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and How To Use This Site
Please see The Malley Variations: at: http://johntranter.net/poetry/john-tranter-the-malley-variations/,
part of the Poetry Category page. Here are the Notes:
These poems are collaborations, utilising the ‘Breakdown’ computer program; the voice of Ern Malley is inspired by and speaks through the voices of other writers at key moments in their careers.
— ‘An American in Paris’, Ern Malley and Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer.
— ‘Benzedrine’, Ern Malley and Allen Ginsberg, ‘Howl’.
— ‘The Master of the Black Stones’, Ern Malley and Yasunari Kawabata, The Master of Go.
— ‘Flying High’, Ern Malley and Captain W.E.Johns, Biggles Defies the Swastika.
— ‘Pussy Willow’, Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
— ‘Smaller Women’, Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
— ‘Transatlantic’, Ern Malley and Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas.
— ‘Under Tuscan Skies’, Ern Malley and Edward Morgan Forster, Room With a View.
— ‘Year Dot’, Ern Malley and real estate advertisements for properties offered for sale in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, June and July 1994.
— ‘The Urn of Loneliness’, Ern Malley and Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness.
I enjoyed a good number of Literature Board Grants (each just enough to live on for a year or two, or three) and made some twenty-one visits to New York after 1984, when I was forty-one, some trips paid for with my own money, most paid for by the Literature Board and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Australia under Gough Whitlam’s Labour Government offered solid support for the Arts though the arms-length (arms-length from government, that is) funding by the Literature Board of the Australia Council, and the Conservative (Liberal) side of Government followed suit, though each side was guilty of ‘Stacking the Board’ with their supporters from time to time.
What follows is the text of some dozen or so Reports to the Literature Board, usually written just after a successful year of writing and travelling and sent in to the Board in the hope that such Reports might be of use to writers following in my footsteps. What happened to these Reports? God knows. But I tried.
Why do I try the Quick Crossword in the Sydney Morning Herald every weekday — often failing to fill it all in — except Friday?
Because Friday is the day that David Astle takes it over.
Last week it was the Americanism for “divvy van”… after a wikipedia search, I found that “divvy van” was a Melbourne-only term, meaning “Paddy Wagon” (From Divisional Van – police divisional van.) David Astle lives of course in Melbourne, yet his crossword is published in Sydney. Oh well… and the americanism? Black Mariah. Gee thanks, David. But there’s worse… worse incompetence, that is…
Last year CONTRAIL (or perhaps JETSTREAM) was the required answer, yet Mr Astle’s clue mentioned jet engines, as I recall. ‘Can’t be “contrail”, or “jetstream”‘ I remember thinking, as neither contrails nor jetstreams have anything to do with jet engines. See the photo of contrails below: 1943, and not a jet engine in sight. They hadn’t been invented yet. And the various jetstreams (high altitude winds) have existed for millions of years.
From the website:
Why so many photos of contrails in WWII, and not so many from the 50s and 60s? The simple reason is that contrails only form at very low temperatures, which are normally found at high altitude, and in peacetime there was NO REASON TO FLY THAT HIGH until the advent of commercial jet travel a few decades later.
The only reason these planes are flying that high is so they can avoid anti-aircraft fire. The bombers fly as high as they can, and then their fighter escorts fly even higher, so they can see incoming aircraft targeting the bombers, and swoop down to attack. This type of escorting is called “Top Cover”. The most classic example of this is the famous photo “Top cover over J-Group”, a photo taken over Emden, on September 27th, 1943, by Stanley M. Smith.
This week the required word was PARCHMENT, yet Mr Astle’s clue talked about an ‘Animal skin formerly used in bookbinding’. Surely parchment had never been used to actually “bind” books — it has always been used to write on in place of papyrus. Perhaps ‘formerly used in the craft of bookbinding as material for the interior pages of a book’, but isn’t that a bit of a stretch? I thought of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s dreadful punning lyrics in the movie “Road to Morocco”… “Like Webster’s Dictionary (four syllables, to fit with the song rhythm), we’re Morocco bound”, but ‘morocco’ (goatskin from goats reared in Morocco) and ‘goatskin’ didn’t fit. When I looked up ‘parchment’ in an encyclopaedia, I discovered its strange connection with the name of the city of Pergamum in Ancient Greece, now in Turkey: “Pergamum was home to a library said to house approximately 200,000 volumes, according to the writings of Plutarch”, according to Wikipedia.
Further: “Pergamum is credited with being the home and namesake of parchment (charta pergamena). Prior to the creation of parchment, manuscripts were transcribed on papyrus, which was produced only in Alexandria. When the Ptolemies of Africa refused to export any more papyrus to Pergamum, King Eumenes II commanded that an alternative source be found. It has been conjectured that the Pergamenes may have discovered that “by simplifying the composition of the pelt preparation bath, allied with a special mode of drying wet unhaired pelts (by stretching them as much as possible) smooth taut sheets of uniform opacity could easily be obtained.”  This led to the production of parchment, which is made out of a thin sheet of sheep or goat skin. Parchment reduced the Roman Empire’s dependency on Egyptian papyrus and allowed for the increased dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and Asia. The introduction of parchment also greatly expanded the holdings of the Library of Pergamum”
As for the Cryptic Crossword — forget it. Poetry is cryptic enough, thanks.
Puncher and Wattmann, Sydney, 2015
First Australian Edition ISBN: 9781922186560
Printed in Australia / All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the publisher’s written permission, except for brief quotations in reviews. Book design by John Tranter and David Musgrave. Cover art by Louise Hearman: Untitled 23723-1998-oil-on- masonite-69x91cm, by permission of Liz Laverty. Back cover photograph of the author in Sydney, 2009, by Anders Hallegren. Puncher & Wattmann ABN 94 002 569 507 / Net: http://www.puncherandwattmann.com Email: email@example.com Postal: P.O. Box 441, Glebe NSW 2037
BlazeVox Books, Buffalo, 2015
From the Afterword: This, my twenty-fourth book of poems, is made up of three parts: some poems related to The Best of the Best American Poetry 2013 (Series Editor, David Lehman, Guest Editor, Robert Pinsky), some poems related to The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of ‘Poetry’ Magazine (Don Share and Christian Wiman, Eds., 2012), and thirty or so poems, mainly rhymed sonnets, written by me in recent years. The poems in the first two parts appear in this book loosely in the order in which the ‘originals’ appear in those two collections of mainly North American verse, except where the usual order has been changed to allow for a poem running to more than one page to appear on facing pages. Ten of the sonnets in part three appeared in my chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond, Sydney, 2013. For all the poems, their derivations and any significant notes are listed in the Notes to the Poems[ … ] In the case of the first two parts, I started with loose drafts which borrowed the end-words of each line of some poems in each of the two books concerned. I then changed the position of the line breaks in many of my new poems and in some cases changed the original line-end words, partly to be spared the annoyance of poets who might resent my using ‘their’ line-endings as my own, and partly because I felt that my using some of the words ending each line would lead to pointless contortions; words which ended some lines in some poems didn’t present much in the way of inspiration, and others were too strongly rhymed.
Dedication: For J.A.
‘…time for coffee and a Strega at Il Miglior Fabbro’
From a line in the book: 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 [US poet John] Ashbery’s.
St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 2010. 214pp, paperback. ISBN-9780702238451
UQP’s Internet site
Awards: — the 2011 Queensland State Literary Award for poetry; — the 2011 Age Book of the Year award for poetry
‘Radical revisions, mistranslations and multilingual dealings: in «Starlight», John Tranter destroys and rebuilds work by poets including Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Ashbery and T.S. Eliot. The back story of modern poetry is vigorously interrogated, though the narratives are contemporary and the action takes place in the arena of the here and now. The atmosphere crackles with colloquial energy and the dialogue undercuts itself with a dry wit. Tranter’s restless craft is evident in the service of a complex and free-ranging style in this brilliantly playful collection.’
Well, that’s what the publisher says. The book was republished in the USA in 2015 by BlazeVox Books, Buffalo. Their web site: http://www.blazevox.org/ Here’s the cover design used by Blazevox Books, based on a painting by Australian artist Louise Hearman:
You can read ten poems from Starlight: 150 Poems on my Main Site here.
Urban Myths: 210 poems: New and Selected
St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 2006. 322pp, paperback. ISBN-9780702235573
UQP’s Internet site.
Publisher’s cover blurb: «Urban Myths: 210 Poems» brings the best work to date from a poet considered one of the most original of his generation in Australia, together with a generous selection of new work. Smart, wry and very stylish, John Tranter’s poems investigate the vagaries of perception and the ability of language to converge life, imagination and art so that we arrive, unexpectedly, at the deepest human mysteries.
«Urban Myths» has been awarded:
— The 2006 Victorian state award for poetry — The 2007 New South Wales state award for poetry — The 2008 South Australian state award for poetry, and — The 2008 South Australian Premier’s Prize for the best book overall (which includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and others for the years 2006 and 2007).
No other book of poetry has been so popular with the judges of so many different state awards. From the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry judges’ report (judges: The C J Dennis Prize for Poetry: Judith Rodriguez [Convenor], Emma Lew and Rodney Hall):
The new and uncollected poems in John Tranter’s «Urban Myths» make a significant addition to his oeuvre. Control and ease are evident in the writing, which displays personages, occasions and moods of the metropolitan modern world. Tranter’s latest poems refresh through the exercise of urbane skills: this is a poet suave and playful, but never aloof; linguistically various, assured in style, and never less than fully attentive.
From the New South Wales Kenneth Slessor Prize for poetry judges’ report (judges: Martin Harrison [chair], Kate Lilley, Kathleen Stewart):
This generous collection of 210 poems takes in the whole of John Tranter’s dazzling career including fifty new and uncollected poems as virtuosic as anything that precedes them. These final pages demonstrate the continuously innovative and international character of Tranter’s poetry, as well as its finely tuned responsiveness to the particularities of Australian idiom and experience. In Tranter’s hands, poetry, and language itself, is never straightforward but always a matter of delight and critical inquiry. Tranter’s devastating wit has evolved over time, but the daring and implicit humour of the enterprise has been constant. Combining tremendous technical fluency with a restless, experimental drive, Tranter delves into ‘popular mysteries’ and iconic characters, the irony of the everyday and ‘the vernacular of the shopping channel’. Tranter’s seemingly effortless command of the resources of form, speech, character and story, energizes his poetry and stimulates his readers, counterbalancing the melancholy of ‘grief, in small allotments’ with the ‘gift factory’ of poetic invention.’
The South Australian John Bray Poetry Award judges’ report (judges: Nicholas Jose [chair], Stephen Lawrence, Jan Owen):
Complex and sophisticated, this collection reflects the protean nature of mind, its amplitude and resilience. The poems are linguistically and intellectually sinuous and move with mercurial speed. Society is scrutinized, sardonically challenged and affirmed, and the self is part of the kaleidoscopic spill of surfaces and angles. Different voices and planes play together into the improvised melodies of jazz; characterisation, observation and memory produce haunting, dissonant chords. The poems are complex, tough and cheeky even as they are fluid and exalting. The mood can be edgy and dark, or lighter in tone, witty to downright funny, often with a cinematic or surreal video-clip quality. The later poems, particularly, use dislocation and randomness to create compelling otherworlds of words.
Other critical responses:
Tranter has produced a body of work remarkable for its intellectual vitality, formal versatility, and powers of renewal over a long and formidable career.
— Peter Pierce, «The Melbourne Age», July 15, 2006.
This new and selected poems reminds us, if we needed reminding, just how powerful John Tranter’s cumulated work is. There is a density, an intensity, and a many-sided explorativeness that probably cannot be matched in Australian poetry. Surprisingly, at 210 poems, it is a comparatively small book and has been pretty ruthlessly selected, but there is no doubting the size of its author’s achievement.
— Martin Duwell, «Australian Book Review» August 2006.
You can download a free, read-only PDF file of the first half of the book from my Main Site here: Urban Myths: 523 pages. The PDF file will silently download to the folder you have assigned in your computer’s preferences as the target for downloads. You can also read 100 pages of [»»] Notes to the book on my Main Site, accessible from the link just above, and you can order the printed and bound version of the book direct from the publisher, at this link.
The Floor of Heaven
Sydney: Jacket Press, 2007, in association with the University of Queensland Press. 132pp, paperback. ISBN 9780975698006
Dedication: To my son Leon
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: so stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica: look, how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins…
– Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
‘A rattling good read’
— John Ashbery, launching the book in Melbourne, Australia
‘«The Floor of Heaven» is a tour de force, a devious and profoundly subversive conjuring trick by a poet writing at the peak of his powers… the book pulses with a curious resonance… reminded me irresistibly of the best moments in «Twin Peaks»… a strange lyricism.’
— Andrew Riemer, «Sydney Morning Herald»
‘…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.’
— Alison Croggon, ABC Radio National «Books and Writing», 8 November 1992.
You can read a free [»»] PDF file of the book «The Floor of Heaven», a collection of four loosely-linked narrative poems. This title was reprinted by the University of Queensland Press in June 2007. The PDF file is free to read in its entirety on this site, but it cannot be printed. Printed copies of this book can be purchased from the publisher, or from the University of Queensland Bookshop mail order department: phone (617+) 3346 9434.
Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2003. 162pp, paperback. ISBN 9781876857714
An omnibus collection of all the poems in three books published previously in Australia but long out of print:
«Red Movie» (1972)
«Crying in Early Infancy: 100 Sonnets» (1977)
«Dazed in the Ladies Lounge» (1979).
Though the book is now out of print, you may still visit the publisher’s website, and you can read extensive [»»] Notes to the poems in this book.
Cambridge UK: Salt Publishing, 2003. 114pp, paperback. ISBN 9781876857615 Studio Moon consists of sixteen poems from «At The Florida» unpublished outside Australia, eight poems from «Borrowed Voices», plus another twenty-eight uncollected poems.
‘…the new poems are exciting, and the result is a book that manages to be simultaneously powerful, entertaining and revealing. What «Studio Moon» gives us is a conspectus of one of Australia’s greatest poets in mid-career…’
(Martin Duwell, Australian Book Review)
‘… The sheer range of work in this volume makes it difficult to deal with in a short review; suffice it to say that this is the best collection by Tranter in some time and that you should own a copy.’ («Shearsman», UK)
Though the book is now out of print, you may still visit the publisher’s website. Cover Art: ‘The Hairdresser’, 1989, by Susie Marston. Collection John and Lyn Tranter.
Dedication: To P.P.
Beeston, Nottingham UK: Shoestring Press, 2002. 24pp, paperback. ISBN 1899549749. 19 Devonshire Avenue, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 1BS, UK. Phone/ Fax (44) 0115 9251 827. November 2002. Twenty-four pages. A dozen reinterpretations of poems by other (French, German, Chilean, Ancient Greek, Chinese, and English) poets.
From my Notes at the front of this book:
I wrote these poems while writer-in-residence as a guest of the University of Cambridge, the English Faculty, and Jesus College, Cambridge, England, between October 2001 and March 2002. I should like to express my thanks to the English Faculty, to the Judith E.Wilson Fund and to the Newton Trust.
I was offered an embarrassment of hospitality and kindness by so many people in Cambridge that I cannot list them all here, but I should like to thank the Master of Jesus College, Robert Mair; and the Fellows of the College; also Ian Donaldson, Chris and Jen Emery, Frank Kermode, John Kerrigan, John Kinsella, Rod Mengham, Drew Milne, Michael Minden, Kevin and Lesley Nolan, Jeremy Prynne, John Wilkinson and Maud Ellman, and all the poets, scholars and others who made my stay so enjoyable.
To John Lucas
The Nottingham poet and cornet player John Lucas had become a friend, and had published Borrowed Voices in 2002.
Cambridge UK: Salt Publishing, 2001. 103pp, paperback. ISBN 9781876857325. Contact Chris Emery, 3 Ratford’s Yard, Great Wilbraham, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB1 5JT, UK; Email: cemery (át) saltpublishing (dót) com. Though the book is now out of print, you may still visit the publisher’s website
«Heart Print» contains the poems in «Ultra», plus twenty-eight sonnets from «Crying in Early Infancy», all of the twenty-seven poems that make up «The Alphabet Murders» (somewhat revised) and a previously uncollected seven-page prose poem in the form of a hypermetrical sestina, ‘The Beach’.
‘Tranter may now be Australia’s most important poet… During the 1990s, Tranter emerged as an international figure, first by editing well-received anthologies, then with the Internet journal Jacket…
Of its four sections, the second and best, ‘The Alphabet Murders’, makes a great introduction to his work: its 27 segments (from ‘After’ and ‘Before’ to ‘Zero’ and ‘After’ again) use their meta-detective tales as excuses to talk about reading, writing, associative thought and literary history.
The untitled set of 28 sonnets and delightful prose poem that conclude the book present light-fingered commentary on subjects from ‘Starlight’ to absinthe and middle age: ‘I re-live youth asleep,’ one affecting line admits, ‘and leave it behind at dawn.’ Readers… will see why Tranter has mattered to Australians for so long.”…
— U.S. Publishers’ Weekly
Rose Bay, Sydney: Brandl and Schlesinger, 2001. 60pp, paperback. ISBN 9781876040291. Twenty-four 50-line poems plus a short introductory poem. The publisher’s website: http://www.brandl.com.au/
‘…The poems are masterful because they survive so much thin ice. They do not fall into cliché, sociology or archness. 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 phrasebook. Much of «Ultra» is a kind of Australian «Psycho» experience, where every irony cuts and tickles. Brilliant.’
You can visit the publisher’s website here: http://www.arcpublications.co.uk/
This is a British reprint of the earlier HarperCollins Australia volume published in 1992.
‘…The Floor of Heaven is a series of interconnected short stories told in a loose verse that is as much governed by natural speech rhythm as it is by conventional prosody. It is also a bit of a page-turner. Fired by coffee, drink and group therapy, the mainly female narrators spike their tales of bohemians, drop-outs, war veterans and men on the make with liberal quantities of covetousness, sex, drugs and violence. Amid the pulp fictions can be discerned what one character describes as “some pattern in things, a kind of balance”. [….] the writing basks in the cool glow of action painting and existentialism, Harley-Davidsons and Thunderbirds, pill-popping, jazz, cigarettes and alcoholism [….] Whether on a small or large canvas, John Tranter is above all a highly gifted writer of narrative verse, and The Floor of Heaven is his most considerable achievement to date. Yet narrative is by no means his only distinction. His poetry is various and variously rewarding, and nearly always manages to be both instantly engaging and to repay further attention. The publication of these two books means that most of Tranter’s best work is now available in Britain and confirms his status as one of Australia’s most important poets.’
— William Wootten, Times Literary Supplement, 2002
Cambridge UK: Barque Press, 2000. 24pp, ISBN 1903488001. Gonville and Caius College, Trinity Street, Cambridge England CB2 1TA, United Kingdom. Website: http://www.barquepress.com/ Also published by Vagabond Press, c/- English Department, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Published in 2000.
«Blackout» consists of Shakespeare’s «The Tempest», the article ‘Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream’ by Joan Didion, and a chapter from «The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test» by Tom Wolfe, 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. No other words have been added.
‘Tranter uses his prefabricated materials and his abundant talents with great style and the result is a poem that reads and sounds like Tranter in a pleasurably uncanny way:
waitresses looking like milky cellophane,
their garments cooling in this sad nook, where once
midnight hid; all asleep; and the trumpets
always dropping off the note.
Is there more moody liberty?’
— Kate Lilley, «Sydney Morning Herald»
[poetry, experimental prose]
This books is respectfully dedicated to
Professor Hugh Kenner
* * *
Without his inspired investigations in the field of computer-assisted letter-group frequency analysis these texts could not have been written.
North Fremantle (Australia): Folio/ Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1998. 80pp, paperback. ISBN 1863682414. PO Box 158, North Fremantle WA 6159, Australia. A collection of seven short stories loosely based on drafts processed by the ‘Brekdown’ computer program.
See [»»] ‘Mr Rubenking’s Breakdown’ — an essay about computer-assisted writing on this site.
You can read two complete stories from «Different Hands» here too, and a collection of sample pages from «Different Hands»:
—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 ‘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 Radclyffe Hall, notorious author of the sentimental lesbian novel ‘The Well of Loneliness’, and —E.M.Forster’s well-bred English characters plunge into Sydney’s flamboyant and cynical real estate market.
Late Night Radio
to Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Edinburgh UK: Polygon Press (University of Edinburgh Press), 1998. 92pp, ISBN 0748662383. Late Night Radio is made up of poems selected from Selected Poems (1982) and Under Berlin (1988), which were not available previously in the U.K.
‘…When non-Australians hear of John Tranter, it may be as an editor (of the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry or the online journal Jacket), or else as the head of a school, leading his urban, international, difficult postmodernists against Les Murray’s rural, local populists… Late Night Radio, however, his first British collection, reveals Tranter less as an avant-gardiste than as a startlingly accomplished pragmatist, a poet alert to what works: he uses the curvy, slippery language of his American models (John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara) to depict social and personal pathos and comedy, in recognizable poetic kinds…
Tranter’s best invention is a thorough irony that is not unkind to its subjects, a way to present contemporary people and their varied idiolects which at once cherishes, mocks and sees through them… Tranter gives us, instead, new, unpredictable ways to describe the world by turns energetic, exuberant, exasperated; hip, antipathetic, pathetic; attentive, fantastic, fed-up, ridiculous, serious; in his own words, “quizzical”, “grateful”, “daft, adolescent and deeply wise”…’
—Stephen Burt, Times Literary Supplement
‘…John Tranter’s amphetamine-fuelled, demented jeremiads… this work is… a form of pornography.’
— Caitriona O’Reilly, P.N.Review
Cambridge UK: Equipage, 1997. 40pp, paperback, ISBN 0900968258. Equipage, c/- Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge UK. Gasoline Kisses consists of 22 poems, selected from the thirty haibun from the last part of At The Florida (1993) with two additions and many small changes, saddle-stitched.
US critic Grahame Foust reviews Late Night Radio (1998):
‘Though there’s certainly nothing wrong with this book’s title (for of course it’s all there: the strange, the normal, love and hope and sex and dreams), this volume could have also been named for its last poem, ‘The Popular Mysteries.’ For these mysteries, these things we all know we don’t really know, are the subject of John Tranter’s Late Night Radio, a poetic cross between ‘Dream Weaver,’ a sugary-sweet late night pop classic, and John Berryman’s bitter Dream Songs, which, as their author stated, were meant to ‘terrify and comfort’ (which is to say calm, crack, and contradict).’
At The Florida
This book is dedicated to the memory of my mother
Anne Katherine Tranter née Brown
St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1993. 100pp, paperback. ISBN 0703335533. UQP’s Internet site. Awarded the Age Book of the Year poetry prize in 1993.
From Martin Duwell’s review of the book:
It is only in the past few years that John Tranter seems to have achieved anything like the public profile that the quality of his poetry demands. It may say something about the politics of reputation in Australia, it may say something about our fear of the new — for Tranter’s corpus of work marks him out as simultaneously father and exemplar of contemporary poetry in this country — but one’s late 40s is a long time to wait. At The Florida is an important, challenging book, but despite those daunting adjectives, it is also a deeply pleasurable book, complex and densely rich. It also comes trailing those dangerous round figures that invite readers to take stock — it is Tranter’s 10th book of poems, published in his 50th year. From whatever perspective it is viewed, At The Florida, is a marvellous achievement, even if it runs the risk of tempting reviewers into saying more about the career behind it than the book itself.
The Floor of Heaven
To my son Leon
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: so stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica: look, how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins…
– Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
Pymble: HarperCollins/Angus and Robertson, 1992.
138pp, paperback.ISBN 030717699X (reprinted 1996)
Reprinted in 2007; [»»] see above.
For my daughter Kirsten
St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1988.
120pp, paperback. ISBN 070331376. With author’s notes.
Three printings by 1993 with different back jacket and half-title-page information.
UQP’s Internet site: http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/ Awarded the NSW State Literary Award for poetry in 1989
From Christopher Pollnitz’s review of the book:
My suggestion is that Rimbaud continues to haunt and foster Tranter’s recent poems, not because he is, as Tranter has described him, the ‘prototype’ of all the modernisms (Duwell, p. 21), but because of the close emotional fit that has grown up between Rimbaud’s work and his own.
Regret for innocence is also nostalgia for a simpler subject and poetic voice, such as speaks of familiar backgrounds and congregations in the opening poems of Under Berlin. In ‘Backyard’ there is one unfamiliar presence at the barbecue, ‘the God of Smoke’ for whom the burnt offerings of the ritual are prepared, but his existence, like the gods of the Stoics, only matters if it is allowed to become more than hypothetical. Matthew Arnold can take a rest this round. The kind of poem against which ‘Backyard’ takes up its adversarious stance is Les Murray’s ‘The Mitchells’, a poetry which insists there are deeper, buried significances in social rituals. For Tranter the effort to implant further significance in the ‘tattered arena’ of human custom, or to uncover it from that arena, contaminates the limited significance it already has:
And the brown dog worries the khaki grass
to stop it from growing
in the place of his worship, the burying bone.
The bone that stinks.
The poem concludes that it is wise not to ask of this or of other rites more than they obviously offer – ‘some cold beer, a few old friends in the afternoon, / a Southerly Buster at dusk’. In Australia the principal medium for transmitting this note of Horatian stoicism, this Larkinesque refusal to pick up bad habits of expectation, has been Peter Porter; Porter too is the presiding presence over the dying fall, ‘at dusk’; so that, not for the first time, Tranter, writing poems with other poets in mind, seems to be saying No to Murray but No with Porter, a Porter naturalized to the rhythms and imagery of suburban Sydney. For all the literary sophistication that underpins its limpid surface, there seems no avoidance of an authorizing 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[…]
King’s Cross, Sydney: Nicholas Pounder, 1986. 11pp, paperback. ISBN 1862527571 [signed limited edition pamphlet of 376 copies] [though the colphon says 250 copies] (an early version of the first poem in The Floor of Heaven), privately published by Nicholas Pounder, bookseller, King’s Cross, December 1986, A4 sheets wire stapled near the spine, wrapper hand-coloured by the author and his daughter Kirsten.
The colophon, below, appears centred on the final page, page 12.
[signed ‘John Tranter’]
by the xerographic process
for Nicholas Pounder/ Bookseller
298 Victoria Street, Kings Cross 2011
in a limited signed edition
of 250 copies numbered in sequence
and twenty-six author’s copies numbered A to Z
all in hand-coloured wrappers
of which this is number
[this copy hand numbered ‘240’]
This poem also appeared
in a slightly different form in
The Age Monthly Review, December 1986
Printed in November 1986 at Pavilion Press Set
2 Buckland Street, Broadway 2007, Australia
Copyright (c) John Tranter 1986
ISBN: 1 86252 757 1
To my mother
Sydney:Hale and Iremonger, 1982. 176pp, section sewn.ISBN 0868066391 (paper) ISBN 0868060383 (casebound). Includes 10 previously uncollected poems.
From David Carter’s review of this book in Scripsi magazine, 1984::
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
Although art is, in the end, anonymous,
turning into history once it’s left the body,
surely some gadget in the poet’s head
forces us to suffer
as we stumble through the psychology of it.
Indeed to ‘stumble’ through Tranter’s Selected Poems, following their music and their talk, is to stumble upon a disembodied art, and also upon a possible ‘psychology’, like ‘some gadget’ in the head, hidden in style yet nothing but style. To indicate this disembodiment and stylishness is to intimate the poetry’s ‘auto-mobility’ (stealing one of Tranter’s own favoured images, with its associations of speed and extravagant form).
Dazed in the Ladies Lounge
This book is dedicated
with respect and affection
to the memory of
Neil, who grew up in Bateman’s Bay, had been a schoolmate (both at Moruya and at Hurlstone Agricultural High) and friend of the author for many years. He died accidentally not long before this book was published. J.T.
Sydney: Island Press, 1979. 64pp, paperback. ISBN 0909771305. ISBN 0909771331 (hardbound, out of print)
From David Brooks’ review of this book for the Canberra Times in 1981:
Much of Dazed in the Ladies Lounge is intellectual autobiography recording, with a candour, self-awareness and complex lyricism that must now involve many who have hitherto had little time for this man’s work, one man’s passage past some of the most alluring philosophic and poetic Sirens of his time.
The book is an extended elegy, and in such poems as ‘Rimbaud and the Modernist Heresy’, ‘Leavis at the London’, ‘Roland Barthes at the Poets’ Ball’ and ‘Enzensberger at “Exiles”’ contains some of the best work published in Australia in the last half-decade.
At a time when the loose, surrealistic associations of his previous poetry, its exploitation of numerous verbal and syntactic ambiguities as devices by means of which it might become self-generative, and its concomitant denials of discourse to its readers, could be accused of having erected an almost-impermeable barrier between this poet and his world, Tranter has shown himself to be several steps ahead of his severest critics, and as of a class apart.
Crying in Early Infancy: 100 Sonnets
To Ron and Rivka Witenberg
Old friends: we went to their wedding,
they went to ours, in 1968
St Lucia, Queensland: Makar Press, 1977. 64pp, section sewn, ISBN 0909353197 (paper); ISBN 0909353319 (casebound)
From Gary Catalano’s review of this book in Contempa magazine Series 2, number 6:
…the diction is often tired and forced, the sonnet form is used in a monotonous and inflexible way, the tone is consistently one of lurid overstatement, and there is a complete absence of any genuine drama.
The Alphabet Murders (notes from a work in progress)
Cremorne, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1976. 24pp, paperback. ISBN 0307133983. Part of the series ‘Poets of the Month’, with other booklets by James McAuley, Geoffrey Lehmann, John Forbes, Thomas Shapcott and Simon Bronsky, and later collected in a compendium hardback volume.
From Jennifer Maiden’s review of this book in New Poetry magazine, volume 24 number 2 1976, pp. 91–93.
Tranter, of course, is the world’s best ‘anal’ poet, not only in semantic terms but in simple Freudian creative / retentive ones, and he uses it marvellously. The Poem as presented here is a difficult achievement, a futile wastage and a social peril, since both its appearance and its destruction crave and simultaneously reject reward.
The Blast Area
This book is dedicated with respect and affection to the
memory of John Darcy.
Sovereign Lords of Death, I’ve neither cursed nor praised you.
Pity me, a traveller who’s made so many of these journeys
without luggage, with no master, no money, with fame gone elsewhere;
surely you’re mighty, surely you can take a joke,
pity this madman who, even before he passes the barrier,
even now is shouting his name to you; catch him
in mid-air, let him fit if he can to your customs and to your attitudes,
and if it pleases you to help him, then I pray, help him.
– Henri Michaux
John Darcy taught history at Hurlstone Agricultural High School when John Tranter attended the school 1957-1960. He was killed in a motor accident in 1961.
St Lucia Queensland: Makar Press, 1974. As Gargoyle Poets 12. 36pp, paperback. ISBN 0909353006. Gargoyle Poets was a series of pamphlets published by Martin Duwell, editor of Makar Magazine, at the English Department, The University of Queensland, St Lucia Queensland 3067. The typeface chosen for the words ‘BLAST AREA’ is named ‘Baby Teeth’.
Red Movie and other poems
whose encouragement, support and criticism
helped to bring these poems into being
Cremorne, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1972. Casebound, wrapper, 48pp. ISBN 0307135033.
From Kate Lilley’s review of several books in Australian Literary Studies, volume 14 number 1, May 1989:
Every reader’s field of reference is subtly different, but unless one is happy to wander blind and dazed, or to skim for the jokes, Tranter’s poetry makes homework mandatory, and rewardingly so. Most strikingly, it turns towards science in a way that opens up relations amongst technologies — amongst crafts. Reserving poetry’s pole position amongst the hermetic arts, Tranter modernises the ancient links between chemical compounds and mind-bending poetry. Cocaine, ephedrine, halothane, pethidine, librium, nerve gas, mandrax, serepax, tetrahydrocannabinol, methaqualone hydrochloride, hydrocyanic acid… a complete list would run to many pages. Tranter’s poems are a veritable chemist shop, staked with uppers and downers, anaesthetics, poisons, hallucinogens, aphrodisiacs, luxury items and ‘cheapskate pharmaceutical[s]’, (‘Shadow Detail’, UB, p. 47): a literal pharmacopoeia which figures poetry as a trip, a cocktail, a ride, a hit, a way of moving:
listen to me: you’re enjoying nothing
seen from this crisp angle
listen to me: I have been travelling for some time
aware of the necessity for choice: move!
if you wish to unravel the sources of your own sorrow
if you wish to divert the river of absolution
if you are desperate for a chance
to break up.
Pilots, ship’s captains, racing-car drivers, truckers, bikies, commercial travellers, hitchers and comic-book superheroes: this is the cast which circulates through Tranter’s poems as the dramatic instantiation of the masculine subject-in-process and the poem as plot.
Parallax and other poems
Dedicated to the memory of my father
who had died in 1962, when I was nineteen.
Five Dock, Sydney: South Head Press, 1970. 64pp, ISBN 0901760056. Published as «Poetry Australia» magazine, number 33, June 1970 (incorrectly shown on the half-title page as the June 1968 number), paperback, section-sewn. From Virginia Osborne: The Poetry Explosion: Virginia Osborne introduces six talented young Sydney poets, Vogue Australia, April 1971, around the time this book was published:
John E.Tranter, a poet with a luxuriant, slightly drooping moustache, is convinced of their importance [song-writers like Dylan and Leonard Cohen] but prefers to go to their sources rather than their songs for his own inspiration. Aged twenty-seven, married for three years and studying English at Sydney University, he is probably the most published and technically certain of the five poets I talked to.
Anthologies, Collections and Magazines edited by John Tranter
[poetry magazine, internet-only]
ISSN 1440–4737, Balmain, Sydney: John Tranter, 1997—[…] Internet-only: Poetry, interviews, reviews, articles on type and photography, a free Internet review of poetry and new writing published three [or sometimes four] times a year. Forty issues by 2010 (some eight thousand printed pages). In 2010-2011 Jacket will move to the University of Pennsylvania. [And it did. J.T., 2015]
“Almost everyone I contacted pointed me to Jacket, an Australian site that’s perhaps as close to a traditional print poetry journal as can be created online.”
— Glen Helfand, Special to «San Francisco Gate» magazine.
“In the welter of literary e-zines, Jacket stands out for its stylishness…”
— «Time» magazine
“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, U.K. Guardian.
Edited by John Tranter; Pub date: November 2012, RRP: $24.99, ISBN: 9781863955812, Imprint: Black Inc., Format: PB, Size: 210 x 135mm, Extent: 240pp.
“I was struck… by just how many poems depended on the ancient devices of the storyteller… Many have a lyrical or meditative feel, but most have a story to tell, captured in a brief glimpse of the meaning of life, or a dramatic climax.” — John Tranter
In this impressive anthology John Tranter weaves many threads into a portrait of Australian poetry in 2012. Emerging poets sit alongside the celebrated, travelling from Lake Havasu City to Graz, and nursing homes to fairgrounds, with characters as diverse as David Bowie, Emily Dickinson and Rumpelstiltskin.
The Best Australian Poems 2012 will satisfy a hunger for storytelling and a yearning for beauty. Read this interview with John Tranter about how he compiled this book.
Here’s an excerpt:
Black Inc.: What are your top five tips for aspiring poets? Tranter: Read voraciously as widely as you can; write and rewrite a lot; don’t take any notice of fads or fashions or what other people say and just write out what interests you personally; take careful notice of fads and fashions and what other people say and write in as many different forms and tones of voice as you can imagine; and publish, publish, publish.
The Best Australian Poems 2011
Edited by John Tranter; Black Inc. Pub date: November 2011, RRP: $24.95, ISBN: 9781863955492, Imprint: Black Inc., Format: PB, Size: 210 x 135mm, Extent: 240pp.
“What a rich, strange and diverse lot these poems turned out to be… I suspect that these baroque and potent imaginings can only have come into existence as fragments of dreams or nightmares.” — John Tranter
In The Best Australian Poems 2011, celebrated poet John Tranter selects the most vigorous, varied and interesting poems of the last year. This sparkling collection shines a light on the phantasmagorical nature of poetry, evoking images, transformations and events that range from the playful to the melancholy by way of exuberance and satire. Featuring award-winning poems alongside brand-new works, as well as a mix of emerging and renowned poets, this is a volume of surreal beauty and emotional resonance.
Poets include: Robert Adamson, Ali Alizadeh, Jude Aquilina, Ken Bolton, Pam Brown, joanne burns, Sarah Day, Bruce Dawe, Kate Fagan, Michael Farrell, Angela Gardner, Geoff Goodfellow, Lisa Gorton, Jennifer Harrison, Sarah Holland-Batt, Jill Jones, Cate Kennedy, Andy Kissane, Mike Ladd, Kate Lilley, Jennifer Maiden, David McCooey, Les Murray, Ouyang Yu, Felicity Plunkett, Peter Rose, Gig Ryan, Jaya Savige, Thomas Shapcott, Craig Sherborne, Pete Spence, Peter Steele, Maria Takolander, Andrew Taylor, Tim Thorne, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Alan Wearne and many more…
Co-edited with Philip Mead. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Australia, Ringwood, 1993. 474pp,paperback. ISBN 0130586390. Second printing December 1995 also published as the «Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry» in the UK and the USA, ISBN 1852243155)
Martin Johnston: Selected Poems and Prose
[poetry, translated poetry, folk song, reviews, essays, interviews]
Martin Johnston intended to dedicate his next book of poetry to his stepdaughter Vivienne and her husband Christopher. With that wish in mind, this book is for Vivienne Bonney and Christopher Latham.
St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1993. 290 + xxvi pp., 30 photographs, paperback.
From my Introduction to this book:
Martin Johnston (1947–1990) was one of a generation of poets who invigorated Australian poetry in the late 1960s and 1970s. His contribution was unusual: he had a European upbringing, having spent fourteen years of his childhood abroad, in England and Greece. His connections with Island Press and the University of Queensland Press, with the poetry readings at Sydney University, with the group of young writers including Laurie Duggan, Carl Harrison-Ford and Robert Adamson who were busy overhauling New Poetry magazine, are very much a part of the ferment of that period.
Martin’s angle on things was very much his own, though. He might have loved John Berryman’s work and learned much from contemporary American poetry, but he had also read Cavafy and Seferis in their native Greek years before, and had immersed himself in Homer as a child.
The Tin Wash Dish: Poems from Today’s Australians
Crow’s Nest, Sydney: ABC Enterprises, 1989. 136pp, paperback. ISBN 0633130000
Selected by John Tranter from some six thousand entries in the poetry section of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Bicentennial Authority Literary Awards competition held in 1988.
The New Australian Poetry
Makar Press, St Lucia, 1979, reprinted with corrections 1980, section sewn, casebound and paperback, 330pp. ISBN 0909353333
Poetry Australia 32: Preface to the Seventies
See this article and others like it in the Journal of Poetics Research: Preface to the Seventies
Five Dock Sydney: South Head Press, 1970. 80pp, paperback. SBN 901760021. «Poetry Australia» magazine number 32, February 1970. Guest editor: John E. Tranter, 39 poets, five essays.
See contents list below.
Contents: Poems by
J. S. Harry
R. J. Deeble
John E. Tranter
P. A. Pilgrim
Frederick C. Parmee
Rodney Hall: «Attitudes to Tradition in Contemporary Australian Poetry»
Thomas Shapcott: «Hold Onto Your Crystal Balls»
James Tulip: «The Australian-American Connection»
Ronald Dunlop: «Recent Australian Poetry»
Donald Gallup: «T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound: Collaborators in Letters»
Transit New Poetry
Camperdown New South Wales: John Tranter, 1969. 34pp, paperback. [no ISBN] Number 2, January 1969.
Transit New Poetry
Paddington New South Wales: John Tranter, 1968. 36pp, paperback. [no ISBN] Number 1, September 1968.
[hoax poetry magazine]
Paddington New South Wales: John Tranter, 1968 (?). 5pp, foolscap size (foolscap is a size of paper, traditionally 13.5 inches or 34.3 cm, by 17 inches or 43.2 cm, although it might be a bit smaller), Gestetner rotary silkscreen. [no ISBN] One number only, undated. Composed and typed onto stencils one morning in 1968 by John Tranter.
The masthead is Letraset rub-on transfer type, printed photo-litho. You might like to notice how the magazine publication technology changes from:
«Free Grass» (Gestetner, 1968, free, less than a hundred readers)
«Jacket» (Internet and digital CD, 2007, free, thousands of readers).
Tranter’s achievement here is less the poem itself, which presents a romanticized view of the poet as Poet, than what he has done with his source poem. The ultimate effect seems one of regression, as Guest’s ambivalent lyric becomes more pure, or idealized, with Tranter. Although less than a decade separates the two poems, the poetics of the earlier poem seems more unconventional than that of the terminal based on it.
Tranter’s more radical rewritings occur mainly with older poems. Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ provides not one but two terminals — ‘Grover Leach’ and ‘See Rover Reach.’ Arnold’s poem begins with a description of a seacoast and what it invokes for the poet:
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; — on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
This sonnet-length first stanza introduces a scene that appears only in the distance in Tranter’s ‘Grover Leach.’ By diminishing the setting — and thus the grandeur — of the original and by transforming Arnold’s meditation into a scene of courtship at the State Fair, ‘Grover Leach’ begins like a parody of the Arnold poem:
Tranter transplants the setting of the poem from the coast of England to the farmlands of Anywhere. Grover’s falling in love compels him to neglect his farm, embrace ‘the mob’s roar,’ and, with the help of the Ferris Wheel, welcome ‘the wonderful twentieth century’ and, thus, modernity. The tone of Tranter’s poem, until this point, seems lighter than Arnold’s, which uses the sound of waves on rocks as the accompaniment to ‘the eternal note of sadness’ and the sea’s ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.’
But ‘Grover Leach’ shifts dramatically in part two, connecting the speaker’s memory of the ocean bringing ‘to the bay an ancient tidal flow’ to Grover’s suicide by drowning:
How different this trajectory is from Arnold’s. Where ‘Dover Beach’ begins with ‘the eternal note of sadness’ and ‘the turbid ebb and flow / of human misery’ and (almost) ends with the admonition ‘Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!,’ ‘Grover Leach’ begins in courtship and ends with divorce, economic ruin, and suicide. Even Arnold’s reason for his admonition — ‘for the world, which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams, / So various, so beautiful, so new, / Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; / And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night’ — seems less grim, because it is less particular, than the fate to which Tranter consigns Grover. Grover’s death, though solitary and self-inflicted, alludes to the night battle at Epipolae — when the Athenian army attacked itself as well as its enemy because no one could see — to which the last two lines of ‘Dover Beach’ refer. And the foreboding Dover Beach resembles the farm after Grover’s death:
And so the farm sleeps, waiting for a new
owner, and Rover waits too in that yellow light
that seems to paint the wet sand with pain
so it resembles a watery plain
where screaming seabirds dash their reflected flight
over the glitter of the State Fair, Saturday night. 
Although both poems offer little consolation, Tranter’s ‘Grover Leach’ offers none. This rewrite of Arnold’s poem might begin in parody, but it ends in stark confirmation of the negative catalogue that Arnold attaches to the world: Grover’s world has ‘neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.’
Other terminals work with newer texts as their sources and forego revision and parody as they seek to use the terminal form to establish connections to the authors of the original poems. Divided into three separate poems — ‘Que Viva Mexico!,’ ‘Gallop Along! or Hurry Back,’ and ‘The Inca Mystery’ — Frank O’Hara’s ‘3 Poems About Kenneth Koch’ pays light-hearted tribute to his friend. In Tranter’s version, the titles for individual poems have been dropped and numbers are used instead to distinguish the three poems from each other; and the individual poems are not the same length as O’Hara’s. The first O’Hara poem, ‘Que Viva Mexico!,’ reads:
May I tell you how much I love your poems?
It’s as if a great pipeline had been illicitly tapped
Although Tranter has kept O’Hara’s end-words, his approach in the poem differs markedly from O’Hara’s. He has kept the subject indicated by the poem’s title — Kenneth Koch — but that subject has changed significantly in Tranter’s poem. The Koch in O’Hara’s ‘3 Poems’ is a close friend, and O’Hara addresses him directly, in the second person, in the poem; the Koch in Tranter’s ‘Three Poems’ is an invention and is appropriately referred to in the third person. For O’Hara, Koch is the addressee and the subject of the poem; for Tranter, Koch is the subject. This shift in focus and the change to the original poem’s structure allow Tranter to rewrite O’Hara’s ‘3 Poems About Kenneth Koch’ without pretending to the knowledge of Koch that O’Hara possessed. His handling of the terminal conveys respect both for the original poem (even as he rewrites it) and for Koch (even as he intentionally miswrites him). At the same time, Tranter enters this community, however vicariously, making clear his admiration for both poets.
In the second part of the second poem in ‘3 Poems About Kenneth Koch,’ O’Hara offers lavish praise: ‘Under the careful care of our admiration his greatness / appears like the French for ‘gratuitous act’ and we’re proud / of our Hermes, the fastest literary figure of his time.’ The overlapping lines in Tranter’s terminal, however, continue the anti-portraiture of the first poem: ‘He thinks constantly on the greatness / of Edna St. Vincent Millay. He’s quietly proud / of his conversational Greek, and one time / he gobbled a whole bag of bagels in Dinky’s Delicatessen.’ In the third poem of each poet, both O’Hara and Tranter consider the whereabouts of Koch, who is apparently in Mexico. Missing his friend, O’Hara tells Koch to ‘hurry,’ and when the telephone rings at the end of the poem, he answers, ‘Hello. Kenneth?,’ insinuating that Koch has made contact with him. Tranter begins by ‘pondering the Orientations of Kenneth’ then claims that he ‘leaves for Mexico, and once there, decides to vanish — / a pop, a flash, and a small, perfectly-formed miasma / has entirely replaced him.’ The rest of the poem describes the aftermath of his supposed disappearance, and, unlike O’Hara, Tranter ends not with the hope of contact, but with ‘the loss of the illuminations of Kenneth.’ For Tranter, the loss is less a personal loss than a literary loss, as the poem demonstrates that his relationship to Koch is primarily literary, not personal; and while he can adopt O’Hara’s end-words for his ‘Three Poems About Kenneth Koch,’ he cannot attain — for reasons of geography and time — the same kind of relationship that O’Hara had with Koch. Thus, Tranter’s gesture toward community must remain a literary gesture.
As ‘Three Poems About Kenneth Koch’ shows, Tranter’s terminals can allude closely — in details and/or conception — to their sources yet deviate from them at crucial points. ‘Paid Meridian’ both follows and departs from its source, Diane di Prima’s ‘On Sitting Down to Write, I Decide Instead to Go to Fred Herko’s Concert.’ (The poem’s title is an anagram of di Prima’s name.) Di Prima’s poem relies on fragmentation, quick shifts, and occasional rhyme for its rhythmic effects, which range from purposely clumsy doggerel (‘the long cry of goose / or some such bird / I never heard / your orange tie / a sock in the eye’) to the colloquial (‘smelly movies & crabs I’ll never get’) to the high lyrical (‘O the dark caves of obligations,’ ‘O all that wind’), which is then undercut by the self-conscious statements ‘(alack)’ and ‘Even Lord & Taylor don’t quite keep it out.’ These effects contribute to the overall sense of movement in the poem, which never settles into anything but the constancy of motion. This constant movement, of course, is suggested in the title: as she sits down (to write), she gets up (to go).
Tranter’s ‘Paid Meridian,’ however, dwells. Although the poem contains movement, the movement is limited to the physical, when the narrator leaves his apartment for a party and later returns to his apartment. In ‘Paid Meridian,’ someone named Joan telephones the narrator, who had just started to work on a drawing. Suddenly the narrator is at a party at Joan’s apartment, then on a bus on his way home because ‘parties make me anxious.’ Conceived as a dramatic monologue, ‘Paid Meridian’ remains in a single mode — the colloquial. Whereas the voice in di Prima’s poem jumps, Tranter’s stays consistent. The result is that ‘Paid Meridian’ seems more distant than ‘On Sitting Down to Write’; the dramatic monologue has removed the author from the poem and is presented as a clearly literary work with a literary tradition. Di Prima’s poem is all di Prima even as it refuses to identify with any single poetic mode. At the end of her poem, di Prima affirms her presence: ‘I came here / after all.’ But in ‘Paid Meridian,’ Tranter further effaces his (and his narrator’s) presence: ‘there’s nobody here, / really, nobody at all.’
By simultaneously acknowledging and effacing the sources of his terminals, Tranter simultaneously acknowledges and effaces his own role in writing them. Although all forms, whether traditional or invented, raise issues of conservation and innovation, originality and influence, Tranter’s terminals are unique because they combine the conservative, influence-embracing aspect of traditional forms with the innovative aims of new forms. They depend on the existence of other poems even as they replace almost all the words of those poems. The terminal is further enriched by the opportunities it provides for responding to others’s poetry, whether through parody, homage, or revision. Although it is too soon to know if the terminal will become an influential form, Tranter has laid a robust foundation for other poets seeking the challenges and pleasures of form, the pull of tradition and the openness of experimentation.
 A more oblique triangulation appears in Tranter’s ‘Elegy, after James Schuyler’ (originally published as ‘Respirating Buds,’ which is an anagram of its source, Schuyler’s ‘Buried at Springs’). Although indirect, Schuyler’s poem mentions O’Hara (‘it’s eleven years since / Frank sat at this desk and / saw and heard it all’) and mourns the passing of time without him (‘even the boulder quite / literally is not the same’). Tranter’s elegy mentions neither O’Hara nor Schuyler, but could refer to them through certain details—‘a beach house,’ ‘a diary,’ ‘a talent,’ ‘the snapshot’—that seem like potential clues and make the question ‘How much have I suppressed?’ an invitation to sleuthing. In both elegies, the poems exude feelings of loss without resorting to sentimentality.
 Though, given di Prima’s association with the Beat poets, perhaps the effect is intended to be more performative than comic.
I’ve been writing and publishing poetry for half a century. Now and then I receive enquiries from people starting out to be a writer, asking me to read their manuscripts (for nothing) and tell them what they should do to become a famous published poet, or at least a published poet. I don’t have the time or the inclination to read poetry manuscripts or to write lots of personal letters, and since what I say is always the same, here it is.
French novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars, with his wife. Photo by
… He is clutching her left hand, not his own right hand: he didn’t have a right hand when this photograph was taken. Photographer unknown. Wikipedia: Frédéric-Louis Sauser, better known as Blaise Cendrars, was a Swiss-born novelist and poet who became a naturalized French citizen in 1916. He was a writer of considerable influence in the European modernist movement. He died in 1961. Some quotes: “Only a soul full of despair can ever attain serenity and, to be in despair, you must have loved a good deal and still love the world.” And: “you make me laugh, with your metaphysical anguish, its just that you’re scared silly, frightened of life, of men of action, of action itself, of lack of order. But everything is disorder, dear boy. Vegetable, mineral and animal, all disorder, and so is the multitude of human races, the life of man, thought, history, wars, inventions, business and the arts, and all theories, passions and systems. Its always been that way. Why are you trying to make something out of it? And what will you make? what are you looking for? There is no Truth. There’s only action, action obeying a million different impulses, ephemeral action, action subjected to every possible and imaginable contingency and contradiction, Life. Life is crime, theft, jealousy, hunger, lies, disgust, stupidity, sickness, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, piles of corpses. what can you do about it, my poor friend?”
The UK Guardian says: “Blaise Cendrars – or the ‘son of Homer’ as John Dos Passos called him – is himself a strange kind of fiction: born in La Chaux-de-Fonds of a Scottish mother and Swiss father, he claimed that he left home aged 15 to work in Russia during the revolution of 1905. He was a bee-keeper, a film maker, a chef, a picture-house pianist, a watchmaker, and a traveller with drunken gypsies. He spent the first world war fighting with the French foreign legion, where he lost his arm in combat, became an art critic, befriended Picasso, sailed the seven seas, shovelled coal in China, amassed and lost huge fortunes and had his own gossip column in a Hollywood newspaper. Nobody knows how much of this is actually true. Though he certainly lost an arm in the first world war, it is possible Blaise Cendrars was pulling more than one or two legs.”
More — much more — here in the TLS: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1462845.ece.
Here’s an article from Arstechnica.com that talks about the nightmare of Science funding now in the USA. Just change the word ‘Science’ to the word ‘Humanities’ and you have the problem; the problem that’s turning humanities faculties today into sheltered workshops for dullards:
Like any researcher, [Tim] Berners-Lee had to find support to work on his idea. He wrote up a 14-page proposal and sent it to his boss at CERN, Mike Sendall, who famously scribbled the following on the front-page: ‘Vague, but exciting…’ We are all very lucky that Berners-Lee was in a time and place that gave the young engineer some latitude to pursue his vague but creative idea, one that would ultimately change the world. If Berners-Lee submitted that idea to government funding agencies for support, who knows where the Internet would be today?
‘There’s a current problem in biomedical research,’ says American biochemist Robert Lefkowitz, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. ‘The emphasis is on doing things which are not risky. To have a grant proposal funded, you have to propose something and then present what is called preliminary data, which is basically evidence that you’ve already done what you’re proposing to do. If there’s any risk involved, then your proposal won’t be funded.‘[…]
‘A truly innovative idea cannot be judged by peers: if it is truly innovative, no peer has any clue about it; if peers already know about it, it is not innovative’ said John Ioannidis, head of the Stanford Prevention Research Centre in California. Ioannidis and others published a recent analysis called ‘Conform and be Funded’ where they show that safer, established ideas have a much better chance of being funded at the NIH than novel, creative ones. [Emphasis added.] [More here]
Kenneth Rexroth, poems and music. You can hear four audio tracks of Rexroth reading his poems from the “Live at the Blackhawk” LP, recorded in San Francisco, at Jacket Magazine: http://jacketmagazine.com/23/rex-audio.html
Dozens of photos from recent Conferences and Conversations and Readings at the University of Sydney and Gleebooks and Sappho bookstore… Thanks mainly to the indefatigable Kate Lilley… and some visiting American scholars and poets, i.e. Lyn Hejinian, Carla Harryman, and Barrett Watten, and visiting Englishman and poet John Wilkinson… here: http://poeticsresearch.com/?page_id=1156
A Poetics Symposium Department of English, University of Sydney
7-8 July 2014
Photo: John Wilkinson (left) and Kate Lilley (background) at Gleebooks, 2014-06-30, photo John Tranter
This exciting 2 day symposium on experimental writing and poetics features Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian and Barrett Watten, three of the most significant and influential architects of the movement which has come to be known as Language writing, live and in person. The important English poet-critic, John Wilkinson, will also give a keynote reading. A fantastic lineup of participants from around Australia includes: Pam Brown, Andy Carruthers, Kate Fagan, Toby Fitch, Anna Gibbs, Ross Gibson, Melissa Hardie, Luke Harley, Martin Harrison, Fiona Hile, Eddie Hopely, Ella O’Keefe, Astrid Lorange, Kate Lilley, Philip Mead, Peter Minter, Sam Moginie, Gig Ryan, Chris Rudge, John Tranter, Ann Vickery, Corey Wakeling and Jess Wilkinson.
The Symposium will end with a celebratory reading at Sappho Books, 51 Glebe Point Rd, Sydney, July 8, 7pm.
Also join us for a pre-symposium reading at Gleebooks on June 30, 6 for 6.30pm with Pam Brown, John Tranter and John Wilkinson.
Registration: $60 waged/$40 unwaged; day rate $35/$25
Enquiries: Associate Professor Kate Lilley, Director of Creative Writing, Department of English, U Sydney. firstname.lastname@example.org
This event is hosted by the School of Arts, Letters and Media and the Department of English at U Sydney.
Photo: poet Pam Brown reading at Gleebooks, 2014-06-30, photo John Tranter
Chapter II. Syntax
SHALL AND WILL
IT is unfortunate that the idiomatic use, while it comes by nature to southern Englishmen (who will find most of this section superfluous), is so complicated that those who are not to the manner born can hardly acquire it; and for them the section is in danger of being useless. In apology for the length of these remarks it must be said that the short and simple directions often given are worse than useless. The observant reader soon loses faith in them from their constant failure to take him right; and the unobservant is the victim of false security.
When I saw the finished copy of the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry in the early 1990s, which Philip Mead and I had laboured over for years, I got quite a shock. Here is the cover.
It is a montage of every Australian image cliché you could imagine: traffic on an expressway, a sprig of leaves, a stockman on his motor-bike with three cattle dogs, a wise old Aboriginal, an abandoned building in the bush, lots of other stuff, and a red-haired freckle-faced Australian teenage girl at an Australian beach, with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
Except for one thing: I immediately recognised the montaged photo of the red-haired freckle-faced teenage girl at the beach. It had been taken a few years before on the beach at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the north-east of the USA, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background, by the rightly-famous American photographer Joel Meyerowitz. Here is a tiny, feeble copy of the huge and detailed large-format original. That freckle-faced kid would now be around fifty years old, if she survived skin cancer.
It features in his widely-distributed book Redheads. Every graphic designer had a copy… I suspect even Penguin’s graphic designers.
What is it doing on the front of the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry? Well, I can’t be quite sure, but I guess a lot of our poetry is influenced by American models.
In fact ‘The American Model’ is the title of a huge and important poetry conference held at Macquarie University in Sydney in May 1979. The book (a collection of the papers that resulted) was titled The American Model, Joan Kirkby, Ed. Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1982.
As for Penguin’s designers… Did I mention my disquiet to Penguin? No.