guest-edited by John Tranter, who was 26 at the time. He persuaded Grace Perry, the general editor of the magazine, to allow him to collect a group of poems and essays that reflected the newer currents in Australian poetry. Not long after the issue was published he left for two years to work in Singapore. It was his first of many anthologies of poetry. See the Contents Page of the first issue of the (free) Journal Of Poetics Research for other sections relating to Poetry Australia; most of issue 32 of the magazine is reproduced there.


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 1:]

Poetry Australia
Number Thirty-Two: February 1970

Editor: Grace Perry

Associate Editors:
Margaret Diesendorf
Ronald Dunlop

Contributing Editors:
Bruce Beaver
Philip Benham
James Tulip

Consulting Editors:
Ralph W. V. Elliott
Leonie Kramer
Derick R. C. Marsh
Colin Roderick
Clement Semmler

Preface to the Seventies
Guest Editor: John E. Tranter


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 2:]

Published by SOUTH HEAD PRESS
with the assistance of the Commonwealth Literary Fund
and the N.S.W. Government Advisory Committee
on Cultural Grants


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 3:]

COPYRIGHT 1970 SOUTH HEAD PRESS / REGISTERED IN AUSTRALIA FOR TRANSMISSION THROUGH THE POST AS A BOOK / WHOLLY SET UP AND PRINTED IN AUSTRALIA / BY EDWARDS & SHAW PTY LTD, 171 SUSSEX STREET SYDNEY, NSW 2000
SOUTH HEAD PRESS   350 LYONS ROAD   FIVE DOCK   NSW   2046 / SBN 9017602 1


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 4:]

Contents page

Poems by

5 Walter Billeter
6 J. S. Harry
Dennis Davidson
12 Alan Wearne
Terry Gillmore
13 David Rankin
14 Leon Slade
Patrick Alexander
15 Philip Roberts
16 Ian Lightfoot
17 R. J. Deeble
18 J. Frow
20 John E. Tranter
Carl Harrison-Ford
22 Mark Radvan
23 Nick Battye
24 John Blay
Rhyll McMaster
25 Roger McDonald
26 Nick Battye
Michael Parr
27 P. A. Pilgrim
30 Wilhelm Hiener
Paul Burns
32 Suzanne Hunt
Robert Gray
34 Franco Paisio
Peter Carthew
35 Michael Dugan
36 Frederick C. Parmee
38 Jennifer Maiden
39 Kerry Leves
40 Robert Adamson
42 Robyn Ravlich
43 Peter Skrzynecki

Articles by

44     Rodney Hall
Attitudes to Tradition in Contemporary Australian Poetry
46     Thomas Shapcott
Hold Onto Your Crystal Balls
48     James Tulip
The Australian-American Connection
50     Ronald Dunlop
Recent Australian Poetry
58     Donald Gallup
T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound: Collaborators in Letters

The poems in the February 1970 issue of «Poetry Australia» are copyright and it would be too difficult to obtain copyright clearances for them, more than forty years after publication, so I shall publish the only first eight lines of each poem here, a small proportion of the whole 80-page magazine. Bear in mind that due to the intractable problems of converting poetry from the page to a blog computer screen, line indents will inevitably be compromised.


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 5]
[Author:] Walter Billeter
[Title:] The Symbol

The birds,
stilting on summer rust grass,
before they took off
for their flight toward evening.
Was it a symbol?
On the horizon
a bleeding sun died —
no cloud bandage could help.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 6:]
[Author:] J.S. Harry
[Title:] ‘One, in the motel…’

One, in the motel,
bleeds, and cannot be stopped.
Endlessly, the flow
saps, reduces the span.
Across the highway
hessian-coloured sheep
drift, halt,      drift and eat.
Neon-green paddocks’ long-grassed spring

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page6:]
[Author:] Brian Ridley
[Title:] The Quarrel

In my skull a spectral ship twists and flounders.
Your still, opaque eyes project your grey figure
In pigtails, limbs thrown and silhouetted in outrage
From your torso. Soundlessly you scream. Your tiny lips
Tear wider into my cheek. On the nerve-ends of my teeth
My concrete tongue plays to distraction. The dry wrinkles,
The first courses beneath your eyes have nothing
To give back to us. They wait, and more sand will wash

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 7:]
[Author:] Brian Ridley
[Title:] Marcus Flavius Recounts His Friends’ Love (For Geoffrey Lehmann)

I have been told that when their meeting was young
They caught themselves out many times. It was said
They shone with each other’s form, and in their pool,
Bucking and leaping, they dived like dolphins, churning
Their bath of love long after their guests had arrived.
Some later admitted, as they quaffed the heavier wine
Of their hosts, that conversation had become slack
And they were taut in trying not to recognise a tic

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 8:]
[Author:] Nicholas Hasluck
[Title:] Mining Strip

Stones rattle in the pits
on the red ridge.
Children wait for dinner.

The old chev
stands on blocks
with belted hub-caps;
harnessed to gaunt derrick
and red ridge.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 8:]
[Author:] Vicki Viidikas
[Title:] Spring Moon

Shadows fall off in the night
and two hands form a band
of grey, muted black, furred edges.

A cat is squatting in a corner,
eyes tilted to the moon.
Out there people are talking

And joke, corkscrewing their voices
into the blanket —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 9:]
[Author:] Michael Dransfield
[Title:] Webs

the cobweb room
beneath the eaves
a rafterplace where shadows stay

in it live
a spider, a lover,
a murderer
the game is not chess not life / call it

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 10:]
[Author:] Michael Dransfield
[Title:] Chopin Ballade

Upon the yellow lattice of parchment
lines of lettering are inscribed. If
you have attained the erudition, you
translate these dactyls into jeremiads.
In place of the elaborate
black script, you will see
extraordinary hallucinations. Where stood a ‘T’,
a gaslight on its iron standard;

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 11:]
[Author:] Dennis Davidson
[Title:] Your Hand

Tonight the snoring city sweats with drugs,
Sea-spittle is blown against the windscreen
And my snug car shivers in salty night.
My hand recalls another hand. The beach
Is sour, the distant lights of Melbourne shrink.
I come to swig my heady loneliness,
Get sick on memories. I twist the key
Hard, like a nun killing desire, and stop

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 12:]
[Author:] Alan Wearne
[Title:] Jill

Yes, yes, I’m a new track, a trick…
kept sprite, a wisp,
(all this with trust, but:
O you pussy! watch.) I’ll watch,
till prayer and reveries, (gone into twilight,)
are once, slip —
ays, days,

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 12:]
[Author:] Terry Gillmore
[Title:] Waiting

we all wait
within change
to take off the edge of being

waiting
to step to the road
to the sound of passing cars
constantly invading the skin

the body to ache dry

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 13:]
[Author:] David Rankin
[Title:] Beatitude

the long scarf
twists twice at the neck

her eyes
are moist with excitement

a wide raw leather
belt loops from her hand

she has some knowledge
of his repairs to her mouth

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 13:]
[Author:] David Rankin
[Title:] Very Old Poem

the drift of clouds
and rain
follows me
behind the willows

the portrait of
the peacock
I carried
for so long

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 14:]
[Author:] Leon Slade
[Title:] All-Bran-Le-Ta

When our son brought it in with the milk,
the morning news had icing on it.
It’s holiday (happy birthday, Queen Elizabeth),
but frosted mornings bring pressures to
bear, so I got up, leaving you to lie in the arms
of your electric blanket, while your breath left
you slowly in a gentle huff.

Crazy Melbourne tries like mad

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 14:]
[Author:] Patrick Alexander
[Title:] Iguana

For Tennessee Williams
Tied by fraying selves to isolated stakes
we are fatted for the kill —
gods of vindictive hunger wait; yet almost, I can smile.
For it seems I struggle in a year of dearth —
for any god to be a thin and bony course

Not proffered by my trapper much fattening,
all wild morsels gone from my small circle,
it is ironic that some kinder god, in tenderness

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 15:]
[Author:] Philip Roberts
[Title:] Typewriter

A new kind of traitor, this machine:
smug and gap-tooth-faced invention,
and accommodating to a fault.
You have no umlaut for your words?
no tilde? no accent aigu?
Your love can’t be freed from its English?
Fear not, friend, by the stratagems
of Mr. Alpha’s Typewriter Shop

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 16:]
[Author:] Ian Lightfoot
[Title:] sam

i know what i would do
if i was tall like people:

i’d go to kindergarten and punch
Billy and Sally and Enrico
and run into Miss Taylor just
when she was carrying the softdrinks

then i’d run out onto the middle of the road
because cars don’t hit people very hard

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 17:]
[Author:] R. J. Deeble
[Title:] Biafran Soft Clocks

See footnote [1]

With so many children with so little skin
between them isn’t now the time to adjust
our calendars to include the minds that

move their mantles beyond death. To
find that lay-by systems on fluffy toys
are no longer enough to tell us what our

heads are doing at the third stroke
How do we feel about Christmas when

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 18:]
[Author:] J. Frow
[Title:] “we watched them…”

we watched them from the iron bridge:
shoals of breeding carp,
orange, like rinsed gold,

or soft and dark brown.
drained of spawn
they basked in the brackish, sunlit creek

or moved beneath
the plaited profusion of weeds —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 18:]
[Author:] J. Frow
[Title:] “more than anger…”

more than anger
joined us.

all night the cats
squirmed through the yellow wind, the floor
listened to the rain beat, we became,

drawn through strange passages of burning,
wood darkened by one disruptive, bitter flame.

crusted with red ash, slowly our persons
caved inward.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 19:]
[Author:] J. Frow
[Title:] the Vigil

it is softly raining on the city.
delicate, crude, your limbs shift,
bones slide under skin,
the grey diffuse with darker movements.
the beam of a clothesline
juts from a flat roof,
angled in the obscure light.
below, in the square,

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 20:]
[Author:] John E. Tranter
[Title:] The Moment of Waking

She remarks how the style of a whole age
disappears into your gaze, at the moment
of waking. How sad you are
with your red shirt, your features
reminiscent of marble, your fabulous
boy-girl face like a sheet of mist
floating above a lake.

Someone hands me a ticket

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 20:]
[Author:] Carl Harrison-Ford
[Title:] The Flag

(after Pentti Saarikeski)
the blood runs from the head back to the veins
“stiff as a window the flag stood out in the wind”
the trains were all on time
in the cities the workers watched clocks
in the distance there was the horizon
the summer pools of water on the roads
are optical illusions

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 21:]
[Author:] Carl Harrison-Ford
[Title:] Closer and Closer

The journey to love
the desert music
the descent

attract
not as the pull
of images but as

the journey
at that time

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 22:]
[Author:] Mark Radvan
[Title:] The horse in the junk-yard

sea-bright smiling
i am the utter anvil of my rock-hard breath
i am the death of every creature
i am the dying in the factory yard
who will come to me when i am singing?
who will tend my wants
and the annoyance of my fingers tapping?

every life green dark sea

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 23:]
[Author:] Nick Battye
[Title:] The Asylum

The arid radiance of an angel
hesitates on the wall.
The Marquis beds down Napoleon
kindly:           keeps
the birthday present of the purring
drum sticks to himself.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 24:]
[Author:] John Blay
[Title:] Man of Letters

He sits before his incomplete portrait,
forgotten by the artist; a half-face
and shadow, the pencilled “This man of Letters”.
From the stairhead his wife and would-be
mistress bellows the arrival of dinner guests.
Cries of introduction, voices down the hallway,
footsteps thump toward his dream
perhaps tonight will see his Boswell in.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 24:]
[Author:] Rhyll McMaster
[Title:] On a Glass Slide

It grows a little,
pulls, or is stretched.
The tiny granules surge
and the blunted pseudopod moves forward;
The amoeba, breaking its back to make a foot
finds what it did not know;
A new form becomes clear
under the microscope’s unstartled eye;

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 25:]
[Author:] Roger McDonald
[Title:] Heartbeat

a bird risen to 10,000 feet, who
meets the mad balloonist in a twist
of blue fingers, then semi-conscious
rolls and tumbles downwards, butterflying
on stunned bone, loose in whistling shafts of air,
hospitable to the idea that clouds
or wishes get things back where they all started.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 25:]
[Author:] Roger McDonald
[Title:] The Enemy

The enemy conspires to end
Heart-beat, grass-growth, clouds
And the life of the wind.
He wishes to extinguish
— among all things —
The life of the sun.

In the present campaign
His weapons are notions of spring —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 26:]
[Author:] Nick Battye
[Title:] “pressed hard”

pressed hard         to the arctic sledge of reindeer
herding light

where sedge grows from its own strength
and houses stand because of the cold

we in the long dark
making handcrafts under tallow candles

touch         and occasionally         speak

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 26:]
[Author:] Michael Parr
[Title:] Poem Against Solitude

the wood of our words…

as deciduous as winter: The turtle of solitude with
its instincts awry

here are the roofs empty of sparrows…

Mecca has been captivated by
thunder:

of leaping dogs

of wooden asylums…

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 27:]
[Author:] P. A. Pilgrim
[Title:] “on the timeless sea”

on the timeless sea
we sail
in a rusted clipper
ship
going no place
in particular
just out to pass
the time
of day

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 28:]
[Author:] P. A. Pilgrim
[Title:] “easter poem anytime“

upstairs from the penthouse
ten flights higher than the sun
someone on the windowledge
begs to be excused…
as he hurls down the ashes
and sack cloth
as reminders of
how much he’s suffered

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 30:]
[Author:] Wilhelm Hiener
[Title:] Upton-Smith at Forty

The siren sings: “Come on Upton,”
Slurring my name. “Take me first.”
And I, confined by ties, school,
Family, strain till I burst
My eardrums and cannot hear
Her husky cry. (A partiality
For slim-built birds with gravel
Voices had patterned all my days.)


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 30:]
[Author:] Paul Burns
[Title:] The Old Man

Old man,

remnant of my past,
of the days of the child who ate yellow mushrooms,
you squat in your cushioned corner,
your pale eyes reaching out
in the quiet, wanting to talk,
remembering my month on silver crutches.

 


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 31:]
[Author:] Paul Burns
[Title:] A Girl From Another World

On her desk lay folders of history and hate;
a fountain pen copies other men’s knowledge.

Love poems unwritten linger in his mind,
his cramped fist hastening up spectres of the future.

She walks down a road of crunching blue metal,
not looking at the dead moonlight marsh.

He stares in dark coffee lounges at masks of death,
furtively fixes a needle with a dream.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 32:]
[Author:] Suzanne Hunt
[Title:] Evening Ferry

The city looked tonight as if a bushfire
had passed through. The black dark limbs
of the bridge, and a thousand coals glowing

among the buildings. The butt of a tower
at Greenwich burnt white against the horizon.
Pinchgut sailed in silhouette along the lights

of the expressway, and ebony rolls of smoke
dispersed into a sky still glowing pink, where

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 32:]
[Author:] Robert Gray
[Title:] Landscape 3

Wandering down,
with my back to the afternoon,
around the heavy cattle on the road,
in the slanted sun.
The fields are blowing like fire —
the air become for me
at such hour
full of singing, cries, and pennants

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 33:]
[Author:] Robert Gray
[Title:] Travelling

Travelling all day, at evening
the road is hauled away
slowly from the river. — that pale, cold tea
we’ve watched for hours.
It plunges now and
surges over
the long and shuddering
roots of a mountain range.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 34:]
[Author:] Franco Paisio
[Title:] Game

Out of the black wreath of my body
you grow the flame
I know your lips and I know your hand
on this will-o’-the-wisp
and I know your name

I name my madness
when the flame
touches your blood

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 34:]
[Author:] Peter Carthew
[Title:] Cancer ’69

It was an absurd grave we dug
burying nightingale and dove

winter came willowless
with Cain’s napalm

artificial orchids
rebeautify the tomb

beneath the warm gun
that rests on the moon

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 35:]
[Author:] Michael Dugan
[Title:] Childmemory

Down past Macartney’s farm
beyond a wilderness of waist high thistles,
willow trees caressed the creek.
We would come to the willows
along a secret path of our own making,
to leap into their feathered greenness
and, clutching handfuls of whiplike branches,
would swing, eyes closed, above the stream,


p 35: Also available from South Head Press:

Open at Random, by Bruce Beaver
I Learn by Going, by Craig Powell
Poems for a Female Universe, by Norman Talbot
Eyewitness, by Rodney Hall
Two Houses, by Grace Perry
Letters to Live Poets, by Bruce Beaver


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 36:]
[Author:] Frederick C. Parmee
[Title:] Walk in the Night

Moving out from isolation
with clocks ticking time
to the countdown of a people’s history
we walk to strange meetings

stiff in the joints
and using awkward muscles
with care
we learn again to walk upright

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 37:]
[Author:] Frederick C. Parmee
[Title:] Release

From the scarlet letter
to the ultimate freedom
beyond the reach
of rule or retrenchment
this revolution
releases the flood

these shining shells
of our bodies sweep

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 38:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] The Scent

I’m afraid to say I don’t want you
The sky looks like white cologne
I grow with a sleep
That is driven down like smoke from the hills
The night dries in my throat with an old dense scent.
Death explained to me once:
“I do not take the people
Who have somewhere else to go…”

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 38:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] The Wedding

With my ear on her rib to hear
the slow heartdark beat of her dream
I meet the periphery of night
Behind my shoulder
Crux
And the Pointers glare encased
In the window like hot quartz in water.
An austere unhooded moon —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 38:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] The Factory

Metal from metal, metal shapes metal
Metal eats metal, metal wastes metal
Is rebuked by metal, designed by metal
Metal rules metal. Metal pays me
One thousand three times a day I kick
Metal and metal issues forth, the same.
They say repetition enforces Truth
And ritual is Divine, and here am I

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 39:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] Climbing

This shadow at my shoulder doesn’t shed
The substantial night.
The rope twists all breath
From the mountain
As simple as a bed
Far above life in heavy wind you might
Fall beyond the common cliff of death.
With all my side and ear adhered to stone

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 39:]
[Author:] Kerry Leves
[Title:] Slug

I am brown and gradual: softness,
Pushing through slabs of cold air.
I am aware of the gut of the earth,
Digesting ice of last night’s rain;
My wet body-heat melts frost
Into trickles. My work is this track.
It is silver, silver…

I’m a pulp-mouth, sucking. I am death

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 40:]
[Author:] Robert Adamson
[Title:] Your Magazine Husband

1

So finally after strolling along
through whistling constellations above your peaceful roof
three years,
I saw you coming over the ether from the edge
of your world, & remained silent.
Through with striking
the dome of my brain & hoping for music,
I watched you approaching, like one of those floating-women

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 42:]
[Author:] Robyn Ravlich
[Title:] 1910: Homage to Marinetti

At night
the intense vibrance of the arsenals
factories
lit by the glare of electric lights

voracious railroad stations
devour smoking monsters

bridges, giant gymnasts,
span the rivers

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 43:]
[Author:] Peter Skrzynecki
[Title:] Theorem

The last evening of winter passes down its light
Against the fallowed earth and sandstone
That burns red among ferns and gravelled ditches.

Light moves across the stones, through ghosts
Of trees and leaves that burn white in the morning
Of a black frost, as rivers of mist swirl and gather

Where shadows pass beyond the stalks of dry corn
And charred grasses: encircle black stagnant pools,


[On the following pages are various prose articles: to read them, see the last items on the menu for the first number of the Journal of Poetics Research at http://poeticsresearch.com]

  Endnote:

[1]  Biafra, officially the Republic of Biafra, was a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria that existed from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970, taking its name from the Bight of Biafra (the Atlantic bay to its south). The inhabitants were mostly the Igbo people who led the secession due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria. The creation of the new country was among the causes of the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War… After two-and-a-half years of war, during which a million civilians had died in fighting and from famine, Biafran forces agreed to a ceasefire with the Nigerian Federal Military Government (FMG), and Biafra was reintegrated into Nigeria. [Wikipedia] Though largely forgotten now, the Biafran famine was a very newsworthy topic in 1970. JT

  Just imagine it is 1970 again:

  Poetry Australia number 32:

  Preface to the Seventies: Introduction

— Provenance: Printed in 1970, Scanned and Edited by John Tranter in 2014.

Contact: writers and Estate Executors who wish to delete material, or who instead wish to give permission to reprint work in full, rather than truncated to 8 lines, as used occasionally herein to avoid the complex labyrinth of copyright, may contact me easily by phone, mail or email here.


pa-front-cover This section features parts of the February 1970 issue of Poetry Australia, the ‘Preface to the Seventies’ issue, guest-edited by John Tranter, who was 26 at the time. He persuaded Grace Perry, the general editor of the magazine, to allow him to collect a group of poems and essays that reflected the newer currents in Australian poetry. Not long after the issue was published he left for two years to work in Singapore. It was his first of many anthologies of poetry. See the Contents Page of the first issue of the (free) Journal Of Poetics Research for other sections relating to Poetry Australia; most of issue 32 of the magazine is reproduced there.


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 1:]

Poetry Australia
Number Thirty-Two: February 1970

Editor: Grace Perry

Associate Editors:
Margaret Diesendorf
Ronald Dunlop

Contributing Editors:
Bruce Beaver
Philip Benham
James Tulip

Consulting Editors:
Ralph W. V. Elliott
Leonie Kramer
Derick R. C. Marsh
Colin Roderick
Clement Semmler

Preface to the Seventies
Guest Editor: John E. Tranter


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 2:]

Published by SOUTH HEAD PRESS
with the assistance of the Commonwealth Literary Fund
and the N.S.W. Government Advisory Committee
on Cultural Grants


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 3:]

COPYRIGHT 1970 SOUTH HEAD PRESS / REGISTERED IN AUSTRALIA FOR TRANSMISSION THROUGH THE POST AS A BOOK / WHOLLY SET UP AND PRINTED IN AUSTRALIA / BY EDWARDS & SHAW PTY LTD, 171 SUSSEX STREET SYDNEY, NSW 2000
SOUTH HEAD PRESS   350 LYONS ROAD   FIVE DOCK   NSW   2046 / SBN 9017602 1


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 4:]

Contents page

Poems by

5 Walter Billeter
6 J. S. Harry
Dennis Davidson
12 Alan Wearne
Terry Gillmore
13 David Rankin
14 Leon Slade
Patrick Alexander
15 Philip Roberts
16 Ian Lightfoot
17 R. J. Deeble
18 J. Frow
20 John E. Tranter
Carl Harrison-Ford
22 Mark Radvan
23 Nick Battye
24 John Blay
Rhyll McMaster
25 Roger McDonald
26 Nick Battye
Michael Parr
27 P. A. Pilgrim
30 Wilhelm Hiener
Paul Burns
32 Suzanne Hunt
Robert Gray
34 Franco Paisio
Peter Carthew
35 Michael Dugan
36 Frederick C. Parmee
38 Jennifer Maiden
39 Kerry Leves
40 Robert Adamson
42 Robyn Ravlich
43 Peter Skrzynecki

Articles by

44     Rodney Hall Attitudes to Tradition in Contemporary Australian Poetry
46     Thomas Shapcott Hold Onto Your Crystal Balls
48     James Tulip The Australian-American Connection
50     Ronald Dunlop Recent Australian Poetry
58     Donald Gallup T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound: Collaborators in Letters

The poems in the February 1970 issue of «Poetry Australia» are copyright and it would be too difficult to obtain copyright clearances for them, more than forty years after publication, so I shall publish the only first eight lines of each poem here, a small proportion of the whole 80-page magazine, which falls within the doctrine of ‘fair use’. Bear in mind that due to the intractable problems of converting poetry from the page to a blog computer screen, line indents will inevitably be compromised.


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 5]
[Author:] Walter Billeter
[Title:] The Symbol

The birds,
stilting on summer rust grass,
before they took off
for their flight toward evening.
Was it a symbol?
On the horizon
a bleeding sun died —
no cloud bandage could help.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 6:]
[Author:] J.S. Harry
[Title:] ‘One, in the motel…’

One, in the motel,
bleeds, and cannot be stopped.
Endlessly, the flow
saps, reduces the span.
Across the highway
hessian-coloured sheep
drift, halt,      drift and eat.
Neon-green paddocks’ long-grassed spring

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page6:]
[Author:] Brian Ridley
[Title:] The Quarrel

In my skull a spectral ship twists and flounders.
Your still, opaque eyes project your grey figure
In pigtails, limbs thrown and silhouetted in outrage
From your torso. Soundlessly you scream. Your tiny lips
Tear wider into my cheek. On the nerve-ends of my teeth
My concrete tongue plays to distraction. The dry wrinkles,
The first courses beneath your eyes have nothing
To give back to us. They wait, and more sand will wash

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 7:]
[Author:] Brian Ridley
[Title:] Marcus Flavius Recounts His Friends’ Love (For Geoffrey Lehmann)

I have been told that when their meeting was young
They caught themselves out many times. It was said
They shone with each other’s form, and in their pool,
Bucking and leaping, they dived like dolphins, churning
Their bath of love long after their guests had arrived.
Some later admitted, as they quaffed the heavier wine
Of their hosts, that conversation had become slack
And they were taut in trying not to recognise a tic

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 8:]
[Author:] Nicholas Hasluck
[Title:] Mining Strip

Stones rattle in the pits
on the red ridge.
Children wait for dinner.

The old chev
stands on blocks
with belted hub-caps;
harnessed to gaunt derrick
and red ridge.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 8:]
[Author:] Vicki Viidikas
[Title:] Spring Moon

Shadows fall off in the night
and two hands form a band
of grey, muted black, furred edges.

A cat is squatting in a corner,
eyes tilted to the moon.
Out there people are talking

And joke, corkscrewing their voices
into the blanket —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 9:]
[Author:] Michael Dransfield
[Title:] Webs

the cobweb room
beneath the eaves
a rafterplace where shadows stay

in it live
a spider, a lover,
a murderer
the game is not chess not life / call it

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 10:]
[Author:] Michael Dransfield
[Title:] Chopin Ballade

Upon the yellow lattice of parchment
lines of lettering are inscribed. If
you have attained the erudition, you
translate these dactyls into jeremiads.
In place of the elaborate
black script, you will see
extraordinary hallucinations. Where stood a ‘T’,
a gaslight on its iron standard;

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 11:]
[Author:] Dennis Davidson
[Title:] Your Hand

Tonight the snoring city sweats with drugs,
Sea-spittle is blown against the windscreen
And my snug car shivers in salty night.
My hand recalls another hand. The beach
Is sour, the distant lights of Melbourne shrink.
I come to swig my heady loneliness,
Get sick on memories. I twist the key
Hard, like a nun killing desire, and stop

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 12:]
[Author:] Alan Wearne
[Title:] Jill

Yes, yes, I’m a new track, a trick…
kept sprite, a wisp,
(all this with trust, but:
O you pussy! watch.) I’ll watch,
till prayer and reveries, (gone into twilight,)
are once, slip —
ays, days,

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 12:]
[Author:] Terry Gillmore
[Title:] Waiting

we all wait
within change
to take off the edge of being

waiting
to step to the road
to the sound of passing cars
constantly invading the skin

the body to ache dry

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 13:]
[Author:] David Rankin
[Title:] Beatitude

the long scarf
twists twice at the neck

her eyes
are moist with excitement

a wide raw leather
belt loops from her hand

she has some knowledge
of his repairs to her mouth

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 13:]
[Author:] David Rankin
[Title:] Very Old Poem

the drift of clouds
and rain
follows me
behind the willows

the portrait of
the peacock
I carried
for so long

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 14:]
[Author:] Leon Slade
[Title:] All-Bran-Le-Ta

When our son brought it in with the milk,
the morning news had icing on it.
It’s holiday (happy birthday, Queen Elizabeth),
but frosted mornings bring pressures to
bear, so I got up, leaving you to lie in the arms
of your electric blanket, while your breath left
you slowly in a gentle huff.

Crazy Melbourne tries like mad

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 14:]
[Author:] Patrick Alexander
[Title:] Iguana

For Tennessee Williams
Tied by fraying selves to isolated stakes
we are fatted for the kill —
gods of vindictive hunger wait; yet almost, I can smile.
For it seems I struggle in a year of dearth —
for any god to be a thin and bony course

Not proffered by my trapper much fattening,
all wild morsels gone from my small circle,
it is ironic that some kinder god, in tenderness

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 15:]
[Author:] Philip Roberts
[Title:] Typewriter

A new kind of traitor, this machine:
smug and gap-tooth-faced invention,
and accommodating to a fault.
You have no umlaut for your words?
no tilde? no accent aigu?
Your love can’t be freed from its English?
Fear not, friend, by the stratagems
of Mr. Alpha’s Typewriter Shop

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 16:]
[Author:] Ian Lightfoot
[Title:] sam

i know what i would do
if i was tall like people:

i’d go to kindergarten and punch
Billy and Sally and Enrico
and run into Miss Taylor just
when she was carrying the softdrinks

then i’d run out onto the middle of the road
because cars don’t hit people very hard

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 17:]
[Author:] R. J. Deeble
[Title:] Biafran Soft Clocks

See footnote [1]

With so many children with so little skin
between them isn’t now the time to adjust
our calendars to include the minds that

move their mantles beyond death. To
find that lay-by systems on fluffy toys
are no longer enough to tell us what our

heads are doing at the third stroke
How do we feel about Christmas when

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 18:]
[Author:] J. Frow
[Title:] “we watched them…”

we watched them from the iron bridge:
shoals of breeding carp,
orange, like rinsed gold,

or soft and dark brown.
drained of spawn
they basked in the brackish, sunlit creek

or moved beneath
the plaited profusion of weeds —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 18:]
[Author:] J. Frow
[Title:] “more than anger…”

more than anger
joined us.

all night the cats
squirmed through the yellow wind, the floor
listened to the rain beat, we became,

drawn through strange passages of burning,
wood darkened by one disruptive, bitter flame.

crusted with red ash, slowly our persons
caved inward.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 19:]
[Author:] J. Frow
[Title:] the Vigil

it is softly raining on the city.
delicate, crude, your limbs shift,
bones slide under skin,
the grey diffuse with darker movements.
the beam of a clothesline
juts from a flat roof,
angled in the obscure light.
below, in the square,

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 20:]
[Author:] John E. Tranter
[Title:] The Moment of Waking

She remarks how the style of a whole age
disappears into your gaze, at the moment
of waking. How sad you are
with your red shirt, your features
reminiscent of marble, your fabulous
boy-girl face like a sheet of mist
floating above a lake.

Someone hands me a ticket

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 20:]
[Author:] Carl Harrison-Ford
[Title:] The Flag

(after Pentti Saarikeski)
the blood runs from the head back to the veins
“stiff as a window the flag stood out in the wind”
the trains were all on time
in the cities the workers watched clocks
in the distance there was the horizon
the summer pools of water on the roads
are optical illusions

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 21:]
[Author:] Carl Harrison-Ford
[Title:] Closer and Closer

The journey to love
the desert music
the descent

attract
not as the pull
of images but as

the journey
at that time

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 22:]
[Author:] Mark Radvan
[Title:] The horse in the junk-yard

sea-bright smiling
i am the utter anvil of my rock-hard breath
i am the death of every creature
i am the dying in the factory yard
who will come to me when i am singing?
who will tend my wants
and the annoyance of my fingers tapping?

every life green dark sea

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 23:]
[Author:] Nick Battye
[Title:] The Asylum

The arid radiance of an angel
hesitates on the wall.
The Marquis beds down Napoleon
kindly:           keeps
the birthday present of the purring
drum sticks to himself.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 24:]
[Author:] John Blay
[Title:] Man of Letters

He sits before his incomplete portrait,
forgotten by the artist; a half-face
and shadow, the pencilled “This man of Letters”.
From the stairhead his wife and would-be
mistress bellows the arrival of dinner guests.
Cries of introduction, voices down the hallway,
footsteps thump toward his dream
perhaps tonight will see his Boswell in.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 24:]
[Author:] Rhyll McMaster
[Title:] On a Glass Slide

It grows a little,
pulls, or is stretched.
The tiny granules surge
and the blunted pseudopod moves forward;
The amoeba, breaking its back to make a foot
finds what it did not know;
A new form becomes clear
under the microscope’s unstartled eye;

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 25:]
[Author:] Roger McDonald
[Title:] Heartbeat

a bird risen to 10,000 feet, who
meets the mad balloonist in a twist
of blue fingers, then semi-conscious
rolls and tumbles downwards, butterflying
on stunned bone, loose in whistling shafts of air,
hospitable to the idea that clouds
or wishes get things back where they all started.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 25:]
[Author:] Roger McDonald
[Title:] The Enemy

The enemy conspires to end
Heart-beat, grass-growth, clouds
And the life of the wind.
He wishes to extinguish
— among all things —
The life of the sun.

In the present campaign
His weapons are notions of spring —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 26:]
[Author:] Nick Battye
[Title:] “pressed hard”

pressed hard         to the arctic sledge of reindeer
herding light

where sedge grows from its own strength
and houses stand because of the cold

we in the long dark
making handcrafts under tallow candles

touch         and occasionally         speak

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 26:]
[Author:] Michael Parr
[Title:] Poem Against Solitude

the wood of our words…

as deciduous as winter: The turtle of solitude with
its instincts awry

here are the roofs empty of sparrows…

Mecca has been captivated by
thunder:

of leaping dogs

of wooden asylums…

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 27:]
[Author:] P. A. Pilgrim
[Title:] “on the timeless sea”

on the timeless sea
we sail
in a rusted clipper
ship
going no place
in particular
just out to pass
the time
of day

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 28:]
[Author:] P. A. Pilgrim
[Title:] “easter poem anytime“

upstairs from the penthouse
ten flights higher than the sun
someone on the windowledge
begs to be excused…
as he hurls down the ashes
and sack cloth
as reminders of
how much he’s suffered

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 30:]
[Author:] Wilhelm Hiener
[Title:] Upton-Smith at Forty

The siren sings: “Come on Upton,”
Slurring my name. “Take me first.”
And I, confined by ties, school,
Family, strain till I burst
My eardrums and cannot hear
Her husky cry. (A partiality
For slim-built birds with gravel
Voices had patterned all my days.)


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 30:]
[Author:] Paul Burns
[Title:] The Old Man

Old man,

remnant of my past,
of the days of the child who ate yellow mushrooms,
you squat in your cushioned corner,
your pale eyes reaching out
in the quiet, wanting to talk,
remembering my month on silver crutches.

 


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 31:]
[Author:] Paul Burns
[Title:] A Girl From Another World

On her desk lay folders of history and hate;
a fountain pen copies other men’s knowledge.

Love poems unwritten linger in his mind,
his cramped fist hastening up spectres of the future.

She walks down a road of crunching blue metal,
not looking at the dead moonlight marsh.

He stares in dark coffee lounges at masks of death,
furtively fixes a needle with a dream.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 32:]
[Author:] Suzanne Hunt
[Title:] Evening Ferry

The city looked tonight as if a bushfire
had passed through. The black dark limbs
of the bridge, and a thousand coals glowing

among the buildings. The butt of a tower
at Greenwich burnt white against the horizon.
Pinchgut sailed in silhouette along the lights

of the expressway, and ebony rolls of smoke
dispersed into a sky still glowing pink, where

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 32:]
[Author:] Robert Gray
[Title:] Landscape 3

Wandering down,
with my back to the afternoon,
around the heavy cattle on the road,
in the slanted sun.
The fields are blowing like fire —
the air become for me
at such hour
full of singing, cries, and pennants

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 33:]
[Author:] Robert Gray
[Title:] Travelling

Travelling all day, at evening
the road is hauled away
slowly from the river. — that pale, cold tea
we’ve watched for hours.
It plunges now and
surges over
the long and shuddering
roots of a mountain range.

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 34:]
[Author:] Franco Paisio
[Title:] Game

Out of the black wreath of my body
you grow the flame
I know your lips and I know your hand
on this will-o’-the-wisp
and I know your name

I name my madness
when the flame
touches your blood

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 34:]
[Author:] Peter Carthew
[Title:] Cancer ’69

It was an absurd grave we dug
burying nightingale and dove

winter came willowless
with Cain’s napalm

artificial orchids
rebeautify the tomb

beneath the warm gun
that rests on the moon

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 35:]
[Author:] Michael Dugan
[Title:] Childmemory

Down past Macartney’s farm
beyond a wilderness of waist high thistles,
willow trees caressed the creek.
We would come to the willows
along a secret path of our own making,
to leap into their feathered greenness
and, clutching handfuls of whiplike branches,
would swing, eyes closed, above the stream,


p 35: Also available from South Head Press:

Open at Random, by Bruce Beaver
I Learn by Going, by Craig Powell
Poems for a Female Universe, by Norman Talbot
Eyewitness, by Rodney Hall
Two Houses, by Grace Perry
Letters to Live Poets, by Bruce Beaver


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 36:]
[Author:] Frederick C. Parmee
[Title:] Walk in the Night

Moving out from isolation
with clocks ticking time
to the countdown of a people’s history
we walk to strange meetings

stiff in the joints
and using awkward muscles
with care
we learn again to walk upright

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 37:]
[Author:] Frederick C. Parmee
[Title:] Release

From the scarlet letter
to the ultimate freedom
beyond the reach
of rule or retrenchment
this revolution
releases the flood

these shining shells
of our bodies sweep

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 38:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] The Scent

I’m afraid to say I don’t want you
The sky looks like white cologne
I grow with a sleep
That is driven down like smoke from the hills
The night dries in my throat with an old dense scent.
Death explained to me once:
“I do not take the people
Who have somewhere else to go…”

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 38:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] The Wedding

With my ear on her rib to hear
the slow heartdark beat of her dream
I meet the periphery of night
Behind my shoulder
Crux
And the Pointers glare encased
In the window like hot quartz in water.
An austere unhooded moon —

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 38:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] The Factory

Metal from metal, metal shapes metal
Metal eats metal, metal wastes metal
Is rebuked by metal, designed by metal
Metal rules metal. Metal pays me
One thousand three times a day I kick
Metal and metal issues forth, the same.
They say repetition enforces Truth
And ritual is Divine, and here am I

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 39:]
[Author:] Jennifer Maiden
[Title:] Climbing

This shadow at my shoulder doesn’t shed
The substantial night.
The rope twists all breath
From the mountain
As simple as a bed
Far above life in heavy wind you might
Fall beyond the common cliff of death.
With all my side and ear adhered to stone

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 39:]
[Author:] Kerry Leves
[Title:] Slug

I am brown and gradual: softness,
Pushing through slabs of cold air.
I am aware of the gut of the earth,
Digesting ice of last night’s rain;
My wet body-heat melts frost
Into trickles. My work is this track.
It is silver, silver…

I’m a pulp-mouth, sucking. I am death

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 40:]
[Author:] Robert Adamson
[Title:] Your Magazine Husband

1

So finally after strolling along
through whistling constellations above your peaceful roof
three years,
I saw you coming over the ether from the edge
of your world, & remained silent.
Through with striking
the dome of my brain & hoping for music,
I watched you approaching, like one of those floating-women

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 42:]
[Author:] Robyn Ravlich
[Title:] 1910: Homage to Marinetti

At night
the intense vibrance of the arsenals
factories
lit by the glare of electric lights

voracious railroad stations
devour smoking monsters

bridges, giant gymnasts,
span the rivers

[Above: First 8 lines only]


[Poetry Australia magazine 32, 1970, page 43:]
[Author:] Peter Skrzynecki
[Title:] Theorem

The last evening of winter passes down its light
Against the fallowed earth and sandstone
That burns red among ferns and gravelled ditches.

Light moves across the stones, through ghosts
Of trees and leaves that burn white in the morning
Of a black frost, as rivers of mist swirl and gather

Where shadows pass beyond the stalks of dry corn
And charred grasses: encircle black stagnant pools,


[On the following pages are various prose articles: to read them, see the last items on the menu for the first number of the Journal of Poetics Research at http://poeticsresearch.com]

  Endnote:

[1]  Biafra, officially the Republic of Biafra, was a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria that existed from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970, taking its name from the Bight of Biafra (the Atlantic bay to its south). The inhabitants were mostly the Igbo people who led the secession due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria. The creation of the new country was among the causes of the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War… After two-and-a-half years of war, during which a million civilians had died in fighting and from famine, Biafran forces agreed to a ceasefire with the Nigerian Federal Military Government (FMG), and Biafra was reintegrated into Nigeria. [Wikipedia] Though largely forgotten now, the Biafran famine was a very newsworthy topic in 1970. JT

 

Continue reading “1970 Poetry Australia 32”

2003: A Week in New York

John Tranter: A Week in New York in 2003
John Tranter is Australia’s leading modern poet. He has won many Australian poetry prizes and has published over twenty books, including Starlight (UQP Australia and BlazeVox Books, Buffalo, USA), and Heart Starter (Puncher and Wattman, Sydney, and BlazeVox Books, Buffalo, USA). He’s the founder of the Australian Poetry Library at <www.poetrylibrary.edu.au>, of Jacket magazine at <jacketmagazine.com>, and of the Journal of Poetics Research (JPR) at <poeticsrearch.com>. He has a WordPress journal at <johntranter.net>, and a static HTML homepage at <johntranter.com>. All these sites are free. In 2003 he gave a series of readings and talks in Europe and the USA, and in New York he wrote these diary notes.

Pigeons, New York City, 2005.
Pigeons, New York City, 2005.
I had spent a week in Britain while my wife Lyn, a literary agent, was attending the Frankfurt Book Fair. We met up in Paris for two weeks’ holiday, and then went to New York (my seventeenth visit) for ten days of meetings before we returned to Sydney.

Monday 27 October. New York. It’s a relief to get away from Paris. The French are all so well-dressed that you wonder if there isn’t perhaps a secret municipal regulation: in every city block there shall be four large pharmacies with their identical garish green neon signs, and a pile of dog shit in front of each one; every adult male shall consume one hundred cigarettes and one litre of wine per day, and all adults and children shall be well-dressed and polite in public.

Here in New York, no two people are dressed alike, and everybody is loudly unique. Like sugar in all the food, talking to strangers, and not bothering to vote, it comes with the territory.

SStudio Moon, cover image: ‘The Hairdresser’, 1989, by Susie Marston. Collection John and Lyn Tranter.
Studio Moon, cover image: ‘The Hairdresser’, 1989, by Susie Marston. Collection John and Lyn Tranter.

7 p.m. A book party at Teachers and Writers Collaborative. Salt Publications from Cambridge England (http://www.saltpublishing.com/) launches three poetry books: English poet John Wilkinson’s new book Contrivances and two books of my work: Studio Moon, a new collection, and Trio, an omnibus compilation of three of my early poetry books from the 1970s, now out of print in the original editions.

New York poet John Ashbery had kindly agreed to say a few words, and as it happens he chooses to read a poem of mine. It is a strange choice, an elegy for Ashbery’s friend Frank O’Hara (he died in the late 1960s), the last word of each line of which is the same as the last word of each line of ‘Buried at Springs’, an elegy for O’Hara by his friend the late James Schuyler. The material in the poem is specifically American, and it felt spooky to hear Ashbery reading out in his American accent my words about two of his dead friends. For a moment the room seemed haunted. In a few days it will be the eve of All Saints’ Day: Allhallows Eve, or Hallowe’en.

Edvard Munch: The Scream
Edvard Munch: The Scream

Tuesday 28 October. 8.30 p.m. Salt Publications hosts a dinner for fourteen British, Australian and American literary types. There are restaurants in New York whose thick carpets and linen napery muffle the murmur of satisfied diners; this was not one of them. The packed crowd of patrons and the hard walls and tiled floor made conversation with your neighbour a test of the vocal chords. Half way through the evening, perhaps to drown out the sound of four hundred diners shrieking at each other, the disco music was turned up to jackhammer volume. No one was smoking: it’s banned nearly everywhere now, and New Yorkers seem to have given up nicotine overnight. I left with my head ringing and my voice raw. I managed to catch up with old friends and make a few new ones, and talk about lively San Francisco poet Carl Rakosi, who is one hundred next week, a Jacket conference planned for 2004 in England [which never happened: they never do. J.T. 2015], and the competing poetry schools in Britain over the last thirty years.

Wednesday 29 October. 1 p.m. Lunch with young Russian poet Philip Nikolayev, visiting New York from Boston where he is a student. He knew a lot about Australian poetry and wanted to know more, a rare interest in America; but then, he’s not American.

Om, New York City, 2003.
Om, New York City, 2003.

On the sidewalk a block from our hotel someone had scored a word into a slab of freshly-poured concrete a year or so ago, and now it permanently admonishes the public: not a heart with an arrow through it, nor an obscenity, but the Sanskrit characters for the Hindu mantric word ‘Om’, an expression of Brahman, and the symbol of waking, sleep, dreams, silence and fulfilment. As they say here, go figure.

Checking the news from Australia on the Internet, Lyn discovers a minor drama that the local news here glossed over: a recent commuter train delay in New York was caused by a man getting his arm caught in the train toilet while trying to retrieve a mobile phone.

A very young John Tranter with Deborah Treisman, New York City, 1992.
A very young John Tranter with Deborah Treisman, New York City, 1992.

7p.m. Our long-time friend Deborah Treisman, now fiction editor of the New Yorker, invited us to a party at the Housing Works Bookstore (for second-hand books) in Greenwich Village. All the guests brought a book to donate. Profits go to help homeless people with AIDS and HIV. To be homeless in New York in the freezing winter would be awful, and to be mortally ill as well would be unbearable. There are hundreds of mainly young people at this event, all there to help. An auction of signed first editions was started with a speech by Irish-American author Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes), who took the opportunity to tell us, in a loud and unsteady Irish brogue, how great it felt to be famous.

Thursday 30 October. 7 p.m. Chinese poet Bei Dao in conversation with Eliot Weinberger at Poets’ House in Greenwich Village. When a poet’s works are not published in his own country, whom does he write for? Lyn and I lived in Singapore for two years in the 1970s, and she pointed out that one issue was not raised by the rather lame audience questions: there is a vast Chinese diaspora, and has been for centuries, most of whose citizens don’t care how China is governed. Bei Dao lives in California, but not in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where the locals don’t give a damn about modern poetry. He has a position at the University of California at Davis, respected widely for its expertise in modern agriculture.

Friday 31 October. The date is a gloomy one for me: the anniversary of All Saints’ Eve 1873, the night my favourite poet, Arthur Rimbaud, gave up poetry at the age of nineteen.

Halloween Parade, Greenwich Village, NYC.
Halloween Parade, Greenwich Village, NYC.

7 p.m. Attend the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, which began thirty years ago as a demonstration of gay pride. It looks like something a high school might put on: a jazz band in colourful 1920s outfits, a commercial float advertising a Broadway show, some political protest, and lots of gay men in feathers, all cheerfully amateurish. I was surprised at the absence of drunken aggression compared to Sydney’s crowds on New Year’s Eve. There were police everywhere, and like the rest of the huge milling crowd they were ethnically mixed, laid-back and friendly. By midnight there had not been a single arrest.

Saturday 1 November. A friend who had been staying at our hotel told Lyn about a conversation in the elevator. A large gentleman said to her gravely: ‘Y’know, down in Texas we don’t set much store by the Dalai Lama.’ End of conversation.

Sunday 2 November. News item: a US helicopter has been shot down in Iraq with the loss of sixteen lives.

Midday: the puttering throb of news helicopters circling low overhead. The New York Marathon has filled our hotel with Belgian tourists. Nearby Central Park, where the race finishes, is packed with people. The organisers expect two million spectators, many of them visitors: that’s a lot of income for New York City. Later from our window we can see tired athletes wandering homeward wrapped in sheets of silver foil, and the air is shrill with the howling of ambulances carting away the defeated.

The Zinc Bar, New York City.
The Zinc Bar, New York City.

7 p.m. I present a poetry reading and a talk at the Zinc Bar, a dimly-lit cellar on Houston Street. Chris Martin reads first; a young poet who has experimented with the rap format, giving it a more complex and surreal edge. He begins by saying nice things about Jacket magazine. I read some poems and then talk about Ern Malley, a hoax poet invented by two clever young conservative poets to mock the pretensions of avant garde poetry in Australia in 1943, the year I was born. As a young man John Ashbery was inspired by Ern Malley’s poems. Australia’s most celebrated military engagement, Gallipoli, was a bitter defeat; (pronounced guh-LIPP-uh-lee), our most widely-known poet was a cruel and reactionary fabrication. What does that say about Australia? Perhaps it helps to explain our laconic view of life. When I mention that Jacket 17 features all of Ern Malley’s poems, together with a vast range of secondary and archival material including a rare photograph of Ern as a boy, the mainly young audience seems to know that already.

Last Flight Home, New York City.
Last Flight Home, New York City.

9 p.m. Sushi (a type of food virtually unknown in Japan) with Doug Rothschild, a New York poet who is preparing to give up the literary life in the Big Apple for a role as a carpenter’s apprentice in upstate Albany. An odd choice for a poet in mid-career, but I can understand it. The poetry world in the USA is pitiless: it demands everything, and gives very little in return.

To bed, tired but happy.
 

 

1928-2015: vale Barbara Shannon

My half-sister Barbara Shannon,

(née Barbara Brown), who was born on 18 August 1928, passed away recently at the age of 87, and I spoke at her funeral at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium on Tuesday 3 November 2015. The audience was small: family and friends. The updated text of my talk, mainly factual things about Barbara’s life and background, and my life, is given later in this file. Meanwhile, here are lots of photos of Barbara growing up, and later color photos by me of the small family wake at Coogee.

Circa 1928, Rose Bay, Sydney: Barbara with her mother and father
Circa 1928, Rose Bay, Sydney: Barbara with her mother and father

I am John Tranter, Barbara Shannon’s half-brother. I thought I’d outline Barbara’s life, as much as I know of it. Some of you know some of it, the latest part, maybe; some of you know the early parts. I knew Barbara Shannon almost from my birth, right up until now. Barbara was born in Sydney on 18 August 1928, and lived at Rose Bay with her mother — my mother — and her father, Harold Harcourt Hellier. My mother’s name was Anne Katherine Brown, and I was born much later, in 1943. Harold Hellier had returned from the First World War badly damaged by the things he had seen and by the things he had been through, and he took up a career in journalism and, sadly, took to the bottle. I can’t blame him for that. He had a lot to forget.

 Circa 1916 My mother, and Barbara's mother, Anne Katherine Brown late Anne Hellier later Anne Tranter
Circa 1916 My mother, and Barbara’s mother, Anne Katherine Brown late Anne Hellier later Anne Tranter
Circa 1920 Anne Brown with sister Peg at left
Circa 1920 Anne Brown with sister Peg at left
Circa 1921 Anne Brown
Circa 1921 Anne Brown
Circa 1928 Rose Bay Sydney: barbara Shannon with Peg Brown, right.
Circa 1928 Rose Bay Sydney: Barbara Shannon with Peg Brown, right.
Circa 1930 Rose Bay Sydney, Barbara Shannon
Circa 1930 Rose Bay Sydney, Barbara Shannon
Circa 1931 Barbara Shannon at the beach, with Peg Brown, right.
Circa 1931 Barbara Shannon at the beach, with Peg Brown, right.

My mother had fallen in love with him and married him in the early 1920s, and had two children, Barbara Hellier and Peter Hellier. After some years it became obvious that things were not going to work out, so my mother took the children and went back to her home in Bodalla, a small town on the South Coast of NSW. That must have been hard for her.

Circa 1932, Rose Bay, Sydney: Barbara Shannon with teddy bear
Circa 1932, Rose Bay, Sydney: Barbara Shannon with teddy bear
Circa 1940: Barbara Hellier, Peter Hellier, their mother Anne Hellier, probably at Potato Point near Bodalla
Circa 1940: Barbara Hellier, Peter Hellier, their mother Anne Hellier, probably at Potato Point near Bodalla

She made a living there in the post office. This involved learning Morse Code, something I only learned a few years before my mother’s death. Part of her work involved typing out telegrams, and telegrams arrived over the telegraph wires, and were sent, in the form of Morse Code messages.

So every time I receive a Short Message Service text on my phone, the phone makes a sound like dit-dit-dit DAH DAH dit-dit-dit, (pause), dit-dit-dit DAH DAH dit-dit-dit. I think of my mother every time, as that is the Morse code for ‘SMS’. Even though she didn’t live to see SMS messages, she would have known what that Morse Code meant.

In the late 1930s a young teacher at the school at Bodalla, Frederick Tranter, fell in love with my mother, and they were married at Moruya in April 1941. Fred was 26, my mother was 34 years old.

Circa 1940: Peter Hellier, his mother Anne, Barbara Hellier, probably at Potato Point
Circa 1940: Peter Hellier, his mother Anne, Barbara Hellier, probably at Potato Point
Circa 1939 Barbara Brown later Oliver, Sydney.
Circa 1939 Barbara Brown later Oliver, Sydney.
Circa 1944, Barbara Hellier with young John Tranter, Murrumbidgee River, Bredbo.
Circa 1944, Barbara Hellier with young John Tranter, Murrumbidgee River, Bredbo.

Her two children, Peter and Barbara Hellier, by then teenagers, were placed in boarding school; Barbara at Bega, and Peter at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, near Liverpool, in western Sydney, a school I later attended. My father became the teacher at a one-teacher school in Bredbo, a little village twenty or so miles north of Cooma, in the Southern Highlands or Monaro area of NSW. I was born Cooma in 1943. My mother used to say that Bredbo was a dreadful place: in the winter it was freezing and windy, in the summer it was hot and windy.

Peter and Barbara came to visit with us in the school holidays — usually in January, when it was the hottest and windiest.

Circa 1945: Jim Brown, Peg Brown.
Circa 1945: Jim Brown, Peg Brown.
Circa 1946: Barbara Hellier.
Circa 1946: Barbara Hellier.
Circa 1946: John Tranter, Peter Hellier, Barbara Hellier, Bredbo.
Circa 1946: John Tranter, Peter Hellier, Barbara Hellier, Bredbo.

When I was about four my father took up a teaching position in Moruya on the South Coast. I might add here that on the long night-time drive down the Brown Mountain road from Bredbo to Moruya on the coast, the side door of the car accidentally opened near the Dalmeny turnoff (Dalmeny is a small beach community), and I flew out onto the night road, waking as I bounced across the gravel road into a ditch. One of my earliest memories is of clambering to my feet in that pitch-black darkness only to see the tail light disappearing around a bend. The car was a 1939 Chev coupe, with only one tail-light. Of course I survived — here I am — but that bang on the head explains a lot.

The car I fell out of: my father, left, and young John Tranter, Bredbo, circa 1946.
The car I fell out of: my father, left, and young John Tranter, Bredbo, circa 1946.
L to R, Peter Hellier, Ethel Nelson (Melbourne aunt), Elsie Loney (Melbourne aunt), Barbara Hellier (later Barbara Shannon), 1946
L to R, Peter Hellier, Ethel Nelson (Melbourne aunt), Elsie Loney (Melbourne aunt), Barbara Hellier (later Barbara Shannon), 1946
Circa 1950: Peter Hellier, Leo Shannon. Bodalla?
Circa 1950: Peter Hellier, Leo Shannon. Bodalla?

I’d like to mention my grandfather, John Brown, Barbara’s grandfather too, and my grandmother, also called Barbara: Barbara Brown. My mother’s sister was also called Barbara. The Brown children: George, who died in the war, Jim, who was a navigator in the war, Anne my mother, later Anne Hellier, later Anne Tranter; Barbara, later Barbara Oliver married to solicitor Martyn Oliver in Nowra, and young Peg, who married a US serviceman (name unknown) and went to live in Phliladelphia after the war, and later returned to Australia and married Jim Bridekirk. Her step-daughter was Sue Bridekirk, daughter of Jim Bridekirk’s first wife.

My uncle Martyn and his wife Barbara (a Nowra schoolteacher) had no children of their own, and treated me with great affection as a surrogate child. Martyn, who had fought as a young man in New Guinea, took to drink after the war, but was a recovered alcoholic by the time I knew them, and I never saw him take a drink. He had a heart murmur caused by the awful stress of fighting in the jungle, and died in the mid-1950s of his heart problem.

Circa 1958: Martyn Oliver. Between Moruya and the beach resort of Congo.
Circa 1958: Martyn Oliver. Between Moruya and the beach resort of Congo.

To go back a bit, my grandparents, and Barbara Shannon’s grandparents, were raised in New Zealand of Scottish stock. My grandfather John Brown was brought to Bodalla on the south coast of NSW in the early years of the century when my mother was only two, as the newly-appointed manager of the Bodalla Company, a communalist co-operative of farmers that produced the (then) famous Bodalla Cheese. He had been a cheese-maker in Otago, in New Zealand. [I believe the Bodalla Company co-op was started by Sir Thomas Mort. He started a shipyard in Balmain in Sydney, in the 1850s, to build the refrigerated ships that transported frozen mutton to Europe, and which made him a millionaire. The shipyard closed after World War II, and was a container wharf for a while, and is now a lovely park by the Harbour, where I walk my dog.]

Being Scottish at heart, John Brown was interested in machinery — the Scots invented the steam engine, the telegraph and the telephone, and a Scotsman patented the mechanism of the fax machine in — believe it or not — 1848. And a Scotsman, John Logie Baird, invented television in England, demonstrating it successfully in 1925. That’s where we get the word “Logies” from. So Barbara’s grandfather was knowledgeable about mechanical devices such as milk separators and milking machines, a big new thing in those days.

And John Brown was — being Scottish — a great reader, as all the family were. My mother, who read three of four novels every week of her life, said she hardly knew what her father looked like, because she only saw him at breakfast time, and then he was usually to be found behind a newspaper, reading.

And I’m sure the Scots in Edinburgh invented the Encyclopaedia Britannica around 1770 in order to have something interesting to read — articles about machinery, perhaps — through the long Scottish winter nights.

I hardly knew him, but I knew my grandmother. In later life she lived with her daughter (also called Barbara), my aunt, in Nowra. When she was in her nineties (and I was about nineteen) she put down her magnifying glass — she was always reading — and said to me ‘I see you’re writing poems, Johnnie.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Well, I suppose I’m going to become a poet, Grandma.’ In fact I went on to write over twenty books of poetry.
‘Very well,’ said Grandma. ‘But I’ve been reading Constance Fitzgibbon’s biography of the poet Dylan Thomas. Fitzgibbon says that Thomas was unable to say no, either to a drink or to a woman. Now I hope you’re not going to be like that.’ And she gave a wicked smile, and took a sip of wine.
That was Barbara Shannon’s grandmother.

Barbara married Leo Shannon, a divorced Navy man, in the early 1950s. In those days divorce was a dreadful thing; today it seems not so bad. I suspect Leo had a hard time of it in those days, but he bore everything with a brave smile.

Circa 1961: Peter Hellier with his daughter Pia, Cyprus.
Circa 1961: Peter Hellier with his daughter Pia, Cyprus.

They hitch-hiked through Europe, then returned to Australia. Leo, or Lee, was a basically a good and decent man. He became a probation officer, and they lived in Maitland, Bathurst and Sydney. They had two children, Linda and Mark. Mark is with us today; Lindy sadly died as a teenager in the mid 1970s, not long after I returned from Singapore where I had been working for a couple of years, and where my daughter Kirsten was born. Lindy met Kirsten when Kirsten was only a few months old, which is a nice link.

To go back a little, I boarded with and lived with Barbara and Lee in Neutral Bay through the year of 1961, when I studied Architecture at the University of Sydney. They were good days.

Lindy was a happy baby, and even though I withdrew from Architecture before the end of the year, I was okay with University life. The next year I studied Arts One, but my father died that year, and my life seemed to fall apart. It was years before I completed my degree.

Eventually, after overseas travel with my partner Lyn Grady (whom I met in 1964), and lots of adventures and misadventures, we returned to Australia and I married Lyn in 1968. We’re still together.

After my father’s death, my mother left the family property, a farm, at Kiora, near Moruya, and came to Sydney, to Mosman, and lived in a comfortable granny flat at the back of the house that Barbara and Lee then owned. My mother often minded my daughter Kirsten, and we were over there frequently.

1972: John Tranter, Kirsten Tranter, Linda Shannon, 100 Muston Street, Mosman, Sydney.
1972: John Tranter, Kirsten Tranter, Linda Shannon, 100 Muston Street, Mosman, Sydney.

In 1975 we moved to Brisbane (I produced about 40 radio plays for the ABC there) where my son Leon was born in October 1975. Three years later we returned to Sydney, and again we saw a lot of Barbara and my mother.

Eventually Leo Shannon, who had been a healthy and vigorous man who loved to go bushwalking, contracted stomach cancer, and died of it. Barbara lived on, in the flat they had bought in Marten’s Lane, Mosman.   

I should mention that Barbara had been very talented musically when she was young. Mark’s daughter Heather Shannon — Barbara Shannon’s grand-daughter — also developed a strong musical gift, and eventually went to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I was delighted to attend a concert she gave there in 2008, with Barbara and my wife Lyn and my daughter Kirsten: Schubert, Bach, Chopin and Shostakovich, all beautifully performed.

Later Heather branched out into popular music and performed very successfully as a member of the band ‘The Jezabels’, which became popular and successful in Australia, in the United States and in Europe. Barbara followed her career closely and very proudly. I know Heather’s musical success was important to Barbara: she mentioned it to me many times.

Barbara Shannon had a fall about ten years ago and broke her hip. I was glad to take care of her, and I helped out as much as I could, visiting her in hospital and doing other things. My wife Lyn helped too.

Barbara recovered well and eventually moved to a retirement home, The Manors, in Mosman, and she seemed to enjoy the life there. Mind you, I feel she enjoyed most of all complaining about the fact that she lived in the electorate of that Liberal politician (and our Prime Minister for a while) that Tony Abbott person, so her vote was always wasted. Most of the other inhabitants of the Mosman retirement home were Liberal voters, I assume, and I suspect that Barbara enjoyed upsetting them.

In fact when Barbara moved out of the Marten’s Road flat, a helpful neighbour said to me “That sister of yours… she’s a very hard woman to help.”

I feel that the more time that passes, the more Barbara’s habit of dismissing ideas she didn’t like begins to seem funny and admirable, and perhaps even brave and independent. In many ways she was, and is, a model for young women.

Barbara was one of the most beautiful and one of the most intelligent women I ever knew. She had a good, long life, and I know she was greatly loved by her large family… and who can ask for more than that?
E N D
 

1968: Linda Shannon, Lyn Tranter, Mark Shannon, at Lyn and John Tranter's wedding, 2 March 1968.
1968: Linda Shannon, Lyn Tranter, Mark Shannon, at Lyn and John Tranter’s wedding, 2 March 1968.
Three Brown Girls: Aunt Barb, my mother and Barbara's mother Anne Katherine Tranter, Peg Bridekirk. Circa 1980.
Three Brown Girls: Aunt Barb, my mother and Barbara’s mother Anne
Katherine Tranter, Peg Bridekirk. Circa 1980.
At the Wake: Back: l to r: Mark Shannon, his wife Michelle Shannon, Mark Hartig, Sarah Shannon, Lyn Tranter; front: Heather Shannon, her boyfriend Sam, her brother Sam Shannon.
At the Wake: Back: l to r: Mark Shannon, his wife Michelle Shannon, Mark Hartig, Sarah Shannon, Lyn Tranter; front: Heather Shannon, her boyfriend Sam, her brother Sam Shannon.
At the Wake: Leon Tranter, Nicole Scott-Tranter, baby Abigail, Mark Shannon, Michelle Shannon, (front) Heather Shannon
At the Wake: Leon Tranter, Nicole Scott-Tranter, baby Abigail, Mark Shannon, Michelle Shannon, (front) Heather Shannon
At the Wake: Georgia Shannon, Mark and Michelle's daughter
At the Wake: Georgia Shannon, Mark and Michelle’s daughter
Flowers for the Funeral
Flowers for the Funeral
Flowers for the Funeral
Flowers for the Funeral
Pia Hellier and her father, Peter Hellier, Barbara's brother.
Pia Hellier and her father, Peter Hellier, Barbara’s brother.

 

Distant Voices B: Thesis, 2 of 6 : About the Poems

You can download and read the PDF file for the entire Thesis here.
The file is here divided into six HTML pages, numbered 1 to 6, presented on this WordPress site as large and ‘responsive’ blog pages. I tried to make the Thesis into one large HTML page, but the uploading times were horrible, and the editing was problematical.

[Links: click on the bracketed guillemets below]
[«»] Thesis, Part 1 of 6 : Poems
[«»] Thesis, Part 2 of 6 : Exegesis 1 of 3: About the Poems ← You are here.
[«»] Thesis, Part 3 of 6 : Exegesis 2 of 3: Prior Projects
[«»] Thesis, Part 4 of 6 : Exegesis 3 of 3: Dream-Work
[«»] Thesis, Part 5 of 6 : 8 Appendices
[«»] Thesis, Part 6 of 6 : Bibliography
[«»] Thesis, Readers’ Reports

  Distant Voices: Tranter’s 2009 DCA Thesis: Part 2 of 6:
  Exegesis

E X E G E S I S

Endnote links: This file has explanatory endnotes. If you click on the number that identifies the endnote, you will be taken back to the point in the text where the endnote anchor appears; and vice versa.

Paragraph 1 follows:

As with some of John Tranter’s books of poetry, the volume of poems submitted as part of his DCA thesis is divided into three parts:

  Exegesis, Part 1: About the poems: ‘Vocoder’

2:

Part 1: ‘Vocoder’ [Note 1]  is a group of four long poems that explore, each in a distinct and different way, the idea of displacing the authorial ego entirely with a kind of writing at one or two removes, through the process of translation, ventriloquy, mask or disguise. Each of these four poems has a fractured, oblique or obscure surface, and raises issues relating to the denying of the authorial ego, and the adoption of other roles.

  Exegesis, Part 2: ‘Speaking French: 101 poems’

3:

Part 2: ‘Speaking French: 101 poems’ is available here: Distant Voices C: Thesis 3 of 5 : Exegesis 2/3. It presents another approach to authorial displacement. Each poem is a reworked machine ‘translation’ (set up to fail as a translation in each case) of some of Rimbaud’s prose-poems from the sequence he titled ‘Illuminations’, plus poems by Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Verlaine. This follows Tranter’s earlier experiments with the Brekdown computer program (mentioned below), which offer another set of procedures in the service of the same idea.

  Exegesis, Part 2: ‘At the Movies’

4:

This file is available here: Distant Voices D: Thesis 4 of 5 : Exegesis 3/3. It This is a group of poems with less ambiguous intentions. Narrative, discursive and reflective, they engage with and speak directly about various movies and their cultural settings, mainly US movies from the period of film noir in the early 1940s into the 1960s.

So let us get started with the Exegesis part 2 of 6.

  Introductory Comments: a little history

5:

Tranter has written many poems in each of these three modes before, and in a sense these new poems are corrections, reinterpretations, rewritings or in some cases more extreme versions of earlier practices.

6:

Tranter had long practised taking over and altering other people’s poems. In fact at the very beginning of his career, in 1963 (when he was twenty) he wrote a poem that answered A D Hope’s poem ‘Australia’, using seven of Hope’s 28 rhymes, changing the rhyme scheme from abba to abab, borrowing and distorting many of Hope’s metaphors, and filling in the rest of the poem with his own dismissive words. Tranter argued with Hope’s poem perhaps because Hope was old and Tranter was young, or perhaps because Hope was a successful and well-known academic poet and Tranter was at that time unknown.

7:

A D Hope’s poem ‘Australia’ and Tranter’s ‘Australia Revisited’ are provided as appendices to this thesis.

8:

Another, later, intervention in another Australian poet’s work is ‘An Absolutely Extraordinary Recital’, a critical rewriting of Les Murray’s poem ‘An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow’. In Tranter’s hands, the topic of the Murray poem — a man publicly weeping without apparent reason — is translated into the topic of a man giving a public reading of Les Murray’s poetry. The similarity between communion in public religious worship and ‘communion’ in the public consumption of poetry is a strong subtext and prop to many of Murray’s poems, and is here dragged into the open, metaphorically speaking. The poem is previously unpublished, and is printed as an appendix to this thesis.

9:

It is interesting to note that more than a decade before Les Murray published his poem, the Greek poet George Seferis published a poem titled ‘Narration’ with an oddly similar central event. This is discussed in a footnote to ‘An Absolutely Extraordinary Recital’.

10:

Just as Murray’s early poem ‘Spring Hail’ can be read as a version of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Fern Hill’ transported to the Colonies, and his ‘The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle’ can be seen as a white appropriation of the spiritual universe portrayed in Ronald and Catherine Berndt’s translation of the Moon-Bone Song Cycle of the Wonguri-Mandjigai people, as many have noted, so the common theme explored in Murray’s ‘Rainbow’ poem and Seferis’ poem about a crying man can also be read as an endorsement of the concept that borrowing — whether conscious or less-than-conscious — is not solely the province of putative ‘post-postmodernists’.

  The Anaglyph

11:

John Tranter and poet David Brooks introduced John Ashbery’s reading at the University of Sydney in September 1992. [ 2 ]  One of the poems Ashbery read was the double sestina from his book Flow Chart. In his preamble to the poem Ashbery revealed that his double sestina uses the end-words of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s double sestina ‘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, borrowing the last word or two of each line, and you have the process or form that Tranter has called ‘terminals’.

12:

He has written many poems in this mode, taking end-words from Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden, Barbara Guest, John Keats, Frank O’Hara, Banjo Paterson and others. The US poet, editor and critic Brian Henry has studied and summarised this technique of Tranter’s in a paper published in Antipodes magazine in 2004; his paper is reprinted on the internet. [ 3 ] Henry mentions and quotes from the Ashbery sestina. He looks at ten of Tranter’s poems and discusses each different kind and example of borrowing in detail.

13:

Brian Henry says, inter alia:

14:

With the sestina as a model, John Tranter has created a new form similar to the sestina but far more flexible in its emphasis on end-words: the terminal. Taking only the line endings from previously published poems, the terminal can be any length, and the number of terminals possible in the English language is limited only by the number of poems in the English language. The form has infinite potential. Unrestricted to 39 lines as in the sestina, not limited to 14 or 19 rhyming lines as with the sonnet and the villanelle, not expected to repeat itself like the pantoum and the villanelle, and not tethered to any rhyme scheme or syllable count like the ballad, terza rima, heroic couplet, alexandrine, sapphics, or ottava rima, the terminal as a poetic form is vastly open to possibility. [….]

15:

… the terminal raises various issues about poetic form, conservation, usurpation, influence, and composition that no other form can raise. Because Tranter overwrites — and in the process simultaneously effaces and preserves — his source poem while retaining the anchoring points of the source poem, his terminals are both conservative and destructive. (Henry 32)

16:

A year or two ago the magazine The Modern Review, based in Toronto, Canada, sent Tranter a request: ‘We are attempting to assemble a group of critically interested writers/ 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.’

17:

Ashbery’s ‘Clepsydra’ is a complicated piece of writing. Its title seems to have little connection with the poem: a clepsydra [ 4 ] is a kind of water-driven clock (the name means ‘water-stealer’) used by the ancient Greeks. The poem is also long: 253 lines long, to be precise: nearly nine pages. It was first published in book form in the 1977 volume Rivers and Mountains.

18:

Other critics have dealt with ‘Clepsydra’ by tracing various influences in it. Annette Gilson, for example, uncovers evidence of the influence of Emily Dickinson:

19:

In one of her most frequently cited circumference poems, ‘The Poets light but Lamps—’ (Poems 883), Dickinson describes the influence that poets have on later readers as a kind of ‘vital Light’ that ensures that the poets’ ‘Circumference’ will be preserved. Both of Ashbery’s references to circumference reflect this Dickinsonian luminance, explicitly linking an image of light to a spatial circumference figure.(2) In this way ‘Clepsydra’ registers the dimension of Dickinsonian circumference that suggests that the ‘vital Light’ of a prior poet continues to exist, even after she is dead, by lighting the ‘Lamps’ of later poets. (Gilson 1998)

20:

Tranter’s ‘response’ to the poem was quite different. With Mr Ashbery’s permission he set out to dismantle and rebuild it.

21:

He took the last word of two of each line from ‘Clepsydra’, as with his earlier experiments with ‘terminals’, and also the first word or two from each line. Thus each line of Tranter’s reworked poem had its beginning and ending given to him; his task was to replace the meat in the sandwich, as it were.

22:

So ‘The Anaglyph’ is a reinvented, perhaps flawed, or perhaps improved, version of that master poem, which is here reduced to the status of ancestor, model, maquette, or template.

23:

‘The Anaglyph’ is partly about its own process — that is, the deconstructing and reconstructing of a poem. It is also about Tranter’s relationship as a developing poet with John Ashbery and with Ashbery’s poetry.

24:

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…’ lines 236–7). 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:

25:

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 centre of the first, en abyme.’ (pp.19–20)

26:

That is, inside the poem is a reduced diagram of the poem itself, ‘a tiny mirror for the plot, or maybe narrative’, as Tranter writes, referring to just this device, in his poem ‘The Alphabet Murders’, written over thirty 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.

27:

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’ (84). 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 perceived from a slightly different viewpoint.

28:

‘The Anaglyph’ is similar to Ashbery’s original poem ‘Clepsydra’, having the same number of lines and the same line beginnings and line endings, yet it has been written by a different author at a different time in a different society, coloured differently and seen from a slightly different point of view, and one which has one more layer of knowledge than the original. When Ashbery began work on ‘Clepsydra’ in the 1960s, nothing like it had existed before. When ‘The Anaglyph’ was begun, its progenitor had been modifying the ideal order of the literary landscape, to use Eliot’s phrase, for three decades. [ 5 ] ‘The Anaglyph’ depends on the earlier poem, and perceives the world partly through and from that poem’s viewpoint.

29:

On the first page Ashbery’s poem is displaced, codified and rationalised. The title of Ashbery’s poem, ‘Clepsydra’, refers to an ancient Greek water-clock, which appears disguised twice in ‘The Anaglyph’:

30:

Here behind the tiny horological waterfall
Drums amplify the fun, but only at nightfall, then just for a moment
Of horrible error as I clutch the wrong person’s hand. (17-19)

31:

Later in the poem, ‘that tiny hydraulic clock’ (234).

32:

The mention of Proust’s great novel (‘The way / Things fade away, les temps perdu seems to be the point / Of this rodomontade’ 157–9) reminds us that the scents and flavours of his remembered life soaked into Proust’s writing. Over many years these changed from private, evanescent memories into private handwriting fixed on paper, then to corrected proofs, the text of which was reified into public print, and eventually entirely replaced Proust’s own actual life, as this poem seeks to replace its progenitor.

33:

Favourite themes of Ashbery’s are also glancingly referred to: old schoolteachers, for example (‘the old school-teacher’s chief act of belief’ 39) and his use of ornate words harvested from the dictionary: ‘Those crowded riverine cities’ (63) reminds us of Ashbery’s title ‘Those Lacustrine Cities’ — that is, cities built beside or on a lake. The phrase ‘ashes and diamonds and nourishing food’ (77) obliquely refers to the title of the 1958 Polish movie Ashes and Diamonds directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski. Ashbery had the nickname ‘Ashes’ bestowed on him in that decade by his poet friends Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara. In the movie, a poem by the nineteenth-century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid is quoted:

34:

So often, are you as a blazing torch with flames
of burning rags falling about you flaming,
you know not if flames bring freedom or death.
Consuming all that you must cherish
if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest
Or will the ashes hold the glory of a star-like diamond
The Morning Star of everlasting triumph. [ 6

35:

Ashbery himself, as the maimed father-figure, makes a brief appearance to protest what has happened to his poem: ‘From Rochester he came hence, / A writ of Cease and Desist clenched in his teeth’ (135–6). Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York State, in 1927.

36:

Speaking of father-figures, the distancing yet ligaturing effect ‘The Anaglyph’ seeks to enact between Tranter the translator and Ashbery the originator is addressed by Lacan:

37:

Rather, the subject would now find himself alienated in a symbolic system which he shares with others. That system structures the human unconscious, and communication with the other can now be enacted through the shifting positions of signifiers in a system of symbolic exchange. The self is still an appropriated self, but what is appropriated is language as the other, and not an ideal but alienated image of an individual self. (In the resolution of the Oedipus complex, this would involve moving from a specular rivalry with the father, in which the child seeks to take the father’s place, to an assumption of the function of the father and, most fundamentally, of the symbolic father who, as Law, is that which makes possible all symbolic operations.) (Bersani, summarising Lacan, 115–16)

38:

One final function of the poetic father is to license the son to take his place. It is worth noting that Tranter has stated that he asked Ashbery’s permission before embarking on this disfigurative exercise:

39:

After wrestling with [‘Clepsydra’] for a while, I felt that it needed demolishing and rebuilding, and — with Mr Ashbery’s permission — that is what I did. (Feints 29)

40:

Perhaps to empower Ashbery as the lawgiver, other elder poets are downgraded. The most common thematic reference in ‘The Anaglyph’ is a series of references to bear hunting, the first of which is ‘a hunter in the dim mirror killing a bear’ (33). Poet Galway Kinnell was born in the same year as John Ashbery, and also lives in New York City. Daniel Schenker says

41:

In one of his [Kinnell’s] best known poems, “The Bear,” an Eskimo hunter stalks a polar bear who eventually succumbs to the sharpened bone coiled in the hunter’s bait. When the hunter comes upon the bear’s carcass he eats voraciously of the animal’s flesh as we would expect. But instead of then abandoning the carcass or considering its other uses, the hunter climbs into the body and life and death of the bear. The object of the hunt thus becomes not the mere domination of the bear by the hunter, but an effort to acquire an understanding of what it’s like to be something other than oneself. As if to validate his attempt to identify with the other, the hunter is granted a vision of spring at the end of the poem as geese come trailing up the flyway and a mother bear tends to a litter of new-born cubs.

42:

Kinnell’s poem contains an explicit comparison between bear-killing and poem-making, where his Eskimo hunter ponders thus: ‘…the rest of my days I spend / wandering: wondering / what, anyway, / was that sticky infusion, that rank flavour of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?’ A hard question to answer, for an aboriginal American, from inside the corpse of a dead bear.

43:

This seems light-years away from Ashbery’s modus operandi, and in ‘The Anaglyph’ the business with the dead bear is perhaps a ‘feint’, an example of what poetry is not, except in a willed personal myth drenched in contemporary bourgeois American nostalgie de la tundra.

44:

In ‘The Anaglyph’ there are eight further references to Mr Kinnell’s ill-fated bear: ‘inhabiting a reputation’ (51), ‘the story of an Eskimo inside an eviscerated bear like this?’ (72), ‘the fact that he “inhabited” the smelly bear-skin…’ (73), ‘clambering inside an animal’ (78), ‘that animal’s demise’ (105), ‘taxidermy at midnight’ (106), ‘a polar bear falling over, and the hunter’ (156), and a final dismissive if syntactically ambiguous aperçu: ‘He read poems about killing large animals to keep awake / On the tepid waters of café society.’ (210–11)

45:

Other images deal with Ashbery’s poetry as an influence and refer more sensibly to the process of rewriting as redesign or rebuilding: ‘this project, I admit that / It is like gutting then refurbishing a friend’s apartment.’ (43–44) ‘returning to my sources, raking through my prototypes’ (48), and ‘blueprint is found and seems just right’ (49).

46:

Not that ‘The Anaglyph’ is loaded with a freight of too-serious literary endeavour: that would betray Ashbery as much as Tranter, and of course seriousness in itself has no literary value, nor has its cousin, sincerity. As Harold Bloom reminds us, Oscar Wilde remarked that “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.” [ 7 ]  There are lighter moments, and many of them.

47:

For example: ‘the fireworks, they / Ended with a fizzing Roman candle sound that frightened the guest who was / Intended to rescue Gertie McDowell from that dirty old man.’ (100–102) In 1918 the US Postal Authorities burned copies of the Little Review carrying the instalment of James Joyce’s Ulysses in which young Gertie McDowell exposes her drawers to the gaze of masturbating Leopold Bloom in the dusk while roman candles fizz and explode in the sky. Joyce’s passage parodies the style of women’s magazine stories of the time:

48:

And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind and O! then the Roman candle burst and it
was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lively! O so soft, sweet, soft! (Joyce 477)

49:

Exclaiming over roman candles must be a universal phenomenon. Jack Kerouac, in On The Road, published in 1957, and seemingly unaware of Ulysses, writes:

50:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”.’ (Kerouac 8)

51:

Other lighter references:

52:

Photo of Ashbery’s apartment block in New York City
Photo of Ashbery’s apartment block in New York City

lines 23–25: the sky over Twenty-second Street, but / The sky leans nonchalantly against the coop — I mean “co-op” — about / As graceful as a cowboy leaning on a chicken co-op — I mean “coop”] John Ashbery’s apartment is in a building that bears a large sign advertising “COOPS”, or co-operatively-owned apartments. The vertical alignment of the word ‘coops’ does not allow for hyphens. See the note to ‘Ninth Avenue’ below. (Photo: John Ashbery’s apartment building. Photo by John Tranter.)

53:

91: The assurance Baron Corvo had an excess of, a crowing assurance] The eccentric writer Frederick Rolfe (1860–1913) adopted the pseudonym ‘Baron Corvo’ (along with several others). The Corvidae are a family of birds including crows, ravens and jays; corvine: crow-like.

54:

114: presented in a Potemkin-Village spirit ] Potemkin-Village, a pretentiously showy or imposing façade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition. 1935–40; after Prince Potëmkin. “Catherine’s [the Great’s] tour of the south in 1787 was a triumph for Potëmkin, for he disguised all the weak points of his administration — hence the apocryphal tale of his erecting artificial villages to be seen by the empress in passing.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Deluxe edition 2004 CD ROM).

55:

115: a vast electrical disturbance] The phrase comes from an early line of John Ashbery’s: ‘My child, I love any vast electrical disturbance.’ (Some Trees, Corinth 20) ] and is used again in ‘Electrical Disturbance: A dramatic interlude’.
131: coffee and a Strega] Strega (Italian: witch) is a liqueur. In Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘The Day Lady Died’:

56:

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday [….]
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue…

57:

131: Il Miglior Fabbro] Not in fact a New York café, bar or restaurant, though perhaps it should be. This phrase was T S Eliot’s dedication of The Waste Land to Pound: ‘the better maker’ or ‘the finer craftsman’, which is what Dante calls Arnaut Danièl, an Occitan troubadour of the twelfth century and the inventor of the difficult sestina poem form, a favourite of Ashbery’s.

58:

143: the pearl-handled revolver] A radio play device: a common name for any clumsy explanatory dialogue. In an archetypal radio play, to identify the villain to the radio audience, who are ‘blind’, and where the type of gun the villain is holding is vital in identifying the real murderer, typical dialogue ran thus: “Carruthers, you swine, put down that pearl-handled revolver!”]

59:

151: Not likely to allow me to escape the whirligig of voracious time.] Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, (act five, scene one):

60:

Clown: … And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.

61:

186: a canal reflecting its own anagram] Psychoanalytic philosopher Jacques Lacan developed a theory of the ‘mirror stage’ of ego development. Reflections and mirrors are of course symbolic of the central process this poem enacts. Canal is an anagram of Lacan, whose name appears in another mirror later in the thesis.

62:

197: a step or two away from them] Frank O’Hara again. His 1956 poem “A Step Away From Them’ contains the lines:

63:

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-coloured
cabs. [….] First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them? [….]
A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

64:

200: Leading to a rowboat mounted in a park] From John Forbes, ‘Monkey’s Pride’:

65:

I’ll be employed on a rowing boat
mounted in a park,
the one the avenues lead to
because society has elected me / to decorate
its falling apart with a useless panache […]

66:

208: Infant mortality was declining as aspirin consumption increased.] Though the two trends are not directly related, each is a product of scientific advances occurring over the same period:

67:

In 1897, scientists at the drug and dye firm Bayer began investigating acetylsalicylic acid as a less-irritating replacement for standard common salicylate medicines. By 1899, Bayer had dubbed this drug ‘Aspirin’ and was selling it around the world. Aspirin’s popularity grew over the first half of the twentieth century, spurred by its effectiveness in the wake of Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and aspirin’s profitability led to fierce competition and the proliferation of aspirin brands and products. (Wikipedia)

68:

Starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a precipitous decline in infant mortality was observed in the United States. Economic growth, improved nutrition, new sanitary measures, and advances in knowledge about infant care all contributed to this decline in infant mortality. (Lee, Kwang-Sun. ‘Infant Mortality Decline in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries: the role of market milk.’ Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Volume 50, Number 4, Autumn 2007, pp.585–602)

69:

229: Ninth Avenue] John Ashbery’s New York apartment abuts Ninth Avenue. See the note to ‘Twenty-second Street’, above.

70:

232: to turn your back on Europe] As a young man, John Ashbery lived in Europe for a decade from 1955 to 1965 — indeed, one of his poems is titled ‘Europe’, though it is mainly about the eponymous Paris metro stop and its neighbourhood — then returned to live in the United States. ‘Clepsydra’ was ‘one of the last poems Ashbery wrote while he was in France. The poem was composed in the Spring of 1965…’ (Shoptaw 83). The unusual number of French phrases and names in ‘The Anaglyph’ also suggest this French connection: Salon des Refusés, Buffon, Paris, eau-de-cologne, la vie littéraire, longeurs, Mallarmé’s abyss, Valéry, appliqué aperçus, puissant, les temps perdu, simple entendre.

71:

251: Your well wrought urn] Ashbery’s oeuvre; the reference is to both the noted critical study of poems by Donne, Wordsworth, Keats, and Eliot, The Well Wrought Urn by Cleanth Brooks, and to John Keats’ poem ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, which ends: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.’

  Desmond’s Coupé

72:

This poem is a mainly homophonic translation (or mistranslation) of Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 poem ‘Un coup de dés…’ [ 8 ] Tranter provided a note to the poem in a 2006 issue of Rhizome magazine (12–13):

73:

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.

74:

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.

75:

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.

76:

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.

77:

The idea of homophonic mistranslation is not new; Louis Zukofsky and his wife Celia used the technique in their versions of the Roman poet Catullus (1969), and more than half a century ago Frank O’Hara wrote ‘Aus Einem April’ (1954), the first line of which is a deliberate mistranslation of the first line of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem ‘Aus Einem April’ (‘From an April’) (Rilke 10). David Lehman (in Jacket 4) points out that O’Hara’s poem begins with the line ‘We dust the walls’; and Rilke’s poem begins ‘Wieder duftet der Wald,’ (‘Again the forest is fragrant’). The rest of the O’Hara’s poem, though, abandons close homophony and plays more loosely with the original. Rilke’s poem begins:

78:

Wieder duftet der Wald.
Es heben die schwebenden Lerchen
mit sich den Himmel empor, der unseren Schultern schwer war; …

79:

O’Hara’s poem (186) opens like so:

80:

We dust the walls
And of course we are weeping larks
falling all over the heavens with our shoulders clasped …

81:

Gérard Genette (Palimpsests, 1997) points out that

82:

the classic example of this genre is Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames, by Louis d’Antin van Rooten [first published in London in 1967], who presents as a volume of hermetic French poems (with English glosses on the obscurities) a series of French transphonations of nursery rhymes (‘Mother Goose Rhymes’):

83:

Un petit d’un petit
S’étonne aux Halles
Un petit d’un petit
Ah! Degrés te fallent

84:

thus transposes, as you have probably guessed already, to

85:

Humpty Dumpty
Sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty
Had a great fall.

86:

Alison Rieke notes a link from Humpty Dumpty to Louis Zukofsky:

87:

Zukofsky also glances at the word play of another Louis, Luis d’Antin Van Rooten, whose edition of Mother Goose transliterated into French resembles Zukofsky’s handling of foreign languages. Zukofsky made the connection between Swift and Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames by reading a review of Van Rooten’s book in which the reviewer compares the technique of the joking French transliteration of Mother Goose to Swift’s play with the sounds of Latin. … The pertinent quotation from Swift appears in the review, which Zukofsky clipped and saved and which is now preserved at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre with his composition notes for ‘A’-22 and ‘A’-23.

88:

Van Rooten’s sly poems are meant to be comic; Zukofsky perhaps less so. In Tranter’s hands, Mallarmé’s poem is considerably less solemn than in the original. Three examples:

89:

Mallarmé: Un coup de dés / jamais / quand bien même lancé dans des circonstances éternelles / du fond d’un naufrage

Weinfield translation: [ 9 ] A throw of the dice / will never / even when launched in eternal circumstances / from the depths of a shipwreck

Tranter: 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. (1–3)

90:

From the shipwreck which Mallarmé paints in misty though intensely spiritual terms to Desmond’s naivety is certainly a step or two down the ladder of seriousness, though the sense of quandary is of course central to Mallarmé’s poem.

91:

Mallarmé: celui / son ombre puérile / caressée et polie et rendue et lavée

Weinfield: this one / his peurile shade / caressed and polished and rendered and washed

Tranter: say, Louie, your son is some puerile hombre, / caressing a policeman and renting out a lavatory (58–59)

92:

Mallarmé wrote that ‘everything exists in order to end in a book,’ [10] though it is doubtful that he had policemen and lavatories in mind.

93:

Mallarmé: prince amer de l’écueil / s’en coiffe comme de l’héroïque / irrésistible mais contenu / par sa petite raison virile / en foudre

Weinfield: bitter prince of the reef / wears it as an heroic headdress / irresistible but contained / by his small virile reason / in a lightning flash

Tranter: 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 (91–95)

94:

Here the ‘prince amer’ becomes an American prince, whose ‘heroic headdress’ is downgraded to ‘a little heroic cough’.

95:

Perhaps the most salient difference between Mallarmé’s poem and Tranter’s version of it is that in Mallarmé there is a consistency of tone and vocabulary throughout (as there is in Eliot’s Four Quartets, below). The variation of theme and topic occur within an overall economy of literary decorum.

96:

In Tranter the opposite is the case; though there are some tenuous links to the master poem, the employment of homophonic ‘translation’ causes the vocabulary and topic to vary erratically, leaping from seriousness to crude slang in a single phrase: ‘heroic’ to ‘cough’, for example. The only literary decorum is a total lack of decorum, relentlessly imposed.

  Five Quartets

97:

Four Quartets,a group of four related poems by T S Eliot, was published in book form in 1942. [11] Their titles are Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding. Apparently Eliot considered Four Quartets to be his masterpiece. 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’.

98:

Tranter evidently had the feeling that Four Quartets — at nearly a thousand lines — was overgrown and repetitive, and he set about fixing those deficiencies by pruning the poem severely. His version — titled ‘Five Quartets’ — is Eliot’s poem with most of the words removed, and runs to a more economical 75 lines. Its restructuring and distortion of the original text is extreme; here is what Viktor Shklovsky has to say (12) about such procedures:

99:

In our phonetic and lexical investigations into poetic speech, involving both the arrangement of words and the semantic structures based on them, we discover everywhere the very hallmark of the artistic: that is, an artefact that has been intentionally removed from the domain of automatised perception. It is “artificially” created by an artist in such a way that the perceiver, pausing in his reading, dwells on the text. This is when the literary work attains its greatest and most long-lasting impact…. because of this, the object is brought into view.

100:

Later Shklovsky defines poetry as ‘the language of impeded, distorted speech. Poetic speech is structured speech.’ (13) What has occurred to the rather conventional language of Eliot’s poem is that its easy rhetorical flow and conventional sequence of insights and images have been truncated and chopped into fragments, and those fragments disconnected from their usual linking words and phrases. The ‘automatised perception’ that allows the eye to glide over the lines without being forced to notice each word has been disrupted. Here is a passage from Four Quartets:

101:

This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

IV
Time and the bell have buried the day,
the black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling? Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing

102:

This becomes:

103:

Abstention from its metalled bell
carries the cling wing.

104:

Rather than guess the intentions of climbing plants and trees, the reader is here forced to invent the mise en scene and syntactical connections that are needed for this to make ‘sense’. The act of reading — that is, making sense of a string of alphabetical marks — is so complex, rapid and automatic that these guesses at meaning have already taken place before we are consciously aware that they are needed. As attention is paid to the words, a series of conscious reinterpretations and adjustments are called for as predictable sequences of words fail to materialise. This kind of de-natured writing activates an extra layer of awareness in the reading mind and enlarges and refreshes the range of possible responses to a text.

  Electrical Disturbance

105:

The next piece, a group or sequence of poems titled ‘Electrical Disturbance: A dramatic interlude’ is laid out like a script for a radio play or feature for two voices, a form Tranter was familiar with. [12] 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 Tranter and broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ‘Radio Helicon’ program in 1988. Nearly two decades later, an audio recording of the radio program was audited and translated by a computer’s 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 John Tranter in 2005 and 2006. The speaking parts ‘A’ and ‘B’ do not have a one-to-one connection with the original vocal texts; the speech divisions occur more or less at random.

106:

As noted earlier, the title comes from an early line of Ashbery’s: ‘My child, I love any vast electrical disturbance.’ (Some Trees, Corinth 20) The original radio program was powered by electricity; Tranter’s version of it is itself a vast disturbance to the original. [13] Shklovsky makes a point about the need to disturb the conventional:

107:

In order to transform an object into a fact of art, it is necessary first to withdraw it from the domain of life. To do this, we must first and foremost “shake up the object,” as Ivan the Terrible sorted out his henchmen. We must extricate a thing from the cluster of associations in which it is bound. It is necessary to turn over the object as one would turn a log over the fire. (61)

108:

In the 1988 recording, John Ashbery begins by reading his poem ‘Paradoxes and Oxymorons’ (Selected 283):

109:

This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.
Look at it talking to you. You look out a window
Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t have it.
You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.

The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot be.

110:

Tranter’s transformation of these lines:

111:

Outsourcing ruins the parties concerned with language.
They are employing level parking. You are one
who pretended to go at it this year.
You listen to other opponents, said the committee,
it wants to be yours and cannot be on the supporting level — (2–6)

112:

Like a radio play script, the piece begins with a cast list for two voices: ‘A: a literary scholar; B: a company director taking on the guise of a naïve young man.’ Both personas could be made to fit Tranter, perhaps; this thesis would argue for his status as a literary scholar, and the half-title page of his collection Urban Myths states that ‘He… now lives in Sydney, where he is a company director.’ (UM i) Perhaps the guise of a ‘naïve young man’ was invented to allow his character to draw out the older, wiser Ashbery.

113:

The use of two voices provides an arena for conflict and dramatic tension. For the first half of the poem, the voices seem to address the air, or perhaps the reader, conveying the computer-mangled monologues into the public space of the printed page, just as the original radio program consisted of some static poetry reading by John Ashbery, designed to be overheard by the radio audience. But the program also contained a question-and-answer interview between Tranter and Ashbery, and by line 96 the poem begins to move in this direction too.

114:

B: He is one of the U.N. and NATO people. Right?
A: I don’t have any idea.
B: Okay. Would you like to meet some new friends?
A: Well, no.(96–99)

115:

As well as disagreement, there is misunderstanding:

116:

B: What about those so-called ‘French Fires’?
A: After the old days of riots, all of the fires were over.
B: Not Fires, Fries. And who — where — (106–198)

117:

We cannot be sure who misheard or misread ‘fries’ as ‘fires’, as the original draft provided by the computer’s ‘translation’ was extensively rewritten by John Tranter. The characters ‘A’ and ‘B’ are a construct, for one thing. Perhaps the computer mistranscribed the word; perhaps Tranter added it as an apparent mistranscription. The innocent reader cannot be sure of anything, in fact: the whole of the text of this piece may well have been a complete erasure, rewrite and obliteration of the original draft, or perhaps a partial rewrite. Does this matter? The connections between the original radio program and the poem as we have it in this thesis are strained, but also in a sense meaningless. One cannot explain the other. Occasionally, though, the focus becomes intelligibly self-aware:

118:

A: (looking around): Why am I here?
B: You are available, you are the only person
along the lines of the overview of the animal,
and more powerful than ever… (124–127)

119:

This is possibly a (slightly distorted) description of the power-relations between the ABC interviewer and the famous poet interviewee, though we should remember that the ‘… speaking parts “A” and “B” do not have a one-to-one connection with the original vocal texts…’

  Speaking French

120:

Following the ‘Vocoder’ group comes a group of one hundred and one poems loosely derived from the work of four French poets of the nineteenth century: some of Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’, and poems by Mallarmé, Baudelaire and Verlaine. I shall focus on the Rimbaud poems here. Most of what is said about them can be applied to the other three: the technical procedure was the same.

121:

The process of constructing these poems was loosely similar to the method used with ‘Electrical Disturbance’, but with an important difference. Here, the original poems by the four authors were read into the microphone by John Tranter, in French. The speech-recognition program had not been designed to handle French; that is, its dictionary consisted of only English words. Nonetheless it made valiant attempts to ‘make sense’, in English text, 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’? As with all of Tranter’s experiments, the product of the machine was treated as raw material, as rough drafts for more finished works, and considerable rewriting was done.

122:

A further restraint was imposed late in the rewriting process, one which relates these poems to the concerns of ‘The Anaglyph’ and ‘Electrical Disturbance’. Each of the 101 poems contains one or more lines or phrases from poems by John Ashbery.

  Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’

123:

Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’ are a group of 47 prose-poems which — unlike the work of the other three French poets — were not published during their author’s lifetime.

124:

Apart from Ashbery, Rimbaud is the other major influence on Tranter’s poetry, an influence which began a few years earlier than Ashbery’s, in Tranter’s adolescence. As Fagan and Minter put it:

125:

By 1968 Tranter was navigating a chiasmic cultural parallax, attracted to both American metropoetic and post-Romantic French Symbolism. This contest defines the direction of his first three books — the final ‘crisis’ of which is played out in The Alphabet Murders. Tranter’s solution to history was an inverted, Orientalising dialectic, and its synthesis was in the seminal figure of Arthur Rimbaud. (Par 13)

126:

‘Odi et Amo’, Tranter’s review of Charles Nicholl’s Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, begins with the mock-lascivious statement: “When I was seventeen, I fell in love with a sodomite.” Tranter’s teenage crush endured and matured into a complex relationship… Tranter has represented Rimbaud as ‘an intoxicating role model for a rebellious teenager… poetry was the essence of his life… [he was] intellectually brilliant… [and wrote] the most dazzling and gifted poetry of his period, perhaps of his century… [his poems] combine revolutionary modernist methods… with an intense lyricism.’ (Tranter, ‘Word for Word’) He also describes his pin-up vagabond as ‘one of the most dazzling poets of all time… [with] a very moving lyrical urge underneath all he wrote… a Lucifer figure in many ways, and we always admire the bad boys more than the goody two-shoes… I’ve never really moved on from Rimbaud.’ (Tranter, Cortland Review) This collocation of precocious poetic essence, stupefying lyricism and seditious brilliance sets up Rimbaud as the Romantic-Modern poet par excellence.… ‘Rimbaud’ becomes Tranter’s glamorous meta-brand, a sublimate junction between erotic hyper-essentialism and high modernist investments in proto-romantic self-constitution. (Par 15)

127:

Tranter has addressed Rimbaud before; three decades ago, early in the 1970s, he wrote ‘Rimbaud and the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’, [14] which was rewritten for its appearance as ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’ five years later in the collection Dazed in the Ladies Lounge (1979), and the topic crops up again and again through Tranter’s oeuvre. As I mention later in this paper, these early poems attempt to relocate Rimbaud firmly in the proto-Modern, and not all critics were persuaded that the attempt had been successful. [15] Todorov points to some of the dangers in this approach:

128:

To “discover” an author of the past, to translate his theories into a contemporary vocabulary, to relate them to current ideas, the endeavour is both seductive and unattractive — by its very facility. Such an activity provides a faithful, though caricatural, image of all interpretation and of all reading. Unless we let the author’s sentences speak for themselves (but in what language?), we merely tend to relate them to ourselves, by contrast or likeness. If I feel the need to introduce such texts, it is doubtless because I want to make their author into one of my own predecessors. (Todorov 190–191)
Rimbaud’s sentences have already spoken for themselves, long ago. One problem of writing about another writer is to avoid standing in front of him as you write, thus blocking the reader’s view. Tranter’s Rimbaud is of course nothing like Rimbaud, but rather like Tranter, as he would like to be seen. How to get rid of that curtain of authorial rhetoric? Tranter has quoted a saying: ‘Take rhetoric and wring its neck,’ attributing it to Rimbaud, which seems suitable, but Fagan and Minter point out that

129:

Tranter is actually mistaken here, as the Rimbaud quote appears not in ‘The Alphabet Murders’ but in Section 12 of his later poem ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’: ‘now a paste of / bullshit obscures the surface of the legend / that cast out flattery and took rhetoric / and wrung its neck.’ See John Tranter, ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’ from Dazed in the Ladies Lounge (1979), republished in John Tranter, Trio (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2003), p.109. (Footnote 10)

130:

In fact the phrase is probably from Verlaine; or so Arthur Symons, who knew Verlaine, [16] writes:

131:

Coming into a literature in which poetry is generally taken to be but another name for rhetoric, he [Spanish poet Ramon de Campoamor] followed, long before Verlaine, Verlaine’s advice to ‘take rhetoric and wring its neck.’ (Cities, 82)

Later the US poet Conrad Aiken used the phrase in a poem, where Verlaine utters it over a game of chess:

132:

Verlaine puts down his pawn upon a leaf
And closes his long eyes, which are dishonest,
And says ‘Rimbaud, there is one thing to do:
We must take rhetoric, and wring its neck!…’
Rimbaud considers gravely, moves his Queen;
And then removes himself to Timbuctoo… (Aiken 141–42)

133:

Three decades after ‘Rimbaud and the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’, Tranter retrieves the French poet from the realm of the proto-Modern where he had previously attempted to locate him, and retranslates more than thirty of his poems using the machinery of the twenty-first century, the electric blender of postmodern disassembly and reconstruction, converting his words into a shape Rimbaud would never have recognised. As Todorov advises, he lets ‘the author’s sentences speak for themselves (but in what language?)’

134:

To turn to the Rimbaud poems, here’s an example of the distance between one of Rimbaud’s prose poems in French and Oliver Bernard’s translation of it into English, and its incarnation as part of Tranter’s oeuvre. First, the Rimbaud (Rimbaud 274):

  Arthur Rimbaud: Métropolitain

135:

Du détroit d’Indigo aux mers d’Ossian, sur le sable rose et orange qu’a lavé le ciel vineux, viennent de monter et de se croiser des boulevards de cristal habités incontinent par de jeunes familles pauvres qui s’alimentent chez les fruitiers. Rien de riche. — La ville.

Du désert de bitume fuient droit, en déroute avec les nappes de brumes échelonnées en bandes affreuses au ciel qui se recourbe, se recule et descend formé de la plus sinistre fumée noire que puisse faire l’Océan en deuil, les casques, les roues, les barques, les croupes. — La bataille!

Lève la tête: ce pont de bois, arqué; ces derniers potagers; ces masques enluminés sous la lanterne fouettée par la nuit froide; l’ombre niaise à la robe bruyante, au bas de la rivière; ces crânes lumineux dans les plants de pois, — et les autres fantasmagories. — La campagne.

Ces routes bordées de grilles et de murs, contenant à peine leurs bosquets, et les atroces fleurs qu’on appellerait coeurs et soeurs, damas damnant de langueur, — possession de féeriques aristocraties ultra-rhénanes, Japonaises, Guaranies, propres encore à recevoir la musique des anciens — et il y a des auberges qui, pour toujours, n’ouvrent déjà plus; — il y a des princesses, et si tu n’es pas trop accablé, l’étude des astres. — Le ciel.

Le matin où, avec Elle, vous vous débattîtes parmi ces éclats de neige, ces lèvres vertes, ces glaces, ces drapeaux noirs et ces rayons bleus, et ces parfums pourpres du soleil des pôles. — Ta force.

  Metropolitan (trans. Bernard)

136:

From the indigo strait to the seas of Ossian, on the pink and orange sand which the vinous sky has washed, crystal boulevards have just risen and crossed, at once occupied by young poor families who get their food at the greengrocers’ shops. Nothing rich — The city!

From the desert of bitumen flee in headlong flight under sheets of fog spread out in frightful layers in the sky which curves back, recedes, and descends, formed of the most sinister black smoke that the Ocean in mourning can produce, helmets, wheels, ships, cruppers — The battle! Raise your head: that arched wooden bridge; the last kitchen gardens of Samaria; those masks lit by the lantern whipped by the cold night; the silly undine with the noisy dress, at the bottom of the river; luminous skulls among the pea seedlings — and the other phantasmagoria — the country.

Roads bordered by railings and walls, hardly containing their spinneys, and the frightful flowers you would call souls and sisters. Damask damning with tedium — the property of fairy-tale nobilities from beyond the Rhine, Japanese, Guarani, still fit to receive the music of the ancients — and there are inns which are never open any more — there are princesses, and, if you are not too overwhelmed, the study of the stars — the sky.

The morning when, with Her, you wrestled among the gleams of snow, the green lips, the ice, the black flags and the blue beams of light, and the purple odours of the Polar sun — your strength. (Ibid. 274–75)

  Metro

137:

Two guys from Detroit pored over the suicide letter
as its auction price rose through the $8.00 range.
A male choir that this year sang in Vietnam
is now a medical team on a training course.
No one wants an incontinent hostage.
Femina’s call for us all to share the pretty things
fell on deaf ears; so much for the taste of justice.
They can’t be bought. An investigation will not
reveal me as a donor or a smaller companion.
The promise of learning is a delusion. That’s what
befalls most of us plagiarists: our suckers
reject the disillusion that comes with the ugly truth.
One guy says the economy is in fact the city of events,
the other says ‘no one is a real actor in the film.’

138:

The phrase from Ashbery’s poetry is ‘The promise of learning is a delusion.’

139:

It’s clear that there is little point attempting to trace the links or connections between the ‘original’ and the final draft; to call them tenuous would be to understate the matter. The ‘content’ of the original has been completely dissolved in the acid bath of ‘translation’; form is in charge of the meaning here. Shklovsky reminds us that ‘form creates for itself its own content.’ (24)

140:

This distance between original and ‘translation’ is great enough to accommodate a complete transformation of one poem into a different literary object altogether, according to chance, incompletely effective computer transcription algorithms and personal poetic idiosyncrasy. On the other side of that gap lies freedom of an extreme kind.

  JE est un autre: an aside

141:

As Rimbaud wrote, JE est un autre, and this concept is worth looking at in detail.

142:

Rimbaud wrote two letters in May 1871, one on 13 May to GeorgesIzambard, and a similar though longer letter two days later to Paul Demeny (Rimbaud 5). They are generally known as the ‘Lettres du voyant’. In each letter he sets out his theory of the poet as a person transformed into a visionary seer, embodied in the phrase ‘I is another [JE est un autre]’. In both cases the letters of the first person pronoun are capitalised, and the sentence reads ‘I is another’, not ‘I am another’; that is, the first person, the speaking voice, the authorial ‘I’ of the poem has become some other person or thing: not Rimbaud the person, but Rimbaud as a poet, has been transformed.

143:

Other significant phrases from Rimbaud’s two letters are ‘…I have discovered I am a poet. It is not my fault at all,’ ‘So much the worse for the wood if it find itself a violin…’, and ‘If brass wakes up a trumpet, it is not its own fault.’

144:

The transformation is from sleep to action, from inarticulate raw material (brass, wood) to finely-worked musical instruments, from dumb matter to music. In Rimbaud’s own case it is the change from youth to adulthood (for all that he was sixteen at the time), from blindness to vision, from unconscious inaction to articulate life, and from innocence to experience.

145:

The Rimbaud scholar Enid Starkie links this claim of radical transformation to the alchemical study which Rimbaud had undertaken. ‘In occult theory,’ she writes,

146:

primordial thinking is an autonomous activity whose object the thinker is. The outworn conception of the personal writer producing his own work is totally false. The writer is merely the vehicle for the voice of the Eternal, he himself is of no account for he is merely the unconscious expression of someone speaking through him.

147:

Further, she quotes Rimbaud from the ‘Lettres du voyant’:

‘It is wrong to say Je pense [I think], one should say on me pense [I am thought],”’ and goes on to explain that ‘The poet cannot know why it is precisely he who has been chosen; he has had no say in the matter and it has occurred without his volition.’ (Starkie 122)

148:

But recourse to alchemical theory is not the only way of interpreting Rimbaud’s self-alienation here. Rimbaud translator Oliver Bernard notes certain obstacles in Enid Starkie’s path to understanding which she herself may not have been aware of:

149:

Despite certain amiable eccentricities, I recognised Enid Starkie when we met in Soho in 1962 or 1963 as a genuine representative of the academic establishment. This did not prevent me from liking and admiring her, nor lessen the pleasure I felt at her telling me that what I had done annoyed [her] much less than most Rimbaud translations. But her position in life, if I may put it like that, cannot have helped her much in empathising with a rebellious and revolutionary sixteen-year-old runaway, younger and more disturbing than any of Starkie’s Oxford students, and possessed of what Edgell Rickword calls ‘a natural genius for the language of abuse’. This is why I now think that Starkie placed such great emphasis on Rimbaud’s esoteric knowledge about alchemy — because she found it a more congenial line of enquiry than the politics of the Empire, the Commune and the Third Republic, and particularly Rimbaud’s involvement with the Commune and with communards. I don’t doubt that she would have written excellently on the subject of the fading beauties of Parnassian verse which the sixteen-year-old Rimbaud so cruelly mocked in 1871; but then she would have written a different book altogether. Her Arthur Rimbaud remains the standard conventional biography. (Rimbaud xxx-xxxi)

150:

Of course Rimbaud’s left-wing views along with his homosexuality and his faith in poetry were to undergo total conversion. He would adopt a dogged bourgeois individualism and devote the rest of his life to accumulating capital as he matured from the wicked schoolboy into an angry, lonely, wandering adult, the restless nineteenth-century character the French call a fugueur. But that was after his childhood and his poetry had both ended, and after Paris and everything in it had been left far behind.

151:

As a side-note to this aside, Rimbaud travelled on foot obsessively. He made several journeys between Charleville and Paris this way, a journey of nearly two weeks; later he walked though Germany, walked over the Alps (twice) to Italy, and travelled to Scandinavia, Java, Cyprus and finally North Africa, where he journeyed frequently between Arabia and areas in North Africa as a trader, on horseback but often on foot. The illness that killed him, cancer of the knee, would seem to have been partly caused by the relentless punishment he dealt out to his legs and feet.

152:

The book Mad Travellers by Ian Hacking studies the phenomenon of the fugueur. From a review in US Publishers Weekly:

153:

In a series of four essays originally delivered as the 1997 Page-Barbour Lectures at the University of Virginia, Hacking closely analyses the history of the dissociative fugue, a malady that enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1890s, particularly in France. Its symptom was compulsive bouts of walking in a state of complete forgetfulness of one’s identity.

154:

More significant, from another review of the book:

155:

I was left with the impression that French surveillance, mixed with frequent desertion from its conscript army, went a long way to explaining the Fugue phenomenon. (Edgar 600–601)

156:

Rimbaud and Verlaine were under frequent surveillance by police spies in France and in England because of their connections to the communards. And Rimbaud deserted from the Dutch Army in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies and fled back to Europe. But I digress.

157:

Leo Bersani provides a summary of a Lacanian approach that is equally useful in relation to Rimbaud’s claim that ‘I is another’: ‘… the appropriated self is an ideal self: the infant (and later the adult, to the extent that his relations are lived in the Imaginary order) sees in the other a total form, a full or completed being, which he possesses by identifying with it.’

158:

A fuller quotation brings out the link with developmental psychology and the ‘mirror stage’:

159:

In Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, our relation to the world is marked by the Imaginary when it is characterized by an effort to master the world through a process of narcissistic identification with it. The source of the Imaginary order (and of all later identificatory relations) is the ‘mirror stage’ of infancy. According to Lacan, this stage occurs between the ages of six months and eighteen months; the infant, still physically helpless, anticipates his own future physical coordination and unity by an identification with the image of the other as a total form. This is equivalent to saying that the child’s self is at first constituted as another; the human self is originally an alienated self. The principal effect of the mirror stage on intersubjectivity can be found in relations of aggressive tension in which the self exists only as another and the other is seen as an alter ego. For example, in erotic relationships dominated by the Imaginary, each lover will attempt to capture his own image in the other… The other is seen as withholding the self, and so the knowledge one has of him through one’s efforts to appropriate oneself in him is a paranoid knowledge. Indeed, for Lacan the alienating nature of self-identification makes the perception of the self in the other a paranoid perception from the very beginning. At the same time, the appropriated self is an ideal self: the infant (and later the adult, to the extent that his relations are lived in the Imaginary order) sees in the other a total form, a full or completed being, which he possesses by identifying with it. … the superego… is not so much a fantasy-identification with a parental figure as it is an alienating distancing of the self from itself. (Bersani 112–16)

160:

In Tranter’s destructive mistranslations of ‘Rereading Rimbaud’, through a collaboration between Tranter and a machine that could not have been imagined in Rimbaud’s lifetime, Rimbaud’s voice is finally freed from any trace of itself, and becomes completely ‘other’.

  At the Movies

161:

This third and final section of the poems prepared for this thesis presents twenty or so pages of poems about different movies, usually in a readable, discursive and sometimes critical voice.

162:

Reviewers have commented that in Tranter’s very visual oeuvre, mention of movies is frequent, and the techniques of contemporary film (sudden scene changes using jump-cut, cross-fade, dissolve, and so on) are often borrowed as literary form. Barry Hill, reviewing Ultra in The Australian, writes:

163:

They are highly visual, cinematic poems that Tranter directs like Polanski. They can make us feel like we are in a film; then, just at the right time, we are back on the street, where the poet stands with his merciless phrase-book… Brilliant. (2001)

Kate Lilley reviews The Floor of Heaven:

164:

Read through multiple levels of reported speech and frame narration, the narratives themselves are richly reminiscent, loaded with novelistic and cinematic reference. The book as a whole can be construed as a serious pastiche, and a reading of the classic narratives and scenarios of melodrama and film noir, orchestrated around the oxymoronic trope of fated accident. (2000, 106–14)

165:

Robert Potts reviewed Late Night Radio:

166:

In his descriptions preceding this (of plots and images from famous films, on the experience of watching the movies, on the nature of escapism and realism, on the way in which the flux of cinema — the rapid cuts and disjunctions — mirrors a modernist mediation of an incorrigibly various worlds), and in other poems, Tranter has offered just such a disorientation, raising exactly those questions of a reader’s ‘investment’ and ‘reward’, and, I think, asking a necessary question as to whether such a balance-sheet approach to art and reception is valid. (1999)

167:

Philip Mead looks more deeply into the cinematism underlying much of Tranter’s writing, focussing on The Floor of Heaven:

168:

Probably the single most important marker of cinematism in John Tranter’s The Floor of Heaven is the style and tone of the narrators and the fact that they sound like voice-overs to the narratives they frame and enact. I think it’s useful here to read the narratives of The Floor of Heaven in a revision of the terms Ann Kaplan identifies as the five key features of film noir: ‘1) the investigative structure of the narrative; 2) plot devices such as voice-over or flashback, or frequently both; 3) proliferation of points of view; 4) frequent unstable characterisation of the heroine; 5) an “expressionist” visual style and emphasis on sexuality in the photographing of women.’ In film noir thrillers or mysteries there is usually ‘a male hero in search of the truth about an event that either has already happened or is about to come to completion.’ (Mead, Space 206)

169:

The poem’s title [‘Breathless’] is an unmistakable allusion to film, to Godard and Truffaut’s A Bout de Souffle (1959) and Martin Erlichman’s 1983 Hollywood remake, Breathless. What is in play here is the idea of homage. The French Breathless is a knowing homage to Hollywood noir thrillers and gangster movies. The mise en abyme of Tranter’s title is its insertion of itself into a trans-cultural exchange of filmic homage, knowing allusions and remakes. (Mead, Space 212)

170:

Tranter has written poems specifically about movies in the past; indeed, his second book is titled Red Movie. Perhaps his most strenuous attempt at an analysis of movie culture is ‘Those Gods Made Permanent’ (first collected in Under Berlin, pp.51–56, from which poem the phrase ‘under Berlin’ is taken), a six-page poem which draws on Joseph Losey’s The Servant and Fritz Lang’s Doktor Mabuse the Gambler and to a lesser extent various other movies, and asks the kind of questions Robert Potts refers to above. Andrew Taylor cites some lines from this poem as examples of ‘narrative waywardness’ common in Tranter’s work:

171:

‘… we find the plot folding up like a robot / and stumbling off in the wrong direction / too abruptly for us to get our bearings. / […] What we asked for led to nothing, what we didn’t want to see / was made plain.’ (Under Berlin 53). Just such a narrative waywardness, it should be clear, is the hallmark of many of Tranter’s poems. They are in no small measure similar to the cinema. They are often highly visual, cut rapidly from scene to scene or image to image, and are often filled with fragments of what could be dialogue. (Taylor 1991)

172:

Tranter’s poems ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ and ‘High School Confidential’ bear the titles of specific movies (both made in 1956 by the same director, as it happens). And on a different theme, Tranter has said of his poems:

173:

I suppose that poetry writing is what I do instead of film-making, which is what I would do if I had the money and skill. (Tranter, Hahn 2003)

174:

The ‘movie’ poems in this thesis hark back to those earlier concerns, take account of a more disparate range of movies, and interrogate them more thoroughly and with a more theoretically-informed perspective. ‘Girl in Water’, for example, not only mentions Lacan (albeit in a telestich acrostic) but positions some of Hitchcock’s artefacts from the film Vertigo inside a poem that acts as a Lacanian machine.

175:

It’s worth mentioning that a poem that addresses a movie is free to say what it likes, but only within the context of addressing that particular movie and its world. In terms of subject matter, the focus of a poem can be seen as that part of human society which is “cropped” to fit within the frame of the poem’s cultural viewfinder. Thus the particular focus of each of Tranter’s movie poems (rather than any formal aspect of the verse) acts as a constraining device. The procedure acts like the device of writing within the constraints of a ‘genre’ or a ‘form’: a stage play is essentially different to a radio play which is itself essentially different to a documentary movie, for example.

176:

Tranter has often made a point about poetry: that the meaning of a poem is not a ‘meaning’ that can be decoded using ontological semantics; it is more like the complex and obscure personal significance of a dream. The film director Luis Buñuel has said that ‘Film… is the finest instrument we know for expressing the world of dreams, of feeling, of instinct.’ (Carrière 91) This point is treated at greater length in the discussion of Tranter’s book The Floor of Heaven, below. The triad of poem, dream and film overlap like a Venn diagram across a central common area of meaning. The problems of reception of those three art forms refer to the linking of various kinds of meaning with the larger problems of human life and interaction against a social background.

177:

Because these poems generally work in the ‘discursive manner Professor Hope argues for and practises’, to quote an early critic (Haley 1970), they provide their own critical arguments, more or less, as they proceed, so the following notes will deal mainly with points the poems neglect to bring up.

178:

‘Caliban’ is based on Forbidden Planet, 1956. In the film, a rocket ship arrives at the planet Altair 4 to uncover what happened to the Bellerophon Expedition, sent out some twenty years earlier. They contact a survivor, Doctor Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who explains that some unknown force wiped out nearly everyone in his party. Only he, his wife (who later died of natural causes), and his infant daughter (now a beautiful young woman) survived. Morbius explains: ‘In times long past, this planet was the home of a mighty, noble race of beings who called themselves the Krell… this all-but-divine race disappeared in a single night, and nothing was preserved above ground.’ We find out eventually that Morbius’s unconscious mind, fuelled by the gigantic underground energy generators built by the Krell, has destroyed the Bellerephon’s crew and is trying to destroy the recent visitors as well: its incarnation, a powerful invisible monster, roams the planet by night. At the climax Morbius realises what he has done: ‘My evil self is at the door, and I have no power to stop it.’ The theme and setting of the movie is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the dramatic moves are built on a loosely Freudian understanding of human nature, echoing the interest in psychoanalysis in the US in the decade of the 1950s.

179:

‘Dark Passage’ is based on Delmer Daves’s 1947 movie Dark Passage. Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) has been wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and sent to San Quentin prison for life. He escapes. A stranger named Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) helps him evade the police and hides Vincent in her stylish apartment. Vincent realises he is too recognisable, and a friendly cab-driver takes him to a plastic surgeon. In a technique reminiscent of another 1947 movie, the much less interesting Lady in the Lake, the first half of this movie is shot from the hero’s point of view; we first see his face after the surgery, when the bandages come off, which is also when he sees his new face for the first time, in a mirror. The mirror is the hinge point between his two identities, the old (never seen) and the new, hero of this new story, just as a mirror shows a translation of the real world and the real self. The film Dark Passage was based on the novel The Dark Road by David Goodis, and the narrative is marred by implausible coincidences.

180:

In Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) mild-mannered Madison Avenue advertising executive Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) is mistaken for a government agent by a gang of spies led by the urbane James Mason. Thornhill becomes entangled in a series of dangerous adventures and is pursued across the United States by both the spies and the government, while becoming further entangled in the arms of a beautiful blonde (played by Eva Marie Saint) whose loyalties are ambiguous. Highlights are a crop-dusting plane that hunts down and tries to kill Thornhill in a mid-west cornfield, and the final chase across the gigantic faces carved into Mount Rushmore.

181:

Alfred Hitchcock often listed Shadow of a Doubt (1943) as his favourite among the 53 films he directed in his 50-year career. In the film, Uncle Charley (Joseph Cotton) comes to visit his sister’s family in the archetypical American small town of Santa Rosa, California. Uncle Charley is especially drawn to his niece Charlie (Teresa Wright), who is named after him and who idolises him. The plot turns sinister as a pair of detectives show up tailing Uncle Charley, whom they suspect of being the ‘Merry Widow Murderer’. Charlie, in her late teens, is faced with a terrible disillusionment and the threat of murder. The movie is full of pairs of objects, duplicate characters and mirrored themes, and reflections, repetitions and opposites.

182:

‘Black and White’ is loosely based on the 1957 US movie The Three Faces of Eve, about a young woman with multiple personality disorder. The script by Hervey M. Cleckley is based on a book by Corbett Thigpen which is based on a doctor’s notes (Thigpen’s?) about an actual case, though the facts have been distorted to fit the story, according to the book I’m Eve, by the real person who is the subject of the film, Chris Costner Sizemore (co-written with Elen Sain Pitillo).

183:

‘Boy in Mirror’ and ‘Girl in Water’ are two different takes on the 1958 Hitchcock colour movie Vertigo, starring Kim Novak and James Stewart, which itself consists of two different but entangled stories that seem to repeat or reflect one another. Scottie (James Stewart) is a San Francisco detective who retires after a traumatic experience with heights that has caused him to suffer from acrophobia (fear of heights). His college friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) persuades him to follow Elster’s suicidal wife, Madeline (Kim Novak). Gavin says that his wife is possessed by the spirit of his wife’s great grandmother. Scottie is taken by her beauty, and tails her around San Francisco. The two fall in love. But when — because of his fear of heights — Scottie is unable to save Madeline from killing herself (or so he believes) he has a nervous breakdown. After he recovers he comes across a woman named Judy (Kim Novak), who (naturally!) bears a strong resemblance to Madeline. Obsessed by his love and loss, he begs Judy to change her looks and clothes to look like Madeline. He then discovers that Judy (from Kansas) in fact acted the part of Madeline as part of a plot by Gavin Elstir to kill his real wife. Judy accidentally falls to her death. Scottie is left alone again. The similarity of a mirror image to a portrait painting plays a vital role in the film, and betrays Judy’s secret double life; indeed the plot of the film is doubled.

184:

The poem ‘Boy in Mirror’ notes a frail linguistic link between Hitchcock and Proust. The villain in Vertigo is called by the very unusual name Elster (German for magpie, a creature that collects beautiful things, though associated with death and bad luck); the French author of the novel the script is based on (Pierre Boileau, whose book is D’entre les morts, 1954) can hardly have done this by accident: Proust’s great post-impressionist artist character in A la recherche du temps perdu is called Elstir, and is troubled by thoughts of his future death.

185:

Alert readers of the other Vertigo poem, ‘Girl in Water’, will note that the words made up by the first letter of each line of the poem (an acrostic) spell out a message, as does (separately) the last letter of each line (technically, a telestich). The initial acrostic grew out of a conversation with Douglas Messerli about Hitchcock’s movies; Messerli said in an interview with Charles Bernstein: ‘Why, when I was 12 years old did I so thoroughly enjoy Hitchcock’s Vertigo, for example, and yet at 13, hate North by Northwest — a movie I now love?’ (Messerli 2004) To Tranter it seemed obvious why a 12-year-old boy would surrender to the charms of Ms Novak in Vertigo, thus the acrostic; though as it happened his analysis was inaccurate in Douglas Messerli’s case.

186:

The telestich (the last letter of each line) reflects a Lacanian reading of the mirrors and portraits in the movie, and how they reflect the boy-girl relationship. Of course how each audience member perceives patterns of meaning in the action of the film constructs a further mirror relationship; movies are built to reflect and to satisfy the fears, desires and dreams of the paying audience, feelings which are projected onto the characters and adventures on the screen. The acrostic reads: What do boys like about Vertigo? Kim Novak’s wonderful tits. And the telestich reads: Lacanian double feature: girl in water, boy in mirror, check!

187:

In a way, this poem is a technical echo of ‘The Anaglyph’, in which the first and last few words of each line of the poem are taken from John Ashbery’s poem ‘Clepsydra’. In ‘Girl in Water’ the first and last letter of each line have been derived from two prior sentences; the poem’s lines are forced to conform to that sequence of letters, just as the lines of ‘The Anaglyph’ are forced into the procrustean cast of the prior Ashbery poem.

188:

‘Paris Blues’ offers an acerbic running commentary on the film Paris Blues, black and white, 1961, starring Paul Newman as Ram Bowen (‘Ram Bowen’ is a clumsy Hollywood feint at the name of the poet Rimbaud) and Sidney Poitier as Eddie Cook, with Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward as tourist Lillian Corning and Diahann Carroll as her friend Connie Lampson. Louis Armstrong’s ample ambassadorial grin has a small part. Set in Paris, the film attempts to link Paul Newman’s exploration of jazz and late nights with Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry and bohemian lifestyle, with ludicrous results.

189:

‘second fiddle / to a trombone…’] Aficionados of trombone-fronted jazz bands will no doubt call to mind Wilbur de Paris (1900–1973), Kai Winding (1922–1983), J J Johnson (1924–2001), Tricky Sam Nanton (1904–1946), Jiggs Whigham (born, like the author of this poem, in 1943), Miff Mole (1898–1961), Bob Brookmeyer (b.1929), and at least a dozen others.

  Notes

[01] vo·cod·er, n. an electronic device that synthesises speech. Random House Webster’s Unabridged Electronic Dictionary.

[02]  The reading was held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday 16 September 1992 in Room N395, Woolley Building , University of Sydney.

[03]  At http://johntranter.com/reviewed/2004-henry-terminals.html

[04]  Clepsydra: 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 Unabridged Electronic Dictionary.

[05] ‘The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them.’ (Eliot, Tradition, 47–48)

[06]  Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashes_and_Diamonds_(film)

[07]  Oscar Wilde: Gilbert, in The Critic as Artist, pt. 2, published in Intentions (1891). Though Bloom, too lazy or too confident to check his sources, expresses the concept as ‘Oscar Wilde sublimely remarked that “all bad poetry is sincere”.’ (Bloom, xix)

[08]  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 ‘Musicopoematographoscope’, and it was published as a book by Hale and Iremonger in 1981. Tranter 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 Tranter’s, and he encouraged Tranter to finish his poem as a kind of friendly rival to his own. 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. Mallarmé’s poem can be found at http://www.mallarme.net/Coup_de_dés

[09]  Mallarmé, Stéphane. Collected Poems. Translated and with a commentary by Henry Weinfield. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

[10]  Mallarmé, Stéphane. ‘tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre.’ Le livre, instrument spirituel. (378)

[11]  The four poems had been published individually from 1935 to 1942.

[12]  In the 1970s Tranter produced (that is, edited and directed) some forty radio plays and features for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (now, 2008, ‘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 arts-related radio programs.

[13]  When Ashbery came on-line to begin the original recording of this reading-interview in 1988, he noted that he had travelled through a violent electrical storm to get to the New York ABC studios. From the Sydney end of the line, Tranter remarked that he must have enjoyed the experience, as in Some Trees, the first book he had written, the first poem contained the line ‘I love any vast electrical disturbance.’

[14]  Published in New Poetry vol.21 no.5–6, 1974 (pp.34–39)

[15]  ‘…the interrogation of History and Culture that fails to hold one’s interest in “Rimbaud and the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy”…’ (John Forbes, Meanjin, 249–53)

[16]  ‘He [Verlaine] was fêted in London, Oxford, and Manchester by young sympathisers, among them the critic Arthur Symons, who arranged a lecture tour in England in November 1893.’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica Deluxe Edition 2004 CD-ROM)

US Poets

Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch

were the Three Musketeers — some would say the Three Stooges — of mid-twentieth-century poetry in New York.

[»»] Frank O’Hara: an amazing life

[»»] Frank O’Hara: and a sad death

[»»] V e r y   R a p i d   A C C E L E R A T I O N : An Interview with Kenneth Koch, New York City, Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1989

[»»] Three John Ashberys: John Tranter came across John Ashbery’s writing in the 1960s. Here he reflects on the schizophrenia of fame. This is a basic introduction to some themes in John Ashbery’s poetry. It is 2,500 words or about 8 printed pages long.

[»»] Koch and Ginsberg: Popeye fights William Blake, 1979. This is an eight-minute edited MP3 recording of a good-natured (indeed, hilarious) rhyming contest between Kenneth Koch and Allen Ginsberg at St Mark’s Poetry Project, New York City, 9 May 1979.

 

2010: In conversation with Brian Henry

  John Tranter in conversation with Brian Henry, 2009-2010

This interview was commissioned by Jeffrey Side, for The Argotist Online. It was conducted by email, and is about 13 printed pages long. Brian Henry has published several books of poetry and was a Fulbright Scholar in Australia in 1997-98. He has co-edited Verse since 1995.

Cover image, Urban Myths
Cover image, Urban Myths

Paragraph 1 follows:

Brian Henry: Your 2006 book Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected (Salt Publishing) is mainly chronological, but begins with a newer poem (‘After Hölderlin’) and ends with an older poem (‘The Popular Mysteries’). What was it about those poems that compelled you to deviate from chronology in providing entry and exit points for the book?

2:

John Tranter: Entry and exit points is right on. I hoped that those two poems would act as framing devices, and provide a pathway into the poems, and an exit at the end. The opening poem, ‘After Hölderlin’, is a version, or an updating, or a personal takeover, more like it, of Hölderlin’s poem ‘When I was a Boy’. He talks about how as a child ‘The breezes singing in the trees were my teachers, and I learned to love among the flowers… ’ Very German, that: I can see him hiking around the Black Forest in his lederhosen whacking at hollyhocks with a stick. And he learned about society from the ancient gods. My gods were very different, and mainly appeared in the pages of books (Biggles, Somerset Maugham) or on the movie screen (Kim Novak, John Wayne), so my version of that scenario talks about how I grew up, and what turned me into a story-teller or a poet. It seemed a good introduction to a collection of my best poems over fifty years.

3:

The last poem in that book (‘The Popular Mysteries’) also concluded my earlier Selected Poems (1982), and I wanted to have that link from a quarter of a century ago. It talks about poetry too, but in a dreamy way (‘your complex dreaming / is a gift factory’), and ends up with the narrator going to sleep, ‘thoroughly happy’. It seemed a pleasant way to emphasise the continuity in my work, and to end the book and send the reader back to the real world. Poetry and dreams are intimately connected, in my view. They have the same kind of meaning.

4:

Brian Henry: Is the book’s title a nod to, or send-up of, the critical commonplace that you are an ‘urbane’ poet ― the urban to Les Murray’s rural?

5:

John Tranter: Like most thinking people, I stopped paying any serious attention to Les Murray decades ago. As Gertrude Stein reminds us, village explainers are ‘excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.’

6:

No, the title was suggested by my wife Lyn, and it seemed to suit the book, so I used it. I have always liked the lurid plausibility of urban myths, and believed quite a few of them as a young man before learning that the same dramatic stories appeared in many societies, in slightly different guises. In my collection of four long narrative poems The Floor of Heaven, the stories of people’s lives are tangled up with a number of urban myths which I had believed to be real when I was young and living in the country.

Cover image, The Floor of Heacolor : #555;ven
Cover image, The Floor of Heaven

7:

But these myths are also ‘urban’, of course, and mark out the distance we travel from the innocence of childhood to adulthood and disillusion. Urban myths don’t embody the ancient wisdom of the race; they are not folk tales or fairy stories or historical events or legends. They are contemporary and superficially realistic, and they invest the ordinary world with melodrama and high colour. Poetry, novels, television and movies do the same kind of thing. It seems to me that urban myths are invented mainly by adolescent boys, as a way of portraying and dealing with the bizarre world of freedom, choice and personal responsibility that looming manhood entails. They usually deal with punishment for a transgression, and often involve killing.

8:

It is a ‘rural’ or ‘pastoral’ world that urban myths seem to provide the alternative to: childhood, a world of innocence that cannot be recovered, seen through a veil of nostalgia. You find traces of that in Dylan Thomas’s ‘Fern Hill’, or in those lovely rural dream-scenes by Rimbaud: ‘Memoire’, ‘Michele et Christine’, or ‘La Riviere de Cassis’. And in the work of those French poets who travelled so far from the tropical world of their separate childhoods in Montevideo, Uruguay, to cosmopolitan, industrial Paris: Lautréamont, Laforgue and Supervielle: ‘J’avais un cheval / Dans un champ de ciel / Et je m’enfoncais / Dans le jour ardent.’ (‘I had a horse in a field of sky and I plunged into the burning daylight.’ ― Supervielle, ‘Open Sky’.)

9:

Brian Henry: Your poems often reach out to a ‘you.’ What attracts you to that mode of address?

10:

John Tranter: That second person address does seem to be something I do, or perhaps overdo. Am I being clever, or just avoiding something? Over twenty years ago Andrew Taylor (Australian poet and critic) puzzled about that. He was looking particularly at my poem ‘Leavis at The London Hotel’: ‘… just who is ‘you’? Is it F.R. Leavis, addressed by the poem’s subject? Is it the reader, similarly addressed? Is it the poem’s subject, being addressed by it/ him/ herself, the modern colloquial equivalent of ‘one’?… Does ‘you’ refer to a number of different addressees, each with his/ her separate needs? It might, but the poem does not enable us to distinguish them from each other.’

John Ashbery, Sydney, September 1992, photo John Tranter
John Ashbery, Sydney, September 1992, photo John Tranter

11:

And Marjorie Perloff quotes a 1973 interview with John Ashbery, who as usual was doing this pretty much before anybody else thought to do it. He explicates the tactic better than most. Let me find the quote… ‘The personal pronouns in my work very often seem to be like variables in an equation. “You” can be myself or it can be another person, someone whom I’m addressing, and so can “he” and “she” for that matter and “we”; sometimes one has to deduce from the rest of the sentence what is being meant and my point is also that it doesn’t really matter very much, that we are somehow all aspects of a consciousness giving rise to the poem and the fact of addressing someone, myself or someone else, is what’s the important thing at that particular moment rather than the particular person involved. I guess I don’t have a very strong sense of my own identity and I find it very easy to move from one person in the sense of a pronoun to another and this again helps to produce a kind of polyphony in my poetry which I again feel is a means toward greater naturalism.’ [1]

12:

I guess I’m interested in that kind of polyphony, though I’m not so sure about the naturalism. A focus on the first person ― me, me ― is something poets grow out of as they leave adolescence. Though decades ago poets used to throw their own personal identity around like a club: ‘I am a poet: I had this authentic experience: now I have written an authentic poem about it: bow down before me!’ Things have moved on from that, I hope. The second person is more open; it invites other people into the conversation; particularly the reader.

13:

Novels used to employ that second person address plainly ― ‘Dear Reader, I hardly knew in what manner to repel the gentleman’s importunate advances… ’. And then again, all theatre, from Shakespeare to the movies, addresses ‘you’, the audience member. Don’t you think? In a movie, the actors pretend to be speaking their lines to each other, but they know and the director knows and the scriptwriter knows that all of those words are specifically meant for ‘you’ to overhear, as in Hamlet, or in The Marriage of Figaro. In some television serials and film noir movies ― Sunset Boulevard, for example ― the voice-over narration specifically addresses the viewer, or (in radio) talks to the listener. Maybe that’s what Ashbery means by ‘naturalism’, the naturalism of theatrical speech aimed at ‘you’ the consumer.

14:

Brian Henry: Talking of movies, how would you describe your approach to narrative? Do you think films ― or cinema, the cinematic ― have had a big influence on your poetry?

15:

John Tranter: Oh yes, definitely. Poems are what I do instead of making movies, which I’d rather do. And for a living I have produced or commissioned dozens ― uh, no, hundreds ― of radio plays and features ― they’re cheaper to make than movies, and as they say, the pictures are better. Luckily I stumbled into the trade as a young man, when large audiences used to listen to radio plays and radio features.

16:

I love that cooperative creativity, that buzz when you get a team of talented people working together to invent a magical world and the strange events that go on it it: scriptwriter, director, actors, sound effects, sound engineers… just ask a group of people to help tell a story and you’d be amazed at the talent that emerges. I find it deeply satisfying, more so than sitting alone in a room typing all day. I’d hate to be just a poet: horrible fate.

17:

The whole of my book The Floor of Heaven is really a movie, or a sequence of movies, inspired initally by Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). That’s a strange film: in it the main story keeps being derailed by characters who feel an urge to tell about a dream they’ve had: dreams, poems… Buñuel pointed to the identity between dreams and movies. He said (in 1953) ‘Film seems to be an involuntary imitation of dream … the nightly incursion into the unconscious begins on the screen and deep inside man.’ [2]

18:

There are other influences behind those narrative poems, of course: most film noir, a short story by Christina Stead (‘George’), the idea of the aria in opera, tragedies I had heard about, people I had known in my misspent youth, lots of things.

19:

Brian Henry: What are the origins of your 1976 book-poem ‘The Alphabet Murders’?

20:

John Tranter: That marked a break in the kind of poetry I was writing. And in my attitude to poetry. I began writing poetry in 1960. Eleven years later I had written over 300 mainly undistinguished poems and had published my first book and had completed most of a second. I had lived overseas, I had travelled from London to Sydney mostly overland, with some danger and difficulty, and I had married. I had obtained a degree majoring in English Literature and Psychology.

21:

But I dropped out of university in 1971 to take up a position in Singapore as a publisher’s editor. There I stopped writing, and started reading: novels by Graham Greene and Eric Ambler and John Le Carre. I had grown sick of poetry.

22:

Over the years I had tried several differents way of writing poetry, and I had queried the various purposes poetry might have. I had reached the stage where I could turn out a reasonable poem in an effective tone of voice using a collection of workable rhetorical strategies. But I couldn’t see the point. Maybe the relative isolation of Singapore had something to do with it: there was no one to talk to about poetry. In any case I felt that poetry was affected, artificial and vain, and I stopped reading or writing it.

23:

When I came back to Sydney in late 1972 I reconnected with the poetry world there, and through 1973 and 1974 began reviewing and writing poetry again. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that I wrote a long review of Robert Adamson’s Swamp Riddles in 1973, surveying his career up to that point.

24:

And in 1974 I compiled a one-hour radio anthology of Frank O’Hara’s best poems for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, as it was known then. That involved reading every poem in his 586-page Collected Poems. I had been slow to appreciate O’Hara, despite my friend John Forbes’s enthusiasm for his work ― John was always quicker and smarter than I was ― but now I could see more clearly the strengths of O’Hara’s writing, and how pretentious Robert Lowell’s poetry ― for example ― seemed by comparison.

Photo: Wagner College Arts Festival: An Evening of Poetry; (left to right): Robert Lowell, Robert Harson, Willard Maas (moderator), O'Hara, and Gerard Malanga, Wagner College Auditorium, Staten Island, February 9, 1962. Photo copyright © Archives Malanga
Photo: Wagner College Arts Festival: An Evening of Poetry; (left to right): Robert Lowell, Robert Harson, Willard Maas (moderator), O’Hara, and Gerard Malanga, Wagner College Auditorium, Staten Island, February 9, 1962. Photo copyright © Archives Malanga

25:

A telling moment of conflict occurs at the reading at Wagner College on Staten Island in February 1962. Frank O’Hara introduced his untitled poem beginning ‘Lana Turner has collapsed!’ by explaining to the audience that he had written most of the poem on the Staten Island ferry (in a snowstorm) on his way to the reading (‘… I was trotting along and suddenly / it started raining and snowing… ’). Robert Lowell also read, and ― clearly irritated ― introduced his reading by apologizing for not having written his poem on the spot too. Lowell ― all his life the career poet ― frowned on the glare of the mundane world through the sunglasses of ‘literature’; O’Hara took it as it was, as his subject matter.

26:

In a sense he was furthering Baudelaire’s project. Michael Jennings mentions Walter Benjamin’s appreciation of Baudelaire: ‘For Benjamin, the greatness of Baudelaire consists… in his absolute susceptibility to the worst excrescences of modern life: Baudelaire was in possession not of genius, but of an extraordinarily ‘sensitive disposition’ that enabled him to perceive, through a painful empathy, the character of an age.’ [3]

27:

So with Adamson and O’Hara I had two important contemporary poets and their careers in mind at that time: sobering, and challenging, too.

28:

Lyn and I had also had a child in Singapore, and that tends to steer you away from too great a focus on literary quibbles.

29:

I obtained my first Literature Board grant in 1973, for the 1974 calendar year, and my main project was a series of longish poems that turned into ‘The Alphabet Murders’. A great deal of the dislike I had felt for poetry (and the world of poetry) found its way into these poems. They’re indiscriminately argumentative and angry. I suspect I was chastising poetry for having failed me. (Hubris? Moi?) I set the poem up as a workshop where I hoped to dismantle ‘poetry’ and find out what was left of value once the bullshit had been torn out and thrown away. What was left, of course, was just that poem. For what it’s worth.

30:

Nearly thirty years later I realised that every eleven or so years I suffered a period of disinterest and dislike for poetry, as I had in 1971. I mentioned this to a psychiatrist, saying that I failed to understand it, as there was no natural or social force that went through an eleven-year cycle. ‘Oh, yes there is,’ he said. ‘Sunspots.’

31:

Brian Henry: Sunspots?

32:

John Tranter: Yes. I’m still thinking about that one.

33:

Brian Henry: The opening line of ‘The Alphabet Murders’ ― ‘After all we have left behind’ ― offers a sense of intimacy, a shared world with shared experiences. Were you intending to speak to and from a collective, or was it more personal, more specific than that?

34:

John Tranter: I think I was talking about leaving behind the history or the tradition of literature in English: Shakespeare, the Romantics, the early Modernists. And Callimachus, and Sappho, and so on. Just as we have left World War One and World War Two behind, so we have left ‘literature’ behind. But of course we haven’t left the modern world behind. It follows us like a dog that never ages, becoming more modern every day.

35:

That stanza ends ‘So I write to you ‘from a distant country’’, a quote from Henri Michaux, whose distant country ― a dreamy, mournful place ― features eucalyptus trees. I think I had in mind that this ‘distant country’ might have an alternative future, as in a science fiction story, where a wonderful kind of poetry lived, full of passion and energy, and perhaps we could cross over to that universe if we wished hard enough.

36:

Brian Henry: Also near the beginning of ‘The Alphabet Murders,’ you seem to offer an aesthetic statement, something of an ars poetica, but one subject to slippage, when you write, ‘this complex of thought begins / a new movement into musical form, much as / logic turns into mathematics and automatics / turn into moonlit driveways.’ Is there an instinct to turn away from wisdom per se, or at least to deflate it a little when it appears?

37:

John Tranter: That’s a complicated one. When I studied Philosophy at university I was dismayed to find that there were no lectures on Buddhism or J.W. Dunne (An Experiment with Time) or Bergson, but instead complex syllogisms and truth tables that looked like mathematical theorems. Yet of course mathematics can be beautiful. And the automatics (automatic gearshift automobiles) through the pun on ‘turn into’ call up Ginsberg’s best poem, his imaginary conversation with Whitman, ‘A Supermarket in California’ : ‘… Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?’ I think I was trying to give the poem a bravura opening, demonstrating that anything was possible, any contradiction, any simile, any future, as long as writers and critics were prepared to leave behind everything that was worn out and predictable. Of course that’s a rephrasing of the ancient struggle between the young and the old. I’m not sure that I was aware of that at the time: I was thirty years old. (Thirty years young.)

38:

Brian Henry: One of my favorite things about Kenneth Koch’s poetry is its peculiar didacticism ― a kind of faux-didacticism ― which also appears in other poets (Ashbery, James Tate, and John Forbes, among others). Your own poems offer numerous instances of information or advice, much of it mock-serious. In ‘The Alphabet Murders’ alone, we have ‘Fate is a variety of religious experience which is / always asking its own questions,’ ‘Justice is a kind of rhyme,’ ‘Love is the most awkward game to play,’ ‘Love is like a dose of vitamins,’ ‘Love is like an angler, or his goals, / obsessively preoccupied with problems of the tide,’ ‘Karl Marx is a comic novelist, almost,’ etc.

39:

John Tranter: I was intrigued by the idea that you could invent something in a poem, then follow the logic of that invention to see where it led. Matthew Arnold does this with his heroic similes (in ‘Sohrab and Rustum’, at least) which I have parodied elsewhere, and once you accept that a poem can create its own world, then in that world, anything can happen. I used to read a lot of science fiction as a teenager, and into my thirties. I used to love reading J.G. Ballard, for example; he can invent entire worlds on the flimsiest premise and make them lyrically real (The Drowned World, 1962, The Crystal World, 1966). And of course movies are like that: hire a set and a camera, and you can invent a universe, as we know from Ed Wood’s bizarre life. [4]

40:

Brian Henry: A lot of your poems focus on human weakness and failure, but there’s a passage in ‘The Alphabet Murders’ that I think elevates, or at least dignifies, those foibles through song in a way that’s both old-fashioned (in its seeming earnestness and soul-searching) and fresh:

How are we locked into the forme that is
history in the making? At night, when
the mothy lamp flickers and shadows crawl
across the lawn, we dream of a perfect history
and pray that our children will be included
in the small reward that trickles out of action.
Is it too late to stare at ourselves cruelly as we must
if we really want that freedom, or are the little fears
that grow out of human contact and avoidance
and the knowledge of all those terrible old stories
too much even for the willing soul? How do our
acts and gestures, falling through the years,
shore up the silly things we do, the way we
argue and cause pain and hurt our friends with lies,
and make us grand? Grander than we deserve, we think,
and then sob and break down and no guiding hand …
[ellipses in the original]

And this section is immediately followed by a kind of pastiche, a skewering of confessionalism ― that wielding of the ‘I’ that you mentioned earlier.

41:

John Tranter: Well, I always feel ambivalent about earnestness. Perhaps because Ernest is my middle name. There I go, deflating earnestness again. That anxiety about appearing too full of deep feelings, I think it might have something to do with my growing up in an Australian country town. Australians have a laconic sense of humour. So in my writing, I often feel divided between a need to speak about deeply meaningful things, and a fear of looking like a manipulative phoney with his heart on his sleeve. Sentimentality and cynicism are the two sides of that coin. It’s always spinning in the air in front of me.

42:

As Oscar Wilde said, ‘All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.’ That’s not quite true, like most of Wilde’s aphorisms. And of course not all genuine feeling produces bad poetry, but it often does. Some of the most horrible frauds write poetry that is dripping with sincerity. In my own writing I have found that a strong emotional feeling produces poetry that needs to be kept in a drawer for several months, when the feeling has evaporated and a cooler critical intelligence can be employed to repair the poem’s worst stylistic excesses.

43:

But I try to leave room for sincerity. There’s nothing wrong with sincerity, as long as you’re not too earnest about it.

44:

Brian Henry: ‘The Alphabet Murders’ is a sectional abecedarian ― 26 sections going ‘A’ to ‘Z,’ with a 27th section, the only prose poem in the sequence, starting with ‘A’ again. You’ve written a lot of other poems in generative forms: the terminal, the haibun, the collage pantoum…

45:

John Tranter: I have been doing that kind of thing since I was twenty, when I wrote a parody of Australian poet A.D. Hope’s poem ‘Australia’, using seven of Hope’s 28 rhymes, changing the rhyme scheme from abba to abab, and borrowing and distorting many of Hope’s metaphors. I derived the idea for terminals, where I borrow the end-words of a poem by another writer, from John Ashbery, who nearly twenty years ago ― when he gave a reading in Sydney ― admitted that he had borrowed the end words of Swinburne’s double sestina ‘The Complaint of Lisa’ for a double sestina of his own (in his book Flow Chart).

46:

You can find an excellent and thorough article by Brian Henry about my use of forms like these on my journal website, here: http://johntranter.net/?page_id=8605  [5]

47:

And, like a recidivist shoplifter, I’m still at it. I recently completed a fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri in Umbria, where I took fifty-six poems from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (1861 edition) and updated and entirely rewrote them. They form part of my new book Starlight: 150 Poems, due to be published later this year (2010).

48:

Brian Henry: Do you have any qualms about appropriating another writer’s work?

49:

John Tranter: Well, it looks like stealing, but artistic procedures like these have a long and honorable history. Musicians have been doing it for centuries. There’s Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’, and of course there are Bach Variations by Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt and others, and Benjamin Britten’s 1937 ‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge’, for string orchestra, and hundreds more. You see it even more with painters. Here’s a good example: the New York painter Larry Rivers, who was a jazz musician and friend of (and portraitist of) the poet Frank O’Hara. He painted a version of ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ (a famous painting by Emanuel Leutze, 1851) in 1953.

50:

In poetry there’s Kenneth Koch’s hilarious ‘Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams’ (1962), and John Ashbery’s strange ‘Variations, Calypso and Fugue on a Theme of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’, and others.

51:

Brian Henry: Why do you feel this kind of appropriation is so widespread? And what do you get out of it?

52:

John Tranter: For one thing, it’s a way to learn more about your craft. For example, how did Shakespeare manage the new sonnet form from Italy? And why are his attempts to do them in English so stiff? Why does Baudelaire go on and on about graveyards? And an example from music: if you’re a cellist, Bach’s cello suites are a wonderful way to find out what the instrument can do at its most elemental. So reworking a prior artwork by another artist is a kind of learning exercise, both technical and artistic.

53:

And there’s a threefold payoff for an artist with this kind of work. First, you have a challenge, and challenges always get the adrenaline going. If you’re going to rewrite Baudelaire, it had better be good! So your pulse rate is up to begin with.

54:

Then you have instant inspiration: the original work brings a whole collection of interesting things with it: the artist’s life, his or her struggles, achievements, the narratives and themes that interested the artist, and so on. That whole world is there, in the background, waiting to be used, borrowed, criticised, parodied, whatever.

55:

Then there’s the generational conflict and the completion of a lineage. When Francis Bacon paints his ‘Homage to Van Gogh’ or reworks Velázquez’s ‘Portrait of Pope Innocent X’, when Picasso recreates Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ in 58 cubist variations in 1957, or paints ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, after Manet’ in 1961, the audience has more than a painting to consider: they have a whole history lesson, an artistic argument and an Oedipal struggle as well.

56:

Brian Henry: You’ve mentioned Ashbery and O’Hara. Do you have an interest in the New York School in general? How has American poetry affected your own work at various points of your writing life?

57:

John Tranter: I’ve always been interested in American culture. And British culture. They were the two great ‘foreign’ influences on me as a child, through books and movies. The first movie I remember seeing as a child was British (Scott of the Antarctic, 1948), and the second was American (National Velvet, 1944.) I was born in the middle of the worst war the world has ever seen, and Britain and the US were the allies that fought that war alongside Australian troops (including three of my uncles, two of whom died of war wounds). And US and British movies were staples each week at the local cinema. So though those two cultures were thousands of miles away, they were familiar. Well, both familiar and culturally exotic at the same time. In both those foreign cultures, it snowed at Christmas time, while in Australia we had heatwaves and bushfires. And what was a pizza, and how did you pronounce the word? [Does it rhyme with ‘fizzer’?] At sixteen I had never seen one, and only dimly knew what they were like.

58:

When I became aware of poetry in my late teens I looked outside Australia for exotic material, and eventually the New York school attracted my attention, along with German, French and British poets and all the other US American ‘schools’ in the 1960 Don Allen anthology, and the other conservative American poets who weren’t in that collection, too.

59:

Of course Ashbery and O’Hara are very different from each other. Poets generally like other poets’ work not just because it is good, but for what you can get out of it. Ashbery presents a lyrical and highly literary take on English poetry from the renaissance through the Romantics to the Victorians, and on surrealism and French poetry generally. Perhaps that satisfies the ‘British’ and side of my interests.

60:

O’Hara on the other hand shows what effective use you can make of everyday personal experiences, of the demotic, the gossipy and the evanescent. The work is just as lyrical and deep, in the end, but it arrives there fresh from the noise and bustle of lunch-time New York. Ashbery arrives there through the fog, bemused on the packet boat from Calais, a volume of Raymond Roussel in his pocket.

61:

And the younger generations of both British and American poets are different again, as well as being very numerous. Working on Jacket magazine has allowed me to follow lots of interesting younger poets as they have developed over the last dozen years.

62:

Brian Henry: In your view, how has Australian poetry changed since you started editing Jacket in 1997? Do you see a change in your own work since then? I’m curious about the effect of the Internet on poets, in terms of making hard-to-find work more readily available. When I was in college and graduate school in 1990-1997, I had a really hard time finding Australian poetry. There was Les Murray (FSG’s token Australian), and Peter Porter and Chris Wallace-Crabbe at OUP. I knew of other Australian poets through Verse, but I couldn’t get their books because of distribution. So I went to Australia. Now, of course, it’s not hard at all, thanks to online magazines and presses like Salt, which publish a lot of Australian poets and distribute their books around the world. Has this had any effect on Australian poetry as a whole?

63:

John Tranter: Oh, yes, it has. The reach of the internet is extraordinary, and it’s especially valuable for writing. It makes it easy and economical to keep up with what is happening in the rest of the world, and to some extent to take part in that cultural mixing. It’s something I had hoped to see from a very young age. As a poet starting out I was very conscious of how far away from the rest of the world Australia was. There’s a catchphrase for it: the tyranny of distance, which derives from the title of a book of history by Geoffrey Blainey: The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia’s History. In blunter terms, Australia seemed very provincial, in a distant orbit around London and New York. Poets like Peter Porter and artists like Sidney Nolan had to travel to London to make it, in the 1950s. I travelled to London and returned overland through Asia in the 1960s.

64:

It was difficult to know what fresh and experimental work was being done in the rest of the world after World War Two, because the press and the other news media in Australia were run by conventional people, as were the universities, though no one looked there for literary news. Our novelist Patrick White said in the 1950s that ‘whatever cultural roost there is in this country is ruled over by schoolteachers and journalists.’ [More correctly: “the schoolmaster and the journalist rule what intellectual roost there is…” at Patrick White and Buttocks] My father was a schoolteacher, and a much-loved one; my brother was a journalist. There’s nothing wrong with those occupations; it’s just that people who work at them should not be placed on pedestals as cultural arbiters.

65:

The three Australian poets you mentioned are in their seventies or eighties. I guess it takes that long to be noticed in London. But none of them, as far as I know, has much of a presence on the internet. And that’s where most people look for poetry, nowadays. That has to have an effect on the kind of poetry we write in Australia. Perhaps it’s more internationally homogenous as a result, and less like a particular local cheese prized for its flavour by seven people. Perhaps it’s fresher and more complex, with more things to say to a wider range of readers. I don’t know.

  Notes

[1] Quoted in Marjorie Perloff, The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage. New Jersey: Princeton Press, 1981. Page 63.

[2] Carrière, Jean-Claude. The Secret Language of Film. Trans. Jeremy Leggatt. London: Faber and Faber, 1995.

[3] Jennings, Michael W. (Introduction to) Walter Benjamin, The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire. Cambridge, Massachussetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.

[4] See Rudolph Grey’s biography Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992).

[5]  This piece first appeared, minus the footnotes, in Antipodes: A North American Journal of Australian Literature, 18(1), June 2004, pp 36-43.

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Photos

John Tranter has been taking photos and staring at them for years… longer than he has been writing poems. Not to mention mixing his own strange developers and spending hours in the darkroom. Here are some of those photos. The links below take you to millions (well, lots and lots) of photos by John Tranter, many with explanatory captions. The site will grow with time.

Australian Poet Michael Atkin reading a book
[Australian Poet Michael Atkin reading a book]

[»»] 1981, On 16 January 1981 Lyn, poet John A. Scott, Kirsten and I visited friends in the town of Katoomba, a couple of hours’ drive west of Sydney, in the Blue Mountains: John Merriman and Gaynor Lanceley and their kids. Here are some photos, taken on an Olympus XA camera with Kodak Technical Pan film, noted for its fine grain and its orthochromatic habit of making people’s lips invisible.

[»»] 1981, 26 September: Blue Mountains, 100 kilometers west of Sydney: Gaynor Lanceley, John Merriman and their children, and Trish Davies and Carl Harrison-Ford, and Kirsten Tranter, who was nine. That’s an Alfa-Romeo (silver, two-litre four-door sedan) you can see in the background of one photo: great car.

[»»] 1984: dinner at Nigel Roberts’ house in Rozelle: the late Billy Marshall Stoneking, NZ poet Lauris Edmond, Rae Desmond Jones, Lyn Tranter, Rudi Kraussman, Nigel Roberts himself (ex-Auckland, resident in Australia for many decades).

[»»] These six photographs of Australian poet Gig Elizabeth Ryan, poet Bruce Beaver, artist Julie Brown-Rrap, poet John A. Scott, artist Paula Dawson, and poet Susan Hampton, with accompanying short prose poems, were first published in «Republica» magazine Issue 2, ed. George Papaellenis. pp.23-35. Pymble: Angus and Robertson (HarperCollins Publishers),1995.

[»»] 2009: A cloud above Umbria. In 2009 I was lucky to be chosen to spend six weeks at the Civitella Raineri, a mediaeval castle in Italy near Perugia. Here is an Umbrian cloud that caught my fancy, and my camera’s attention.

[»»] 2009: Another cloud above Umbria. Very strange!

[»»] 2013: A dramatic cloud above Sydney. What do they mean?

[»»] 2013: Twelve strange photos taken in Adelaide in South Australia in 2013, while I was there to read my poems as part of the 2013 Adelaide Featival of Arts, invited by organiser Laura Kreutsch.

[»»] 2014, Puncher and Wattmann Christmas Party. Founded in 2005, Puncher and Wattmann is an independent Australian publisher of quality Australian writing. David Musgrave is the Publisher. They held a Xmas party in the rear function room of the Alexandria Town Hall on 6 December 2014, and lots of poets came. These are 15 photos I took at that event.…

[»»] 2014: Vagabond Press Christmas Party. Vagabond Press is an independent Australian publisher of quality Australian writing, established in 1999. Michael Brennan, Elizabeth Allen, Chris Edwards and Kay Orchison are the Publishers. See http://vagabondpress.net/pages/about-us
They held a Xmas party upstairs at Gleebooks book store at 49 Glebe Point Road, Sydney, on Sunday 7 December 2014. These are 13 photos I took at that event.…

[»»] 2015, 3 January: 31 photos I took one morning on a walk around Balmain in Sydney, with my dog Kiera.

[»»] 2015, 04 July (US American Independence Day!) my twenty-fourth book of poems was launched at the Surry Hills Community Centre, part of Surry Hills Public Library (and where would we be without librarians?). A great time was had by all. Here are some photos from the launch, by me and by Trish Davies.

[»»] 2015, 15 July: Kirsten, Henry, my wife Lyn and I motored to the Jenolan Caves, west of the Blue Mountains, in the Central West of New South Wales. We saw a wombat (not a kind of bat, but a kind of native badger), an echidna (ant-eater), and a wallaby (small kangaroo) beside the road. Some photos.

[»»] 2015, 16 July: Blackheath, Blue Mountains. On Thursday 16 July 2015 my family and I travelled from Leura to Blackheath, a little higher in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, to have lunch with Trish Davies and Carl Harrison-Ford, who had lived in Blackheath for 34 years. They had invited an old friend, Denis Gallagher, and with our daughter Kirsten and her son Henry we made a party of seven, and had a lovely lunch of Lamb Shanks and other delights, with lots of excellent red wine. Some photos from the event.

[»»] 2015, 17 July. On our winter holiday in Leura, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, it snowed overnight, to our surprise and amazement, on my daughter Kirsten’s birthday, 17 July. We woke to a ‘winter wonderland’ where everything was blanketed in ethereal snow: white and wonderful. Our grandson Henry, who remembered Ithaca in upper New York State covered with several feet of snow every winter, was thrilled, as you will see. Lots of photos.

[»»] 2015, 6 October: Some photos taken by John Tranter, at the Poetry Reading at Sappho Books, Cafe and Wine Bar at 51 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037, Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday evening 6 October 2015, the sixtieth anniversary of the famous Gallery Six reading in San Francisco that introduced the Beat poets to US audiences, most notoriously Allen Ginsberg and his poem ‘Howl’.

[»»] 2015, 18 July: A launch event (at the Knox Street Bar and Cafe in Chippendale) this afternoon to welcome ‘Out Of Place’, a microlit anthology of stories. A photo of a double fern and a prose poem, ‘Letitia’s lithe limbs’, and lots of photos of writers, from the launch.

[»»] I attended a lovely soirée at Bondi hosted by Luke Fischer and Dalia Nassar, with piano, violin, conversation and lots of excited attendees, on Friday evening 6 November 2015.

[»»] 2016, March: A crepe myrtle tree in Balmain, Sydney.

[»»] 2016: Poets in their Youth: As the English poet William Wordsworth wrote, ‘We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.’ Lots of photos, mainly by John Tranter, of poets and others in the bloom of youth.

 

Poetry

The links below take you to millions (well, lots and lots) of poems by John Tranter.

[»»] 1976: ‘The Alphabet Murders’, seven sections. ‘The Alphabet Murders… makes a great introduction to his work: its 27 segments… use their meta-detective tales as excuses to talk about reading, writing, associative thought and literary history.’

[»»] 1982: ‘Butterfly’ (from Selected Poems, 1982) ‘It’s just one weird thing after another’

[»»] 1995 ‘Yoo Hoo, Fugaces’: Eighteen early ‘Fugitive Poems’ with notes by the author.

[»»] 2004: The Malley Variations: Utilising the computer program BREKDOWN, these ten poems are unwilling collaborations; the voice of Ern Malley is inspired by and speaks through the voices of other writers at key moments in their careers, including Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Yasunari Kawabata, and E. M. Forster.

[»»] 2006: ‘After Rilke’. I have occasionally suspected that the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke was a bullshit artist, so when I turned my attention to his ‘Duino Elegies’ it was not out of kindness.

[»»] 2008 “Five Quartets”. There has been some discussion as to whether T.S. Eliot’s poem “Four Quartets” is a Modernist poem or not: going on its high stodginess and blather quotient, I think not. This poem here, however, is definitely a Postmodernist one; it is a truncated version of “Four Quartets” which, at nearly a thousand lines, seemed to me to be far too long. My version is Eliot’s poem with most of the words removed, and runs to a much more economical seventy-five lines.

[»»] 2009: Nine poems, after Baudelaire. (In Starlight, UQP 2010.) The nine poems consist of loose responses to poems by Baudelaire, responses written in Umbria in October 2009: each poem is followed by the poem by Baudelaire that (loosely) inspired it. This page is about nine printed pages long.

[»»] 2010: ‘Paris Blues’. (In Starlight, UQP 2010.) ‘It’s the early sixties: before heroin, before herpes and AIDS ruined things, before the women’s movement. Jack Kerouac is still alive, though only just, with eight years left to live. But let’s leave America behind and take a cultural detour down to the cellar where a successful American export, a jazz band, is winding up for the night.’

[»»] 2013: Four rhymed sonnets (from the booklet Ten Sonnets [Vagabond Press, 2013].) ‘…some of these sonnets are loosely based on Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Voyelles’ sonnet which attempts to give colours to the various vowels (un sonnet en alexandrins d’Arthur Rimbaud écrit à Paris dans les premiers mois de 1872, Wikipedia), though with a more variegated palette.’

[»»] ‘The Beach: a superhypermetrical sestina’. The ‘freight of noise and activity, Vietnamese immigrants… an Italian family quarrelling, and a Greek fish shop crowded with revellers in white’: it’s all good fun, and, as the poet contemplates the crowd, ‘The bowl of sand and water [becomes] a kind of memory theatre… when I was a boy in the country I liked to swim, poke at an octopus with a stick and chase poisonous puffer fish through the rippling shallows, then I would wander up the five-mile beach, no one there.’ Whereas ‘Now the beach seems a tedious gritty way to get skin cancer — just as when I was a kid in a country town I longed to live in Australia’s busiest metropolis, Sydney.’ So says Marjorie Perloff, in Jacket magazine 18 at http://jacketmagazine.com/18/perloff.html

[»»] 2012: ‘The Longest Poem in the World’ Check out my (free) multi-part report on the lively 2012 Auckland conference ‘Short Takes on the Long Poem’. The participants wrote the longest poem in the world, in the sand of a sandy beach on Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay. Lots of photos!

[»»] 2010 ‘The Anaglyph’

[»»] The Floor of Heaven: some newer notes.

[»»] The Floor of Heaven: some OLDER notes.

[»»] Not a poem but a prose poem: ‘Letitia’s Lithe Limbs’…

xxx

urban-myths-200w

[»»] A PDF file of the first half of the book Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected. Printed copies of the entire book can be purchased from the publisher’s website: http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/search.aspx?Search=tranter

tranter-by-bernstein-2008

 

John Tranter, New York City, April 2008,
photo © 2008 Charles Bernstein/PennSound.

Off-site: AUDIO: John Tranter recorded in the USA: «Close Listening» — readings and conversations at WPS1.Org

Off-site: John Tranter, New York, April 3, 2008, Reading from Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected (24:32):MP3

Off-site: In conversation with Charles Bernstein
(29:15):MP3 Close Listening produced and recorded by Charles Bernstein ©2008 John Tranter and Charles Bernstein

Off-site: Poetry reading: at the Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia March 30, 2005:
1. “I Know a Man,” by Robert Creeley (0:24): MP3

Off-site: Poetry readings: in New York City, April 2008: Complete reading (53:38): MP3:

2. Invitation to America (1:57): MP3

3. Miss Proust (2:47): MP3

4. After Laforgue (1:46): MP3

5. Where the Boys Are (0:52): MP3

6. Benzedrine (1:45): MP3

7. Transatlantic (2:13): MP3

8. The Waiting Room (1:40): MP3

9. Poolside (1:09): MP3

10. God on a Bicycle (1:02): MP3

11. Aurora (1:49): MP3

12. Moonshine Sonata (1:04): MP3

13. Voodoo (2:00): MP3.

crying-cover-200w[»»] A PDF file of the book Crying in Early Infancy — 100 Sonnets, Makar Press, St Lucia, 1977. The cover design is by Lyn Tranter. This file is free to read in its entirety on this site, but it cannot be printed. You can order a printed copy of the omnibus volume Trio (see below), which contains this book, from Gleebooks in Australia: http://www.gleebooks.com.au/
or from the publisher, Salt Publishing, in Cambridge UK: http://www.saltpublishing.com/

1876857714cvr.qxdTrio is a 162-page omnibus collection of three books of poetry by John Tranter published over a period of wide-ranging stylistic experiment in the 1970s: Red Movie, his second book, published in 1972, Crying in Early Infancy, a collection of one hundred mainly free-verse sonnets (1977), and Dazed in the Ladies Lounge (1979), with extensive notes. It is only available in printed form from bookshops. The cover photograph by the author is a frame from a television program featuring Gerry Mulligan playing baritone saxophone.

blast-cvr-2010-200wA PDF file of the book The Blast Area is available as a free download from Lulu.Com, published by [»»] Argotist EBooks in the UK. To download a copy typeset by the author, on this site, click [here]. Published as a pamphlet in 1974, The Blast Area was John Tranter’s third book of poetry, and has long been out of print. The poems are varied and strange. Some veer away from common sense into a quirky surrealism, and one ends with a rhyme in English and French (the French borrowed from Rimbaud):

Wax the ski. Compress the snow.
She: Et mon bureau?

The final third of the book consists of “The Poem in Love”, a sequence of fifteen pseudo-sonnets, set up by an epigraph from the dubious Paul Ducasse:

It’s possible that a poem in its own realm of being may take on a life of its own, and thus return by means of love some of the anguish and the suffering invested by the poet in its creation.

Critic Andrew Johnson wrote: “‘The Poem’, in this poem, might stand for the variety of strategies we employ to make sense of the world, and for the fleeting, unstable patterns we think we perceive in our experience. It’s as if having reached an extreme of cynicism about ‘meaning’, Tranter lets it in through the back door, and a new-found humour with it.”

parallax-200wOff-site: John Tranter’s first book Parallax (1970) may be read on the University of Sydney Library SETIS site here: [»»]

 

Special Features

Special Features

Some features consist of a number of pages with poems, photos and prose items related to just one topic.

University of Auckland Symposium: “Short Takes on Long Poems”, 28-30 March, 2012.

Conference Poster

 

[»»] 2012: ‘The Longest Poem in the World’, on the beach at Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay. A story of a Conference held at the University of Auckland in 2012, in 6 parts. Wednesday evening: lots of short, fast poems.
[»»] 2012: ‘The Longest Poems in the World’, on the beach at Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay. Part 2.
[»»] 2012: ‘The Longest Poems in the World’. Part 3.
[»»] 2012: ‘The Longest Poems in the World’. Part 4.
[»»] 2012: ‘The Longest Poems in the World’. Part 5.
[»»] 2012: ‘The Longest Poems in the World’. Part 6, final.
 


[»»] Fonts: Caslon: a literary typeface (Two Magazines)
[»»] Fonts: Reviving Caslon, by William Berkson: …First, the pursuit of authenticity is a snare and a trap. Don’t go there. Second, particularly if it’s an old typeface, it’s going to be harder than you imagined, and you can lose your way in the process. So you’d better start with a very clear goal for your revival, and stick to it.
[»»] Fonts: Inventing Equity [‘Just for lawyers?’ I hear you cry. That’s right, and it’s based on one of my favourite fonts, Ehrhardt, from the 1930s. Here (below) is a comparison between “Equity” (left) and good old Times New Roman (right).]


[»»] Heart Starter, 2015: Notes to the poems: Fourteen pages of detailed notes. Are you sure you want to go there? Various sonnet forms are discussed in excruciating detail, for example. Okay? Are you feeling strong?

[»»] Martin Johnston on Calvino and Duras, 1986: ‘…this suggests nothing so much as Octave Mirbeau’s turn-of-the-century snuff novel The Garden of Tortures. Cochin-chinoiserie, as it were.’


[»»] Mr Rubenking’s ‘Breakdown’: on the computer-assisted text analysis and reconstruction method Claude Shannon would be proud of.
[»»] Mr Rubenking: an example: ‘Carousel’ (The clouds above Battery Park were like a sack of snakes around the sun’s breast, approaching the great windswept space of the streets that shone with perspiration…)
[»»] Mr Rubenking: an example: ‘Valéry’s Room’ (Valéry has the manner of a young married man. He was usually up by noon, and he could generally see in the mirror that he was largely a monster. He makes a face, manic depressively. He peers into the glass again. ‘That’s the form, old boy,’ he says, striking his leg with a riding crop. ‘Scripto, ergo sum.’)
[»»] Mr Rubenking: many examples: Samples pages from Different Hands (… the first two or three pages from each of five of the seven stories published in the book Different Hands (1998), Folio/ Fremantle Arts Centre Press, PO Box 158, North Fremantle WA 6159, Australia. ISBN 1-86368-241-4.)


[»»] My baleful advice to a New Writer (Find another career. Please. Take up etching, or photography. Work the midnight to dawn shift in a fast food takeaway joint, be a mail delivery person, become a university student, drop out, hitch-hike around the world, work in the pay office of a military repatriation unit… [blah, blah]… 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.)

[»»] Patricia Rolfe, 1920-2008: thanks! (DAME EDNA EVERAGE can thank Patricia Rolfe for her early style. It was Pat who ventured into the ladies department of Waltons on Park Street, Barry Humphries in tow, looking for dresses to fit him. And if that wasn’t daunting enough, the shoe department was even worse: Humphries had very large feet.… ) And I owe Patricia special thanks.

[»»] Patrick White and Buttocks (‘In all directions stretched the Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions, in which the rich man is the important man, in which the schoolmaster and the journalist rule what intellectual roost there is, in which beautiful youths and girls stare at life through blind blue eyes, in which human teeth fall like autumn leaves, the buttocks of cars grow hourly glassier, food means cake and steak, muscles prevail, and the march of material ugliness does not raise a quiver from the average nerves.’)

[»»] Proust and Photography (Proust, who was as obsessed with photographs as he was with train travel and the telephone system and the telephone switch-girls who connected people and acted like interceding angels, put his thoughts about photography into the mouth of his saturnine character Baron de Charlus…)

[»»] Rimbaud the Murderer (It is fitting that Ashbery should face up to Rimbaud’s achievement, and bring Rimbaud’s poems into English.)