In 2009 Wollongong University conferred a doctorate of Creative Arts on the noted Australian poet John Tranter. The thesis submitted for this academic award (after three years of study) consisted of a book-length collection of poetry and a 30,000-word exegesis, and was titled “Distant Voices”. Many of the poems found their way, often radically changed, into John Tranter’s next book of poetry, Starlight: 150 Poems (UQP, 2010).
The thesis was highly commended by both examiners, one British, one Australian. The exegesis, a long literary-critical essay, has a special resonance for Australian scholars, for in it John Tranter, with a BA degree in English Literature and Psychology and a lifetime of poetry and criticism behind him, attempts to unravel the threads of influence that have formed his award-winning poetry, and positions his various achievements in an international context. He examines the poetry of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, the Australian hoax poet Ern Malley, and the contemporary US poet John Ashbery; he explores the implications of the Henry James story “The Figure in the Carpet”, and surveys the movies of Hitchcock and Louis Buñuel (among many others), and the psychological explorations of Freud and Lacan.
The thesis is too complex to summarise here, but let the examiners tell us about it:
Marker 1: Tranter is one of the most innovative and thoughtful poets to have wrestled with Ashbery as his precursor, and one of the most interesting aspects of “Distant Voices” is the way he pastiches, re-writes, re-angles, or defaces Ashbery poems in an agonistic struggle that closely mirrors, as he himself points out, Harold Bloom’s theories about the anxiety of influence... I... found the explanation of the sources of the poems in the opening “Vocoder” section of the poetic part of the thesis particularly illuminating. The [poems] inspired by Hitchcock films struck me as particularly good, and I was interested to learn of Tranter’s sense of affinity with Hitchcock in his discursive comments on these poems. They reveal his characteristically witty alertness to the limitations of particular genres (in this case film noir), but also captured with a delicate, dreamy fullness the hypnotic state in which we absorb characters, details, and narratives on the big screen. John Tranter is one of most distinguished poets of his era, and it seems to me inconceivable that this degree not be granted him. I certainly support the awarding of it in the strongest possible terms.
Marker 2: This is an outstanding work, by far the best Creative Writing doctoral submission I have read and I have no reservations about recommending it. Its excellence lies in the quality of the creative component (which, given its author's status and achievement, is not surprising) and in an exegetical section which is valuable because the issues that the poems themselves raise are so central to questions about poetry, creativity, tradition, voice and a host of other areas. Critical components of Creative theses are always problems and this is an excellent exegesis which might well serve as a model for how it can be done... This is a beautifully presented thesis - again it could serve as a model of its kind for future students.
The first printing of this thesis (five copies) went to the University of Wollongong, and a handful of friends. In 2011 John Tranter typeset and designed a second edition, utilising a lifetime’s skills in book design and typography. This limited edition (of twenty copies only) has been carefully bound by Newbold and Collins, Glebe, New South Wales, in boards and library buckram, with a proper headband and matching tailband. Eight copies went to friends; a dozen remain. They are for sale for a limited time to Australian libraries, in the hope that the text will find a permanent home and act as a resource for scholars of Australian poetry in the years to come. The cost has been set at just enough to recover the costs of typesetting, printing, binding and postage.
This is a beautiful and valuable scholarly resource, available for the sum of $125.00 from
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This second edition of the thesis with minor corrections was designed, edited and typeset by the author on 20 January 2011 and printed in an edition of only twenty copies.
This book is typeset in Dante, utilising old-style numerals and true small capitals. The font was designed for hand setting in metal type by Giovanni Mardersteig during the 1940s and 50s. Originally hand-cut by Charles Malin, Dante was adapted for mechanical composition in 1957. The new digital font version has been redrawn by Ron Carpenter at Monotype.
A poem from the poetry section of the thesis is handwritten by the poet in ink and bound into every copy. Each copy bears a different poem, written in Noodler’s permanent “bulletproof” ink “La Reine Mauve”, which contains a chemical that binds permanently to the cellulose in the paper, forming an image impossible to erase by any method.
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