The Best Australian Poems, 2011

In 2011 I was asked to guest-edit The Best Australian Poems anthology, which turned out to be very popular. My Introduction mentioned in passing Homer, rock’n’roll, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ashbery, Luis Buñuel’s funny and clever movie «The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie» (1972), Freud, Slavoj Žižek, the Australian hoax poet Ern Malley and Henry James.

I have reprinted my Introduction, and an Interview conducted by the publishers, Black Inc, in Melbourne, on my Main Site at

Altogether the material adds up to about 9 printed pages.

I am currently compiling the 2012 edition of the anthology. In 2013 a new editor will take over.

Jacket: Gone to Philadelphia

Cognac Jacquet

‘The Elephant Has Left the Room’: Jacket magazine and the Internet

by John Tranter

Available now on the website of the Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature


Australian poet John Tranter trained in most aspects of publishing, from hand-lettering to editing, from litho platemaking to screen printing, and developed an early familiarity with computers. The development of the Internet in the 1990s found him armed with a formidable array of skills. He published the free international Internet-only magazine Jacket single-handed in 1997. Jacket quickly grew to become the most widely read and highly respected literary magazine ever published from Australia. In late 2010 John Tranter gave it to the University of Pennsylvania, where it continues to flourish. This memoir traces John Tranter’s publication of literary materials on the Internet including the technical and literary problems faced by Jacket, and outlines the many other projects that resulted in the Internet publication of over fifty thousand mostly Australian poems, articles, reviews, interviews and photographs.

Over 800 Jacket reviews

The list below provides quick links to some eight hundred book reviews in «Jacket» magazine, up to and including issue 40, sorted by the author of the book under review. It is about 60 printed pages long.

You can also read one hundred and twenty «Jacket» interviews

(Various authors), «Questionnaire, Translation by Bill Berkson, then answered by Harry Mathews, then answered by Andrei Codrescu, with thanks to Constance Lewallen and Harry Mathews, and with a brief note on Proust.», Jacket magazine, reviewed by Sophie Calle and Grégoire Bouillier — [Link]

(Various authors), «23 recent American chapbooks», Various, reviewed by Noah Eli Gordon — [Link]

Garry Shead: “The Apotheosis of Ern Malley”… one meaning of apotheosis is “the elevation of someone to divine status; deification.”

Michael Ackland, «(excerpt from) Damaged Men» [About the Ern Malley hoax], Allen and Unwin Sydney (excerpt, not a review) — [Link]

Robert Adamson, «The Golden Bird: New and selected poems» reviewed by Joseph Donahue — [Link]

Robert Adamson, «Inside Out – an autobiography», Text Publishing, reviewed by Douglas Barbour — [Link]

Robert Adamson, «Mulberry Leaves – New & Selected Poems 1970-2001», Paper Bark Press, Australia, reviewed by Douglas Barbour — [Link]

Robert Adamson, «The Goldfinches of Baghdad» reviewed by Douglas Barbour — [Link]

Kim Addonizio: «Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within», reviewed by Cathleen Calbert — [Link]

Adam Aitken, «», Vagabond Press, Sydney, Australia, reviewed by Greg McLaren — [Link]

Adam Aitken: «Eighth Habitation», reviewed by Michelle Cahill — [Link]

Anne-Marie Albiach, trans. Keith Waldrop, «Figured Image», The Post-Apollo Press. October 2006. 94 pages $18.00. ISBN: 978-0-942996-59-3, reviewed by Donald Wellman — [Link]

George Albon, «Momentary Songs», reviewed by Michael Cross — [Link]

Charles Alexander, «Certain Slants», reviewed by Jonathan Stalling — [Link]

Richard James Allen, «The Kamikaze Mind», reviewed by Dr Mark Seton — [Link]

Joe Amato, «Industrial Poetics: Demo Tracks for a Mobile Culture», University of Iowa Press. 200 pp., reviewed by Mark Wallace — [Link]

Beth Anderson, «The Habitable World», Instance Press, Santa Cruz, 2001, reviewed by Camille Guthrie — [Link]

John Anderson, «New & Selected Poems,1978–97», Zeus Publications at, reviewed by Kris Hemensley — [Link]

Martin Anderson, «The Hoplite Journals», Shearsman UK at, reviewed by Carolyn van Langenberg — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «(various titles)», (Various publishers), reviewed by Roberto Tejada — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «(various titles)», (Various publishers), reviewed by Alan Golding — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «Lip Service», Coach House Books (Toronto, 2001), reviewed by Bob Perelman — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «Lip Service», Coach House Books (Toronto, 2001), reviewed by Bill Friend — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «Lip Service», Coach House Books (Toronto, 2001), reviewed by Barbara Cole — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «Lip Service», Coach House Books (Toronto, 2001), reviewed by Brennan Sherry — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «Lip Service», Coach House Books (Toronto, 2001), reviewed by Gregg Biglieri — [Link]

Bruce Andrews, «Lip Service», Coach House Books (Toronto, 2001), reviewed by Joel Bettridge — [Link]

Ralph Angel, «Twice Removed», Sarabande Books, reviewed by Ethan Paquin — [Link]

David Antin and Charles Bernstein, «A Conversation with David Antin», Granary Books, New York, reviewed by Caroline Bergvall — [Link]

Francisco Aragón, «Puerta Del Sol», reviewed by Craig Santos Perez — [Link]

Francisco Aragón: «Glow of our Sweat», reviewed by Craig Santos Perez — [Link]

Penny Arcade: «Bad Reputation: Performance, Essays, Interviews», reviewed by Noëlle Janaczewska — [Link]

Louis Armand, «Strange Attractors», Salt Publishing, 118pp. GBP£9.99. 1876857595 paper., reviewed by Bridie McCarthy — [Link]

Louis Armand: «Solicitations: Essays on Criticism and Culture», reviewed by Jeroen Nieuwland — [Link]

James Armstrong, «Blue Lash», by Daniel Godston — [Link]

Rae Armantrout, «Next Life», reviewed by Kristina Marie Darling

Rae Armantrout, «The Pretext», Green Integer Press, Copenhagen & Los Angeles, 2003, reviewed by Charles Alexander — [Link]

Rae Armantrout, «Up To Speed», Wesleyan University Press, reviewed by Robert Stanton — [Link]

Rae Armantrout: «Versed», reviewed by Rob Stanton — [Link]

Rae Armantrout: «Versed», Wesleyan University Press, 2009, reviewed by Alan Davies — [Link]

Bob Arnold, «Sunswumthru a Building», reviewed by Louise Landes Levi — [Link]

John Ashbery, «Chinese Whispers», Farrar Straus Giroux, reviewed by Harriet Zinnes — [Link]

John Ashbery, «Chinese Whispers», Farrar Straus Giroux, reviewed by Tom Devaney — [Link]

John Ashbery, «Girls on the Run», Farrar Straus Giroux, reviewed by Michael Leddy — [Link]

John Ashbery, «Girls on the Run», Farrar Straus Giroux, reviewed by Forrest Gander — [Link]

John Ashbery, «Your Name Here», Farrar Straus Giroux, reviewed by Ramez Qureshi — [Link]

John Ashbery, «100 Multiple-Choice Questions», Adventures in Poetry, 50 Kenwood St. #1, Brookline, MA 02446 USA, reviewed by Tom Clark — [Link]

John Ashbery, «A Worldly Country» reviewed by Forrest Gander — [Link]

John Ashbery and Joe Brainard, «The Vermont Notebook», Granary Books/ Z Press, ISBN 1-887123-59-8, reviewed by Larry Sawyer — [Link]

Difficult Rider

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

More on my Home Site here.

120 Jacket interviews

The list below provides quick links to one hundred and twenty interviews in Jacket magazine up to and including Jacket 40 (late 2010), sorted by the interviewee’s last name.

Robert Adams photo: Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, © Robert Adams and the Fraenkel Gallery
Robert Adams photo: Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, © Robert Adams and the Fraenkel Gallery: Click on the image for a larger view.

Photographer Robert Adams: Frish Brandt of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, in conversation with Noel King, April 12th 2008: [Link].

Joe Amato in conversation with Chris Pusateri, email, mid-2008: [Link].

Bob Arnold: Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Vermont Poet: Bob Arnold in conversation with Gerald Hausman: [Link]

Bob Arnold in conversation with Kent Johnson, 10 March 2010: [Link].

John Ashbery in conversation with John Tranter, New York City, 20 April 1985: [Link]

John Ashbery in conversation with John Tranter, New York City, May 1988: [Link]

Pete Ayrton, publisher of Serpent’s Tail books, London, in conversation with Noel King: [Link]

Eric Baus in conversation with Cynthia Arrieu-King: Bushwick, NY, Monday May 4, 2009[Link].

Tom Beckett in Conversation with Richard Lopez: [Link]

Émile Benveniste in conversation with Pierre Daix, 1968, translated by Matt Reeck: [Link]

Caroline Bergvall in conversation with John Stammers, first published in Magma magazine in 1999.: [Link]

Bill Berkson in Conversation with Robert Glück, August 2005: [Link]

Charles Bernstein: «Setting the World on Fire» — Charles Bernstein in conversation with Leonard Schwartz, 15 March 2004. Transcript by Zoe Ward, from a radio interview on Cross Cultural Poetics, KAOS 89.3FM Olympia: [Link]

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge: Three Conversations with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Laura Hinton, 2003: [Link]

Ken Bolton in conversation with Peter Minter, 12 October 2004 to 29 April 2005: [Link]

The Death of Harry Hooton

hooton-bookAn MP3 audio file of the program as broadcast on Radio Helicon, Radio National, on the evening of 18 December 1988, recorded off-air. Stereo, duration 1 hour 11 minutes 28 seconds. Producer: Amanda Stewart. Script and narration by Mr Sasha Soldatow. With the voices of Harry Hooton, recorded on his deathbed in 1961, Sasha Soldatow, Margaret Fink, Bob Cumming, and others.

Harry Hooton (1908–1961) was born in England and migrated to Australia at the age of sixteen. He became an Australian poet, philosopher and anarchist. He was part of the libertarian Sydney Push in Sydney during the 1950s, with connections to many other Australian and overseas writers. Hooton never completed his philosophical treatise, titled “Militant Materialism”, although he did complete six of its eight chapters. His philosophy was a simple one: “Leave man alone, man is perfect. Concentrate instead on matter.” He formulated what he called “The Politics of Things”. Hooton saw proof copies of his last book, «It Is Great To Be Alive», published by Margaret Elliott (now Margaret Fink), just before he died of cancer in 1961.

Download the MP3 file from my Home Site here.

Basil Bunting and the CIA

A recent poem of mine was published in the Melbourne «Age» a while ago, on 3 March 2012. No, not Melbourne in tropical Florida: the less sunny Melbourne, near the bottom of Australia. The Saturday «Age» boasts a cultural section, and the poetry editor there is Gig Ryan, who kindly agreed to publish my obscure poem on Basil Bunting. Here it is:

Poem Beginning With a Line by Bunting

Boasts time mocks cumber Rome.
Roasts thyme scents set on ledge.
Ghosts rhyme under Wren’s dome.
Stone gives axe sharper edge.
Anger, pride, youth are slowly spent.
Pound disposes, humans merely err.
Plain prose is spoken like a gent,
but verse stirs up Northern burr.

He spies for MI6 and Anglo Oil
stirring up trouble in Tehran.
Home at last. Brag, tenor bull.
Every brag attracts another fan.
      Bye, Basil Bunting, meet your God.
      Poet now rests beneath the sod.

It’s certainly not a “journalism poem”, the kind of light reading that makes its point and moves on, leaving the average newspaper reader slightly enlightened and pleasantly satisfied. No, like many of Shakespeare’s sonnets, on which it is modelled, it’s relentlessly obscure, and for that I apologise. Let me explain.

Basil Bunting beside the River Rawthey, Cumbria, 1980. Photograph copyright Jonathan Williams, 1994, 1998

The focus of the poem is British poet Basil Bunting, 1900-1985. He was born in Northumberland in Northern England, and developed non-conformist Quaker beliefs, a thick Northern brogue and a Northerner’s distrust of “southrons” (people from the south of the North.) He spent a traumatic year in prison in 1918 as a conscientious objector, and later travelled widely. Bunting’s poetry began to show the influence of Ezra Pound, whom he had befriended in the 1920s. He visited Pound in Rapallo, Italy, and later settled there with his family from 1931 to 1933.

During World War II, Bunting served in British Military Intelligence in Persia under cover of working as a journalist for «The Times», and after the war he continued to serve on the British Embassy staff in Tehran until he was expelled by Muhammad Mussadegh (or Mossadeq) in 1952. He was active in stirring up mob violence and demonstrations against Mossadeq, who had been elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1951 by the Majlis (Parliament of Iran) by a democratic vote of 79 to 12.

Bunting was part of the plot engineered by the CIA, MI6 and Anglo Oil to depose Mossadeq, whose administration, as Wikipedia says, “introduced a wide range of social reforms but is most notable for its nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC/AIOC) (later British Petroleum or BP).” They go on to say that he “was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the United States CIA at the request of the British MI6.” Soon Shah Pahlevi and the CIA-trained SAVAK, his repressive secret police force, took power.

Wikipedia says “The coup is widely believed to have significantly contributed to anti-American sentiment in Iran and the Middle East. The 1979 Iranian Revolution deposed the Shah and replaced the pro-Western royal dictatorship with the largely anti-Western Islamic Republic of Iran.” That’s the Iran regime that, thirty years later, is now keen to build nuclear weapons and “wipe Israel from the map”.

Literary Lynbrook

The Literary Thoroughfares of Lynbrook, Victoria: In the fairly new suburb of Lynbrook, Australia, in the South-eastern Melbourne City of Casey, over fifty streets and parks are named after Australian writers. They appear between the South Gippsland Highway and the Westernport Highway. The following are most of the “literary streets” in Lynbrook, with brief notes about the writers who are likely to have inspired the names of the eponymous thoroughfares. Naturally I am pleased to find my own name among them. It’s a kind of cartographic apotheosis common enough to forgotten aldermen and sporting persons whose evanescent glory has now faded, but rare among my profession. Though I am troubled by a nagging thought that, as most of the other writers are deceased and in many cases thoroughly historical, perhaps the local council thought I was historical too. Oh well.

I am pleased to note that there is a baby-sitting service in Tranter Square with a name that appeals to me: “Mum’s Day Off”, 22 Tranter Square, Lynbrook, Vic, 3975 Australia…

[…More on my Home Site here.]


Rosemary Dobson in conversation with John Tranter, 2004

Rosemary Dobson, photo by Kate Callas, Sydney Morning Herald, 2011

The Australian poet Rosemary Dobson, whose first book «In a Convex Mirror» was published in 1944, and whose new «Collected Poems» came out in early 2012, passed away on 27 June 2012. She was 92 and had been living in a Canberra nursing home. John Tranter interviewed her at her home in 2004.

Rosemary Dobson: I was born in 1920. It wasn’t a very good time. I was born in Sydney. But I want to go further back than that, actually, because… my mother was Australian, my father was English. Nobody had… none of these families that I was connected with had any money… it was all a very simple life. Of course that period was very simple, anyway. My father was the son of the English poet Austin Dobson.

[Henry Austin Dobson (18 January 1840–2 September 1921) was an English poet, critic, biographer and bureaucrat at the Board of Trade. He was noted for introducing French forms into English verse and for his studies in eighteenth-century literature. There were nine other children.]

Austin Dobson wrote [on] eighteenth-century criticism; there were quite a lot of his books… I heard about them from a fairly early age, but not before I had started writing poetry myself at about seven years.

But he [my father] (Arthur Dobson) came to Australia by way of South America. He was an engineer. And my mother really always wanted better education than she had and worked towards this, and I suppose it was natural that when they met… here was this son of an English literary family. It would have appealed to her very much to be interested in him… anyway, he was on his own in Australia. He had come here for his health. And so they got married.

I was the second child. There were two of us; myself and my sister Ruth. We lived in a house in Northbridge in Sydney. It’s quite different now.[…]

Three Australian Poets


I know what the tyranny of distance is all about. I grew up on an isolated farm five miles from the nearest country town, which was itself two hundred miles from the nearest city. Few if any of my school friends went on to university, and most became farmers. But I was lucky in my choice of parents: my father was a teacher, and my mother taught me to read before I went to school.

Not that my taste in reading was all that advanced. As a teenager my favorite books were about the adventures of the fictional air ace Biggles. I would visit the school library on Wednesday afternoons to search for the latest recounting of the aeronautical adventures of this plucky British chap. The so-called library was in fact a storeroom at the back of the Year Two classroom, and you had to push aside the cricket bats and scuffed leather basketballs to reach the shelf high at the back where the “B” titles began. When I had devoured the half dozen Biggles titles the school had invested in, I started over again, hoping that my lazy memory would make the twice-told tales seem fresh…

Sex and Anarchy

coombs-coverSee my three-page review of «Sex and Anarchy» by Anne Coombs, about the Sydney ‘Push’. 1996. [3pp]

“Like the grasshopper in the fable, they lazed in the sun or in the gloom of a hotel bar, gambling, drinking, fornicating and endlessly talking. Though they had a critique for every aspect of society, they had no remedies. They produced dozens of argumentative little magazines, but they created hardly any art, film or music. They were proud of their lack of illusions — their dedication to the truth seemed bracing to some, and brutal to others. They appeared to have no avarice, and they opposed violence of any sort. They could have been Zen saints dedicated to the life of contemplation and non-action, except for their sloth, lust, and jealousy. They were the Sydney “Push”, a loose and changing group of bohemian intellectuals, university lecturers, adventurous secretaries, journalists, gamblers, writers, free-thinking businessmen and students. [….]

For all their faults, it should be remembered that they were better people in many ways — more frank and honest, more socially aware and concerned — than those who chose the way of conformity and the compromises and hypocrisy that went with it.”

What is Skeuomorphism?

The immensely useful and free encyclopaedia Wikipedia provides a clear definition of “skeuomorphism” (skeuos vessel or tool, morphe shape). A skeuomorph is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original. Skeuomorphs may be deliberately employed to make the new item appear to be comfortably old and familiar, such as copper cladding on zinc coins, to make them look like old pennies, or computer printed postage with a circular town name and cancellation lines, meant to resemble the original circular stamps used by humans in post offices.

An alternative definition is “an element of design or structure that serves little or no purpose in the artifact fashioned from the new material but was essential to the object made from the original material”. This definition is narrower in scope and ties skeuomorphs to changes in materials.


The word is recently popular in English in 2012, I suspect because of the furore about Apple’s skeuomorphic designs for its ubiquitous computer software. See the little bit of torn paper just below the fake-leather strip across the head of the fake paper iCal calendar in the picture, just below the fake-embossed word “Year”? Torn paper? On a computer screen?!?! What were they thinking!?!?

But relax! The practice goes back to the birth of civilisation. Ancient Greek architecture abounds in skeuomorphism.

I like the Corinthian column, the capital (top) of which carries an ornate carved and originally painted stone representation of the acanthus leaf once used to decorate the top of the original wooden columns that long before had preceded the stone versions.



Egyptian columns, with their tops carved and painted to resemble plants abundant in the waters of the Nile — lilies or bundles of the lotus or the papyrus reed — were no doubt the inspiration for this later practice.

Wikipedia notes that blue jeans have authentic-looking brass rivet caps covering the functional steel rivet beneath; they further note that some digital cameras play a recorded audio clip of a conventional single-lens reflex camera mirror slap and shutter click. And so it goes.

Other examples:

I love these: they’re so silly! Tiny, non-functional handles on small glass maple syrup containers. The containers were once large earthenware jugs, which needed a handle. Not any more, but the handle still says “maple syrup”, even if the little bottle contains — yes, you need to take out your glasses and read the fine print — 99 per cent corn syrup.

Advice to a New Writer

Forlorn PoetI wrote and published poetry for half a century. Now and then I receive enquiries from people starting out to be a writers, asking me to read their manuscripts (for nothing) and tell them what they should do to become a famous published poet, or at least a published poet. I don’t have the time or the inclination to read poetry manuscripts or to write personal letters, and since what I say is always the same, here it is.

Find another career.

Please. Take up etching, or photography. Work the midnight to dawn shift in a fast food takeaway joint, become a university student, drop out, hitch-hike around the world, work in the pay office of a military repatriation unit, be a mail delivery person, operate a process camera and develop printing plates in a print workshop, edit English translations of television subtitles in a dozen foreign languages, direct radio plays, sweep the floors at an art gallery, drive an old limousine for a living. I have done all those things. You will meet a better class of people, have more fun and lead a more valuable life. But if you insist on being a poet, read on.

Here’s what you need to do. In brief:

— Read widely.
— If you can manage it, travel.
— Write a lot, and then rewrite a lot.
— Publish persistently in a wide range of poetry magazines.
— Pay attention to the feedback you receive.
— Give up the idea that you will ever be famous or even well-known. You won’t.
— Obtain a job that you like and submerge yourself in the human race. These people are the reason you write poems.
— Stay away from charlatans, sycophants and famous writers.

[continued on my Main Site here.]

Free Grass: a dash of 1968!

John Tranter, Sydney, c.1969«Free Grass» magazine splashed into the pond of little “underground” magazines in Australia in 1968. Like most of the others («The Great Auk», «Ourglass», «Mok», «Cross-currents», «Transit» and «Free Poetry») it was roneod, the editorial standards were loose, to say the least, and there was a strong counter-cultural flavour to the thing. Strangest of all, it lived up to its title: it was literally free. Dozens of copies landed gratis in alternative and literary bookstores, to be given away to the bemused customers, and into the mailboxes of young poets and their friends. But when the magazine’s keen fans tried to contact the editor, they discovered two things: even though the magazine quoted generous rates of payment for contributions, no editor’s name was given, and there was no postal address. The truth slowly leaked out: one morning in late 1968 I (Sydney poet John Tranter, editor of «Transit» magazine) had written the whole of «Free Grass», all five foolscap pages of it from nine imaginary contributors each with his or her distinctive approach to verse, typing it directly onto mimeograph stencils, interspersing my spontaneous lyric effusions with nonsense sentences and fragments from a list of cryptic crossword clues in the daily paper. I ran it off the next day, and mailed out the copies.

You can read all five foolscap pages on my Main Site here: both as photographic copies of each page as printed by the steam-driven Gestetner machine, and as smooth, searchable HTML text. (Photo: John Tranter, Sydney, circa 1969.)

Uncle Wystan

Auden cover image

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

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

More here: