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 C: Thesis, 3 of 6 : Prior Projects

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
[«»] Thesis, Part 3 of 6 : Exegesis 2 of 3: Prior Projects ← You are here.
[«»] 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 3 of 6: Prior Projects

P R I O R   P R O J E C T S

Mainly, though not always, books of poetry.

Parallax, 1970
Red Movie, 1972
The Blast Area, 1974
The Alphabet Murders, 1976
Crying in Early Infancy: 100 sonnets, 1977
Dazed in the Ladies Lounge, 1979
Selected Poems, 1982
Gloria, 1986
Under Berlin, 1988
Mr Rubenking’s Breakdown
The Floor of Heaven, 1992
At The Florida, 1993
Double Six, 1995
Gasoline Kisses, 1997
Different Hands (fiction), 1998
Late Night Radio, 1998
Blackout, 2000
Ultra, 2001
Heart Print, 2001
The Floor of Heaven, 2000
Cartoon: Dan Dactyl and the Mad Jungle Doctor
Borrowed Voices, 2002
Studio Moon, 2003
Trio, 2003
Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected, 2006
Cartographical constraint: By Blue Ontario’s Shore
Editorial projects
The Matter of Motivation

  Exegesis, part 2: Prior projects

Paragraph 1 follows: 1:

This is a brief survey of John Tranter’s twenty-five books to date and the responses they elicited: twenty-one poetry books and four anthologies/ compilations totalling some two and a half thousand printed pages in all. It also takes in the editing of various magazines including Free Grass (five pages) and Jacket magazine (over seven thousand pages), his creation of a twelve-page cartoon adventure, and his more recent work exploring the Internet as a publishing medium. Apart from providing a historical outline, the focus of this survey is mainly on the strand in Tranter’s writing that explores masks, impersonation, appropriation and translation, which gradually becomes more salient and wide-ranging as his writing develops.

 Parallax, 1970

2:

John Tranter wrote his first poems in 1960 at the suggestion of his history teacher, John Darcy, while a boarder at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, on the [South-western] outskirts of Sydney. A decade later Tranter had side-stepped his father’s plans to turn him into a farmer and abandoned his own ambitions to be an architect, a painter, a trumpet player or a filmmaker, and had focussed on the one thing he seemed to have a talent for: poetry.

3:

He had written around three hundred poems and had published some seventy of them in various Australian journals when, in 1970, he assembled the typescript for his first book. He was twenty-six. The book, titled Parallax and other poems, was published by Grace Perry (b.1927) as the June 1970 issue of Poetry Australia magazine. [Though it is shown as the June 1968 issue on the title page.]

4:

Reviews of the book were generally favourable, though Martin Haley in The Advocate (a Catholic magazine) in September 1970 complained that ‘He is experimental in the mode current at present in Australian verse — much influenced by contemporary American practice, post-Poundian. As with Pound ‘in extenso’, coherence is the difficulty. […] The general effect is quite baffling, and illustrates the weakness in abandoning for poetry the use of that discursive manner Professor Hope argues for and practises.’

5:

Imitating his predecessors is the last thing Tranter was interested in. Haley may not have read Shklovsky, who quotes the French literary historian F. Brunetiere on literary movements that break away from the previous movement: ‘Finally, Romantics of our time [the late nineteenth century] want to create something different from the works of classical writers…’ Shklovsky adds, ‘There were also those who wanted ‘to create something quite similar’ to their predecessors. I know them very well, indeed! But it is precisely these who can be excluded from the history of literature and art.’ (51)

6:

Rodney Hall (in The Australian, of which he was a notable poetry editor at that time) wrote, ‘John Tranter’s… are inward, self-regenerating poems — the best of which are exquisite… Mr Tranter controls his poems to such a fine degree… one is tempted to say his grasp of his theoretical position might well be too strong.’

 Red Movie, 1972

7:

Red Movie was published by Angus and Robertson Publishers in 1972, while its author was working in Singapore for the Education Division of the same firm. Angus and Robertson’s poetry editor, Douglas Stewart, agreed that the firm should publish the book, saying to Tranter in 1973: ‘I didn’t really know what it was all about, but I could tell that you can write well.’

8:

The poems in the first part of the book follow on from the more lyrical and dramatic poems in Parallax (1970), and show the strong influence of Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, which Tranter had studied at the University of Sydney.

9:

In 1974 Tranter compiled a one-hour selection from Frank O’Hara’s poems for ABC Radio National; the detailed reading of O’Hara’s 586-page Collected Poems which this task called for brought him his first proper appreciation of this subtle poet, whose cultural gestures and wit are sometimes difficult to decipher and whose apparent casualness Tranter had previously dismissed. It is worth noting that John Forbes, a friend of Tranter’s and trained in English and Fine Arts, had ‘got’ O’Hara immediately, whereas Tranter — trained in Shakespeare, Pope and the Romantics — much preferred the approachable lyricism and formal stylishness of John Ashbery’s early poetry through the 1960s and early 1970s. Forbes, with his quick mind and ample cultural cynicism, was always a few steps ahead of his Australian colleagues, and occasionally he made it clear that he found their dozy recalcitrance irritating.

10:

The title poem ‘Red Movie’ is placed last in the collection, and appears to show a change of direction: it is eleven pages long, in five parts, and has a fractured and elliptical surface. Much of its imagery is derived from what seems an indiscriminate mélange of serious literature, the movies, and pop culture, though that is true of much of Tranter’s work. It is notable in showing a formal move away from sentiment and lyricism, though traces of them remain in the poem’s concerns with autobiography.

 The Blast Area, 1974

11:

Martin Duwell, teaching in the English Department at the University of Queensland, established Makar Magazine and the Gargoyle Poets series of poetry pamphlets in the early 1970s. Tranter reviewed the first six of the Gargoyle Poets in New Poetry magazine volume 22 number 1, in 1974. His own small collection of poems, The Blast Area, became Gargoyle Poets number 12, a 36-page pamphlet. It was dedicated ‘with respect and affection to the memory of John Darcy’, the teacher who had set him on the path to poetry fourteen years before. John Darcy had been killed in a motor accident in 1961.

12:

The loose group of eight poems that open the collection might seem reminiscent of the ‘portrait’ poems of Red Movie — ‘Mark’, a portrait of a young man damaged by methedrine (‘speed’) and paranoia, is an example — though the last four poems veer away from common sense into a surrealism that is more humorous than profound.

13:

‘Poem ending with a line by Rimbaud’ hints at the idea of borrowings and masks: the poem is designed to end with a line by another poet, Rimbaud (though the main stylistic precursor would seem to be Auden), and a rhyme in English and French:

14:

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

15:

A central group of fifteen poems seem like snippets from a European movie about fast cars and beautiful people. The title of one of the poems and the theme of automotive danger point to the 1971 movie The Last Run, starring an avuncular but morose George C. Scott, a treacherous woman and a hot two-litre BMW sedan, and hints of world-weariness and existentialism. [17]

16:

The final third of the book consists of ‘The Poem in Love’, a sequence of fifteen pseudo-sonnets: an octet and a sestet, but only fragmentary rhyme. An epigraph from Paul Ducasse sets the scene: ‘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.’ It might seem that Paul Ducasse is a distant relative of Isidore Ducasse (1846–70), Uruguayan-born French writer, who used the pseudonym Comte de Lautréamont; but alas, the stilted phrasing and the self-conscious aestheticism of this apt epigraph are deceptive; Monsieur Ducasse is a figment of John Tranter’s imagination. We shall return to this tendency to masks and fictionality later.

17:

The poem does attempt to ‘take on a life of its own’, and speaks though the musing voice of the narrator in a jumble of styles and non-sequiturs, fragments of Bob Dylan (‘all smacked up on the highway / down by the river bridge’), Byron (‘The Poem / that now walks in beauty like the diesel tram’) and New York School flip wit (‘I drank a Pepsi like they do in N.Y. / and that fizzy noise was like how / you could hear the Sonnet feasting on itself.’)

18:

New Zealand critic Andrew Johnson:

19:

‘The Poem in Love’ is also important for the way in which Tranter’s ‘poetry about poetry’, his habitual public re-invention of his means of addressing us, becomes looser, lighter, more inclusive. ‘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. (Landfall 50)

20:

The book was slight both in physical form and literary effect. The combination of exuberance, cheeky wit and the loose sonnet form points forward to a later volume, Crying in Early Infancy: 100 Sonnets.

 The Alphabet Murders, 1976

21:

In his 2003 interview with US writer Robert Hahn, Tranter explains how he came to write his next book. Hahn had said that it seemed to him that Tranter has consciously tried to avoid having a distinctive personal style. Tranter answered: ‘I’m aware of that, or at least of something like that. When I wrote The Alphabet Murders, in 1974, I’d been writing for fifteen years, or, say, learning to write. I went to Singapore to work for a couple of years, as an editor for a publishing house, and while I was there I tried to write some poetry but I found that it felt artificial and false. [….] When I wrote The Alphabet Murders, it was after a lot of bits I had written in an attempt to get away from my own voice altogether. And I think I’ve followed this pattern ever since. I write in bursts, for a month or so, and then leave it behind, and when I start again I’m aware of trying to find a new way to write, to escape my own rhetoric.’ As Doctor Johnson says, writing of Pope, ‘he that has once studiously formed a style rarely writes afterwards with complete ease,’ (Johnson Lives 253) and the film writer Jean-Claude Carrière writes, ‘In a screenplay, as elsewhere, you must be wary of technique, which can so quickly turn into mere fluency.’ (Carrière 158)

22:

The Alphabet Murders ended up as a long argument with traditional poetry (including Modernism, now part of history) and a dismantling of its values; writers are traduced, parodied and dismissed, and poetry itself is seen as a voyage to nowhere (literally, zero). At the last moment a supernumerary stanza (A, the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet) allows the poem to return to its own departure point. As in many Tranter poems, the ending of The Alphabet Murders turns the reader back to the beginning, trapped inside the roundabout of art.

23:

En route some masks are adopted and disfigured. The Australian poet R D FitzGerald had published an essay in Southerly magazine in 1973, arguing for a considered respect for tradition on the part of young poets. ‘(T)radition is not just an impulse out of the past;’ FitzGerald writes, ‘it is a progressive movement overtaking the present and helping carry it into the future.’ True enough, perhaps, but the young Tranter was having none of it. In section 20 (After R D FitzGerald) of ‘The Alphabet Murders’ Tranter transcribes a hundred or so words of this article, chopping it into free verse lines, then gradually stitches nonsense phrases into the fabric:

24:

… the very incoherence and craziness of most
that you have to say are not restrictions,
but machinery capable of jacking up the present tense
and marching it along like a heavy sandwich
into the slobbering mouth of the future. (42–43)

25:

In all, Tranter seems to trust that the range, vigour and stylishness of his attack on earlier forms of poetry will provide its own set of values to replace those which he has disparaged so energetically, though of course culture has a way of producing and then absorbing almost any critique.

26:

The younger Australian poet-critics Kate Fagan and Peter Minter have written a thorough and stylish analysis of The Alphabet Murders[18]. It locates the strategies behind the writing in their cultural and chronological milieu, and presents dozens of useful insights:

27:

If we seek to uncover the scene of dismemberment, resolution and self-constitution, The Alphabet Murders marks the spot. (Par 3)

28:

Tranter’s knowing, experimental and satiric fantasia sets up two sufficiency conditions: repudiation and futility. (Par 10)

29:

One of Tranter’s lasting contributions to Australian poetry has been his interrogation of the Romantic subject. His work consistently tries to decode the problem of ‘ego.’ (Par 17)

30:

Returning to the impossible romance of a whodunit scenario usefully underscores the spectre of Tranter as Poet Select, who is possibly suffering the anxieties of influence, in a Bloomian sense — or at least a little sociability panic.… But once the opening carnage has been shot from various angles, and tropes of narrative departure done to death, we gradually realise that the poet is still in the building. (Par 18)

31:

Tranter’s blazon is a clever disappearing act. It is a blazon about blazon, an emblematic description of a descriptive emblem. In this sense it perfectly mirrors The Alphabet Murders’ narrative logic: a mise en abyme or play-within-play structure that multiply defers arrival, symbolised in the poem’s return to the letter A.… The Alphabet Murders is a modernist long poem by one reading, a postmodernist anti-epic by others. (Par 20)

32:

Returning to the letter A at the alphabet’s material finale, Tranter takes one small step into prose, and so makes an absolute pact with teleology. Section 27 thus signals The Alphabet Murders’ most radical scene of departure. Tranter finally kills off the romantic subject by reviving writing: ‘After all, we had left poetry behind before this trip had even begun, and all the while we have been bereft of its silly promises of beauty…’ (Par 25)

33:

One of the many themes of ‘The Alphabet Murders’ is the possibility of a communal art, one prior to the Romantic focus on the individual. Tranter’s reading of Mallory’s Le Mort D’Arthur (and books about Mallory’s life) provides a model and fragments of quotation:

33:

… this is architecture, friend, and masterful;
we gape to find the cathedral of words so large
that everyone can find in it the works of his favourite
period, and yet you can always strip that work
of ill-framed accretions and their polyphonic noise
without pulling the whole thing down. Is it plausible
that ‘strength’ lies in age and British feats of arms?
Are these bits the ‘real’ cathedral? They might have been,
the whole might have been designed by one man and
finished in the one compelling style, but
‘The whole has rather grown than been made.’ (UM 45)

34:

Surprisingly, Luis Buñuel provides a useful comment:

35:

Buñuel often said that films should be like cathedrals. The authors’ names should be removed from the credits, leaving just a few anonymous reels, pure, free of any trace of their creator. Then we would watch them the way we enter a cathedral, not knowing the names of those who built it, or even the master builder. (Carrière 176)

36:

The arguments rehearsed by ‘The Alphabet Murders’ owe a lot to Eliot. As a young poet, Tranter had been influenced by T S Eliot’s poetry: by the Modernist function the verse enacted as much as the actual words and rhythms of the early poems, which we now understand to be shaped as much by Pound as by Eliot. But Eliot spent as much time looking backward as forward; his writings on Dryden, Donne and Dante as well as a dozen minor writers gave his voice a distinct authority when he looked at the relation of a poet to his tradition:

37:

… what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. 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. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. (Eliot, Tradition, 47–48)

38:

And Todorov agrees:

39:

Just as the meaning of a part of the work is not exhausted in itself, but is revealed in its relations with the other parts, a work in its entirety can never be read in a satisfactory and enlightening fashion if we do not put it in relation with other works, previous and contemporary. (Todorov 244)

40:

A slightly different view is given by Shklovsky:

41:

…when I speak of a literary tradition, I do not have in mind a literal borrowing by one writer from another. I conceive of it as a common fund of literary norms from which each writer draws and on which he is dependent. If I were to use the analogy of an inventor and his tradition, I would say that such a literary tradition consists of the sum total of the technical possibilities of his age. (Shklovsky 64)

42:

Eliot, of course, was the most classical of Modernists, in both senses of ‘classical’: he was central to the way Modernism was translated from French Symbolist models into English poetry in the early decades of the twentieth century. And he was a Modernist in a thorough-going way in his construction of a nightmare urban modern landscape, in his intense and abrupt use of collage, pastiche and jarring juxtaposition, in his insistence on the contemporary everyday world as valid subject matter, and in the way he and his friends positioned poetry at the front of the barricades of the avant-garde. All these Modernist traits are to be found in ‘The Alphabet Murders’, which in some ways is a direct descendant of ‘The Waste Land’. But Kate Lilley alerts us to the other side of the coin:

43:

As a double agent, working for both the modernists and the postmodernists, whichever way he turns in this city of forked roads and forked tongues (‘For history is a kind of city’, AM, p.8), the poet is embroiled in heresy and conspiracy, accused of back-sliding or bad faith. Tranter teaches us to recognise the freight of history as it is reconfigured in the present; the always laughable and always touching resurgence of the rhetoric of modernity, its inherent contingency. In ‘The Alphabet Murders’ he reminds us that ‘what we have left behind… / itself must generate enough good luck for the whole voyage’. [ … ] It is the seam between modernism and postmodernism which Tranter’s poetry excavates, writing the present as the past’s future and the future’s past, measuring the gap between epochs and styles and models, holding up for inspection a word like ‘poplin’, offering the poem as a ‘nostalgia machine’ which comments on its own technology, shows its own working. (Lilley, ‘Tranter’s Plots’)

 Crying in Early Infancy: 100 sonnets, 1977

44:

Why one hundred sonnets? When Tranter went to Brisbane to work as a radio producer for the ABC in 1975 he got to know Martin Duwell, who had published The Blast Area in 1974, and who now wished to publish another of Tranter’s books. Tranter had fifty or so short poems he’d been working on. He realised they were about the size of sonnets, and with his background in the printing industry he knew that the ideal page-count for small books of poems was 64 pages all up (four sixteen-page folded signatures), which would accommodate fifty pages of poetry plus fronts and backs. Two sonnets just fit on a page, so he proposed a book of one hundred sonnets, and finished the typescript over the next year. This could be seen as an example of a technological constraint helping to determine one aspect of the outer form of a literary work. (It is not an accident that the sonnet-like poems in this thesis total one hundred and one.)

45:

Further technical constraints are explored. ‘Sonnet 50 (from a BBC synopsis)’ is in fact derived from a BBC synopsis. As Play Reader at the ABC Radio Drama and Features Department in 1974, one of Tranter’s duties was to pore over the catalog of radio play synopses provided by the BBC’s Transcriptions service, to which the ABC had for many years subscribed. Any of these plays could be ordered from the BBC and broadcast by the ABC free of further charges. The severely condensed narratives appealed to Tranter, and they needed little rewriting to transform them into verse:

46:

John is handling a tidy affair
with Louise, wife of his friend Robert.
John tries to persuade her to leave
Robert, and to burst with him in some foreign
country. She meets John secretly…
[….]
… but is Marjorie really dead? If so, who
really killed — set in London — killed her?

47:

These are reminiscent of a poem by John Ashbery, ‘… by an Earthquake’ though Tranter could not have read the poem at the time, as it hadn’t yet been written. Here is an excerpt:

48:

Ambrosius, suffering misfortune, seeks happiness in the companionship of Joe, and in playing golf.
Arthur, in a city street, has a glimpse of Cathy, a strange woman who has caused him to become involved in a puzzling mystery.
Cathy, walking in the street, sees Arthur… (Can You Hear, Bird, 20)

49:

Perhaps as a counter to ‘Poem ending with a line by Rimbaud’ (in The Blast Area, 1974), we find ‘Sonnet 14 (beginning with a line by David Malouf)’ which begins ‘Was that garlic, or old age?’

50:

Five of the sonnets use the constraints of rhyme (for example, number 53: drive / glass / pass / alive / drink / gramophone / alone / mink // gift / attack / cry / rift / back / die). Others are numbers 44, 47, 63 and 92.

51:

The loose sonnet form and the humorous and sometimes cynical attitudes expressed in the poems seem an expression of emotional release after the dark humour and erratic angst of The Alphabet Murders. Some critics disapproved of the carefree — some would (and did) say careless — attitudes to poetry, focussing particularly on the deliberate use of mistypings. One morning in Brisbane Tranter’s wife Lyn was baking bread; ‘yeast rises in the breathless air’ becomes ‘Yeats rises in the breathless air,’ and ‘it was greasy all over like a window’, became through a slip of the fingers ‘it was greasy all over like a widow’. This last error was retained on the urging of John Forbes, and Roman Jakobson (Jakobson, Selected III, 741) agrees with him:

52:

Is it then possible to limit the range of poetic devices? Not in the least; the history of arts attests to their constant mutability. Nor does the intent of a device burden art with any strictures. We have only to recall how often the dadaists and surrealists let happenstance write their poetry. We have only to realise what pleasure the great Russian poet Xlebnikov derived from typographical errors; the typographical error, he once said, is often a first-rate artist.

53:

The reviewer Cary Catalano wrote ‘…the influences he is now working under are clearly corrupting and destructive ones. His technique is sloppy and inexact, and he rarely has anything arresting to say. As Troilus puts it, ‘words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart’.’

 Dazed in the Ladies Lounge, 1979

54:

The matter of Rimbaud, a crucial literary influence, had been essayed by Tranter in the long poem ‘Rimbaud and the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’ in New Poetry in 1974. The version published in Dazed in the Ladies Lounge five years later (ten pages long, in fifteen parts) is reworked and more controlled, and re-titled ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’. The influence of Robert Lowell’s Life Studies is again evident. Reviewing Tranter’s 1982 Selected Poems, and focussing on the poems in Crying in Early Infancy, John Forbes asks:[19]

55:

But how do you write, knowing that the poem can never escape from Literature and, at the same time, not wanting merely to demonstrate the obvious? The long poems ‘The Alphabet Murders’ and ‘Rimbaud and the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’ both strike me as circling around this problem. In them Tranter is like the coyote chasing the roadrunner, using a great deal of energy and cunning, but never catching him…. the interrogation of History and Culture that fails to hold one’s interest in ‘Rimbaud and the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’…

56:

The need to escape from Literature can be seen as a strategy in the same arena as the need to escape from one’s habitual mode of rhetoric. Within the practice of literature, it is a problem with no achievable solution. David Carter pointed to the self-destructive behaviour of this poem:

57:

‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’ might be seen, in this light, as a review or retrospective, though it is also the (re)discovery of a problematic which refuses to go away (an introductory note says that the poem was begun in the early seventies and finished nearly a decade later). This bleak if jokey poem cuts away relentlessly at its own foundations, its own progenitors, consigning itself to ‘unforgiving darkness’. It interrogates the Magian Heresy but at one further remove, finding the very symbolist paradox, and not merely its paradoxical goal, to be a seductive fraud (and yet still unavoidable, irresistible, as poetry keeps discovering itself). (Carter 121)

58:

Carter’s use of the phrase ‘the Magian Heresy’ is a nice point: it is the title of an article by James McAuley — one half of the 1943 hoax poet ‘Ern Malley’ — in Quadrant magazine in 1957. In it McAuley attempts to turn back the tide of the postmodern by insisting on a return to the literary values of ancient Rome, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where the presumptions of a disobedient mankind will be ‘corrected’ by a severe dressing-down from the gods:

59:

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

60:

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

61:

Yet it is an easy prophecy that our conservatism will not much longer prevent the emergence of black poetry[20], with its verbal violence, its formlessness, its antinomian and analogical frenzy, its pretence that all that is needed, to attain the realm of freedom and love ‘out there’, is to violate all decencies and tear down all conventions, and its secret winking inner light of wicked knowledge that ‘out there’ is neither freedom nor love but only one shelf of the vast hell of the egotists — the Poets’ Shelf, no doubt, though there may be room for some critics as well. (McAuley 1970 62)

62:

Carter’s use of the phrase ‘the Magian Heresy’ also recalls Rimbaud’s construction of the poet’s role, as well as Mallarmé: ‘The whole of my admiration goes to the Great Mage, inconsolable and obstinate seeker after a mystery which he does not know exists and which he will pursue, for ever on that account, with the affliction of his lucid despair, for it would have been the truth…’ Tranter printed this endorsement by Mallarmé of a permanently obscure mystery as one of the two epigraphs to ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’ in Dazed in the Ladies Lounge. (Dazed 7)

63:

At the same time, Tranter’s poem attempts to relocate Rimbaud, often seen as a Decadent or Symbolist poet (perhaps because his first notable English sponsor was Arthur Symons[21]) in the realm of the proto-Modern.

64:

A brief detour: In a 1986 paper Andrew Taylor surveys a number of Tranter’s poems, focussing on ‘Leavis at The London’ (Dazed 39) in some pardonable puzzlement:

65:

The question that immediately poses itself is 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. If the addressee is indeterminate at least this far into the poem can we determine just who is doing the addressing? (Taylor 1986)

66:

The second person pronoun has always been an ambiguous and adaptable weapon in the Tranter armory, as it has for many other poets. Marjorie Perloff quotes a 1973 interview with John Ashbery, who explicates the tactic better than most:

67:

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. (Perloff Indeterminacy 63)[22]

68:

But Taylor seems to express a frustration at the absence of a single, locatable and unified voice at the heart of the poem. It is only when he comes to ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’ that he looks past that problem and proposes that ‘role’, or a multiplicity of roles, not ‘voice’ or ‘subject’, is the source of the writing’s energy. He notes the curious instability and invisibility of the subject, amid a flux of roles, in this poem:

69:

It is one of Tranter’s more pressing poems, acting out a radical assessment of its own possibilities. The sequence starts and ends with what seems a firmly locateable subject: ‘Sitting by the river under damp trees /I listen to the wind in the leaves / whispering hatred and loneliness …’ and ‘Learning, where the deeply human / is the object of a fierce knowledge, / can reach an imitation of the style of love, / but in that future under whose arrogant / banner we have laboured for our own rewards / we shall both be gone into that / unforgiving darkness.’

70:

Such a subject constitutes or situates itself as the romantic rebel; but like the historical Rimbaud, and like the poem itself, it refuses to stay fixed. The result is a poem which seems both deeply concentrated and remarkably elusive, the subject again revealing itself as that which has no visible nature of its own with which to authorise such roles as that of Romantic rebel. These roles come to it from outside, from culture or from history, and are not an expression of the subject but an impression on it. The subject itself appears only, as I said before, in a style of remaining invisible within their multitudinous flux. (Taylor 1986)

71:

This shift of attention from the search for an authentic voice to an analysis of a flux of roles seems to clear a path to a more interesting and useful way of reading Tranter’s work.

72:

Yet when it came time to assemble Urban Myths, his 2006 ‘New and Selected Poems’, Tranter chose to pass over ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’, now more than a quarter of a century into the past. Perhaps it was time to move out from the territory of the Modern and leave it behind for a more complicated set of concerns that drew their energy from the post-postmodern. Perhaps the dramatic (sometimes melodramatic) ‘interrogation of History and Culture’ that had failed to hold John Forbes’s interest had now lost its grip on its author’s attention. And perhaps this poem, that had seemed the cornerstone of Dazed, now seemed backward-looking and mired in an early stage of its author’s literary development. As Tranter has said in an interview in 1980:

73:

He [Rimbaud] did say ‘one must be absolutely modern’, which in today’s terms means that one must not be very interested in Rimbaud, I suppose. He, in his own work, didn’t look back to any other poet that was alive a hundred years [before], he was only interested in the future. There’s a line in my poem that says ‘to follow you we must desert’ — it’s a contradiction, but if one believes in what Rimbaud was doing, one must abandon Rimbaud the way he abandoned all the writers around him at the time.

74:

Another contradiction that is interesting there, too — if you believe in what Rimbaud did, you have to agree with the fact that at the end of his writing career, which only lasted five years, he abandoned and repudiated all that he had ever done. (Interview with Mr Jan Garrett, 1980)

75:

There is also a group of twenty-two poems in loose blank verse in a thirty-line form that neatly fills a printed page (another technological constraint?) and that crops up later in Tranter’s oeuvre, to be named the ‘trenter’ (see Appendix 5). On the topic of constraint, Jakobson and Baudelaire have useful things to say:

76:

[O]ne cannot but agree with Baudelaire’s indignant question in his letter of Feb. 18, 1860 to the critic Armand Fraisse:

77:

Who is then the imbecile who deals so frivolously with the Sonnet and who does not see its Pythagorean beauty? It is by virtue of the constraining form that the idea springs forth more intensely. There is the beauty of a well-worked metal or mineral. Have you noticed that a fragment of the sky perceived through an air-hole gives a more profound idea of infinity than a wide panorama seen from a mountain top?

78:

According to Baudelaire’s notes, what the sonnet needs is a design, and it is the construction, the network, that proves to be the primary guarantee of the mysterious life predestined to a work of the mind.
(Jakobson 781)

79:

Perhaps the most successful of these thirty-line poems are the five poems that deal with the idea of noted European intellectuals in various Australian low-culture settings: ‘Leavis at The London (Hotel)’ (mentioned above), ‘Sartre at Surfers Paradise’, ‘Foucault at (The) Forest Lodge (Hotel)’, ‘Roland Barthes at the Poets’ Ball’, and ‘Enzensberger at ‘Exiles’ (Bookshop)’. Like the other poems in this group, the poem about ‘Foucault’, rather than being soaked in a common kind of intellectual respect, is derisory and full of contemporary phantasmagoria, as though the cheap and noisy Sydney/ Hollywood setting had drowned out the high tone of the imported European theory:

80:

                                            Our guide
to the good life is a drunken junkie, half
girl, half executioner, breathing gas, who
fucks like a disco wizard and exemplifies
sheer speed as a final virtue, eating out
with a rush: that’s how tonight develops
into a drug catalogue blazing in the
waiting room where I get a crush on
Suzanne Pleshette and in that flash
rise like a broken bottle into the light. (Dazed 41)

81:

Rimbaud’s hallucinatory urban scenes could be seen as an influence here, though perhaps the exemplary bourgeois, Baudelaire, is the more apposite model, seen through Walter Benjamin’s spectacles, as reported by Michael Jennings:

82:

This notion of a shock-driven poetic capability was a significant departure from the understanding of artistic creation prevalent in Benjamin’s day and in fact still powerfully present today. The poet is, on this view, not a genius who ‘rises above’ his age and distils its essence for posterity. For Benjamin, the greatness of Baudelaire consists instead 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. And for Benjamin, the ‘character of the age’ consisted in its thoroughgoing commodification. Baudelaire was not simply aware of the processes of commodification from which the phantasmagoria constructs itself; he in fact embodied those processes in an emphatic manner. When he takes his work to market, the poet surrenders himself as a commodity to ‘the intoxification of the commodity immersed in a surging stream of customers.’ The poet’s role as producer and purveyor of commodities opens him to a special ‘empathy with inorganic things.’ And this, in turn, ‘was one of his sources of inspiration.’ Baudelaire’s poetry is thus riven by its images of a history that is nothing less than a ‘permanent catastrophe.’ This is the sense in which Baudelaire was the ‘secret agent’ of the destruction of his own class. (Jennings 15)

83:

Last is the five-page poem ‘Ode to Col Joye’. Rod Mengham has discussed this poem in a paper ‘John Tranter and the Real Boeotia’[23
. Mengham mentions that ‘The immediate occasion of its composition was a commission from John Forbes for a piece for his magazine Surfers Paradise…. The poem… appeared in the March 1979 issue.’ He also points out that the poem is in one sense a paean to Sydney, though ‘Rather than portray Sydney as an international centre, as Australia’s point of leverage on foreign culture… Tranter ambiguates his register of foreign influences, and neglects the urban environment almost entirely in favour of a domestic setting; this is an indoor poem, written at the kitchen table. Sydney is equated with homeliness, with the opposite of everything that is self-aggrandising.’

84:

Unusually for Tranter, the line-lengths and line indentations are erratic and reminiscent of the discursive free verse of John Forbes’ friend Ken Bolton, a fictionalised view of whom appears in the poem: ‘from his sternly-thinking head issues a balloon / with the words / it’s a / John Tranter day…’ Various literary possibilities are presented and dismissed, and the poem ends with a reference to the minor 1950s Australian rock’n’roll group Col Joye and the Joye Boys, who had performed at the picture theatre in Moruya, Tranter’s home town, when he was fourteen: ‘it’s a day for writing something ‘fresh’ / for Surfers Paradise / and that makes it a Col Joye day; that, / and the bright air / glistening with poetry and the desire to please.’ The title is a pun on Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy (‘Ode an die Freude’, 1785), set to music by Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony.

 Selected Poems, 1982

85:

The book sums up the best work of a career at mid-point. But a ‘selected poems’ is of course a selection; that is, many more things are left out than are included. The forty-seven poems of Parallax (1970), a 64-page summing up of Tranter’s first decade as a writer, are here, a dozen years later, reduced to seven pages containing only eight poems, and those poems are brief, elliptical and slightly abstract. The intense emotional expressiveness, the theatrical gloom and the sentimentality of the younger writer have been air-brushed out of the picture. But Jakobson’s wise words should be kept in mind:

86:

Do not believe the poet who, in the name of truth, the real world, or anything else, renounces his past in poetry or art. Tolstoj tried in great exasperation to repudiate his works, but instead of ceasing to be a poet, he forged the way to new unhackneyed forms of literature. As has rightly been noted: when an actor tears off his mask, makeup is sure to be forthcoming.

(Jakobson 742)

87:

Six years later Tranter wrote that ‘I’m a slow learner, and part of my development as a writer was learning — gradually, almost poem by poem — to blend the cocktail of poetry using less and less of the syrup of lyricism.’ (‘Four diversions’ 588–92)

88:

Alas, lyric sentimentality leaks into the last ten (otherwise uncollected) poems of this collection. In ‘Meteorology’ and ‘The Letter’, nostalgia and regret for lost love strive for literary status, borrowing the tone of voice of Constantine Cavafy, though the savage irony of ‘Speakeasy’, ‘The Poet at Dural’ and ‘Reversal Process’ attempt to balance the boat. Is cynicism the other side of the coin of sentimentality?

89:

The book failed to win any of the literary prizes of the period.

 Gloria, 1986

90:

Tranter turned forty in 1983. He had been a poet for more than half his life. When his Selected Poems failed to achieve the notice Tranter felt it deserved, he turned away from poetry for a time. In 2006 he talked to journalist Rosemary Neill about this period:

91:

I was out of work, I was drinking too much, I was on the dole, very depressed. I’d lost a job because I was on a grant for a year. I had a Selected Poems come out in ’83 [in fact 1982] and it didn’t win any prizes and no one took any notice of it. It was like closing a door on a whole writing career. I didn’t think I’d write much any more. (Neill par 7)

92:

Tranter obtained therapy and medication for his depression, which eventually began to abate. Late in 1983 he found some editorial work, and in 1984 he was offered a one-year Literature Board grant. His wife sold her typesetting business, and he and his family left for a month in the US. Tranter went on to Germany and Italy. He was abroad for three months altogether. By late 1986 he had made a further three overseas trips, and had begun work on a prose project. In a 1994 interview with Barbara Williams, Tranter related how he came to write Gloria.

93:

I think I was trying to write a novel, as I do every five years or so. I had been inspired by a short story called George by the Australian writer Christina Stead, published in the Paris Review in 1967 (Issue number 40). Her story is really a monologue, and it has a breathtaking headlong rush that drags you through this character’s life and a love affair that went wrong. I wanted to get that obsessive effect of a monologue that buttonholes you and won’t let you go — one reviewer quite rightly likened The Floor of Heaven to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner — and I began the piece that turned out to be Gloria in prose. Eventually I realised it wasn’t going to go the length of a novel, so it became a short story. That kind of thing happens more times than I care to mention. Then it wasn’t working as a story, so I thought ‘Why shouldn’t poetry get the same kicks as prose?’ and I turned it into verse, with much difficulty. Then I turned it back into prose, with even more difficulty. That didn’t work. After about two and a half years it had turned back into verse again — a kind of loose blank verse — and that’s the way it stayed. (Williams 224)

94:

Writing of the later, expanded version of ‘Gloria’ that was published in Southerly in 1991 and in The Floor of Heaven in 1992, critic Kate Lilley writes:

95:

‘Gloria’ … offers the most recursive framing of the relations between writing and speaking, voice and narration, psychic process and textual order. It is framed as an account by an anonymous member of a small therapeutic group of a meeting under the authority of the ‘troop leader’, Dr Masterson, over a picnic lunch. … [the story] begins with a literalized gesture of textual transmission: ‘Gloria handed the doctor a bundle of notes’ (3). Masterson responds: ‘‘Yesss, this is interesting, Gloria,/ but it looks complicated, full of bother./ Tell me, what does it represent? Hmmm?’‘ (3). The narrator intercedes to tell us, ‘It represented horror, but we didn’t/ know that then’. (Lilley 2000 par 21)

96:

[T]he story she tells, in the first person, is that of her younger sister, Karen, as told to her twin, Marjorie. Karen, in turn, is telling the story of her ex-lover, Blake, now incarcerated and ‘hearing voices’. This extraordinarily elaborate framing might seem to defeat any further complication, but leads to another equally recursive story of Blake’s textual fetish. As the essential prelude to sex with Karen, Blake must read aloud a certain story of adultery, blindness and conspiracy to murder. When Karen refuses the roles assigned to her in this fantasy, Blake is prompted to tell the ‘true’ story of blinding and lobotomising his father, for which he has devised his own punishment. He must read the same page of the same story aloud to his father, over and over, forgotten even as it is heard. When his father dies, Karen unwittingly becomes the father’s surrogate, and the occasion of its conversion from compulsion to fetish. At the end of this story of compulsive rereading, and of ‘Gloria’, the narrative in which it is embedded like a key, Gloria is back where she began, preparing to read her manuscript aloud: ‘Let’s start at the beginning, then, shall we/ where I have this extraordinary dream.’ (Lilley 2000 par 23)

 Under Berlin, 1988

97:

Tranter’s next book opens with a group of thirty-three poems on generally domestic subjects, written in a relaxed tone of voice, and showing little of the cynicism Tranter had been criticised for in the past, and indeed little of the restless experimentalism of form and approach that was to mark some of his later work.

98:

The first poem, ‘Backyard’, a thoughtful and slightly sad look at the rituals of the Australian family (including a brown dog), has become one of the most frequently anthologised of his poems. Christopher Pollnitz wrote in a review of the book that

99:

[f]or all the literary sophistication that underpins its limpid surface, there seems no avoidance of an authorising subject in ‘Backyard’. How to write and read poetry may still be a theme, but in the new quiet voice of these poems the falsifying of signification is addressed as theme rather than embedded and enacted in the difficulties of the signifying medium. The tone remains cool in all these poems of the quiet voice. There is no colloquial collaring of a reader, and no Romantic self-exhibitionism either. There is, however, the simple or subtle emotional kernel that goes with a unified speaking voice.’ (Pollnitz, Scripsi)

100:

These are followed by twenty-eight poems in a sequence titled ‘Sex Chemistry’: fractured logic and fragments of sexual and other adventures make these poems seem like snippets from movies that lack a coherent narrative. One, a dialogue about a failed relationship (‘The Subtitles’) was later made into a radio feature for two voices, one male and one female, and translated into French for a Radio France-Culture radio production.[24]

101:

Three poems about movies point to Tranter’s interest in that art form. ‘High School Confidential’ and ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ deal with American movies made in 1956, and the longer ‘Those Gods made Permanent’ mainly discusses Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963) and Fritz Lang’s 1922 classic Doktor Mabuse the Gambler, a five-hour silent film which Tranter had seen at the University of Sydney in the early 1960s. Tranter returns to these concerns in this thesis.

102:

‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ calls to mind the fantastic romantic roles that monsters projected from the Id can play in our art and poetry. The 1956 movie Forbidden Planet bodies forth one of these monsters; but there are others, European rather than American:

103:

As a child, living in the country, I saw Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In it I discovered my first city, and for a long time I believed that every city on earth resembled the one in the movie — full of muscular men walking with bowed heads. I also wondered whether certain flesh-and-blood women didn’t conceal metallic women whose secret would be revealed only by death at the stake.
     
We may well spend the greater part of our life looking for the cinema monsters of our childhood. Our first monsters: unforgettable, like first loves and first thrills. (Carrière 211)
     

104:

Four slight but subtle epigrams wind up the collection, one rhymed: the last and the shortest poem in the book, it receives the longest endnote, and proposes a cultural likeness between Sydney and another busy polyglot city-port on the fringe of empire, ancient Alexandria. We shall return to Alexandria in a later volume, Borrowed Voices.

 Mr Rubenking’s Breakdown

105:

Next, in yet another effort to ‘take rhetoric and wring its neck’, Tranter turned to the computerised deconstruction of text. In 1991 he published an article and two poems in Meanjin magazine (number 4, 1991) that outlined a method of utilising the text-analysis and reconstruction computer program Brekdown to manufacture poems. Over the next few years he used the program to write seven experimental prose pieces, published in 1998 as the collection Different Hands. In the 1991 article, though, he presented two poems as the revised output of the machine, the poem ‘What Mortal End’ by poet ‘Tom Haltwarden’, and ‘Her Shy Banjo’ by poet ‘Joy H. Breshan’.

106:

‘What Mortal End’ is the reworked draft output of Brekdown’s reconstruction of some poetry by Matthew Arnold. Both the poem title and the name ‘ Tom Haltwarden’ are anagrams of ‘ Matthew Arnold’.

107:

‘Her Shy Banjo’ is the reworked draft output of Brekdown’s reconstruction of some poetry by John Ashbery. Both the poem title and the name ‘Joy H. Breshan’ are anagrams of ‘ John Ashbery’.

108:

Discussing the later work Different Hands and the Brekdown computer program that made them possible, Philip Mead points to the contradictory nature of the experiment, where Tranter had to struggle to make some useful sense out of the incomprehensible draft material provided by Brekdown. ‘As an author, Tranter has to de-jazz the overly jazzed-up draft material. Like a kind of creative computer virus, Brekdown deconstructs and reconstitutes digital information, that the anti-viral e-poet then retrieves.’ (Mead 367) He entertains a further thought:

109:

As a counter to these habits of reading and traditional media of production, we might imagine the Different Hands poems being performed by a computer-animated ‘prosthetic head’, to use the title of a recent installation by the Australian artist Stelarc, or even being spoken through an electrolarynx. (Networked Language 371)

110:

And in a footnote to this text:

111:

Tranter has already experimented with computer-simulated voice performances of poems, using the program ‘Willow-Talk’, which provides a number of pre-styled synthetic voices that ‘vocalise’ phonemes which the program recognises (and sometimes mis-recognises) from typed text.

112:

See http://www.jacketmagazine.com/04/rubenking.html; this site reproduces the ‘Mr Rubenking’s ‘Breakdown’’ article from Meanjin and includes audio links for synthetic vocalisation of the two accompanying poems. (526)

113:

It should be noted that the ‘synthetic vocalisation of the two accompanying poems’ is actually more complicated than that. For this piece, Tranter wrote a short radio play (less than five minutes long) for three voices, set in a recording studio, and processed it through the ‘Willow-Talk’ text-to-speech computer program.

114:

Two synthetic voices, one male (‘Paul’) and the other female (‘Joy’), play the part of two actors who have arrived at the recording studio to perform the poem ‘Her Shy Banjo’ by poet ‘Joy H. Breshan’ (who is one of the readers).

115:

The other synthetic voice is that of the recording engineer, ‘Bob’. In the popular music field, recording engineers are traditionally called ‘Bob’ to avoid confusion, whatever their real name, as musicians move from studio to studio; though this one’s ‘real name’, we learn, is Robert Bobchuck.

116:

Paul and Joy chat about the script, which they don’t like very much. Joy seems unsettled by the poem she is about to read, which is odd, since she claims authorship of it.

117:

‘What the hell is this — is this supposed to be poetry?’ she asks.
‘Modern poetry,’ Paul replies. ‘Oh well, it’s a living.’
They inform us that they are in fact ‘several robots’. ‘We all think we’re John Ashbery,’ admits Joy, ‘and we enjoy writing poems. Here is one of my poems now.’
They read out ‘Her Shy Banjo’ (alternating their voices), and when the recording is done, comment on how confusing the whole experience has been.
‘What was that about?’ Joy asks.
‘Who knows, Joy,’ Paul replies. ‘You wrote it.’
‘I wrote it?’
‘Maybe Mr Ashbery wrote it,’ Paul suggests, forgetting for a moment that he thinks he is Mr Ashbery.
Bob reads the end credits, and a brisk musical sting closes the play.

118:

No doubt Tranter’s many years working as a radio drama producer for the Australian Broadcasting Commission lie somewhere in the background of this jeu d’esprit.

119:

It is also worth noting that this is the technical reverse of the procedure used years later in the ‘Rereading Rimbaud’ poems in this thesis, where a speech-to-text computer program builds typed poems from audited speech. In the radio play of the Joy Breshan recording session, the opposite occurs: typed text is the raw material, and is given form and substance in the speech provided by the computer, together with the vocal timbres and speech oddities of three distinct yet fake ‘personalities’.

 The Floor of Heaven, 1992

120:

As though temporarily satisfied with his grasp of form where the lyric and the discursive poem are concerned — he was now approaching fifty — and perhaps needing a break from working with computers and robots with personality problems, Tranter turned aside in this next book to explore narrative again at some length.

121:

The Floor of Heaven consists of four loosely inter-linked short stories, or epyllia [25], in a loose blank verse that varies between four and six feet per line. The first is ‘Gloria’, published as a booklet in 1986, and discussed above. The version of this poem in The Floor of Heaven is expanded, as Tranter explains in 1994:

122:

So ‘Gloria’ was published in the Age Monthly Review, a very good magazine that is now defunct, at about eleven typed pages in length. Then one day I woke up — I must have had this understanding in my sleep; perhaps I was in one of Buñuel’s dreams! — and realised that Gloria has a sister, and her boy friend had a brother, and a whole new layer of the story came to be written, which made it about twice as long. (Williams 225)

123:

The form for these four tales is monologue driven and entirely narrative: what lyrical insights emerge do so from the mouths of the characters. In much of the book the story takes the form of a tale within a tale, where a narrator enacts the role of a character in the tale he or she is telling. In an interview with Barbara Williams in 1995 Tranter said

124:

I… wanted to play with the idea Jean-Claude Carrière used in his script [co-written with Buñuel] for the 1972 Luis Buñuel film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where a character tells the story of a dream he’s had, and the plot follows him into that dream; in which a character tells the story of a dream he’s had, and the plot submerges and takes us with it into that dream; and in fact as a viewer you never quite get out of that labyrinth, which is great fun if you can handle it. (Williams, 224–25)

125:

As Buñuel said in 1953, twenty years before he made The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie:

126:

Film is a magnificent and dangerous weapon if it is wielded by’ a free mind. It is the finest instrument we know for expressing the world of dreams, of feeling, of instinct. The mechanism that creates cinematographic images is, by its very function, the form of human expression most closely resembling the work of the mind during sleep. Film seems to be an involuntary imitation of dream … the darkness that gradually invades the auditorium is the equivalent of closing our eyes. It is the moment when the nightly incursion into the unconscious begins on the screen and deep inside man. (Carrière 91)

127:

The meaning of a dream is often intense, but usually obscure as well, though dream events are sometimes valuable expressions and re-enactments of actual experiences. The characters in The Floor of Heaven are searching for the meaning of their lives, and of course become proxies for the reader’s various selves.

128:

Some readers, though, saw the dreams as more like nightmares. Two reviewers were unhappy with this book. Cath Kenneally found the multi-layered stories garish and slick and the tone manipulative, and ended feeling cheated:

129:

…studiously plebeian names, ordinary people, players in ordinary yet mythically-resonant dramas. The stories reading almost too easily — the themes writ large and crude — tales of ordinary madness, told with ordinary sensationalism and insensitivity and blindness to the Big Picture, garish and even nightmarish tales running with a chillingly smooth flow. It’s an experiment in pulp; yellow-press poems. [ … ] What you’re left with is the shock-value from the content of the stories, such as remains, and an impression of layer upon layer of pastiche, and of Tranter’s smooth-tongued fluency, which never misses a beat. But it’s a ‘Real Life’ or ‘Hard Copy’ smoothness, which is meant to trip you up; to inveigle you into the same facile responses those false-documentary exposé programmes invite. I felt I’d been taken for a ride, maybe taken for a sucker. (Kenneally 1992)

130:

Alison Croggon objected to what she saw as the way the language of poetry had been dragged down to the level of cheap popular entertainment, and the stylistic ‘trashiness’ that inevitably resulted in a certain ‘crudity of feeling’. This kind of response, vaguely Leavisite in its leanings, is unexpected in Australia in 1992. Tranter had ‘abandon[ed] poetic speech almost completely’, she said. She provides a definition of this missing Philosophers’ Stone: ‘Poetic speech is animated language that disrupts habitual and controlling modes of perception and expression; essential to its impetus is a radical act of will in the face of meaninglessness.’ This last formulation seems borrowed from 1940s French Existentialist philosophy as it had developed from Kierkegaard’s reflections on the foundation of morality. In a book of essays published just one year before The Floor of Heaven, C. Stephen Evans quotes Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, which discusses Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, and (in Stephens’ recounting) states that

131:

The Enlightenment project of giving a rational justification to ethics had failed and Kierkegaard had clearly seen the failure as irremediable … The solution he devised was to abandon the whole notion of a rational justification for morality and substitute for reason a radical act of will as the foundation of morality. (Stephens 73) (My italics)

132:

The book this comes from is Writing the Politics of Difference, in which, its publisher says,

133:

… the authors first focus on the diversity of traditions in continental philosophy in connection with the texts of Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and De Beauvoir. … Issues surrounding the role of philosophical systems, language, ethical choice, relations with others, the gendered body, socialisation, and the status of philosophy today constitute the fabric of this book.[26]

134:

As indeed they do in The Floor of Heaven. In a popularised form, the Existentialist’s emphasis on radical acts of will is found in some of the fiction in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, even to the point of being parodied in 1971 in Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man[27]. This world-view is specifically (though superficially) singled out for criticism by one of the characters in ‘Stella’, one of the poems in The Floor of Heaven: ‘Oh, the Forties [ … ] Spivs in flying jackets, dud penicillin / at ten quid a dose, black-market nylons — / a phoney culture, rotten right through, / that laid the ground for beatniks and drugs — / jazz, dark glasses, French philosophy’.

135:

Croggon found the writing in The Floor of Heaven dull, trashy, bathetic, sentimental, crude, dated, obscure, nostalgic, dead, clichéd, aphasic and defeatist, in that order:

136:

The Floor of Heaven is very dull reading and gets duller as the trash novel impetus of the narrative wears away, that is, once you know the plot. [ … ] Tranter’s dullness presents a fundamental challenge, since he has decided in his writing that poetry, in what is described in the book’s blurb as the ‘post-modern condition’, is no longer possible. [ … ] It has, however, certain drawbacks: one being its subversion by its own dullness, the other a tendency to bathos. [ … ] It is a sentimentality which has always lurked beneath the surface of Tranter’s work, a crudity of feeling that gives many of his early poems the glazed, dated air of 70s airport lounges. As he moved from obscure experimentalism to a clearer mode of speaking the sentiment became more obvious — for instance, in the pervasive nostalgia infecting Dazed in the Ladies Lounge. [ … ] The deadness of The Floor of Heaven is its acceptance of the dominant modes of discourse. [ … ] The Floor of Heaven’s prosodised clichés and inanimate cultural artefacts create no dissonance in our cultural perceptions. They are, rather, the aphasic expressions of a writing which has retreated from the carnage of the self to the safest refuge. It is a literature of defeat. (Croggon, 1992)

137:

On the other hand, Philip Mead reads the shift from lyric gesture to narrative structure in a complex and positive way, as a strategic move away from the egotism of the lyric voice (which is perhaps the voice that gives us ‘poetic speech’):

138:

‘Narrative’ poetry then is a shift away from the essentialism of the modernist lyric; ‘postmodernist poetry’ returns to narrative of a less exalted, less egocentric kind, a narrative which is hospitable to the loose, the contingent, the unformed and the incomplete in language and experience. As mentioned, there is an important sense of the category ‘nation’ here — there is a history of the 1960s and 1970s being written in Tranter’s poetry — but it is inseparable from the conventions of poetic language. Because of its debt to understandings of the unconscious (psychoanalysis) it is completely untranslatable into official history, which has no theory of the repressed, the hidden, the misprised. In this sense of poetry and nation, Tranter’s analysand is Australian culture of the post-war period. (Mead, Space 200)

139:

Christopher Pollnitz, too, reacted creatively to the complexity of the narrative:

140:

A dazzling succession of reverse and inverse images, Gloria’s monologue testifies less to a debilitating trauma than to her ferocious narrative energy. This is poetry not of the doppel- but of the multiple-gänger. Gloria scatters alter egos like a spy plane dropping metal foil to fox enemy radar. In Tranter’s ‘thick inlaid’ narratives, even his similes seem alternative careers that the desperately fertile narrators have invented as nests for their nascent egos. (Pollnitz, 1992)

141:

Others found the catalog of calamities wearing towards the end:

142:

The… characters who slip in and out of these tales and the cycle of violence all mark out a vision of our world which, despite its weirdness, convinces. Only in the final tale does Tranter’s control waver. There the series of extraordinary calamities the characters must endure brought to mind Lady Bracknell’s strictures about dead parents. (Riemer 1992)[28]

143:

John Ashbery, who launched the book at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in 1992, called it ‘a rattling good read,’ as good a description as any.

 At The Florida, 1993

144:

Again, this book is divided into three sections. A group of sixteen poems — what we might as well call ‘conventional’ poems — welcomes the idle reader, though the focus on form is unusual in contemporary poetry. ‘Storm Over Sydney’ is an obvious homage to Kenneth Slessor’s ‘William Street’. Though the inter-linked rhymes and half-rhymes are unobtrusive, it is a rhymed ‘trenter’, as the note at the back of the book explains[29]. Another poem, ‘Journey’, features a dream journey through a clutter of symbols into a dark forest in the mode of 1930s Auden, though as a note tells us it is written in the rhyme scheme of ‘Towards the Land of the Composer’, an early poem by Francis Webb. Tranter is nodding in the direction of his father-figures again.

145:

The group includes ‘Ariadne on Lesbos’ (an unlikely title) in twenty-two metrically-correct unrhymed sapphic stanzas, another rare form in Australian verse.

146:

The second section of eight poems recalls the fragmented mode of ‘Red Movie’ from twenty-one years before, though the mix of narrative and discursive fragments is blended more smoothly; the general effect is like that of John Ashbery in a reminiscent mood.

147:

The last third of the book is different again; it is made up of thirty ‘reverse haibun’, a form consisting of twenty lines of free verse followed by a short prose paragraph, each poem fitting neatly onto a single page.[30]

 Double Six, 1995

148:

Something entirely different again; in fact, a publication perhaps unique in Australian poetry: a short suite of photographs and prose poems by the same person. ‘Double Six’ is a sequence of six photographs by John Tranter and six accompanying prose poems by John Tranter. The photos are of Australian poet Gig Elizabeth Ryan, poet Bruce Beaver, artist Julie Brown-Rrap, poet John A. Scott, artist Paula Dawson, and poet Susan Hampton. The piece was published in Republica magazine Issue 2, and recently on Tranter’s internet site. It is prefaced by a quote from Proust, who was as obsessed with photographs as he was with train travel and the telephone, though he puts his thoughts into the mouth of his saturnine character Baron Charlus:

149:

He told us how a house that had belonged to his family, in which Marie Antoinette had slept, with a park laid out by Lenôtre, was now in the hands of the Israels, the wealthy financiers, who had bought it. … ‘I keep a photograph of the house, when it was still unspoiled, just as I keep one of the Princess before her large eyes had learned to gaze on anyone but my cousin. A photograph acquires something of the dignity which it ordinarily lacks when it ceases to be a reproduction of reality and shews us things that no longer exist.’ (Proust 86–87).

150:

The same is true of poems, of course: all poems are essentially elegiac, as their occasion, topic or subject matter begins to grow old and die as soon as the poem is made. Two years later Tranter quoted this aperçu of Proust’s in a review of Photocopies, a book of essays by John Berger, in which he wrote:

151:

Why did Berger call these brief meditations ‘photocopies’, when another writer might have called them ‘photographs’, or ‘snapshots’? For two reasons, I guess.

152:

You photograph some person or some moment that you ‘own’, and the snapshot is a personal memento of that moment […]

153:

You photocopy something to keep an image of it, not because you own it, but because you don’t own it — a poem from a volume you’ve borrowed from the library, a recipe in a friend’s magazine, or a document from a file someone has left in your In-tray.

154:

Berger has thought deeply about these things. I was impressed by his analysis of photography in the book About Looking, published in 1980. ‘The camera relieves us of the burden of memory,’ he wrote. ‘It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget.’

155:

In an essay published twelve years later he shifts his position: ‘All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget,’ he recants. ‘In this — as in other ways — they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers.’ (in The Australian, 4 January 1997)

 Gasoline Kisses, 1997

156:

Basically a British pamphlet publication of the thirty haibun in the previous book, with slight revisions, and two added. Some of the reverse haibun in this booklet and in At The Florida began as first drafts derived from processing another poem through a thesaurus, with various nouns being replaced by near-synonyms. In ‘The Duck Abandons Hollywood’, for example, the basic structure of the poem is modelled on Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ (hence ‘Daffy Duck’, who is portrayed but not named in the poem), with most of Wordsworth’s imagery replaced by synonyms. Wordsworth’s ‘A poet could not but be gay’ becomes ‘a troubadour could not but be / bisexual’. As the purposes and arguments of the original poems remain concealed behind this technical screen or palimpsest, as it were, the overall meanings of these counterfeit versions must remain obscure.

 Different Hands (Fiction), 1998

157:

Like The Floor of Heaven, this small book is something completely different again. For a start it’s prose, not verse; and not prose poetry, though it is not straight narrative fiction either. Averaging nine pages each, these seven dense texts are both narrative and discursive, and seem to be short stories with a self-reflective overlay, and with many strange and brief incursions of extraneous matter. In ‘Neuromancing Miss Stein’, the Modernist writer Gertrude Stein undergoes an outlandish cybernetic transformation. In ‘The Howling Twins’, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg takes the Bobbsey twins on a drug-soaked trip across America. In ‘Carousel’, Henry Miller confronts the enigmatic Master of Go in the mountains of Japan, then visits the brothels of Paris. In ‘Magic Women’, Louisa Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ endure spiritual temptation and hallucinations under the tutelage of a disgruntled sorcerer in the Mexican desert. In other stories, Biggles clashes with what may be his alter ego Radclyffe Hall, the notorious author of the sentimental lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, and E M Forster’s well-bred British characters wrestle with Sydney’s flamboyant and cynical real estate market. And finally the fastidious French writer Paul Valéry seeks advice from a Canadian backwoods farmer and a handyman who builds outdoor lavatories. All these characters and their cultural baggage are in a sense literary, but the social range from Biggles to Valéry, or from Ginsberg to the Bobbsey Twins, is seldom essayed in a single book.

158:

The contrasting narratives that struggle for control in each story are derived in each case from two previous texts, which have been processed in a computer through the text-analysis engine Brekdown (based on the earlier Unix program Travesty)[31] and later blended. The resultant blends have then been extensively revised. The technical procedures are too complex to go into here; a five-page essay by the author outlines some of the mechanisms involved. (Tranter, Meanjin 1991)

159:

Philip Mead’s Networked Language has a chapter devoted to these texts, with a particular focus on the technological setting and the dialectics of the creative act. As he says:

160:

Works like Different Hands provide a space of poesis, now poes1s, for experimenting with the genetic make-up of language. By attempting to distance language from its original ‘human’ embodiments, via the assistance of the computer and computer programs, Tranter is tinkering with the central genetic material of symbolic humanity, the DNA code of language, and e-pastiching poetic clones from existing texts with every appearance of poems. As Katherine Parrish observes, rightly I think, ‘those’ — she deliberately avoids the words ‘authors’ or ‘writers’ — ‘who use automatic text generative techniques in their work do so for conflicting ends […] aleatory techniques in literary production are no guarantor nor liberator of conscious control of the writing process.’ This explains, perhaps, some of Tranter’s own understandable anxieties about the process, allegorised as we have seen in the contradictory framing of Different Hands, anxieties no doubt overridden by the dangerous pleasures of experimentation, and the seductive attractions of freedom-effects. Both of which the reader values. The digital-replicant-depthless-e-pastiche-computationally-generated poetry of Different Hands exists as an affront to any serious literary work. Its postmodernism, in Jameson’s specific sense, subsists in its extended degradation of the modernist texts it takes as its arbitrary origin. It has been simulated, not by any ‘human’ construction of meaning, but, significantly, by the dumbly digital combinatorics of letter-frequency analysis and a vibrant post human improvisation. This is what happens to poetry when analogue aesthetics break down. You get poetry as special effects. That these poems should have any appearance of poetic humanness is a travesty. The wonder is that the original fragments of text should have held within them these potentialities, worlds that Tranter is able to release in the seven stories of Different Hands. (Mead 393)

161:

Tranter has spoken of ‘trying to find a new way to write, to escape my own rhetoric.’ (Tranter Hahn 2003) The method he has chosen for this work is extreme, and involves a kind of double ventriloquy, as though speaking through two different masks at once. The artefacts thus constructed apparently have nothing to do with the author’s own creative urges, and seem to escape the perils of authorial ego-identification by plunging into Literature — if we can call this Literature — and leaving the writer behind.

162:

Would John Forbes have approved? We’ll never know: John Forbes — a long-time friend of John Tranter — suffered a heart attack and died suddenly at his home in Melbourne on 23 January 1998, some months before this book appeared. He was forty-seven.

 Late Night Radio, 1998

163:

This book is a selection of Tranter’s best work at that point, compiled for an audience in Britain, where his work was generally unavailable. It contains poems mainly from Under Berlin and Dazed in the Ladies Lounge. It was well received and well reviewed in the UK.

 Blackout, 2000

164:

With Blackout, we are off the beaten track of poetry and exploring new directions once again, this time without the aid of text-analysis machinery. At the impressionable age of thirteen Tranter had enjoyed viewing Forbidden Planet, a 1956 science-fiction movie loosely based on Shakespeare’s late play The Tempest with a Freudian perspective added, and had sometimes expressed a desire to ‘do something’ with Shakespeare’s play. (Forbidden Planet itself is the subject of a poem in the ‘At the Movies’ section of this thesis, ‘Caliban’.) As a note at the back of the 24-page chapbook says, ‘Blackout consists of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a chapter from Tom Wolfe’s [essay] ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’, and the article ‘Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream’ [an essay] by Joan Didion, with most of the words removed, and the remaining words and phrases interleaved, though in the same order as they appear in the original texts.’

165:

The idea is not as original as it might appear. In the early 1970s, the US poet Ted Berrigan composed a novel titled Clear the Range by using ‘White-Out’ typewriter correction fluid to cover most of the words of an old novel, the remaining words of which made up the story. Tranter’s title is a homage to that work, which — as it happens — he has not read, though he published excerpts from it in Jacket magazine at http://jacketmagazine.com/16/ah-ber1.html.

color :

166:

Blackout was published as a pamphlet by Vagabond Press in Sydney and by Barque Press in Cambridge, UK.

 Ultra, 2001

167:

A fresh form, again: twenty-four of the twenty-five poems in this book are made up of ten five-line stanzas of loose blank verse, fitting neatly onto a two-page spread of facing pages. One suspects that the initial poem, ‘Lavender Ink’, a one-page minor paean to the hedonistic delights of Sydney and ancient Alexandria (again), was included to push the next poem onto an even-numbered page, thus ensuring a two-page facing spread for all subsequent poems.

168:

The poems often seem to be spoken in a kind of loose dramatic monologue, sometimes angry, sometimes confused, though there is little point in analysing the various voices for a clue to the speaker’s identity. Carefully building a speaking character in the mode of Browning or Robert Lowell, say, is not on the poet’s agenda. Critic Andrew Riemer wrote

169:

I cannot pretend to a clear understanding of what — if anything — is supposed to be going on here. But that seems beside the point. Tranter has conjured with great verve a babel of voices — plangent, angry, sentimental, melancholy, at times despairing — which carry the reader into vivid evocations of a feverish kind of urban life, despite the poems’ hermetically sealed refusal to yield conventional sense. (Riemer 2002)

170:

Though the individual poems in the collection found favour (and magazine publication) with editors in San Francisco, Paris, Honolulu, Exeter, Cambridge UK, Northumberland, Michigan, Melbourne, Sydney and Denmark, the collection as a whole didn’t achieve much of a response in Australia, and has since sunk into obscurity.

 Heart Print, 2001

171:

Heart Print was the first of a trio of paperback collections printed as print-on-demand books by Salt Publishing, in Cambridge UK. (The others were Studio Moon and Trio, which followed two years later). Like the earlier Late Night Radio, Heart Print is a selection of some of Tranter’s poems which were not available to an audience in Britain. This time the source collections are Ultra, the much earlier The Alphabet Murders (1976) and the sonnet collection Crying in Early Infancy (1977), with the addition of a single (more recent) long poem, ‘The Beach’, a seven-page poem mainly about Sydney’s Bondi Beach in discursive prose paragraphs, that looks rather like a rambling prose poem, but which is in fact a superhypermetrical sestina.[32]

172:

‘The Beach’ is hypermetrical because all the lines of the six-line sestina stanza are longer than usual. Though there is no formal metrical limit on the length of the sestina line, an iambic pentameter is traditionally used in English. It is super-hypermetrical because the lines in ‘The Beach’ are much, much longer than usual. The tone is casual and easy to read, and cynical and sentimental by turns, as Tranter reminisces about his childhood and writes about surf life-savers, Japanese tourists, how to make a proper Martini, the fun he has had in Sydney, and the friends he has lost to death.

 The Floor of Heaven, 2000

173:

This is a British reprint of the 1992 Australian edition: see above.

 Cartoon: Dan Dactyl and the Mad Jungle Doctor

174:

In 2001 and 2002 Tranter published a piece of writing unlike anything he had done before: a twelve-page cartoon (of 95 panels) titled ‘Dan Dactyl and the Mad Jungle Doctor’, featuring the adventures of Dan Dactyl — a beefy young American with poetic inclinations — and his friends as they search the South American jungles for a drug that ‘turns drivel into beautiful poetry’ (Southerly 26). Here is a sample from the cartoon:

Still from Dan Dactyl cartoon: “I sweat my ass off…”

175:

Set in San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s and in the town of Porte Gumbeau in an unnamed South American country and in the nearby jungle, the search is quickly derailed when an erratic character (Doctor Verlaine, poet and biochemist) enters the equation. The dialogue veers between tough-guy camaraderie, pensive comparisons between chess and literary criticism, and fragments of poetry and theory from T S Eliot, Arthur Rimbaud and others.

Another panel from the Dan Dactyl cartoon, page one. The gang sets off for South America.

176:

Dan Dactyl, image
Dan Dactyl, image

177:

Though the tough-guy cartoon odyssey is unique in Tranter’s oeuvre, the technical mode of construction bears strong thematic similarities to the use of ‘terminals’, treated at length by Brian Henry. In a note appended to the internet version of the cartoon, Tranter explains the genesis and modus operandi:

178:

In late 2000 I began experimenting with cartoon narratives. My drawing skills are primitive, so I searched for raw material which I could adapt. I settled on a one-volume compilation of daily comic strips (1 June 1945 to 16 May 1946) featuring ‘Johnny Hazard’, written and illustrated by Frank Robbins. The volume is 60 pages long; the material I purloined came to 12 pages. I threw away the original story with its dialogue (a tangled Second World War tale of fighting the Japanese and later the Vichy French in the tropics) and constructed my own story with new dialogue. I also chose the panels I needed from different places in the original volume, and altered all of the drawings with an image-editing program. The result has nothing in it of the original save the brilliant chiaroscuro ink drawings of the artist, Frank Robbins, and a handful of the characters — their appearance, but not their names, identities, relationships or dialogue, all of which I reinvented. (At: http://johntranter.net/2012/01/28/dan-dactyl/)

179:

Referring to ‘The Anaglyph’, Tranter says (earlier in this text) that each line of his reworked poem ‘had its beginning and ending given to him; his task was to replace the meat in the sandwich, as it were…’ More or less the same is true of ‘Dan Dactyl’: the milieu, the period (more or less), the appearance, dress and manner of the characters, even the weather, are all given, or rather forced on the new art-work.

180:

These constraints are in fact links back to the world of the original, the two-dimensional black-and-white 1940s fantasy world of masculine adventure, and form the pipeline through which those macho, kitsch, nostalgia and gauche joie de vivre effects return and emerge into the present to criticise and reinvigorate the very different world of modern literature.

 Borrowed Voices, 2002

181:

The Italians have a saying: ‘Traduttore traditore’… a translator is a traitor. An extreme form of translation argues, disagrees with and betrays the values embodied in the original poem.

182:

While Tranter was Visiting Scholar at Jesus College in Cambridge UK in 2000 and 2001 he embarked on a series of versions of other poets’ works; some were answers to issues raised by other poets, such as his response to the late Veronica Forrest-Thomson, noted below. Some were deliberate mistranslations.

183:

In detail: ‘After Hölderlin’ is a version of Hölderlin’s ‘When I Was a Boy’ (Tranter UM 1); ‘After Laforgue’ (UM 211) was suggested by Laforgue’s ‘Solo de lune’, and other poems; ‘Brussels’ (UM 212) is a version of Rimbaud’s ‘Brussels’. ‘Address to the Reader’ (UM 213) is a response to Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s poem ‘Address to the Reader, from Pevensey Sluice’. ‘After Rilke’ (UM 214) is a version of the first Duino Elegy. ‘Invitation to America’ (UM 217) is a version of Baudelaire’s ‘Invitation to the Voyage’, transposed to California. ‘On La Cienega’ (UM 218) is a version of Schiller’s ‘A Maiden from Afar’. ‘Festival’ (UM 219) is a version of Max Jacob’s ‘Festival’. ‘Night’(UM 221) is a version of Vicente Huidobro’s ‘Night’. ‘Harry’s Bar’ (UM 222) is a version of Callimachus, Epigram 44. ‘What the Cyclops Said’ (UM 223) is a version of Callimachus, Epigram 47. ‘Where the Boys Are’ (UM 223) is a version of Callimachus, Epigram 42. ‘Notes from the Late Tang’ (UM 224) begins with two lines from Li Po (Li Bai) and incorporates fragments from Tu Fu, Robert Creeley and a lecture by J R Prynne.

184:

Once again, Tranter seems to have been attempting to avoid the trap of his own earlier rhetorical stances by borrowing and commenting on the lineaments of other poets’ work. The poems were published as a booklet titled Borrowed Voices by John Lucas’s Shoestring Press in Nottingham, and the publication was well received.

 Studio Moon, 2003

185:

Like Heart Print, this is a Salt Publishing book and a compilation of previously-collected poems unavailable to a British audience, from Under Berlin, At The Florida and Borrowed Voices, with some new poems, including a version of Schiller’s ‘A Maiden from Afar’, which here is set in a hamburger joint in Los Angeles, and borrowings from Matthew Arnold and Barbara Guest, an ode, a three-page poem in sapphic stanzas, a computer-based pastiche, two deeply-felt elegies, two sestinas, four haibun, eight pantoums, and dozens of others.

186:

Two themes are clear in this list: a restless technical interest in the forms available to poetry, and a need to borrow, interpret and by implication criticise the work of other, older writers.

187:

An example is the pantoum ‘Rimbaud in Sydney’, which is made up of a mixture of phrases taken from the writings of Arthur Rimbaud, and other phrases taken from an article in the Sydney Sun-Herald, Sunday 25 October 1992. Here are the first two stanzas:

188:

Romanticism has never been properly judged —
it is as simple as a phrase of music.
We grappled and triumphed over the subway map.
What the fuck is going on around here?
It is as simple as a phrase of music,
when you are seventeen. You aren’t really serious:
What the fuck is going on around here?
I’m a fiery passionate woman — I’m not a raving loony.

189:

Again, the work of a noted poet (and a powerful influence on Tranter’s work) is mixed in with the gritty noises of the modern street.

 Trio, 2003

190:

Trio is the third of the trio of paperback collections printed as print-on-demand books by Salt Publishing, in Cambridge UK. It is another galvanisation of dead matter, but in this case three early volumes entire: Red Movie (1972), Crying in Early Infancy: 100 Sonnets (1977) and Dazed in the Ladies Lounge (1979), all of which were out of print, and again published here for a UK audience.

 Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected, 2006

191:

Tranter’s first Selected Poems was published in 1982, when he had been writing poetry for twenty-three years. In 1984, a year after Tranter turned forty, David Carter reviewed the volume in Scripsi:

192:

Publishing a Selected Poems might be a bit like turning forty. Suddenly, it seems, there’s a past which is yours and yet no longer yours, which is public and yet as intimate and strange as memory or dream. Like these other texts, perhaps, the poems are to be reclaimed, are acknowledged, edited, re-ordered, and then relinquished once more. (Carter 117)

193:

Twenty-three years later he prepared Urban Myths, his second selection of those poems he wished to see in print.

194:

Unlike his ill-starred first Selected, Urban Myths (uniquely) won three state prizes (New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia) and was generally well reviewed. It contains some of the poems in this thesis: eighteen of the ‘Rereading Rimbaud’ poems and five poems from ‘At the Movies’. As well as masses of early poems, it contains other new poems: nine short, fairly conventional poems written in Britain in 2000–2001, and a group of ten poems titled ‘The Malley Variations’ (UM 276–292). Though recent, these rehearsals of the voice of Ern Malley are an extension of a long-standing interest in the literary strategies of the hoax, and bear examination.

195:

‘Ern Malley’ is of course the hoax poet concocted in 1943 by two conservative young Australian poets, Harold Stewart and James McAuley.[33] Tranter was born the year Malley died; a case of what James Joyce called ‘metempsychosis’, or the transmigration of souls, perhaps.[34]
Many poets of Tranter’s generation looked to Ern Malley as a patron saint of experimental verse, as it were, and found his works more interesting than the serious poetry produced by the hoaxers.[35] When he was twenty-five Tranter wrote a ‘reply’ to the Malley poems, ‘On Reading an Electrical Meter at the House of the Rising Son’. (Transit No 1, 22, ‘Yoo Hoo’ 268) This piece, published pseudonymously in the annus mirabilis 1968, argues with Malley’s ‘Petit Testament’, copying the first line exactly, parodying the first quatrain rhyme for rhyme and almost word for word, then branching off into a loose criticism of Australian literary life in the forties.

196:

A common interpretation of the Malley affair is that a combination of collaborative authorship and disguise can free unconscious forces, and the resulting play and free association result in energetic writing. The adoption of a pseudonym and other borrowings can also be seen as a means of avoiding or resisting self-analysis. The desire to create and publish literature can be seen as a canalisation of some other more primitive force or desire, and seems to seek to protect itself from exposure and criticism by disguise, resistance, avoidance, and sublimation, in the same way that the wishes and desires that give rise to dreams do.

197:

Another way of looking at the dissolution of McAuley’s and Stewart’s personalities into the acid bath of Ern Malley’s persona is through the concept of ‘sub-personalities’. Cassandra Atherton brings a consideration of sub-personalities to her study of Australian poet Gwen Harwood’s various masks:

198:

John Rowan, psychotherapist and fellow of the British Psychological Society [….] defines the self-pluralistic development of sub-personalities as ‘a semi-permanent and semi-autonomous region of the personality capable of acting as a person’.[36] In his later essay ‘The Normal Development of Sub-personalities’ he underlines that the development of sub-selves ‘seem[s] to be universal and … are quite normal’.[37] There does not seem to be any limit to sub-personalities: people develop as many as they require. (pp 134–135)

199:

‘Acting as a person’ was just what ‘Ern Malley’ strove so hard to do: he came provided with a complete life story, including a girl-friend, a bereaved sister, and a final tragic illness.

200:

Atherton quotes Harwood on the disjunction between the character constructed inside the poem and the poet writing the poem:

201:

‘I am horrified at the tendency of people to identify the I with the author … I keep saying that the I of the poems is not the I making jams jellies pickles and chutneys’[38] and ‘The I that writes down the things on the page is certainly not the one who sits talking about writing and the things on the page’.[39]

202:

The two Malley hoaxers would have been equally horrified to be identified as the authors, but only while the hoax was still a secret. Once the cat was out of the bag, they were prompt to claim authorship, as a pulpit from which to preach against their hapless victims. And Harwood’s remark that ‘The I that writes down the things on the page is certainly not the one who sits talking about writing and the things on the page’ is an understatement in their case; the tragic Ern Malley was definitely not either of the triumphant hoaxers, though they were the ‘onlie begetter of these sonnets’, and they went on talking ‘about writing and the things on the page’ as long as there were reporters to write down what they said, though now without the masks. The sub-personality they created was denied any life or authenticity of its own, once it had done its powerful and destructive work. The energies it had released were cast out like devils, and never reappeared.

203:

There is a piquant addendum to Atherton’s story. She quotes Gwen Harwood, ian interview with John Beston[40], saying that ‘One doesn’t ever like to hurt the living. I do agree with Jim McAuley that it is better that the finest masterpiece should remain unwritten if it causes human pain.’ (Atherton 137)

204:

Apparently the Malley poems were not serious work, in McAuley’s view. Masterpieces were powerful creatures and had to be restrained lest they cause pain, but satire was not art, and as long as it was righteous could cause whatever harm was needed in a good cause.

205:

In its use of masks, disguise and borrowed lines from other poets, the construction of Ern Malley has much in common with Tranter’s various strategies involving borrowings and mistranslations. It is interesting in this context because it borrows, quotes, parodies and uses literary models such as Shakespeare, because it fakes and thus annuls its motivations, and because it avoids the pitfalls of Romantic personal expressionism on the part of McAuley and Stewart while flaunting an exaggerated version of it in the arms-length persona of Malley. In a sense the project takes the literary talents of its two real authors, adds an intention to humiliate and a collaborative exuberance to energise them, and allows absolute license of vocabulary, theme and topic.

206:

As a method of avoiding the anxieties attendant on the exposure of one’s literary talent it is hard to fault. If the Malley poems are judged to be brilliant, the real authors can claim the credit. If the poems are judged to be drivel, they can claim the credit for that too: it takes a very talented poet to fool an editor with drivel, though there is a contradiction involved in that argument. The Malley hoax is analysed perceptively by Philip Mead in his book Networking Language (87–105), where he points out that

207:

The double bind for McAuley and Stewart was that, as hoaxers, they were in danger of appearing as impostors, while Ern Malley appeared coherently ‘genuine’ and believably authentic from the moment of his creation, if only fictively so. (105)

208:

Mead also makes another point about the Malley affair: the distinctly Australian character of the project.

209:

… Malley can be read as an extension of the ‘dispersed’ Shakespeare of contemporary scholarship and criticism, the name we currently give to a loose collectivity of linguistically uneven, authorially disunified, collaboratively produced, often plagiarised and always reconstructed textuality. … This is the sense in which Ern Malley is a national poet, or, even, Australia’s Shakespeare. (185)

210:

Tranter called the ten poems of ‘The Malley Variations’ votive verses, and claimed that they were written in or through the ‘voice’ of Ern Malley, speaking in turn through the voices of other writers. The computer program ‘Brekdown’ was brought into the equation to distance or alienate the initial draft text, a strategy that foreshadows the general approach to the poetry produced for this thesis, though computer translation rather than letter-group analysis has been used for the thesis poems.

211:

Brekdown created the first rough drafts for ‘The Malley Variations’, analysing and recording the linguistic characteristics of the Ern Malley oeuvre as well as those of particular texts from nine other writers, then blended the Malley data with each of the nine chosen literary partners in turn, scrambling, blending and producing ten drafts, each of which spoke with a double voice.

212:

The ‘Ern Malley’ material is course itself the false ventriloquy of two other poets, McAuley and Stewart, and these new texts are thus a triple ventriloquy: McAuley and Stewart speaking through Ern Malley, speaking through one of nine other writers, speaking through John Tranter. The texts and their ‘collaborating’ authors are:

213:

— ‘Benzedrine’, a blend of Ern Malley and Allen Ginsberg, ‘Howl’.

— ‘An American in Paris’, Ern Malley and Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer.

— ‘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.

— ‘Transatlantic’, Ern Malley and Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

— ‘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.

— ‘Smaller Women’, Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.

— ‘Under Tuscan Skies’, Ern Malley and Edward Morgan Forster, Room With a View.

At the close of ‘Year Dot’ Ern Malley’s ghost makes a plaintive farewell appearance among the thickets of real estate jargon:

214:

Now, a plausible future: in a
family home with ample furniture
I shall live as an imprisoned ghost.
     
Slow riot, enough sleep. Fate in my left
pocket, purple sky above: the rear lane
access allows my adieu. Adieu!

215:

The thoroughness and vigour with which McAuley and Stewart went about constructing their experimental modernist poems gives pause for thought: what if they had published them as John Tranter has published his ‘Malley Variations’, as serious experimental writing, fully labelled, acknowledged and supported by their real authors? The enthusiasm that first greeted the appearance of the oeuvre in the pages of Angry Penguins magazine would seem to promise the pair of unpublished young writers a fame like Dylan Thomas’s.

 Cartographical constraint: By Blue Ontario’s Shore

216:

Tranter has always been interested in maps. As a child he used to wander for miles through the rough and unpopulated Australian bush around his farmstead home, using an Army Ordnance Survey contour map to guarantee his safe return (see Appendix 7). His long poem ‘The False Atlas’ was translated into German by Hans Magnus Enzensberger mainly because he too liked the peculiar two-dimensional world of maps. In 2004 Tranter wrote a cartographically-constrained poem (a new literary device?) titled (after Whitman) ‘By Blue Ontario’s Shore’ which he dedicated to John Ashbery, mainly because the area where John Ashbery had spent his youth, the farming country around the town of Sodus beside Lake Ontario in upstate New York, provided the dozen or so town-names that litter the poem. The linking of Ashbery and Whitman is geographically fortuitous. The poem is printed here as Appendix 8.

 Editorial projects

217:

By 2005 Tranter had published one and a half thousand printed pages of poetry and experimental prose. He had been employed in many other paying jobs over the years, from mail boy to typesetter to printer to working in a coffee bar at night to driving an art gallery owner’s Bentley by day, but apart from occasional teaching, most of his professional training had been as an editor — with the Australian Broadcasting Commission as a play reader and radio drama producer at various times, as an education book editor for Angus and Robertson 1971–73, and as an editor of distance learning materials with TAFE in 1983. On many occasions he focussed this set of editorial skills on the field of contemporary poetry, and ended up producing several issues of divers poetry magazines and, in four very different books, over a thousand pages of poetry by other hands.

218:

In 1976 Martin Duwell asked Tranter to compile an anthology of contemporary poetry to be published by Makar Press, the kind of forward-looking poetry by younger writers that had been featured in Makar’s series of ‘Gargoyle Poets’ pamphlets and in Makar magazine (both edited by Martin Duwell) through the early 1970s. Tranter agreed, and the 330-page book was published in 1979. It featured the work of twenty-four poets, and a long and argumentative Introduction by Tranter which was as much resented by the poets included as by those left out. Martin Harrison:

219:

For John Tranter’s intentions are quite clear, and should be clearly stated. By selecting the work of some of his generation’s poets, he has attempted to begin establishing an Australian version of modernism. I suppose one could say that, historically, The New Australian Poetry is an attempt to reverse the barbarous work of Stewart and McAuley in the late 40s — though they as mere writers may, to be fair, have been the least responsible for the intellectual strait-jacketing which followed the [Second World] war in most Western countries. Tranter has, in other words, produced a book which questions polemically a certain kind of imperviousness in Australian poetry to innovation overseas and which quarrels deeply with the increasingly out-dated British academic and poetic tradition invoked in defence of that insularity.… What’s more, it’s even a retrospective anthology in which most of the poems come from the early 70s, for Tranter himself (and I agree with him) sees this period of overhauling ‘that began around 1968… [as] now drawing to a close.’ (Harrison 1980)

220:

Not all critics were so understanding. In a review of The New Australian Poetry, poet Peter Kocan says the book is a symptom of a ‘general retreat from sanity in the West’. Then he says ‘When, say, Ted Hughes writes of a hawk, we experience not the poem but the hawk’. (Kocan 76)

221:

In 1988 the ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, previously the Australian Broadcasting Commission) and The Australian Bicentennial Authority offered a number of poetry prizes, for short, mid-length and long poems. Tranter was asked to be one of a group of judges for the mid-length poems. When the judging was over he suggested to ABC Enterprises (who published ABC Books) that they publish a print collection of the best poems. They agreed. Tranter read through some six thousand poems by people from all walks of life. The resulting collection, The Tin Wash Dish: Poems from Today’s Australians, is a very eclectic anthology: from poems by skilled professionals with international reputations like Les Murray, Gig Ryan and John Forbes, to people in country towns who had never had a poem published before, from the sophisticated to the naïve, from the cynical to the sincerely heartfelt.

222:

In the late 1980s Tranter approached Susan Ryan, then head of Penguin Australia, with the suggestion that Penguin publish a list of small poetry volumes. Ryan demurred — the list would lose money, and would soon be closed down — and proposed a poetry anthology instead as a starting point for such a list: a book which stood a chance of breaking even. Tranter asked Philip Mead to co-edit, and a few years later The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry appeared: 474 pages long, with the work of eighty-six poets from Kenneth Slessor to John Kinsella. After the initial and immediate success of this volume (it had sold some fourteen thousand copies by 2006), Penguin did issue a list of poetry paperbacks under the editorship of Judith Rodriguez which lasted some years.

223:

Tranter had known the poet and novelist Martin Johnston (b.1947) since they met at the University of Sydney in the late 1960s. They often talked, drank and shared meals together, they read and enjoyed each other’s work, and they wrote a sequence of (unpublished) collaborative poems. Martin Johnston died in 1990; in 1993 the University of Queensland Press published Tranter’s 290-page edition of his friend’s work: poems, reviews, translations, interviews, and photographs. An account of how that came about is given in Tranter’s Introduction to that book (xiiv–xvvi).

224:

Tranter assisted in the editing of many small magazines, and published over forty book reviews, mostly during the 1970s when the issues revolving around the new poetry were being debated. But perhaps his more significant literary endeavours (apart from his own poetry and his four print anthologies) were the hoax magazine Free Grass (1968), the ‘Preface to the Seventies’ issue of Poetry Australia (1970), the four poetry volumes published by Transit New Poetry (1980–83), Jacket magazine (begun in 1997) and the APRIL Internet project (started in 2004).

225:

Free Grass splashed into the pond of little underground magazines in Australia in 1968. Like most of of its brethren — The Great Auk, Ourglass, Mok, Cross-currents, Transit and Free Poetry — it was roneod (that is, mimeographed, or printed on a Gestetner brand rotary silk-screen duplicator, developed in the 1890s). The editorial standards were loose, and there was a strong counter-cultural flavour to the thing. It was greeted enthusiastically, but when the magazine’s readers tried to contact the editor, they discovered that no editor’s name was given, and there was no postal address. The truth leaked out: one morning in late 1968 John Tranter had composed the whole of the nineteen poems of Free Grass on five foolscap pages in nine different personae ranging from ‘an ex-professor of English Lit. from the UK’ to an ‘ex-intimate of Bob Dylan’ to a young and naïve female art student. He typed it directly onto mimeograph stencils, interspersing his spontaneous lyric effusions with nonsense sentences and fragments from a list of cryptic crossword clues in the daily paper. He ran it off the next day, and mailed out the copies.

226:

Was this hoax meant to wreck the underground poetry scene of the time, as the Ern Malley hoax had ridiculed and damaged the experimental poetry of the mid–1940s? Tranter claimed that the magazine was meant as a gentle parody of the underground magazines of the day, and in the more flexible and tolerant Australian society of the late 1960s, it had no apparent effect.

227:

Why so many personae, and so many different ‘experimental’ styles? Was this a collection of incompetent verses supposedly written by weak-minded hippies and poetasters, or perhaps an escape from the severe demands of ‘Literature’, a playful set of exercises that explored a range of different voices?

228:

Tranter had published a number of poems in Grace Perry’s Poetry Australia magazine during the late 1960s, as had many of his friends. In 1969 he talked Grace Perry into devoting a special issue of her magazine to the work of new or younger poets, with Tranter as the editor. He commissioned work from dozens of poets, and articles from Rodney Hall and Thomas Shapcott, the editors of an earlier poetry anthology New Impulses in Australian Poetry. ‘My one regret,’ wrote Tranter later, ‘was rejecting some poems by a young poet which Bruce Beaver had sent on to me. Years later, I realised they were by John Forbes.’ (Tranter, Preface, SETIS) The collection was published in February 1970 as the ‘Preface to the Seventies’ issue of the magazine.

229:

Tranter also had input into another issue of Poetry Australia. Nearly forty years ago, just before he left Australia to work in South-east Asia as a publisher’s editor, he commissioned an article on computers and poetry from the University of Sydney linguistics lecturer Alex Jones which appeared in the April 1971 issue of Poetry Australia, edited by Grace Perry.

230:

The Travesty computer program mentioned earlier did not exist when Alex Jones researched his piece, and he could not have forseen the elegant method it provides for avoiding the need for dictionary lists and grammatical rules. But he does outline something of the method Tranter has used with Travesty’s successor, the Brekdown program, and some of the theory that might lie behind the reception of such ‘writing’:

231:

A poem or any other piece of language always looks outside itself, and I have suggested that if randomly assembled it will only be acceptable to the extent that the random assemblage allows us to impose a meaning on it. (61–62)

232:

Tranter and his wife Lyn, who at that time worked in a type design and print bureau called Rat Graffix, published four books of poetry in the early 1980s: first books by Susan Hampton and Gig Ryan, and books by John Forbes and Alan Jefferies.

233:

In 1997 Tranter was researching various email programs on the Internet for the literary agency he and his wife owned when he noticed the HTML code that underlay the web pages he was browsing: it was almost identical to the Compugraphic typesetting codes he had learned twenty years before at his wife’s typesetting business. He had trained variously as an editor, a typesetter, a printer, a print designer and a photographer, and had studied art in 1961 under Lloyd Rees [and Roland Wakelin]. With his newfound ability as a HTML coder he realised he happened to have all the skills needed to compile, edit, design and publish a literary magazine on the Internet, which he proceeded to do, calling the magazine Jacket for no particular reason other than that it was easy to spell, easy to pronounce, easy to grasp and contained the unusual letter ‘K’, like the word ‘Kodak’.

234:

By late 2006 the magazine’s homepage had received over half a million visits. Most of its readers as well as most of its contributors are from North America or Britain. In the Guardian in 2002 Peter Forbes wrote ‘The prince of online poetry magazines is Jacket, run from Australia by the poet John Tranter. It has never been a print journal. The design is beautiful, the contents awesomely voluminous, the slant international modernist and experimental.’ (Peter Forbes 2002.)

235:

When The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry was published it was 474 pages long, and included eighty-six poets. Penguin’s brief to the editors was to produce a book around 300 pages long, but they graciously accommodated the fifty per cent extra material that landed on their desk. There was no room, though, for author notes, which would have added around thirty more pages to the book; or, more likely, thirty pages of poetry would have to be cut to accommodate the notes.

236:

By late 2004, Tranter had built a research Internet site for his own early work, and a site featuring the collected works of three earlier Australian poets, both hosted on the University of Sydney Library’s SETIS site.[41]  His experience with these projects and with Jacket magazine led him to think of the Internet as the ideal repository for those missing Penguin author notes, and in 2004 he began to build a site to host them. Before long he had hundreds of pages of material on some seventy poets, and he realised that he had bitten off more than he could chew.

237:

In 2005 he approached the University of Sydney’s English Department, who (with the University of Sydney Library) agreed to partner an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant application with the Copyright Agency Limited as a ‘Linkage’ partner. In mid 2006 the ARC awarded a grant of over half a million dollars over three to four years to fund further development of the project, with Professor Elizabeth Webby as the Chief Investigating Officer, a staff of one full-time and some part-time researchers as well as two or three staff from CAL and two or three staff from the University of Sydney Library, a PhD student researcher, and John Tranter as a part-time advisor, and an overall budget costed at one and a half million dollars. The prototype site has been named Australian Poetry Resources Internet Library (APRIL) and was relocated to the University of Sydney Internet server as <april.edu.au> in 2008 [a URL soon changed by the site designers to the more useful http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au]

 The Matter of Motivation

238:

Tranter has now gathered, edited and published more work by other writers than all his own extensive output added together: over a thousand pages of Australian material, and over seven thousand pages of mainly British and American poetry, prose, reviews and interviews in Jacket magazine. Why?

239:

There are certainly rewards: a few royalties, a more salient reputation, lots of new friends, and the pleasure of a job well done; but these are hardly enough to justify a lifetime’s effort on behalf of others.

240:

There are clues, perhaps, in his relationship to his father, who had been a dedicated and much-appreciated primary-school teacher in a country town for many years, and in later life part-owned a company that managed three dairy farms and a soft-drink factory.

241:

When Tranter was nineteen his father died, disappointed in his son’s failure to follow in his footsteps as a farmer. Perhaps Tranter is still trying to make up for inflicting that disappointment; or perhaps the father’s concern for helping others to learn and grow has found a faint reflection in his son’s career.
 

 EndNotes

[17] The Last Run: starring George C. Scott, Tony Musante, and two of George C. Scott’s wives: Trish VanDevere, and Colleen Dewhurst. Directed by Richard Fleischer, John Huston. 1971.

[18] At http://jacketmagazine.com/27/faga-mint.html and in Rod Mengham’s collection of essays due for publication in the UK in 2009.

[19] John Forbes, Meanjin, 249-53.

[20] From the context it should be clear that neither African-American nor Australian aboriginal writing is the target here: poetry from the dark side of the human soul is what is meant.

[21] In his monograph The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899) which was an expansion of his pioneering essay ‘The Decadent Movement in Literature’ (Harper’s, November 1893). The Encyclopaedia Britannica says: ‘Symons’ poetry is mainly fin de siècle (i.e., disillusioned) in feeling. Silhouettes (1892) and London Nights (1895) contain admirable impressionist lyrics, and at his best he is sensitive to the complex moods of urban life.’

[22] Janet Bloom and Robert Losada, ‘Craft Interview with John Ashbery,’ New York Quarterly, 9 (Winter 1972), 224-225.

[23] Delivered at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature annual conference in Hobart, Tasmania, in 2001.

[24] Alain Trutat, the head of programs at Radio France-Culture, had bought the French rights for the radio feature The Subtitles, and Étienne Vallès produced a French version of the piece. On 9 and 10 February 1993 portions of the Australian and the French versions of The Subtitles were played to the audience on the second evening of a two-day conference on radio production titled ‘Nuits australiennes’ or ‘Ways of Hearing Australia’ in Paris. Tranter was present. Alain Trutat discussed what he’d liked in the piece when he first heard it, and Étienne Vallès talked about how he came to develop his extremely sensitive production, which happens to run for almost twice the length of the Australian version. When asked by the author if he had added anything to the piece to make it so much longer than the English-language original, he replied ‘No… I just made the pauses… a little bit longer.’

[25] ‘Epyllion (plural: epyllia) — a brief narrative poem in dactylic hexameter of ancient Greece, usually dealing with mythological and romantic themes. It is characterised by lively description, scholarly allusion, and an elevated tone similar to the elegy. Such poems were especially popular during the Greek Alexandrian period (c. 4th-3rd century BC), as seen in the works of Callimachus and Theocritus.’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). The four books of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica (third century B.C.) total less than six thousand lines. The four books of Tranter’s The Floor of Heaven total less than four thousand lines.

[26] At http://www.sunypress.edu/details.asp?id=52145

[27] The Dice Man is a semi-comedic novel published in 1971 by George Cockcroft under the pen name Luke Rhinehart. In it a psychiatrist (named Luke Rhinehart) begins making life decisions based on the casting of dice. The book features sex, drugs and various kind of illegal behaviour, and was taken seriously by many readers. It was 1971, after all. The book was banned in some countries.

[28] ‘Jack: I have lost both my parents’. Lady Bracknell: ‘To lose one parent, Mister Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’ Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, First Act.

[29] The ‘trenter’ is a thirty-line form, with overlapping rhymes. See Appendix 5.

[30] The haibun is a form developed in seventeenth-century Japan, consisting of prose and verse mixed; traditionally a short prose passage is followed by a haiku. With the ‘reverse haibun’ Tranter inverted and re-engineered the form for his own purposes.

[31] Brekdown was inspired by the Travesty program [discussed] in the November 1984 issue of byte magazi — ne, by Kenner and O’Rourke (computer scientist Joseph O’Rourke’s colleague was Hugh Kenner, professor of English at Georgia State University, and noted literary critic). They in turn quote an article in the Scientific American of November 1983 by Brian P. Hayes, which described an elegant method of avoiding large and unwieldy n-dimensional arrays. They also refer to the work of [American Mathematical genius] Claude Shannon, who in 1948 — working with a pencil instead of a computer — developed a simple but tedious method of calculating letter-group frequency arrays, using the text itself as a frequency table. (Tranter, ‘Mr Rubenking’s Breakdown’.)

[32] The sestina is a form invented by the Troubadours, and consists of a six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoy, originally without rhyme, in which each stanza repeats the end words of the lines of the first stanza, but in different order, the envoy using the six words again, three in the middle of the lines and three at the end. The repeated end-words in Tranter’s gargantuan sestina make up a telling litany of his obsessions: air, drink, fun, death, beach, Sydney. All that’s missing is poetry, and that’s what we’re reading.

[33] Seventeen experimental poems [more or less] in the manner of Dylan Thomas and Henry Treece were sent to Max Harris, the 22-year-old editor of Angry Penguins magazine, who published them all in a special issue in 1944, hailing the recently-dead young poet’s genius. Public exposure of the hoax embarrassed Harris, who was further humiliated when the police in his home town of Adelaide prosecuted him for publishing Malley’s ‘obscene’ verses. He was found guilty and fined. (You can read the entire 70-page transcript of that trial on the Australian poetry site: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au, and Philip Mead’s Networked Language has a chapter on the hoax and trial.)

[34] As Maria Tymoczko points out in The Irish Ulysses: ‘Metempsychosis, the word that reverberates through Ulysses like the thunderclap in Finnegans Wake, refers not only to the rebirth of Ulysses, Penelope, and Telemachus but also to the rebirth of Ireland’s avatars from The Book of Invasions: in Ulysses the types of Hebraic Milesian, Greek Tuatha De, and Spanish female reappear in contemporary Dublin. The motif of metempsychosis permits Joyce’s characters to represent simultaneously characters from the Odyssey, The Book of Invasions, Hamlet, and the other mythic schemes that Joyce has used partially or wholly in Ulysses; Bloom is at once Ulysses, Milesian, the Wandering Jew, and Hamlet’s father. In the repertory of mythic elements that Joyce uses in Ulysses, metempsychosis is in fact the mainspring; it co-ordinates and drives all the mythic systems of the book.’ (Tymoczko 44).

[35] Generations of literary readers have agreed: Ern Malley’s oeuvre has been widely discussed and has remained in print in several different editions in the six decades since his death, and a stage play, a movie, a sequence of paintings (by Gary Shead) and dozens of homage poems have been created based on the drama of the hoax. The poems of Stewart and McAuley are hard to find, mostly out of print, and are now neglected by the young.

[36] John Rowan, Sub-personalities: the People Inside Us, Routledge, London and New York, 1990, p 8.

[37] John Rowan and Mick Cooper (eds), The Plural Self: Multiplicity in Everyday Life, Sage, London, 1999, p 11.

[38] Stephen Edgar, ‘An Interview with Gwen Harwood’, Island, vol 25, no 6, 1986, p 75.

[39] Jenny Digby, ‘The Evanescent Things: Interview with Gwen Harwood’, A Woman’s Voice: Conversations with Australian Poets, University of Queensland Press, Saint Lucia, 1996, p 51.

[40] John Beston, ‘An Interview with Gwen Harwood’, Quadrant, vol 19, no 7, 1975, pp 84-88.

[41] Over 200 pages of material relating to Tranter’s early writing is hosted at http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/tranter/index.html. You can read complete books by Christopher Brennan (Poems 1913), Lesbia Harford (Poems), and Kenneth Slessor (Selected Poetry 1975), grouped with an introduction by John Tranter at http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozpoets/index.html.

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.)