Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected
University of Queensland Press, 2006. 322 pages.
These notes are about 90 printed pages long.
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Author’s Note on the Notes below: all the poems in the book Urban Myths are listed here. Some poems have notes, some do not. The notes are published only here on the Internet, and not in the book. They are provided for whatever interest they may have, and are not meant to be necessary for an appreciation of the poems. Poems are sorted here according to the page order in the UQP edition.
In September 2006 Salt Publishing (Cambridge, UK) published a UK/US edition of the book, with different page numbers. (Cover image below; visit the Salt internet pages here.)
For each poem, the page number in the UQP edition and poem title are followed by the first line of the poem in italics, then by the note (if there is one) tagged with the poem’s line number which the note refers to, then by the publication history of the poem. Where two or more poems appear on one page, each poem title is preceded by the page number followed by a, b or c depending on the position of that poem on the page.
I should like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of bibliographic reference material provided as a subscription service by Austlit Gateway at http://www.austlit.edu.au/.
Some of the poems in this book use a device I have called ‘terminals’ — taking a poem by another writer, copying the words that end each line, discarding the original poem and its concerns, and inventing a new and different poem using the borrowed end-words. A detailed essay [»»] by US poet and critic Brian Henry examines my use of terminals in a dozen poems in great detail, and can be read on this site.
Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected was launched by Pam Brown at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037, on Friday 19 May 2006. Visit Gleebooks and buy the book on-line! International orders a speciality! See Trish Davies’ life-affirming photos of the event on her web log. Click on any of these photos to see a high-resolution version of the same photo.
Here’s the University of Queensland Press on the Internet. The book 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).
This file is about 85 printed pages long, and the linked files about 50 pages more. Please note that these notes are necessarily incomplete. Please notify me of any errors or typos, or any additions you would like to see: ...thanks. — J.T.
Revision date 2009-04-19
Page . Title as printed
001 . After Hölderlin
When I was a young man, a drink
Title] A version of Hölderlin’s ‘When I Was a Boy’ (Da ich ein Knabe war… ). Here’s the German original, with a plain English translation:
12: a little moon followed the usherette] The circle of light formed by the usherette’s flashlight pointed down to the floor.
Appears–in: Southerly vol.63 no.1, 2003, p.39. Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
003a . The Moment Of Waking
She remarks how the style of a whole age
Appears–in: The Penguin Book of Australian Verse, Editor: Harry Heseltine, Ringwood, Victoria and Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England : Penguin, 1972, p.455; The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, p.145, The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Editors: John Tranter, and Philip Mead, Penguin Australia, 1991, p.275; Landbridge : contemporary Australian poetry, Editor: John Kinsella, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1999, p.295. Collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.25.
003b . The City, the Tree
The city allows the trees a little space
Appears–in: Collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.13.
004 . The Visit
The children stoned us, the bony girl
Written after a visit to Aden and the Suez Canal in 1966.
Appears–in: Collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.16.
005a . Kabul
From the broken, moving window
Title: Kabul] Written after a visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, in the autumn of 1967.
3: chorus of camels] The top photo shows Lyn Grady (later Lyn Tranter) in front of a herd of wild camels that appeared one morning in the north-west Afghan desert near Herat, 1967. Below, the main street of Herat.
9: four thousand British corpses in the pass] An understatement. In January 1842 the British garrison in Kabul began a desperate retreat in the face of widespread Afghan hostility. As they struggled through the snowbound Khyber pass, the British were attacked by Ghilzai warriors. The British column of more than 16,000-strong (consisting of about 4,500 military personnel, both British and Indian, along with as many as 12,000 camp followers) was massacred in the thirty miles of treacherous gorges and passes lying between Kabul and Gandomak. Only one man survived: Dr William Brydon. (Wikipedia) Bottom photo: the Khyber pass, September 1967.
Appears–in: Southerly vol.28 no.4 1968, p.244. Collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.18.
005b . Rescue
The mountain broods on its own nightmare
6: the cross of blood and ice] The red cross symbol.
Appears–in: collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.30.
006a . Whitey
At dawn, there was a knocking about
Appears–in: collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.40.
006b . The Plane
The plane drones low over Idaho
Appears–in: The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, p.146; collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.39.
007 . The Non-Commercial Traveller
We found him down by the creek
I had not read any other work with this title when I wrote this poem, though other works with this title exist.
Appears–in: Australian Poetry Now, Editor: Thomas Shapcott, South Melbourne, Victoria : Sun Books, ca.1970, pp.128–129; collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.41.
008a . Mary Jane
I am the diver with the metal lung
Title: Mary Jane] Sometimes believed (mistakenly) to be a translation of ‘marijuana’.
Appears–in: Australian Poetry Now, Editor: Thomas Shapcott, South Melbourne, Victoria : Sun Books, ca.1970, p.129; collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.51.
008b . Machine
He lay in the sheets, almost
Appears–in: collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.54.
009 . Paint
The scholar finds time to teach
Appears–in: collected in Parallax and other poems, John Tranter, Poetry Australia no.34 June 1970 (a misprint on the half-title page wrongly dates the magazine as ‘June 1968’) p.56.
010a . Balance
The traveller slouches at the table
Written after a visit to Iran and Afghanistan in the autumn of 1967.
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.5.
010b . Bestiary
She haunts the bar in a loose, meandering fashion
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.6.
010c . Ward Five
A wrinkled print of myself
15: ‘princely nature of our elder brother’] From Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Âge d’or’, 1872.
17: ‘… may you not be long on the way!’] From John Ashbery, ‘Thoughts of a Young Girl’, collected in Contemporary American Poetry, Ed. Donald Hall, Penguin, Harmondsworth, Middlessex UK, 1962, page 148: Oh my daughter, / My sweetheart, daughter of my late employer, princess, / May you not be long on the way!’
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.7.
011 . On the Track of the Attainable
The ambitious minister from the smaller nation
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.9.
012a . Red Movie
when the new alphabet soup of the earth
Title: Red Movie] I had meant to call this poem (and my second book) ‘Blue Movie’. When I titled my first book Parallax I assumed that the title was original. Not so, said David Malouf upon seeing the book, and cited Nancy Cunard’s third collection of poems (Hogarth Press, 1925) with the same title. This time I went to the University of Sydney Library and trawled through their listing. Sure enough, Terry Southern had beaten me to title ‘Blue Movie’ with a book of rude vigour and bracing vulgarity. ‘Red’ hadn’t been taken, so Red Movie it was.
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.35.
012b . 1. The New Field of Knowledge
when the new alphabet soup of the earth
3: ‘sister to breath’] From Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Âge d’or’, 1872: ‘One of the voices/ always angelic/ — it is about me — / greenly expresses itself/ . . .and sings at this moment/ like a sister to breath . . .’ (All Rimbaud quotations in these notes are from Oliver Bernard’s excellent translation for the Penguin Collected Poems, 1962.)
13: a delicate cowboy, so blue, his dawn/ sky/ is/ too.] Borrowed from Ed Dorn’s poem ‘Vaquero’: ‘ . . .in the dark brown night/ your delicate cowboy stands quite still./ . . ./ Yi Yi, the cowboy’s eyes/ are blue. The top of the sky/ is too.’ The pun ‘dawn’/ ‘Dorn’ is deliberate.
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.37.
014 . 2. Extract from the Ice Diary
he apologised for the delay
84: départ! départ’] Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Départ’ (‘Departure’), section eight of ‘Illuminations’.
85: ma faim] Arthur Rimbaud, from the poem ‘Fêtes de la faim’, 1872: ‘Ma faim, Anne, Anne,/ fuis sur ton âne.’ (My hunger: Anne, Anne/ flee on your donkey.’)
112: bona fide travellers] From the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica: bona fide (Latin: in good faith), in law, a term implying the absence of all fraud or unfair dealing or acting. It is usually employed in conjunction with a noun, e.g… . “ bona fide traveller “ under the licensing acts, one whose lodging-place during the preceding night is at least 3 Miles distant from the place where he demands to be supplied with liquor, such distance being calculated by the nearest public thoroughfare. (UK)
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.38.
018 . 3. The Death Circus
the death circus moves in.
Appears–in: The Collins Book of Australian Poetry, Compiler: Rodney Hall, Sydney, New South Wales : William Collins, 1981, p.374; collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.42.
019 . 4. The Failure of Sentiment and the Evasion of Love
morning hunches like a gathering of men
147a: Section title: The Failure of Sentiment and the Evasion of Love] A chapter title from Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 1959; revised edition, Stein and Day, 1966.
193: ce n’est rien: jy suis, j’y suis toujours] (‘It is nothing; I am here, I am still here.’): Arthur Rimbaud, May 1872, the last line (italicised in the original) of the poem ‘Qu’est-ce pour nous, mon coeur, que les nappes de sang . . .’ (‘What does it matter to us, my heart, the sheets of blood… ’).
251: Khan coming out of Mongolia — / changes from the outside,/ Egyptian traits… ] Fragments copied from books lying to hand one day in the honi soit offices (the student weekly newspaper) at Sydney University circa 1962; the earliest lines of the author’s to survive into a collection.
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.42.
023 . 5. The Knowledge of Our Buried Life
the dreadful sailor fills the dark
254a: Section title: The Knowledge of Our Buried Life] the alarmingly modern words of Matthew Arnold, seeming to presage Freud: ‘But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,/ But often, in the din of strife, there rises an unspeakable desire/ After the knowledge of our buried life… ’
Appears–in: collected in Red Movie and Other Poems, John Tranter, Cremorne, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1972, p.46.
026 . The Guadalcanal Motel
They hold no holidays at the Guadalcanal Motel; Guadalcanal is the largest of the Solomon Islands (in the South Pacific, near the equator) and the site of the national capital Honiara. The Battle of Guadalcanal in 1943 lasted six months, and was a turning point of World War Two, as Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen forced the Japanese to halt their advance toward Australia. Numerous relics of the Guadalcanal Campaign still litter the plains east of Honiara.
Appears–in: The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, p.159.
027 . Compromise
Certain vehicles are produced for luxury. Some
The European setting is reinforced by the slightly stiff translatese of “The staff of the engineer… ’
Appears–in: The Bulletin vol.95 no.4836 6 January 1973, p.39.
027 . Poem Ending with a Line by Rimbaud
He: it is easier to like the soldier
19: She: Et mon bureau?] The last line is indeed from Rimbaud’s poem ‘Les réparties de Nina’ (‘Nina’s Replies’), 15 August 1870, and is the deflating last line in that poem. A lovesick youth asks a girl to spend a romantic day in the country with him. He paints an intensely lyrical picture of the good times they will have, enthusiastically and at great length. Finally she interrupts with the complaint ‘Et mon bureau?’; in effect, ‘But what about my job? I have to go to work!’ You can read Rimbaud’s poem here:
029 . The Alphabet Murders
After all we have left behind
When I wrote this poem (or group of poems) I had not heard of Agatha Christie’s novel The ABC Murders (Collins Crime Club, 1936) nor the films, radio or television dramas based on it. The 1966 film (titled The Alphabet Murders) was directed by Frank Tashlin, and starred Tony Randall, Anita Ekberg and Robert Morley. A BBC guide describes the story thus: ‘Alice Ascher is murdered at Andover. Betty Barnard is strangled at Bexhill-on-Sea. Each time, an ABC railway guide is found by the dead bodies and, each time, Poirot is warned in advance by a letter from someone signed “ABC”. But who is ABC? And can Poirot find out in time to prevent the death of C?’
Appears–in: collected in The Alphabet Murders: Notes from a Work in Progress (Poets of the Month, Series 1), London, England and Sydney, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1976, p.27–48; collected in Selected Poems, John Tranter, Sydney, New South Wales : Hale and Iremonger, 1982, pp.69–90.
029 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 1 (A)
After all we have left behind
1: After all we have left behind] Echoes the first line of the last section: ‘After all, we had left poetry behind before this trip had even begun’
12: So I write to you ‘from a distant country’] A loose translation of the opening line of Henri Michaux’s prose poem ‘Je Vous Écris d’un Pays Lointain’. See also the poem ‘At Naxos’.
Appears–in: collected in The Alphabet Murders: Notes from a Work in Progress (Poets of the Month, Series 1), London, England and Sydney, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1976, p.27–48; collected in Selected Poems, John Tranter, Sydney, New South Wales : Hale and Iremonger, 1982, pp.69–90.
029 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 2 (B)
Before this complex thought begins attacking
Appears–in: collected in The Alphabet Murders: Notes from a Work in Progress (Poets of the Month, Series 1), London, England and Sydney, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1976, p.27–48; collected in Selected Poems, John Tranter, Sydney, New South Wales : Hale and Iremonger, 1982, pp.69–90.
030 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 3 (C)
Cool it, with all the friends of scholarship to hand
19: there are rumours of a sighting / in Dogubayazit, in northern Turkey] When in 1967 I travelled through the village of Dogubayazit, near Mount Ararat and the Russian and Iranian borders, I recalled that the British spy Kim Philby was briefly seen there by a party of British scientists before he disappeared into Mother Russia, never to return. Top photo: a pile of dung used for fuel, on the outskirts of Dogubayazit, September 1967. Second photo: two boys on a palomino near Mount Ararat, seen from a bus on the road from Dogubayazit to Tabriz (in Iran), September 1967. Russia is in the distant background.
32: retarded or advanced] The speed of a gasoline engine can regulated by retarding or advancing the setting of the electronic spark distributor.
031 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 4 (D)
Drifting through the gritty, adolescent Western novel
032 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 5 (E)
Ecstasy is the Master of Lunacy and calls the tune
1: Master of Lunacy] The Lunacy Act of 1878 (42 Vic Act No. 7) made provision for the appointment of a Master of Lunacy (the Master in Equity “for the time being… . shall be also the Master in Lunacy”).(1) The Act prescribed that his duties were to “undertake the general care, protection and management or supervision of the management of estates of all insane persons and patients in New South Wales.” State Records, New South Wales Government.
19: as one hog lives on what another shits] Alexander Pope: Now wits gain praise by copying other wits / As one Hog lives on what another sh— . Couplets on Wit, V.
033 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 6 (F)
Fate is a variety of religious experience which is
034 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 7 (G)
Get lost: it might work in a stable society but don’t
034 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 8 (H)
How are we locked into the forme that is
1: forme] A body of metal type locked into a chase (a metal frame) ready for printing.
036 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 9 (I)
I find myself alone in a room full of stupid poems
9: I think constantly on those who blundered badly] A reference to the poem ‘I Think Continually Of Those Who Were Truly Great’ by Stephen Spender
19: I think occasionally on those who were truly great] Ditto.
036 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 10 (J)
Justice is a kind of rhyme,
10: Politics will sing you to your rest] From the closing scene of Hamlet: Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
037 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 11 (K)
Karl Marx is a comic novelist, almost —
26: a buried emblem / of the work itself… interlocking blazon] In the essay on John Ashbery in his remarkable study of forty-one US poets Alone With America: The Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 (Thames and Hudson, London, 1970), Richard Howard quotes Gide: ‘I like discovering in a work of art… transposed to the scale of the characters, the very subject of that work… Thus in certain paintings… a tiny dark convex mirror reflects the interior of the room where the scene painted occurs… the comparison with that method in heraldry which consists of putting a second blazon in the center of the first, en abyme.’ (pp.19–20)
Appears–in: The Golden Apples of the Sun : Twentieth Century Australian Poetry, Editor: Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Carlton, Victoria : Melbourne University Press, 1980, pp.207–208; collected in The Alphabet Murders: Notes from a Work in Progress (Poets of the Month, Series 1), London, England and Sydney, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1976, p.27–48; collected in Selected Poems, John Tranter, Sydney, New South Wales : Hale and Iremonger, 1982, pp.69–90.
039 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 12 (L)
Love is the most awkward game to play. Love
039 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 13 (M)
Maybe you’ve experienced the feeling of reeling in
040 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 14 (N)
Nonetheless I am still too young, or
040 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 15 (O)
Only ornithologists nowadays write of
041 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 16 (P)
Perfection of ‘the word’ whatever
041 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 17 (Q)
Queer, isn’t it, how holidays decline
042 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 18 (R)
Reaching the excuse for verbal intemperance we find
043 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 19 (S)
So there’s a dance, and in its alcoholic daze
4: Gateau d’Ivresse] The cake of drunkenness — a poor pun on Rimbaud’s ‘Le Bateau ivre’ (The Drunken Boat).
5: It’s his Seven-League Boots… ] The last lines of Robert Desnos’ poem ‘Recontre’ (Meeting): (C’est les bottes de sept lieues / cette phrase: ‘Je me vois’.) (It’s the seven league boots / this sentence: “I see myself.”) The parentheses are included in the original.
044 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 20 (T)
These are not restrictions, but equipment
Title: after R D FitzGerald] R D FitzGerald (1902–1987), Australian poet and critic. The stanza is a parody of an article he published in Southerly magazine (Volume Thirty-Three Number Two 1973, page 156: “Verse and Worse”, R. D. FitzGerald, Developed from a lecture at the Australian National University, Canberra, in 1971), urging young poets to pay attention to correct scansion and to the precepts of Montaigne, Milton and Matthew Arnold, and not to abandon tradition. The article begins with this sentence: “MANY strange things are called poetry today which quite go against anything my own generation looked for once such as order, composition, melody, harmony, emotion, meaning and what has become a really dirty word: beauty.” You can read the complete article [»»] here. More than half the words and phrases in my poem are taken directly from FitzGerald’s article, from the conclusion of his piece, as follows:
These are not restrictions, but equipment for use in experiment or exploration such as it is well to have in hand when leaving main roads for open country, though often thrown away in side-tracks that lead into dead ends. Moreover tradition is not just an impulse out of the past; it is a progressive movement overtaking the present and helping carry it into the future. To step aside from tradition could be one way of being left soon in some small corner which the present has already deserted.
But poetry itself always sorts out the poets it requires and gives the best of them their orders; so despite the monotony of much that is formless in today’s poetry I believe the very incoherence and craziness of most that it has to say are indications of that underlying discontent and activity of mind out of which poetry — and poems — erupt.
044 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 21 (U)
Undo the past. ‘One must be absolutely
4: knight] This piece quotes some scholars on the topic of Sir Thomas Malory’s life, his identity and his epic Le Morte D’Arthur (‘cathedral of words’), authors recommended to me in 1974 by Stephen Knight, then at the University of Sydney.
13: ill-framed accretions] Meant to echo the title of one of my sources: Matthews, William. The Ill-framed Knight: A Skeptical Inquiry into the Identity of Sir Thomas Malory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. The name ‘Malory’ can mean ‘ill-framed’.
045 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 22 (V)
Very moving and persuasive, and too bad the focus
046 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 23 (W)
We could point to the poem and say ‘that map’,
4: Maugham’s club foot] The playwright, novelist and short story writer W. Somerset Maugham suffered from a bad stammer, as I did when young. In his autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage Maugham’s stammer is metamorphosed into the hero Philip Carey’s club foot. I’ve often wondered what he would have come up with had he written a biography of the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, who had a club foot. Would he have made him a stammerer?
11: Doppler shifts] Johann Christian Doppler (1803–1853) first demonstrated that sound waves appear to rise in pitch as the source of the sound approaches, and fall in pitch as the source of the sound travels away from the observer. A passing ambulance gives the same frequency shift effect. At radio frequencies, the Doppler shift is an important component of radar detection, as in police radar speed-measuring equipment.
12: pulse-code modulation] PCM is the first widely-used method of encoding, transmitting and reproducing high-quality stereo sound for later FM transmission, developed by Philips/Sony. In June 1978 PCM consumer audio recording began with the introduction of the PCM-1 14-bit Betamax accessory for recording and playback of digital audio with an 80db dynamic range. PCM forms the basis for CD music recordings.
Appears–in: The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Ed. Tranter, John, and Mead, Philip. Ringwood, Victoria : Penguin, 1991, p.276; collected in The Alphabet Murders: Notes from a Work in Progress (Poets of the Month, Series 1), London, England and Sydney, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1976, pp.27–48; collected in Selected Poems, John Tranter, Sydney, New South Wales : Hale and Iremonger, 1982, pp.69–90.
047 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 24 (X)
X-ray breakfast waits for the man who rises
047 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 25 (Y)
Yet, as the Legendary Profile conforms to a harmony
25: the Legendary Profile] A cool and mysterious tune composed and played by the Modern Jazz Quartet: The Legendary Profile (Atlantic, SD-1623, 1972).
048 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 26 (Z)
Zero is the shape of the volcano’s orifice
049 . The Alphabet Murders, Section 27 (AA)
After all, we had left poetry behind before this trip had even begun…
1: After all, we had left poetry behind before this trip had even begun] Echoes the first line of the poem: ‘After all we have left behind’
050a . The Bus
My eyes go pale as I grow old, and these
In 1957 I enrolled as a boarder at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, at Glenfield near Liverpool on the south-western outskirts of Sydney. The 200-mile journey from my home town in the bush was by bus and train.
Appears–in: collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 41, p.27. Appears–in:
050b . Starlight
Just under the water sheet you can see
The poem is derivative of some imagery from Howard Nemerov (‘Storm Windows’) and Robert Bly, both of whose work appears in Donald Hall’s anthology Contemporary American Poetry published by Penguin in 1962. Hall’s anthology was a recommended text in a class on poetry at the University of Sydney which I attended in the late 1960s, a class taught by Don Anderson.
Appears–in: The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, p.163; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 30, p.22.
051a . The Chicago ‘Manual of Style’
The Chicago Manual of Style is really neat
When I began work as Senior Education Editor at Angus and Robertson in 1971, then Australia’s most prestigious publisher, my tools of trade included the Manual of Style published by the University of Chicago Press. I still refer to my 1969 edition from time to time.
Appears–in: Makar vol.12 no.2 December 1976, p.18; The Sting in the Wattle : Australian Satirical Verse, Editor: Philip Neilsen, St Lucia, Queensland : University of Queensland Press, 1993, p.196; The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets, Editor: Geoff Page, ACT, Ginninderra Press, 2003, p.101; the Internet site of the OpenOffice bibliography coding team homepage (2005) at <http: //bibliographic.openoffice.org/poetry.html>; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 71, p.42.
051b . Art
He was a living legend. He had built
I painted seriously — though intermittently — for a decade from the age of sixteen. Eventually my painting mutated into printmaking, then into photography, typography and print design.
Appears–in: collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 34, p.24.
052a . Artefact
To solve the problem of art and artefact
Appears–in: The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse, Editor: Peter Porter, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.174; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, p.
052b . The Moated Grange
It’s bad luck with a coughing baby
3: Mandrax] The Australian brand name of a hypnotic prescription drug popular in the 1970s, methalaqualone, known commonly as ‘Mandies’, and known in the US as Quaaludes.
Appears–in: The Collins Book of Australian Poetry, Compiler: Rodney Hall, Sydney, New South Wales : William Collins, 1981, pp.374–375; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 38, p.26.
053a . Ballistics
In a distant field, small animals prepare
The poem was written in the mid-1970s, when the Vietnam War was still very much in people’s minds.
Appears–in: The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, p.165; The Faber Book of Modern Australian Verse, Editor: Vincent Buckley, London, England : Faber, 1991, p.220; The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets, Editor: Geoff Page, ACT, Ginninderra Press, 2003, p.59; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 63, p.38.
053b . I Know a Man Who Lives in the Dark
I know a man who lives in the dark.
14. a manual on the implements of death] Les Murray’s poem SMLE (about the Lee Enfield .303 rifle, standard issue to Australian and British troops for over fifty years) was published Southerly vol.30 no.3 1970, pp.177–181. It contains the memorable line ‘my Lee Enfield goes home / slung athwart my shoulder, heavy as talent.’ The standard Lee Enfield .303 weighs about four kilograms.
In a 2005 interview with John Kinsella (to be published in Rod Mengham [Ed.] The Salt Companion to John Tranter. Great Wilbraham, UK: Salt Publishing.) I said ‘I remember the scorn in my father’s voice when he mentioned that a certain farmer owned and used a .303 Lee-Enfield — the standard British military rifle for over sixty years. More than five million of them were made, and they were sold cheaply as army surplus after the Second World War. The Lee-Enfield provides excessive force for any purpose you might have in mind in the bush around there, and they had a lethal range of two or three miles, which was very dangerous. Only an idiot — or someone from the city — would use a thing like that. We hated the city people who occasionally came into the bush to go shooting. They would leave gates open, and shoot at anything that moved. When I read Les Murray’s poem about the Lee-Enfield — a kind of paean to the military virtues and their symbols — I thought he was crazy. Country people don't talk like that.’
Appears–in: Makar vol.12 no.2 December 1976, p.16; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 54, p.34.
054a . The Doll
My daughter’s playing with her bloodstained
3: Frank Moorhouse’s novel] His third book, The Electrical Experience, in which, through the middle years of the twentieth century, the lead character manages a cinema in a small Australian country town rather like Nowra, on the South Coast of New South Wales, where Moorhouse grew up. In the late 1950s as a teenager I travelled with my father to Nowra; there he bought a large stainless steel mixing vat (for the carbonated drink factory which he had established in the coastal town of Moruya, a hundred miles distant) from the factory of ‘Moorhouse the Machinery Man’. In an interview with the 12 January 2004 edition of the Sydney weekly The Bulletin he answered the question ‘Were there any writers in your family?’ thus: ‘The genetic history would be that my father was an inventor. He made dairy equipment and, although he was self educated, he was one of the pioneers around the time of electricity coming into rural communities and into dairying. He set up a factory in Nowra. He was also part of that Ferguson tractor revolution and he had the south coast franchise for the Ferguson tractor and a Swedish milking machine. Both my parents were publicly active in town organisations and at state level: in the Country Women’s Association, the Liberal Party, Rotary — my father was a very good Rotarian and also a very important member of the Masonic Lodge. So by the time I came along they were well established. They read books from a book club and there were books of poetry in the house, there were classics, but neither of them would be described as literary. The genetic connection I think is with the inventive.’
6: Sabre]: a US-made jet fighter, the F-86 Sabre, used by the UN forces in Korea 1950–1953.
8: ruthless MiG.] The MiG-15, the first Soviet supersonic jet aircraft, used in the Korean War, named after Artem Mi(koyan) and Mikhail G(urevich), Russian aircraft designers; hence the lower-case ‘i’.
Appears–in: The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, pp.164–165; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 57, p.35.
054b . The Spy
The spy bears his bald intent like a manic
Appears–in: The Collins Book of Australian Poetry, Compiler: Rodney Hall, Sydney, New South Wales : William Collins, 1981, p.375; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 61, p.37.
055a . Position: Poet
A gift to stir up fevered passions,
Appears–in: Makar vol.12 no.2 December 1976, p.17; Contemporary Australian Poetry : An Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Knoxfield, Victoria : Houghton Mifflin, 1990, pp.136–137; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 64, p.39.
055b . The Painting of the Whole Sky
The theme of the magnificent painting
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.33 no.1 Autumn 1974, p.85; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 68, p.41.
056a . The Blues
I’d like to throw a fit at the
Appears–in: Nation Review, 21–27 April 1977, 648; The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, p.165; Australian Verse : An Oxford Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.82; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, (title: 89; with this first line: I’d like to throw an epileptic fit), p.51.
056b . 1968
As you get purchase the hate vehicle
Appears–in: Australian Verse : An Oxford Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp.82–83; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, p.52 (titled: 90)
057a . By the Pool
James Michener thinks of writing a guide book
2: Bohemian Balmain] In the late 1960s the Sydney harbourside suburb of Balmain, once a working-class shipbuilding area, gained a reputation for its bohemian subculture and its throngs of young writers and painters, attracted by the cheap rents and nearness to the city. The rents are no longer cheap and the city is no longer important as a meeting place. The shipping container wharves that in the late 1960s disfigured the shores of Mort Bay in Balmain have been replaced by a park. In the early decade of the twenty-first century the author could regularly be seen in that park walking his dog Tiger, a Manchester terrier.
Appears–in: The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets, Editor: Geoff Page, ACT, Ginninderra Press, 2003, p.23; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977, title: 95, p.54.
057b . At the Laundromat
FAMOUS POET JETS HOME TO USA!
1: FAMOUS POET] The poem is (very loosely) a response to the visit to Australia in 1976 of US poet Robert Duncan, hosted partly by Robert Adamson in Sydney. I was living in Brisbane at the time and did not meet Duncan during his visit. I met and interviewed him in San Francisco nearly a decade later. See Jacket magazine, number 28: <http: //jacketmagazine.com/26/dunc-tran-iv.html>
Appears–in: The New Australian Poetry, Editor: John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1979, pp.161–162; The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse, Editor: Peter Porter, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.174; collected in Crying in Early Infancy : 100 Sonnets, John Tranter, St Lucia, Queensland : Makar Press, 1977.
058 . Ode to Col Joye
You open your eyes and realise
Col Joye (stage name of Colin Jakobsen) and his brother Kevin were entrepreneurs of popular music in Australia from the late 1950s; Colin headed a rock band called ‘Col Joye and the Joye Boys.’
Title] The title is a pun on Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy (‘An die Freude’, 1785), set to music by Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony.
11: a faint vapour trail/ across the Malayan sky] John Forbes’s father was a civilian meteorologist with the Royal Australian Air Force and John lived for some years as a child on the air force base at Butterworth in Malaya, near Penang.
70: Canberra poet] in the 1970s the poet Les Murray attracted a school of morally serious acolytes (Alan Gould, Kevin Hart, and Mark O’Connor) in Australia’s capital, Canberra, where the poet Professor A.D.Hope was also influential.
76: South Coast Haiku] Laurie Duggan’s deeply ironic ‘South Coast Haiku’ is about young counter-cultural people dropping out and living close to nature on the South Coast of New South Wales: ‘Rain drips through/ The tin roof/ Missing the stereo.’
87: Doug Anthony … The Land] Doug Anthony, a wealthy grazier and deputy Prime Minister of Australia for many years, was leader of the Country Party, a rural political party allied in a coalition with the conservative Liberal Party which ruled Australia for 23 years under Menzies, and later under other leaders. The Land is a newspaper for farmers.
90: Bob Adamson … bank robber] Australian poet Robert Adamson spent some years of his youth in reform school and jail. The death of the bank robber in a nearby suburb happened not long before the poem was written.
116: a beat-up Renault, how/ Sydney, and how French!] An oblique reference to Ken Bolton’s book Blonde and French, whose title refers to the first line of Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘Meditations in an Emergency’: ‘Am I to become profligate as if I were blonde? Or religious as if I were French?’
108: a poem by Auden] the poem is ‘On the Circuit’, about a poetry reading tour through the US, and in fact ends ‘Another morning comes: I see / Dwindling below me on the plane, / The roofs of one more audience / I shall not see again. / / God bless the lot of them, although / I don’t remember which was which: / God bless the U.S.A., so large, / So friendly, and so rich.’
151: Martin Duwell] The Brisbane-based academic and publisher of three of the author’s books: The Blast Area, Crying in Early Infancy: 100 Sonnets, and the anthology The New Australian Poetry. Martin is a scholar of Icelandic, and had travelled to Iceland. ‘Reykjavik’ was misspelled in the first printing.
163: Don Chipp] Renegade from the ruling conservative Liberal Party, the founder of the splinter Australian political party the Democrats (in 1977), a middle-class, earnest and socially concerned party which for many years held the balance of power in the Senate, the upper house of review in the Australian Parliament. Their motto: ‘Keep the bastards honest’. Twenty years on, party leader Meg Lees betrayed a promise of her own (at the Australian National Press Club: ‘We will not vote for a tax on books’) when she did a deal with the (conservative) Liberals to impose a ten per cent federal sales tax on books. May she rot in Hell: so much for ‘honest’ politicians. The Democrats’ moral coign of vantage has since been occupied by the Greens.
169: Rodney Hall] British-born Australian poet and novelist.
Appears–in: Surfers Paradise 2, Erskineville NSW, March 1979; The Penguin Book of Australian Satirical Verse, Editor: Philip Neilsen, Ringwood, Victoria : Penguin, 1986, pp.258–262.
064 . The Un-American Women
One, they’re spooking, two, they’re opening letters,
4: Einstein… telescope] Taken from a televised documentary about the great man at Princeton.
11: Are you now or have you ever been a woman?] Based on the standard question asked at the US House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) hearings. After declaring that Hollywood filmmakers “employed subtle techniques in pictures glorifying the Communist system,” the House Un-American Activities Committee held public hearings in October 1947 to question 24 “friendly” and 11 “unfriendly” witnesses from the filmmaking industry. Ten of the 11 “unfriendly” witnesses — including director Edward Dmytryk (“Crossfire,” 1947) screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. (“Woman of the Year,” 1942) and writer Dalton Trumbo (“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” 1944) — were jailed for contempt of Congress and blacklisted by the studios after refusing to answer the question “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Among the 24 “friendly” witnesses who testified at the HUAC hearings were actors Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan, producer Walt Disney and writer Ayn Rand. Excerpts from their testimony can be viewed at http: //www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/episodes/06/documents/huac/.
15: G-Men] ‘Government Men’, FBI agents.
16: Mickey Finn] A solution of chloral hydrate (a sedative/ hypnotic) in alcohol. The term originally referred to a strong purgative which a bartender might slip into an unruly customer’s drink to get rid of him in a hurry.
23: pentothal] Earnest Volwiler and Donalee Tabern came up with the short acting barbiturate Pentothal (1936) when they were seeking an anesthetic which could be injected directly into the bloodstream.
Appears–in: Grand Street [US] no. 49 April 1991; The Poetry Kit [UK] at http: //www.poetrykit.org/; The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Editors: John Tranter, and Philip Mead, Penguin Australia, 1991, p.278.
065 . The Revolutionaries
Look in the mirror: everybody’s gone,
Trotsky was murdered on Stalin’s orders, with an ice-pick blow to the skull, in August 1940, in his house near Mexico City. The assassin was Ramon Mercader, a Spanish-born agent for the Soviet secret police.
Appears–in: The Poetry Kit (UK) http: //www.poetrykit.org/;
066 . Leavis at The London Hotel
You need the money — your way of thinking’s
Title: Leavis] Frank Raymond Leavis (1895–1978), an important twentieth-century British literary critic based in Cambridge. Leavis edited (1932–1953) the journal Scrutiny, whose contributors saw themselves, Leavis later said, as ‘the essential Cambridge in spite of Cambridge.’ The journal combined an intense concern with literature and morality with an interest in practical criticism.
Title: The London Hotel] in the Sydney suburb of Balmain. In its early days it was called ‘The Circular Saw’. Through the nineteenth century the whine of steam-driven circular saws could be heard all over Balmain as they cut planks for the boats being built at Mort’s shipyard, the main employer of labour in the area.
10: bandages and a black eye … Humphrey Bogart] In the 1947 movie Dark Passage, set in San Francisco, Humphrey Bogart escapes from prison after being framed for his wife’s murder. He hides out (with Lauren Bacall) and undergoes plastic surgery in an attempt to find the real killer. The first part of the movie is shot from the hero’s point of view; we first see his face after the surgery, when the bandages come off in a taxi. Guess who he looks like?
16: ‘Mad Dog’] In the movie High Sierra (1941) Bogart plays Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, who is helped to escape from prison by an old acquaintance. He joins up with two younger gangsters for a jewel robbery. Things go wrong, of course, and a man is shot and killed. Pursued by the police and an angry press, Earle holes up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Appears–in: Pitch (Carlisle, Cumbria) 2002; Conspire (Internet) 1998;
067 . Sartre at Surfers’ Paradise
I’ve been lonely for years, writing in the attic
18: Rum & Coca-Cola] The title of a popular calypso song. Originally composed by Lord Invader and Lionel Belasco, it was copyrighted in the United States by entertainer Morey Amsterdam and became a huge hit, selling some four million singles when a version was released in 1945 by the Andrews Sisters. Although the song was published in the United States with Amsterdam listed as the lyricist and Jeri Sullavan and Paul Baron as musical composers, the melody had been previously published as the work of Trinidadian calypso composer Lionel Belasco on a song titled L’Année Passée, which was in turn based on a folksong from Martinique. The original lyrics to Rum and Coca-Cola were written by Rupert Grant, another calypso musician from Trinidad who went by the stage name of Lord Invader. According to Lord Invader, “Calypso is the folklore of Trinidad, a style of poetry, telling about current events in song. Back home in the West Indies, Trinidad, where I’m from, it’s a small island, I’m proud of it. I was traveling on a bus, someplace they call Point Cumana, a bathing resort, and I happened to see the G.I.s in the American social invasion in the West Indies, Trinidad. You know the girls used to get the candies and stuff like that, and they go to the canteens with the boys and so on, have fun. So I noticed since the G.I.s come over there, they generally chase with soda, ordinary soda, but the chaser was rum and Coke. They drink rum, and they like Coca-Cola as a chaser, so I studied that as an idea of a song, and Morey Amsterdam had the nerve to say that he composed that song back here.” The song became a local hit and was at the peak of its popularity when Amsterdam visited the island in September 1943 as part of a U.S.O. tour. Although he subsequently claimed never to have heard the song during the month he spent on the island, the lyrics to his version are clearly based on the Lord Invader version, with the music and chorus being virtually identical. However, Amsterdam’s version strips the song of its social commentary. The Lord Invader version laments that U.S. soldiers are debauching local women, who “saw that the Yankees treat them nice / and they give them a better price.” Its final stanza describes a newlywed couple whose marriage is ruined when “the bride run away with a soldier lad / and the stupid husband went staring mad.” By contrast, the Amsterdam version obscures the implication that women are prostituting themselves, and actually celebrates the Yankee presence: ‘Since the Yankee come to Trinidad / They got the young girls all goin’ mad / Young girls say they treat ‘em nice / Make Trinidad like paradise.’
The Andrews Sisters also seem to have given little thought to the meaning of the lyrics. According to Patty Andrews, “We had a recording date, and the song was brought to us the night before the recording date. We hardly really knew it, and when we went in we had some extra time and we just threw it in, and that was the miracle of it. It was actually a faked arrangement. There was no written background, so we just kind of faked it.” Years later, Maxine Andrews recalled, “The rhythm was what attracted the Andrews Sisters to Rum and Coca-Cola. We never thought of the lyric. The lyric was there, it was cute, but we didn’t think of what it meant; but at that time, nobody else would think of it either, because we weren’t as morally open as we are today and so, a lot of stuff — really — no excuses — just went over our heads.” (Wikipedia)
068 . Foucault at The Forest Lodge Hotel
Your good taste is so packed with reading
The hotel is in a Sydney suburb, Forest Lodge, adjacent to the University of Sydney; in the 1970s it was a haunt of students, junkies, drunks and others.
5: General Paresis] A late manifestation of syphilis, characterized by progressive dementia and paralysis.
16: Suzanne Pleshette] US actress, b.1937, star of Rage to Live (1965) and other movies. A reviewer describes that film thus: ‘A badly executed adaptation of John O’Hara’s novel starring Pleshette as a young, wealthy nymphomaniac who has numerous affairs with her mother’s country club friends.’ It might be hard to credit, but the title ‘Rage to Live’ is taken from some lines of Alexander Pope (from ‘Moral Essays: Epistle to a Lady’): Wise Wretch! with Pleasures too refin’d to please, / With too much Spirit to be e’er at ease, / With too much Quickness ever to be taught, / With too much Thinking to have common Thought: / Who purchase Pain with all that joy can give, / And die of nothing but a Rage to live.
18: Ladies Lounge] Usually spelled thus. In Australian hotels or pubs until the 1970s, a public bar reserved for ladies and their partners where unaccompanied men were not allowed, and where alcohol was served. Women were not allowed in the main public bar in most hotels.
Appears–in: Conspire (on the Internet) 1998;
069 . Enzensberger at ‘Exiles’ Bookshop
At the back of the bookshop a karate expert
Title: ‘Exiles’ Bookshop] … was established by Susumu Hirayanagi and Nicholas Pounder at 207 Oxford Street, Sydney, in February 1979, and closed in late 1982. This poem was written before the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger had ever considered visiting Australia. It was published by Nicholas Pounder in Polar Bear magazine, in an issue (the only issue published) devoted to Enzensberger, and the poem was displayed in the window of the shop when Enzensberger called by in 1981.
Appears–in: Polar Bear magazine (date: ?), The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Editors: John Tranter, and Philip Mead, Penguin Australia, 1991, p.277.
070 . The Wind
‘Due to the shortcomings of indexation
9: E.N.G.] Electronic News Gathering; i.e. with portable video cameras linked by radio to head office, rather than with the older film cameras and tape recorders. The poem reflects morale problems and union unrest within the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the late 1970s.
20: William Street] The author worked in the ABC Radio Drama and Features Department in Sydney in the 1970s and 1980s as a radio producer. His office was on the corner of William and Burke Streets, Darlinghurst, with the recording studios a block or two away.
071 . The Germ
‘There’s a huge germ behind the glass —
An old episode of Star Trek is being filmed. At the same time, or perhaps centuries later, a bored crew of aliens in a spaceship sit up late to watch it.
Appears–in: Cortland Review, http: //www.cortlandreview.com/, Sept 1998.
3–6: decimate [… .] one in ten of us] ‘Decimate’ originally referred to the killing of every tenth person, a punishment used in the Roman army for mutinous legions.
072 . The Great Artist Reconsiders the Homeric Simile
He looks back over the last metaphor
9: As when a detective in the spring] See Matthew Arnold’s ‘Sohrab and Rustum’, lines 556–575:
As when some hunter in the spring hath found
A breeding eagle sitting on her nest,
Upon the craggy isle of a hill-lake,
And pierced her with an arrow as she rose,
And follow’d her to find her where she fell
Far off; — anon her mate comes winging back
From hunting, and a great way off descries
His huddling young left sole; at that, he checks
His pinion, and with short uneasy sweeps
Circles above his eyry, with loud screams
Chiding his mate back to her nest; but she
Lies dying, with the arrow in her side,
In some far stony gorge out of his ken,
A heap of fluttering feathers — never more
Shall the lake glass her, flying over it;
Never the black and dripping precipices
Echo her stormy scream as she sails by —
As that poor bird flies home, nor knows his loss,
So Rustum knew not his own loss, but stood
Over his dying son, and knew him not.
28: a holiday at Dover] Matthew Arnold’s mournful poem ‘Dover Beach’ was published in 1876. Anthony Hecht’s hilarious parody, ‘The Dover Bitch’, begins: ‘So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl / With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them… ’ and continues: ‘And then she got really angry. To have been brought / All the way down from London, and then be addressed / As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort / Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty. / Anyway, she watched him pace the room / And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit, / And then she said one or two unprintable things… ’ You can read it here: [»]
Appears–in: Southerly vol.39 no.3 September 1979, p.245; The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse, Editor: Les A. Murray, Melbourne, Victoria : Oxford University Press, 1986, p.323–324, 1996 edition, pp.329–330; The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Ed. Tranter, John, and Mead, Philip. Ringwood, Victoria : Penguin, 1991, p.279; The Flight of the Emu : contemporary light verse, Editor: Geoffrey Lehmann, North Ryde, New South Wales : Angus and Robertson, 1990, pp.40–41.
073 . A Jackeroo in Kensington
With a fistful of dollars in a knapsack
1: fistful of dollars] A Fistful of Dollars is a 1964 western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood alongside Gian Maria Volontè, Marianne Koch, Wolfgang Lukschy, José Calvo and Joseph Egger. Released in the United States in 1967, it initiated the popularity of the “Spaghetti Western” film genre. This film is an unofficial remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo (1961).(Wikipedia)
4: Rupert Murdoch / crawling over Fleet Street] Australian-born US citizen Rupert Murdoch moved to Britain in the mid 1960s and rapidly became a major force there after his acquisitions of the News of the World, The Sun and later The Times and The Sunday Times, which he bought in 1981 from the Thomson family, who had bought it from the Astor family in 1966. Both takeovers further reinforced his growing reputation as a ruthless and cunning business operator. (Wikipedia) The name of Fleet Street in London, where the British newspaper industry was centered before the 1990s, is often used as a metonym for that industry. The image of King Kong was unconsciously borrowed from the cover of US Time magazine for 17 January 1977, where Murdock crawls over the horizon of New York City, clutching his newly bought New York newspapers in triumph.
6: shrug off an empire] The two death-knells for the British Empire were the fall of Singapore to the Japanese army in February 1942, and the disaster of the Suez Campaign in 1956, a war occasioned by Egyptian leader Nasser’s threat to nationalise the Suez Canal, and fought on Egyptian soil between the Egyptians on one hand and a secret alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Israel on the other.
When this poem was first published in Southerly (vol.41 no.4) in December 1981 it had an extra three lines at the front: An Aussie battler fronts a toff in Chelsea: / ‘Hiya, bud! A piastre for your thoughts!’ Too late / the Brits remember Suez, and they die of shame. Aussie battler: in Australian culture, the Aussie Battler, who must work hard at a low paying job to earn enough money, is respected by Australian society at large for stoically facing financial hardships. (Wikipedia). Toff: an elegantly dressed upper-class man, especially one with affected manners.
Appears–in: Southerly vol.41 no.4 December 1981, p.429; Contemporary Australian Poetry : An Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Knoxfield, Victoria : Houghton Mifflin, 1990, p.137; On the Move : Australian Poets in Europe, Editor: Geoff Page, Springwood, New South Wales : Butterfly Books, 1992, p.7; The Poetry Kit UK http: //www.poetrykit.org/;
A student wrote to me in 2013 with this query: ‘I just wanted to know what the theme of belonging is in your poem “backyard.”’ Here’s what I wrote back:
I wasn’t thinking of a “theme” when I wrote the poem: I usually just write by instinct, and I certainly don’t write a poem to have it examined. But once it’s there, why not examine it?
Looking back on the poem, it seems to be about “belonging” in all kinds of ways:
» There’s a family barbecue, where most people would feel they belonged to the family and the ritual of cooking food for others and sharing food. (Think of the biblical idea of “breaking bread” with someone.)
» There are two kids quarelling, part of the usual family scene.
» Someone is thinking of making a home movie of the scene, a nostalgic ritual of belonging.
» Someone — a parent, perhaps — is touched by the idea of a child holding a beach ball in an old photo — perhaps Kodachrome, with its “natural colour”. Perhaps a loving parent took the photo and kept it as a remembrance, wanting to remember the sense of belonging the child embodies.
» There’s an old brown dog, and a family that keeps a dog usually values the reciprocal obligations involved in keeping pets, and the virtues of loyalty and belonging that pets embody.
» Some kind of God watches over (i.e. cares for) this ragged scene: even though there are all kinds of trouble: separation, and troubled maturity; there is also marriage (one person belonging to another) and adolescence (a young person belonging to a family growing up to belong to the adult world).
» The person the poem is aimed at, the “you” in “you may look up”, is reminded to value his “old friends” and perhaps share a beer or two with them: belonging, again.
074 . Backyard
The God of Smoke listens idly in the heat
2: the barbecue sausages / speaking the language of rain deceitfully] I worked as a radio producer for years, producing around forty radio plays. The opening image is based on the fact that the sound effect of a crackling fire, the sound effect of sausages spitting on a barbecue and the sound effect of distant water splashing onto concrete are all remarkably similar.
28: a Southerly Buster at dusk] When this poem was published in Harper’s in New York, the editor asked me if I’d like to provide a footnote to explain the cocktail mentioned in the last line. A Southerly Buster is in fact a gusty cold southerly wind which — if you’re lucky — appears at the end of a hot summer day in Sydney.
Appears–in: An Inflection of Silence and Other Poems, Editor: Christopher Pollnitz, University of Newcastle, 1986, p.136; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.1; The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Editors: John Tranter, Philip Mead, Penguin, 1991, p.280; Sydney’s Poems: A Selection on the Occasion of the City’s One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary 1842–1992, Editors: Robert Gray; Vivian Smith, Primavera Press, 1992, pp.71–72; Family Ties: Australian Poems of the Family, Editor: Jennifer Strauss, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp.191–192; Thylazine magazine, Thylazine’s Special Feature : Poets at Work, 2002.
075 . Country Veranda
This country veranda’s a box for storing the sky —
21: The last word of this poem on page 76 should be followed by a period.
The house I grew up in, far from the nearest town, was perched on a hill with a view forty miles up a river valley to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range. It had a deep open veranda on three sides. In the thousand square miles of rugged country to the west lived perhaps seven or eight people. The photo of the house, above, was taken in 1981, twenty years after I had left home for good. The camera is facing west.
Appears–in: An Inflection of Silence and Other Poems, Editor: Christopher Pollnitz, University of Newcastle, 1986, p.134; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988 University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.2; Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Editors: Robert Gray, Geoffrey Lehmann, Heinemann, 1991, p.360; The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse, Editor: Peter Porter, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.174–175.
076 . North Light
He looks around his son’s room: the bed
In the northern hemisphere, where photography was invented, ‘north light’ is ideal for portrait photographs, as it shines from that part of the sky where there is no direct sun, and the light is even and diffused. In the Sydney where this poem is set, north light is the direct glare of the sun.
Appears–in: An Inflection of Silence and Other Poems, Editor: Christopher Pollnitz, University of Newcastle, 1986, p.142; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988 University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.8.
077 . Widower
Moving among the dull red glow, which
1: the dull red glow] The narrow energy band of red or amber light, at low levels, does not affect photographic printing paper and was thus used as a ‘safe-light’ to provide some illumination in photographic darkrooms. The chemical development of photograph paper is now (in 2006) almost obsolete.
Appears–in: An Inflection of Silence and Other Poems, Editor: Christopher Pollnitz, University of Newcastle, 1986, p.143; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988 University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.9;
078 . Debbie & Co.
The Council pool’s chockablok
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.46 no.2 Winter 1987, pp.186–187; The Age (Melbourne) 22 January 1992, Section: Tempo, p.5; London Review of Books (date?); Australian Verse : An Oxford Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp.84–85; The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Editors: John Tranter, Philip Mead, Penguin Australia, 1991, pp.281–282; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, pp.18–19.
080 . Voodoo
From his rushing-away, from his
Sometimes I think that the ghosts of the literary critics Matthew Arnold and F.R. Leavis lurk behind this poem.
33: Mini Moke] a small inexpensive British car. See photo.
Appears–in: The Phoenix Review Special Issue, Winter 1987, p.74; Agenda (UK) (date?); Surfers Paradise (‘Voodoo’ was then titled ‘Lingua Franca’; date?); Thylazine magazine, Thylazine’s Special Feature : Poets at Work, 2002; Landbridge : contemporary Australian poetry, Editor: John Kinsella, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1999, p.298; Australian Verse : An Oxford Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.83; Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Editors: Robert Gray, Geoffrey Lehmann, Heinemann, 1991, pp.361–362; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, pp.21–22.
081 . Fine Arts
Beyond their exhausting vanity and their hatreds
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.43 no.4 Summer 1984; London Review of Books (date?); collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.24.
082 . The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Sunbathing on deck’s the done thing,
Originally filmed in 3-D, this 1954 movie was directed by Jack Arnold. See note for High School Confidential, below. The actor Ben Chapman played the role of the creature; here he is in costume, below.
29: Duck and cover!] The title of a widely-circulated 1951 US Civil Defense film for children in which Bert the Turtle shows what to do in case of atomic attack. It is in the public domain. You can see poster for the film here:
You can also download a 3-Megabyte QuickTime version of the entire movie with musical sound-track here: [»]
31: like a dead / king] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, Scene i, Lines 210–216: Hamlet: ‘… Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel? Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, / Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.’
Appears–in: The Weekend Australian Magazine 26–27 October 1985, p.17; Web Del Sol http: //www.webdelsol.com/ (no date); Eye Dialect 4, Spring 2001 http: //www.contemporarypoetry.com/dialect/issuefour.htm; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.31.
083 . High School Confidential
Remember blotting paper? The Year of the Pen?
This 1958 monochrome rock’n’roll movie was directed by Jack Arnold, who also directed The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.44 no.2 Winter 1985; London Review of Books (date?); Verse (UK); collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.33.
084 . Stratocruiser
This is a dream I had each night in Korea,
A lumbering giant in its time, and biggest of the immediately post-war transports, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser was the airliner version of the 367 Boeing Stratofreighter, which in turn was the transport version of B-29 Superfortress bomber.
It first flew on July 8, 1947. It had four 3,500 hp propeller engines and two pressurised decks seating up to a hundred passengers on transatlantic routes. Only fifty-five civil examples were sold and the type is chiefly remembered because it usually had a downstairs bar (in what had been the bomb bay). When Dylan Thomas flew to the US in 1953 he spent the entire trip in the downstairs bar. In those days it was a long trip. In 1946 it took twenty hours to fly from New York to Paris, with two refuelling stops, at Shannon in Ireland and Gander in Newfoundland.
10: the Sea of Japan] Between Korea and Japan.
Appears–in: Web Del Sol http: //www.webdelsol.com/; Eye Dialect no. 4, http: //www.contemporarypoetry.com/dialect/issuefour.htm, April 2001; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.34.
085 . Laminex
Staring through the steam that clouds the window
Laminex is a trademarked laminated decorative and hard-wearing plastic surface for table and counter tops.
Appears–in: The Weekend Australian Magazine 27–28 July 1985, p.21; Verse (UK); collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.42.
086 . Lufthansa
Flying up a valley in the Alps where the rock
The poem reconstructs a flight over the European Alps in 1984. The poem won a prize on the occasion of The Australian newspaper’s twentieth anniversary. I don’t often go in for free brand-name plugs, but this one seemed just right for the image of Teutonic scientific precision the poem opens with.
16: the snow-drifts on the north side / of the woods and model villages] In 1989 I prepared some notes for a poetry reading on ABC radio: This… poem is set specifically a few thousand feet above the European Alps, travelling North… in a small plane flying from Venice to Munich, in Southern Germany. I get as frightened in a plane as most people — it really is an unnatural act, isn’t it, for a human to fly through the air — and underneath the poem I’m sure you can hear all sorts of anxieties rustling about. And though the poem addresses issues like contemporary technology, and art and the European Renaissance, it does all this through Australian eyes — for example, I was fascinated to notice from the air that a shadow-print of unmelted snow (this was in the Spring) lay alongside objects like fences and buildings, always (of course, when you think about it) on the North side of the objects. In Europe, the sun shines from the South, and first melts all the snow it can reach. From the plane, the landscape had the look of a map with an odd double-image effect. I assume a European would hardly have noticed something so obvious. The photograph above was taken on that flight, above southern Germany.
Appears–in: The Australian 1986; Poems : Selected from The Australian’s 20th Anniversary Competition, Editors: Judith Rodriguez, Andrew Taylor, North Ryde, New South Wales: Angus and Robertson, 1985, p.85; New American Writing 1996; The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse, Editor: Les A. Murray, Melbourne, Victoria : Oxford University Press, 1986, p.324; Contemporary Australian Poetry : An Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Knoxfield, Victoria : Houghton Mifflin, 1990, p.138; The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature, Editors: Ken Goodwin and Alan Lawson, South Melbourne, Victoria : Macmillan, 1990, p.385; The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Editors: John Tranter and Philip Mead, Ringwood, Victoria : Penguin, 1991, pp.285–286; On the Move : Australian Poets in Europe, Editor: Geoff Page, Springwood, New South Wales : Butterfly Books, 1992, p.52; Changing Places : Australian Writers in Europe 1960s–1990s, Editors: Laurie Hergenhan and Irmtraud Petersson, St Lucia, Queensland : University of Queensland Press, 1994, p.142; The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse, Editor: Les A. Murray, South Melbourne, Victoria : Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.330–331; Landbridge : contemporary Australian poetry , Editor: John Kinsella, North Fremantle, Western Australia : Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1999, p.296; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.46.
087 . On Looking Into the American Anthology
In California a young man is stuffing a briefcase —
11: one on top, / and then his double.] The poem was written when the poets Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky were young. They each went on to become Poet Laureate of the United States of America in their middle age, Hass from 1995 to 1997, and his friend Pinsky walking in the door as Hass walked out, Laureate from 1997 to 2000.
21: The sun… rises, rhododactylos] ‘Rosy-fingered’, an epithet for the dawn often used by Homer.
Appears–in: Kunapipi vol.8 no.3 1986, pp.41–42; The Adelaide Review no.36 March 1987, p.15; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, pp.40–41.
088 . Shadow Detail
You press the bakelite button, and wait,
1: bakelite] The Belgian-born inventor Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863–1944) invented Bakelite in Brooklyn NY in 1907 as a synthetic substitute for the shellac used in electronic insulation. Bakelite was made by mixing formaldehyde and carbolic acid, and is considered the first plastic.
Appears–in: New American Writing no. 10, 1992; London Review of Books (date?); ; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.47.
090 . Parallel Lines
11: post blotto triste] The Latin motto ‘post coitum omne animal triste’ means ‘after sexual intercourse every animal is sad.’
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.3 no.1 April 1985, pp..179–181; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, pp.48–50.
092 . Having Completed My Fortieth Year
Although art is, in the end, anonymous,
The poem is a stanza-by-stanza reply to Peter Porter’s poem ‘On This Day I Complete My Fortieth Year’, itself a reply to Byron’s ‘On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year’, first published in the Morning Chronicle, October 29, 1824, the year of Byron’s death. [“This morning Lord Byron came from his bedroom into the apartment where Colonel Stanhope and some friends were assembled, and said with a smile — ‘You were complaining, the other day, that I never write any poetry now: — this is my birthday, and I have just finished something, which, I think, is better than what I usually write.’ He then produced these noble and affecting verses, which were afterwards found written in his journals, with only the following introduction: ‘Jan. 22; on this day I complete my 36th year.’” A Narrative of Lord Byron’s Last Journey to Greece, 1825, p. 125, by Count Gamba.
33: their droppings bronzed like babies’ booties] refers to the practice of casting babies’ first shoes, usually knitted woollen boots (or booties), in bronze, as a memento of the child’s infancy, perhaps to be presented to the child when adulthood is reached at the age of twenty-one. The implication is that the products of poets are preserved by similar formal means (especially by the carapace of rhyme) for futurity, and that the enantiomorphic identity of left and right feet is similar to the sameness-but-difference of rhyming words at the end of lines of poetry.
49: Sydney Bitter] A type of beer that hadn’t existed until I invented it, now manufactured by the Hahn brewing company.
58: drudger’s barge] A dredger’s [sic] barge appears in Rimbaud’s poem ‘Memory’.
59: being ‘absolutely modern’ as my mentor taught] ‘one must be absolutely modern’ is a line — a paragraph, in fact — in the last section of Arthur Rimbaud’s farewell to literature, the prose poem ‘Une Saison en Enfer’, 1873: ‘Il faut être absolument moderne.’
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.42 no.3 Spring 1983, pp.328–329; London Review of Books (date?); Verse (UK); The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, Ed. Tranter, John, and Mead, Philip. Ringwood, Victoria : Penguin, 1991, pp.283–285, collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, pp.43–45.
095 . Boarding School
Bright gods, trust me to play
7: silver rose] shower head.
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.4 no.1 July 1986, p.125; Outrider : A Journal of Multicultural Literature in Australia vol.5 no.1/2 1988, p.25; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.67.
096 . Papyrus
Look at Egypt, sunning itself. We
7: billy on the boil] Billy or billy can: Australian.; any container in which water may be carried and boiled over a campfire, usually a makeshift tin can, or any pot or kettle in which tea is boiled over a campfire. Perhaps from the Scots dialect ‘billy-pot’.
21: hetaerae] Hetaerae were courtesans, that is to say, sophisticated companions and prostitutes. In ancient Greek society, hetaerae were independent and sometimes influential women who were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. Composed mostly of ex-slaves and foreigners, these courtesans were renowned for their achievements in dance and music, as well as for their physical talents. There is evidence that, unlike most other women in Greek society at the time, hetaerae were educated. It is remarkable that hetaerae not only were the only females who would actively take part in the symposiums but also that their opinions and beliefs were respected by men. (Wikipedia)
The last stanza imitates the appearance of ancient texts, where some of the words are missing.
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.4 no.1 July 1986, p.126; Outrider : A Journal of Multicultural Literature in Australia, vol.5 no.1/2 1988, p.118; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.68.
097 . After the Dance
Someone has raked the driveway smooth,
4: ligatures] From the Latin ligare, to bind or tie up. ‘In writing and typography, a ligature occurs where two or more letterforms are written or printed as a unit.’ (Wikipedia) An example is the ligature “ffi” in the word “official”. Not all fonts have ligatures, and not all computer systems or computer programs can show them: exceptions are some recent fonts designed for the Macintosh platform (e.g. Hoefler Text) and programs such as Adobe InDesign for the Windows platform, which can show ligatures where a font provides them.
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.4 no.1 July 1986, p.127; Outrider : A Journal of Multicultural Literature in Australia vol.5 no.1/2 1988, p.117; Works on Paper (Cambridge UK, 2002); collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.69.
098 . Haberdashery
Hey, you there with the scented lipstick,
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.4 no.1 July 1986, p.129; Outrider : A Journal of Multicultural Literature in Australia vol.5 no.1/2 1988, p.119; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.71.
099a . Poolside
The host climbs out, soaked and spitting oaths,
Some time after I had written this poem I realised that it revolved around the concept of pairs of similar things.
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.2 no.2–3 Spring 1983, p.160; Outrider : A Journal of Multicultural Literature in Australia, vol.6 no.1 June 1989, p.26; Contemporary Australian Poetry : An Anthology, Editor: John Leonard, Knoxfield, Victoria : Houghton Mifflin, 1990, pp.138–139; New American Writing no. 10, 1992; Web Del Sol at http: //www.webdelsol.com/; Eye Dialect: no. 4, at http: //www.contemporarypoetry.com/dialect/issuefour.htm, April 2001; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.72.
099b . At The Newcastle Hotel
The last sunlight filters into the bar
The Newcastle Hotel in George Street Sydney near Circular Quay was a legendary watering hole for artists, journalist, accountants, lecturers, wharf labourers and students in those times; it closed in the early 1970s. The walls were covered with bad student paintings for sale. I met my wife-to-be in the front bar of The Newcastle in 1964.
3: green drink in a green shade]
…Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade…
— Andrew Marvell, ‘The Garden’
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.4 no.1 July 1986, p.132; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.76.
100 . Affairs of the Heart
Affairs of the heart, they say
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.4 no.1 July 1986, p.135; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.79.
101a . Lullaby
I’m not jealous of your pet executives —
Alternative title: ‘Sonnet: Lullaby’
6: Woop Woop] the made-up name of a mythical town in Outback Australia, characteristics: remote, rustic, old-fashioned, out of touch, absurdly rural.
Appears–in: The Age (Melbourne) 5 July 1986, p.11; Hermes (University of Sydney, 1986); Poetry Australia no.107–108, 1986, p.62 (doubtful); as (alternative title for translation) ‘Berceuse’, first line: Je ne suis pas jaloux de vos jeunes loups domestiques –; language: English and French, in Echange Sud (Poetry Australia), Editor: Christine Michel, Marseilles, France: Sud, 1989, pp.190–191; The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets, Editor: Geoff Page, ACT, Ginninderra Press, 2003, p.38; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.81.
101b . Dirty Weekend
My husband doesn’t know and wouldn’t care
3: fuck-truck] A ranch wagon, station wagon or van fitted out with a mattress. For its emergence through Australian slang into poetry, see Professor Gerald Wilkes, Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms, 1985 or later edition, which quotes this poem.
15: Serepax] One brand-name of the anti-anxiety agent Oxazepam, or 7-chloro-1,3-dihydro-3-hydroxy-5-phenyl-2H-1,4-benzodiazepine-2-one, belonging to the benzodiazepine group which includes Valium, usually tinted pink.
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.41 no.3 Spring 1982, p.395; London Review of Books (date?); collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.84.
102 . La Pulqueria
The dance floor is the threshing floor. The next day
Title: La Pulqueria] A pulqueria is a Mexican saloon selling pulque, a crude milky alcoholic brew derived from the juice or sap of the agave, a member of the aloe family. When distilled, pulque makes a colourless liquor, mescal. In his novel On The Road (London: Andre Deutsch, 1958. First edition, pp. 301–2) Kerouac visits Mexico City: "We wandered in a frenzy and a dream. We ate beautiful steaks for forty-eight cents in a strange tiled Mexican cafeteria with generations of marimba musicians standing at one immense marimba — also wandering singing guitarists, and old men on corners blowing trumpets. You went by the sour stink of pulque saloons; they gave you a water glass of cactus juice in there, two cents."
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.4 no.1 July 1986, p.142; collected in Under Berlin: New Poems 1988, University of Queensland Press, 1988, p.88.
104 . Breathless
After the meeting had finished. Sandra
This poem is one of four similar long narrative poems — epyllia, really — in the book The Floor of Heaven, published in 1992 and set on the NSW school syllabus for several years under the general topic of ‘gender relations’. The book was widely reviewed, both positively and negatively. Two reviewers objected to the tone — a ‘crudity of feeling’, or too ‘yellow-press’ — and though most reviewers carefully kept the ending a surprise for the sake of the book’s potential readers, one contemporary reviewer simply gave it away. You can read some of those reviews on this site:
[»] Christopher Pollnitz
[»] Andrew Riemer
[»] Kate Lilley
[»] Catherine Kenneally
You can download and read an electronic PDF version of the poem: [»]. The printed version in Urban Myths has some minor editorial changes.
New: Background reading, author notes and links relating to The Floor of Heaven!
5: Florenzini’s] Among the dreary wowser wasteland of Sydney in the late 1950s and early 1960s there was one oasis of bohemian good cheer, cheap spaghetti and plentiful red wine: a coffee lounge in Elizabeth Street near Hunter Street called Lorenzini’s. It later moved to William Street near King’s Cross, and later (late 1960s, I think) closed. The Newcastle Hotel in George Street Sydney near Circular Quay was another gathering place for artists, journalists and others; it closed in the early 1970s and the Qantas building now occupies the site. A detailed description of it is given in chapter ten of Martin Johnston’s novel Cicada Gambit (Hale & Iremonger, GPO Box 2552, Sydney NSW 2001) where it is disguised as the Wessex Hotel. The walls were covered with bad student paintings for sale. These two places (plus a few others) are blended into Florenzini’s.
479: some insurance executive from New Haven] In 1916 the poet Wallace Stevens joined the home office of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity and left New York City to live in Hartford, where he would remain the rest of his life. By 1934, he had been named Vice President of his company. One of his poems is titled “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” (1950).
692: The Harbour flows always to the East… ] the poem which Mr Lee recites is a loose (and indeed rather clumsy) translation of the first and last stanzas of ‘Meditation at Red Cliff’, by Su Shih, the Sung Dynasty Chinese poet and scholar of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism whose literary name was Su Tung P’o, A.D. 1036–1101. A complete and more reliable version, translated by Yu Min-chuan, can be found in the anthology The White Pony, ed. Robert Payne, Mentor (The New American Library of World Literature), New York, 1960, page 266.
Appears–in: The Age Monthly Review (Melbourne) vol.9 no.8 November 1989, pp.6–8, 20–22; collected in The Floor of Heaven, Angus and Robertson/ HarperCollins, Pymble, New South Wales, 1992, pp.67–90.
127 . Journey
The door slides shut with a hiss and it seems we’re moving out
The poem is written in the form used by Francis Webb in his early poem ‘Towards the Land of the Composer.’
Appears–in: London Review of Books vol.14 no.12 25 June 1992, p.23; The Booksmith (bookstore) internet site in San Francisco, April 1997 at http: //www.booksmith.com/reader/tranter.html; The Best Australian Poems 2004, Editor: Les A. Murray, Melbourne, Victoria: Black Inc., 2004, pp.185–187.
129 . At The Florida
I loved the city like a gift
43: Hartford] See the note on line 479 of ‘Breathless’, above.
Appears–in: Otis Rush no.6–7 May 1991; Verse Spring 1991, pp.24–25; collected in At The Florida, 1993, pp.40–41.
131 . God on a Bicycle
A handful of snow turns into a cloud
I was walking along Lygon Street, Carlton, in Melbourne, on Tuesday 16 January 1990, when John Forbes bowled up on a bicycle. “G’Day, Jack,” he said as he dismounted. “You know I nearly got knocked over a minute ago. It wasn’t the car driver’s fault, it was my fault, really. It must the be extra oxygen or something, but you get quite high riding along on a bike. You feel like God, that nothing can happen to you. Wait a minute — God on a Bicycle — a great title for my autobiography!” … This with a mischievous grin. “No it’s not, mate,” I said. “It’s the title of a poem I’m going home to write later today.” And so I did. Not long after the poem first appeared in print, I heard that John had fallen off his bike in Melbourne, while carrying a vacuum cleaner strapped to his back. He injured his arm badly. When he next saw me he said “Don’t write any more bloody poems like that one, mate; it’ll be the death of me.”
1: a cloud / shaped like a camel, then a weasel] Hamlet, 3.2.392–99: Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel? / Polonius: By th’ mass, and ’tis like a camel indeed. / Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel. / Polonius: It is back’d like a weasel. / Hamlet: Or like a whale. / Polonius: Very like a whale.
Appears–in: The Sydney Morning Herald 25 January 1992, p.44; Jacket no.3 April 1998; The Times Literary Supplement, 1996; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.13; Homage to John Forbes, Editor: Ken Bolton, Brandl and Schlesinger, 2002, p.39.
132 . Dark Harvest
Thunder unrolling over the vulnerable city,
Appears–in: Paris Review 1991; collected in At The Florida, 1993, pp.30–35.
136 . Ariadne on Lesbos
Here the past unfolds in a track of wonder
The Cretan princess Ariadne fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus, and helped him escape the labyrinth after he’d killed the Minotaur. They eloped together, but Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos. Dionysus, the god of wine, found her, and when he married her she became immortal. She is unlikely to have visited the Aegean island of Lesbos, home of the poet Sappho. This poem is written in an English accentual-syllabic adaptation of the Sapphic metre, and is the only poem I have written entirely in Sapphics. Here is an epigrammatic illustration of the form:
Writing Sapphics well is a tricky business.
Lines begin and end with a pair of trochees;
in between them dozes a dactyl, rhythm
rising and falling,
like a drunk asleep at a party. Ancient
Greek — the language seemed to be made for Sapphics,
not a worry; anyone using English
finds it a bastard.
‘water-clock droplets] The Greeks used the ‘clepsydra’, a clock rather like an hour-glass, that told time by the passing of water through a small hole.
‘Boofhead] A droll character from a 1950s Australian newspaper comic strip.
Appears–in: Parnassus (New York), 1993; collected in At The Florida, 1993, pp.8–10.
139a . Days in the Capital
Those coastal fevers are for young people.
The poem is not a translation, and it is only loosely in the style of the Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy who was born on 29 April 1863 and died on the same date in 1933 in Alexandria (Egypt). The 29th of April happens to be my own birthday. The lamp called ‘Raymonde’, however, is actual, and belonged to Ormond College in Melbourne where I wrote the poem.
Appears–in: The Times Literary Supplement 24–30 August 1990, p.887; The Canberra Times 25 April 1992 (C8); collected in Pamphlet Poets [Series] : Series 2, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory : National Library of Australia, 1992, pp.16–17; collected in At The Florida, 1993.
139b . A Marriage
He takes her hand; she clambers
Appears–in: The Canberra Times 8 May 1993, C9; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.5.
140 . Falling
The camera lens dips into the river; the silvered
Appears–in: Collected in At The Florida, 1993, pp.42–43..
142 . Anyone Home?
I can hear the stop-work whistle
25: Paddock, sir, the witch’s cat.] There seems to be a misreading of Macbeth Act I Scene 1 here. ‘Graymalkin’ is the witches’ familiar spirit in the form of a cat, and ‘paddock’ is an archaic English word for toad:
First Witch: Where the place?
Second Witch: Upon the heath.
Third Witch: There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch: I come, Graymalkin!
Second Witch: Paddock calls.
Third Witch: Anon.
ALL: Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
39: Appaloosa] A short, sturdy horse usually with a spotted or mottled coat, brought to the Americas by the Spanish (or perhaps by Russian fur traders) and associated with the Nez Percé Pueblo Indian tribe from about 1700 A.D.
52: Jack invented the calculus] Another misreading: the Scottish mathematician John Napier in fact invented logarithms, not the calculus.
Appears–in: The Age Monthly Review October 1988, p.5; Nimrod : International Journal of Prose and Poetry vol.36 no.2 Spring/Summer 1993, pp.38–40; Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Editors: Robert Gray and Geoffrey Lehmann, Heinemann, 1991, pp.363–366; collected in At The Florida, 1993, pp.15–17.
145 . The Romans
A sketchy reflection in the smoked window
This poem came to me while visiting my dentist, Dr Grahame Caisley, whose surgery at that time overlooked Sydney’s Hyde Park. Ibises had recently begun to descend on Sydney’s parks from their usual haunts in the country, and a sub-text of the poem is the connection between librarians, ibises and the ancient city of Alexandria. The poet and librarian Callimachus (c.305–c.240 B.C.) is supposed to have quarrelled with his colleague (and erstwhile student) Apollonius, accusing him of writing poems to please the common multitude. He wrote a bitter poem attacking him called ‘Ibis’ (the ibis was supposed to purge itself through the mouth), which has been lost, though a supposed translation of it by Ovid exists. As the Ovid poem notes, Ovid ‘named his enemy’ an ibis and indicates (447–8) that he was imitating Callimachus. Apparently ibises still infest Alexandria, fossicking among what rubbish they can find.
Appears–in: The Adelaide Review no. 54 August 1988, p.24; The Bulletin vol.112 no.5742 23 October 1990, p.105; Days in the Capital (Pamphlet Poets Series 2, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory : National Library of Australia, 1992, pp.4–5; Poetry Review UK Summer 1991; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.4.
146 . Storm over Sydney
Blustering over the Harbour, brilliant rain
A poem that inhabits the landscape of noted Australian poet Kenneth Slessor’s ‘William Street’, and attempts to employ some of his verbal richness. His traffic-lights (‘red globes of light, the liquor-green’) are echoed by the ruby cellophane and holly in this poem.
A note on the form: when my friend the late Martin Johnston and I engaged in an exchange of poems in 1979, the sequence of eight or ten pieces we wrote alternately happened to be thirty lines long, mostly with complicated rules and rhymes, and I’ve taken the following note (with some amplification) from the deliberately un-serious notes we composed to accompany that unfinished project:
The ‘trenter’. The form was first given formal recognition by the critic Ernst Dreizig, in the early thirties. In his article ‘Thirty Years of German Expressionism — Poetics and Perversion’ he traced the use of this form to the French poet Jean-Claude Trentignant, who in 1830 published (only thirty copies of) a small volume of 30-line poems, in Alexandrines, with the rhyme scheme:
a b a c b d c e d f e g f h g i h j i k j l k m l n m o n o
the rhymes of which (except for the first aba and the last ono) look alternately forward and backward three lines at a time. Dreizig regarded this pattern as psychologically superior to the couplet, which he claimed was ‘monotonous’, and to the standard abab quatrain. Its rhymed use is no longer to be seen, but in its blank verse form it could be claimed to extend the range of discourse available to the sonnet without falling into garrulity. Its name comes of course from the French trente, for ‘thirty’.
28. The ‘little park’ I had in mind is Beare Park, at Elizabeth Bay in Sydney, near where Slessor lived at one time.
Appears–in: Voices vol.2 no.3 Spring 1992, pp.52–53. In the Gutter… Looking at the Stars: A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross, Editors: Mandy Sayer, Louis Nowra, Random House, 2000, p.328; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.3.
148 . Opus Dei
What I have scribbled I have scribbled, and thus
The opening line echoes Pontius Pilate’s ‘quod scripsi scripsi’. The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, commonly known as Opus Dei (Latin for “Work of God”) or the Work, is an international prelature of the Roman Catholic Church, comprising ordinary lay people and secular priests headed by a prelate, whose mission contributes to spreading the Catholic teaching that everyone is called to become a saint and an apostle of Jesus Christ, and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. Founded on October 2, 1928 by a Roman Catholic priest, St. Josemaría Escrivá, Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature by Pope John Paul II, making it a part of the Church’s institutional structure. Despite its emphasis on good works and prayer, it has often been accused of secrecy, ultraconservative beliefs, a right-wing political agenda, and even cult-like methods.
4: ‘Blue Hills’ is a frail murmur through static] ‘Blue Hills’ was the title of a long-running Australian radio serial about rural life broadcast nationally on weekdays from 28 February 1949 to 30 September 1976, itself a sequel to an earlier serial ‘The Lawsons’, both written by Gwen Meredith.
5–6: the river heights a warning of how the white man / ruined a continent] The Australian Broadcasting Commission broadcast on national radio a litany of river heights every weekday. Rivers in Australia had mostly been narrow, deep and clear-flowing before the arrival of the British. Deforestation and European farming practices have since caused massive soil erosion and consequent silting and widening of the rivers. Until the 1950s coastal shipping was a thriving industry. Most of Australia’s coastal rivers are now un-navigable.
53: bodgies] There are two senses of the word bodgie in Australian English, both probably deriving from an earlier (now obsolete) word bodger, which probably derives from British dialect bodge, ‘to work clumsily’. In Australian English in the 1940s and 1950s it meant: ‘Something (or occasionally someone) which is fake, false, or worthless’ [… .] In the 1950s another sense of bodgie arose. The word was used to describe a male youth, distinguished by his conformity to certain fashions of dress and larrikin behaviour; analogous to the British ‘teddy boy’. (Australian National Dictionary.)
56: the hair Hokusai] — I was thinking of Hokasai’s famous woodcut “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” (1831).
56: delft] The famous blue tint of fine faience porcelain made in Delft in Holland (in imitation of Chinese originals in the 1600s) came from calcining cobalt ore with quartz sand and potash and was very expensive.
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.51 no.3 Spring 1992, pp.556–559; Verse May 1991; collected in At The Florida, 1993, pp.22–25.
152 . North Woods
The whirring projector flings this
21: trochus shirt button] The marine gastropod Trochus niloticus [photo] has been harvested commercially for over a century, mainly for the manufacture of buttons from the shell. Plastics largely replaced natural shell in button manufacture in the 1950s, though the industry has revived since the 1970s because natural shell buttons have become popular on high-quality shirts. Trochus shell exports from the major trochus-producing countries total 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes annually.
Appears–in: Otis Rush no.6–7, May 1991, pp.22–23; Verse [UK], vol.10 no.1 Spring 1993, pp.8–10; collected in At The Florida, 1993, pp.51–54.
155 . Con’s Café
My rage becomes an uproar, but
‘Con’s Café’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
Appears–in: Southerly vol.50 no.1 March 1990, p.20; New Music : An Anthology of Contemporary Australian Poetry, Editor: John Leonard, Five Islands Press, 2001, p.171; Verse vol 6 no 3 winter 1989; Poetry International No 7/8, 2003–04; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.171.
156 . At Naxos
I write to you from the end of the world.
‘At Naxos’ is a reverse haibun. See note. The Australian audio artist Kaye Mortley asked me to compose a prose piece in the form of a letter or postcard from the Greek island of Naxos. She was planning a radio work in Paris, to be made up of a montage of a dozen or so similar pieces. Naxos was the island where the ingrate Theseus had abandoned the distraught Ariadne, the woman who had saved his life by providing him with the thread that led him out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Poems, operas, short stories and novels have been written on the tragic subject. All kinds of possibilities presented themselves. I knew that another of Kaye’s contributors was to be the American expatriate writer Harry Mathews, erstwhile editor of the Paris magazine Locus Solus, a special collaborative issue of which (Summer 1961) had featured two poems by the Australian hoax poet Ern Malley. In turn, I had noticed that Harry Mathews had used the phrase ‘a fine rain anoints the canal machinery’ in his The Ondradek Stadium. I had recognised this as a line from the first poem in John Ashbery’s first book of poems Some Trees. I foresaw dozens of fugitive texts by authors of various nationalities and diverse literary allegiances, all ending with this beautiful phrase, which, long ago, an American critic had singled out for special contempt in a dismissive review of Ashbery’s work.
1: I write to you from the end of the world] This line is a loose translation of the opening line of Henri Michaux’s prose poem ‘Je Vous Écris d’un Pays Lointain’. The poem also contains the following lines: ‘The scent of eucalyptus trees surrounds us: kindness, serenity, but it can’t protect us from everything, or do you think it really can protect us from everything?’ Perhaps Ern Malley could answer that.
Appears–in: The Weekend Australian 26–27 September 1992, Review p.6; Radio France Culture; Poetry International No 7/8, 2003–04; A Salt Reader ; Salt no.5–7, Editor: John Kinsella,, 1995, pp.284–285. Collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.74.
157 . Two Views of Lake Placid
Here at last in Holiday-Land — click! — I’ll
‘Two Views of Lake Placid’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
Appears–in: Southerly vol.52 no.3 1992, p.186. Collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.73.
158 . Snap
A rainbow, tinted various pale shades — the
‘Snap’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
27: back to or thereabouts…] [should be:] back to 1930 or thereabouts…] [word missing]
Appears–in: Artforce no.72 June 1991, p.11; Pitch (Carlisle, Cumbria) March 2002; East Village Poetry Web (Internet) June 1998; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.75.
159 . Old Europe
Turn from these old men sobbing on the sand;
‘Old Europe’ is a reverse haibun. See note. Viola mille loups, mille graines sauvages / Qu’emporte, non sans aimer les liserons, / Cette religieuse apres-midi d’orage / Sur l’Europe ancienne ou cent hordes iront! — Arthur Rimbaud, from ‘Michel et Christine’ (‘See the thousand wolves, the thousand wild seeds which this religious stormy afternoon caries away, not without loving the bindweeds, over old Europe where a hundred hordes will flow!’ The version is Oliver Bernard’s translation for the Penguin Rimbaud.)
Appears–in: Collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.78. The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse, Editor: Peter Porter, Oxford University Press, 1996. pp.176–177.
160 . Box Contaminant
To claim a fault so arrogant, you queer,
‘Box Contaminant’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
Appears–in: Collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.85.
161 . A Plume of Ash
When the medication hits, the freeway appears to
‘A Plume of Ash’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
19: as glib as a Martian poet] In the late 1970s Craig Raine’s poem ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ appeared, in which an English family’s day-to-day life was viewed as though through the limited and distorting linguistic apparatus of a visiting alien. To thus mock up a poem from a thick appliqué crust of displaced metaphors became a trend for a while in London. I showed John Forbes an early and rather garrulous draft of this poem. He glanced at it briefly and handed it back, with the comment ‘The last line’s fucked, mate.’ Which it was: I deleted it.
Appears–in: Collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.86.
162 . Chicken Shack
By the second reel you’re exhausted;
‘Chicken Shack’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
4: Ektachrome] A reversal film (for color transparencies or slides) manufactured by Kodak.
20: First Amendment] The first amendment to the United States constitution reads: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’ The first ten amendments to the Constitution is called the Bill of Rights, went into effect on Dec. 15, 1791, when the state of Virginia ratified it, giving the bill the majority of ratifying states required to protect citizens from the power of the federal government.
21: put up your bright weapons lest the dew rust them] Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them. (Shakespeare: Othello).
Appears–in: Southerly vol.52 no.3, 1992, p.188. Collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.87.
163 . Cable Chimp
The old man needs a whisky at the academic
‘Cable Chimp’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
12: boob-tube] during the 1960s, a derogatory reference to television. Boobs = breasts.
20: vice Chancellor] stet.
21: forlorn hope,
1. a perilous or desperate enterprise.
2. a vain hope.
3. Obs. a group of soldiers assigned to perform some unusually dangerous service.
[1530–40; folk-etymological alter. of D verloren hoop lit., lost troop]
Appears–in: Collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.88. New Music: An Anthology of Contemporary Australian Poetry, Editor: John Leonard, Five Islands Press, 2001, pp.171–172.
164 . Bells Under Water
On safari, sport and booty,
‘Bells Under Water’ is a reverse haibun. See note.
4: Tinseltown] A popular derogatory reference to Sydney.
21: Big Smoke] Ditto. Compare Edinburgh: ‘The city is affectionately nicknamed “Auld Reekie”, Lowland Scots for “Old Smoky”. This is because when the only fuel available was coal or wood all the chimneys would spew lots of smoke into the air. “Auld Reekie” also referred to the less than sanitary living conditions would lead to a strong odour covering the city.’ (Wikipedia)
21: tram symphony] Sydney had trams in the 1930s.
21: playing tootsie] Perhaps derived from ‘playing footsie’, secretly touching another person’s feet with your own under the table.
Appears–in: Hermes, University of Sydney, 1991, p.36; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.90.
165 . Aurora
I love the flush of the Reached Zenith
‘Aurora’ is a reverse haibun. See note. 21: hoon] Australian slang, hooligan, hoodlum, idiot, a show-off who drives a vehicle in a noisy fashion with little regard for others.
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.48 no.1 Autumn 1989. p.19; collected in At The Florida, 1993, p.94.
166 . The Duck Abandons Hollywood
I flew my long uphill glide to immortality
‘The Duck Abandons Hollywood’ is a reverse haibun. See note. The title is a deliberate echo of Cavafy’s ‘The God Abandons Antony’, and the theme is borrowed from a poem by John Ashbery (who said he wouldn’t mind), ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’. The basic structure of the poem is modelled on Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, with most of Wordsworth’s imagery replaced by synonyms. ‘A poet could not but be gay’, for example, becomes ‘a troubadour could not but be / bisexual’.
Appears–in: Southerly vol.49 no.3 September 1989, p.334.
167 . Neuromancing Miss Stein
Hemingway looked in to see the great artist he really was, …
This piece, like ‘The Howling Twins’, began with an analysis of the frequency and distribution of letter-groups in two pieces of writing. Philip Mead’s Networked Language (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008) has a chapter devoted to these texts, published in the collection Different Hands : Seven Stories (Folio and Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1998) with a particular focus on the technological setting and the dialectics of the creative act. As he says (Mead 393):
Works like Different Hands provide a space of poesis, now poesIs, for experimenting with the genetic make-up of language. By attempting to distance language from its original ‘human’ embodiments, via the assistance of the computer and computer programs, Tranter is tinkering with the central genetic material of symbolic humanity, the DNA code of language, and e-pastiching poetic clones from existing texts with every appearance of poems. As Katherine Parrish observes, rightly I think, ‘those’ — she deliberately avoids the words ‘authors’ or ‘writers’ — ‘who use automatic text generative techniques in their work do so for conflicting ends [...] aleatory techniques in literary production are no guarantor nor liberator of conscious control of the writing process.’ This explains, perhaps, some of Tranter’s own understandable anxieties about the process, allegorised as we have seen in the contradictory framing of Different Hands, anxieties no doubt overriden by the dangerous pleasures of experimentation, and the seductive attractions of freedom-effects. Both of which the reader values. The digital-replicant-depthless-e-pastiche-computationally-generated poetry of Different Hands exists as an affront to any serious literary work. Its postmodernism, in Jameson’s specific sense, subsists in its extended degradation of the modernist texts it takes as its arbitrary origin. It has been simulated, not by any ‘human’ construction of meaning, but, significantly, by the dumbly digital combinatorics of letter-frequency analysis and a vibrant posthuman improvisation. This is what happens to poetry when analogue aesthetics break down. You get poetry as special effects. That these poems should have any appearance of poetic humanness is a travesty. The wonder is that the original fragments of text should have held within them these potentialities, worlds that Tranter is able to release in the seven stories of Different Hands.
This piece began with Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas, and William Gibson, Neuromancer. Most of the words in the version printed here are my own. As this text is prose, it has not been given line numbers.
— an indelible pencil and licked it] Because fountain pens sometimes leak, most fountain-pen ink is washable, that is, soluble and non-permanent. Before the patenting of the cheap and workable ball-point pen by Lazlo Biro in Argentina in 1944, the best means of writing a permanent message was to use an indelible pencil (or ‘copying pencil’, ‘receipt pencil’ or ‘ink pencil’; German: Kopierstift, Tintenstift; French: À Copier; Italian: Copiertivo). The ‘lead’ made a coloured line: often light gray-purple line, though violet, green and other colours were used. When moistened, the color darkened and became ink-like. The earliest indelible pencils (c.1860–70) sometimes contained silver nitrate (commonly known as lunar caustic), a poison, which darkened when exposed to sunlight. More common was the aniline dye methyl violet (1861), though methylene blue and the other soluble blue anilines were also common. References to other colors such as red (fuchsine), black (nigrosine), green, and a combination of dyes can also be found. See this excellent article: ‘The Copying Pencil: Composition, History, and Conservation Implications’ by Liz Dube at http://aic.stanford.edu/sg/bpg/annual/v17/bp17-05.html. Ms Dube notes:
The wet transfer copying process, patented in 1780 by James Watt, provided copies of documents by pressing a dampened sheet of thin tissue paper onto an original document written in special ink. The dye component of the ink was solubilized and transferred to the moist tissue paper under pressure delivered by a copying press, yielding a mirror-image copy. The use of somewhat transparent tissue paper allowed a “right-reading” copy to be viewed through the verso. By the 1870s, letter copying books became the ubiquitous copying tool for businesses. These volumes contained hundreds of leaves of thin tissue paper, often high quality Japanese papers, bound together for the purpose of bearing copies of outgoing correspondence and other business documents.[…]
Prior to the introduction of copying pencils, the term ‘indelible pencil’ referred to pencils with silver nitrate-based formulations introduced in the late 1850's. Early copying pencil patents, however, indicate that they were also initially conceived for use as indelible pencils — a use which ultimately predominated. One 1877 patent for a copying pencil describes its usefulness as an “ordinary lead pencil… but more permanent, as the marks cannot be erased with rubber”. The terminology of copying and indelible pencils is inconsistent and overlapping. Pencils with similar compositions and characteristics were marketed as copying pencils, indelible pencils, and as both copying and indelible. The terms copying and indelible became largely interchangeable, and indelible seems to have become the preferred term. […]
Given the variety of applications to which copying pencils were employed, it is not surprising that they have found their way into the homes and offices of many people, including business persons, writers, and artists.
The illustrations below are borrowed, with thanks, from a vast and fascinating internet site maintained by at http://www.brandnamepencils.com/ by Bob Truby.
— anagrams for the rhetorical term litotes] … one of which is ‘T.S.Eliot’.
— litotes] A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite, as in ‘This is no small matter’.
Appears–in: Picador New Writing 3, 1995, pp.49–56; Different Hands : Seven Stories, Folio and Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1998, pp.9–16. You can read ‘Mr Rubenking’s Breakdown’, a detailed explanation of the letter-group analysis technique, on this site: [»]
You can read the ten-thousand-word first draft of this piece, produced by the Brekdown program, on this site: [»]
173 . The Howling Twins
The twins Marilyn and Stanley and their friend Charlie Rugg …
This piece, like ‘Neuromancing Miss Stein’, began with an analysis of the frequency and distribution of letter-groups in two pieces of writing. This piece began with Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem ‘Howl’, and the first fifteen pages of The Bobbsey Twins on a Bicycle Trip by ‘Laura Lee Hope’, one of the many pen-names of the indefatigable Edward Stratemeyer. The analysis was assisted by computer, and was concerned only with the characters of the alphabet and a dozen punctuation characters, and not with grammar, syntax or meaning. Then came the construction of a new text based on an amalgamation of the data and index tables of these two letter-group analyses. This first draft was then extensively reworked over many months. Most of the words in the version printed here are my own. As this text is prose, it has not been given line numbers.
You can read ‘Mr Rubenking’s Breakdown’, a detailed explanation of the letter-group analysis technique, on this site: [»]
You can read the ten-thousand-word first draft of this piece, produced by the Brekdown program, on this site: [»]
— Bellevue] A large public psychiatric hospital on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Appears–in: Cordite : Poetry and Poetics Review no.2 1997, pp.8–11; Conjunctions US 23, 1994; Different Hands : Seven Stories, Folio and Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1998, pp.17–25.
180 . Blackout
Thunder heard — speak to ourselves,
‘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.
The title ‘Blackout’ is a deliberate reference to Ted Berrigan’s long text work “White-Out”, which was composed with typewriter correction fluid with which he covered most of the words of an old novel, the remaining words making up the story. You can read an excerpt from that book in Jacket magazine at http://jacketmagazine.com/16/ah-ber1.html.
Appears–in: Part one of three Southerly vol 60 no 2, 2000, pp.101–105; Part two of three SALT vol 12 2000, pp.16–19; Blackout (the entire work as a booklet) published by both Barque Press, Cambridge UK 2000, and Vagabond Press, Newtown, Sydney, Australia, 2000.
186 . Black Leather
They had returned to get the acoustic atmosphere
Appears–in: Ultra: 25 Poems (2001)
188 . Gallery
The teachers would hammer us into artists,
Appears–in: Overland no.153 Summer 1998, p.67; Ultra: 25 Poems (2001), pp. 16–17.
190 . Halogen
A cold wind came into the room, it frightened
Appears–in: Shearsman UK January 1998; Ultra: 25 Poems (2001) pp.16–17.
192 . Locket
Her laugh had shocked her university friends.
24: Fermat’s last theorem] The equation ‘x to the nth power plus y to the nth power equals z to the nth power’ has no solution for non-zero integers x, y, and z if n is an integer greater than 2. The 17th-century mathematician Pierre de Fermat wrote about this in 1637 in his copy of Claude-Gaspar Bachet’s translation of the famous Arithmetica of Diophantus: ‘I have a truly marvellous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.’ (Original Latin: ‘Cuius rei demonstrationem mirabilem sane detexi. Hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet.’) However, no correct proof was found for 357 years. In Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, Septimus Hodge poses the problem of proving Fermat’s last theorem to the precocious Thomasina Coverly (who is perhaps a mathematical prodigy), in an attempt to keep her busy. Thomasina’s (perhaps perceptive) response is simple — that Fermat had no proof, and it was a joke to drive posterity mad. Arthur Porges’ short story, ‘The Devil and Simon Flagg’, features a mathematician who bargains with the Devil that the latter cannot produce a proof of Fermat’s last theorem within twenty-four hours. The story was first published in 1954 in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (Wikipedia)
Appears–in: Angel Exhaust 16, UK, January 1999: 30–31. Collected in Ultra: 25 Poems (2001)
194 . Miss Proust
To her the kissing group of husbands and wives
Appears–in: London Review of Books vol.21 no.13 1 July 1999, p.32; Ultra: 25 Poems (2001) pp.30–31.
196 . My Story
Back in la belle époque the hired hand would spend
40: Now the red man is pressed from this / part of the west] From Home on the Range, 1873, a popular cowboy song, words by Brewster Higley and others, now the State Song of Kansas.
Appears–in: Ultra: 25 Poems (2001)
198 . Off Radar
I tried selling — a dog would sell better.
Appears–in: Shearsman 34, UK, January 1998, p.10. Collected in Ultra: 25 Poems (2001)
200 . On the Road
We met at the bar concealed behind a false front
4: the Summer of Love] The (northern) summer of 1967. ‘The Summer of Love’ is a phrase given to the summer of 1967 to try to describe the feeling of being in San Francisco that summer, when the so-called hippie movement came to full fruition. The actual beginning of this ‘Summer’ can be attributed to the Human Be-In that took place in Golden Gate Park on January 14 of that year. Jerry Rubin, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Jefferson Airplane all participated in the event, a celebration of hippie culture and values. John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas took twenty minutes to write the following lyrics for the song San Francisco: If you’re going to San Francisco, / be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. / If you come to San Francisco, / Summertime will be a love-in there. (Wikipedia)
7: in the pool of liquid on the bar surface… I could see the outline of a face.] See ‘The Face On The Bar-Room Floor’, a ballad poem, by H. A. D’Arey (1843–1925): [»]
Appears–in: London Review of Books vol.22 no.4 17 February 2000, p.39; Ultra: 25 Poems (2001) pp.36–37.
202 . Package Tour
There’s a gap electricity leaks across
50: Peoria] The phrase ‘Will it play in Peoria?’ initially came into fashion during the Vaudeville era, believed to have been first asked by Groucho Marx when putting together a new act. The belief was that if a new show was successful in Peoria, a mid-sized town in Illinois, it would work anywhere in America. In the 60s and 70s Peoria was used as an ideal test market by various consumer-focused companies, entertainment enterprises (films and concert tours), even politicans, to gauge opinion, interest and receptivity to new products, services and campaigns. (Wikipedia)
Appears–in: Angel Exhaust, UK, January 1999: 31–32; collected in Ultra: 25 Poems (2001)
204 . Per Ardua ad Astra
I was thinking about what happened when you were
41: Neal was enormously attractive] On the topic of Neal Cassady, the hero of Kerouac’s novel On the Road (where he was called Dean Moriarty), John Clellon Holmes (who knew that scene well) said ‘Neal was enormously attractive to people who sat on their ass most of the day in a dim room, biting their nails, and typing out shit.’ From Gifford, Barry and Lawrence Lee. Jack’s Book: An oral biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1978. 129.
Appears–in: Salt vol.11 1999, p.213. Collected in Ultra: 25 Poems (2001)
206 . South Farm
You get yourself a beer from the fridge, pour a glass,
A poem about my father who bought a farm on the South Coast of New South Wales.
Appears–in: Heat no.8 1998, pp.154–5; Ultra: 25 Poems (2001), pp.50–51.
208 . Under the Trees
The boy had been killed, an accident, and how
5: he cranked the handle, holding his thumb / in a special grip he taught me] Before the age of reliable alternators, batteries, and self-starter motors, many cars, trucks and tractors needed to be cranked to start the motor. A release mechanism was supposed to disengage the crank handle when the motor started, but sometimes the steel handle got stuck and spun forward or (worse) kicked backwards, snapping the thumb, unless the thumb was lined up with the other four fingers.
33. nudging at the future like a fish in a bottle] As a boy I used to catch small fish for bait by putting a piece of bread in a long narrow oyster bottle. I would submerge the bottle in a shallow sandy creek. Small fish would enter the bottle and be unable to reverse out. Children are cruel.
Appears–in: Boxkite late 1999; Ultra: 25 Poems (2001)
210 . Lavender Ink
Look, there she is: Miss Bliss, dozing
Appears–in: Atlanta Review vol.6 no.2 Spring/Summer 2000, p.25; Landfall NZ; Poetry International London catalogue, October 1996; Brisbane Review October 1996.
211 . After Laforgue
I light a cigarette under the moon
The poem was suggested by Laforgue’s ‘Solo de lune’, and other poems. You can read ‘Solo de lune’ here:
25: Greek Fire] Greek fire (also called Byzantine fire, wildfire and liquid fire) was a weapon used by the Byzantine Empire, said to have been invented by a Syrian Christian refugee named Kallinikos (Callinicus) of Heliopolis (Syria), probably about 673. It was capable of discharging a stream of burning fluid, and was very effective both on sea and land, though used mainly at sea.
14: the stars are as plentiful as all the possible / games of chess] My comparison is not quite true: the sum of all the possible games of chess is billions of times greater; in fact more or less equal to the sum of all the atoms in the observable universe, at approximately ten to the one hundred and twenty-fifth power. I plead poetic licence.
Appears–in: The Times Literary Supplement no.5198 15 November 2002, p.4; Alliance Francaise magazine, Sydney, 2003; The Best Australian Poems 2003, Black Inc., Editor: Peter Craven, pp.49–50. Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
212 . Brussels
The eagle who kills with lightning
A version of Rimbaud’s ‘Brussels’. You can read Rimbaud’s poem here:
The eagle who kills with lightning] The ostensible setting for Rimbaud’s poem is the palace of Jupiter. Jupiter (English: Jove; Greek: Zeus) is the major god in the Roman pantheon of gods, the ‘shining father’. He is identified with the lightning bolt, and the eagle is his symbol as well as his messenger.
Appears–in: The Age (Melbourne) 31 August 2002, Saturday Extra, p.9; Poetry Review UK , March 2002; The Best Australian Poetry 2003, (UQP) Editors: Martin Duwell and Bronwyn Lea. Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
213 . Address to the Reader
In the art of sinking into a landscape
A response to Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s poem ‘Address to the Reader, from Pevensey Sluice’. You can read that poem here:
23. ‘a young person’s knack known as / departure through the mirror of sleep.’ Veronica Forrest-Thomson died in 1975 at the age of 27 from a possibly accidental overdose of sleeping medication combined with alcohol.
Appears–in: Jacket no.20 December 2002; Poetry Review UK Jan 2003. Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
214 . After Rilke
I hate this place. If I were to throw a fit, who
A version of the first Duino Elegy, Die erste Duineser Elegie. You can read critic Marjorie Perloff’s discussion of the difficulty of translating the first sentence of this difficult poem (she also deals with Wittgenstein, Duchamp and Roubaud) in her essay on ‘translatability’ in Jacket magazine number 14. You can read Rilke’s poem here:
24: rats nest in them] ‘My favourite palms are in Riverside, / ol’downtown. / When someone told me / they are the preferred dwelling / of rats / I was emphatic in my disbelief / and in the disapproval of the possibility. / But of course, rats are smart.’ From the poem ‘Palms, Victory, Triumph, Excellence’ by Edward Dorn, Hello La Jolla, Wingbow Press, Berkeley, 1878, page 91.
48: GP] General Practitioner, family doctor, medico.
68: eyes are locked on the meters, / watching the headroom] Checking that the recording volume has some headroom; that is, that it is not so high as to overload the recording medium, and thus distort.
Appears–in: The Best Australian Poems 2003, Black Inc., Editor: Peter Craven, pp.51–53; Fulcrum (Boston, Mass). Collected in Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
217 . Invitation to America
It’s a day for daydreaming: rain
A version of Baudelaire’s ‘Invitation to the Voyage’. You can read Baudelaire’s poem here:
32: reminds you of its own locale] A conceit borrowed from John Forbes’s poem ‘Europe: A Guide’: ‘Besides, if you remove the art, Europe’s / like the US, more or less a dead loss / & while convenient for walking / & picturesque, like the top of a Caran / D’Ache pencil case or chocolate box, / what do you make of a landscape / that reminds you of itself?’
Appears–in: Poetry Review UK March 2002. Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
218 . On La Cienega
By the filling station on La Cienega a burger joint
A version of Schiller’s ‘A Maiden from Afar’. You can read a rhymed English version of Schiller’s poem here:
Title] La Ciénega Boulevard is a major north-south arterial road that runs from El Segundo Boulevard in El Segundo, Los Angeles, California on the south to its end on the Sunset Strip-Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Appears–in: Australian Book Review no.256 November 2003, p.14; Antipodes vol.17 no.1 June 2003 (p.55); The Best Australian Poems 2003 Ed. Peter Craven. Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
219 . Festival
As the mirror ball turns and sparkles, a rainbow
A version of Max Jacob’s ‘Festival’.
from The Selected Poems of Max Jacob, edited and translated by William Kulik. Copyright © 1999 by Oberlin College. Reproduced by permission of Oberlin College Press. May not be reproduced without permission.
The Order of the Rainbow to decorate the night.
A palace of diamonds like lumbar vertebrae.
I sat at the edge of a merry crowd
With five bored women hothouse flowers
Whose eyes flashed furious at missing dessert
Heads twisting as a new guest arrived.
The terrace bright as fireworks
Full of dancing and fiery duels.
Inside on gorgeous divans people in costume
And Hindus with jewels embedded in their flesh
—None readier than they for the great adventure—
Awaited the impossible.
“Let’s see your nails” — “Too bad they aren’t pretty”
“And this line means your future’s sad.”
While elsewhere others did the dance of the nails motionless
Their hands flickering like stars.
I said to the fortune-teller: “What a marvel you are!
You’ve listed my woes so marvelously!”
Two of Balzac’s heroes with amphibians’ backs
Who entered my spine while my palm was being read
Said: “You shouldn’t play with yourself in bed!”
14: Travelling Salesman Problem / or the ‘maximal clique problem’] Given a number of cities and the costs of traveling from any city to any other city, what is the cheapest round-trip route that visits each city exactly once and then returns to the starting city? Various approximation algorithms, which ‘quickly’ yield ‘good’ solutions with ‘high’ probability, have been devised. Modern methods can find solutions for extremely large problems (millions of cities) within a reasonable time which are with a high probability just 2% to 3% away from the optimal solution. An exact solution for 15,112 German cities… was found in 2001 using the cutting-plane method proposed by George Dantzig, Ray Fulkerson, and Selmer Johnson in 1954, based on linear programming. The computations were performed on a network of 110 processors located at Rice University and Princeton University. The total computation time was equivalent to 22.6 years on a single 500 MHz Alpha processor. In May 2004, the traveling salesman problem of visiting all 24,978 cities in Sweden was solved: a tour of length approximately 72,500 kilometers was found and it was proven that no shorter tour exists. In March 2005, the traveling salesman problem of visiting all 33,810 points in a circuit board was solved using CONCORDE: a tour of length 66,048,945 units was found and it was proven that no shorter tour exists, the computation took approximately 15.7 Central Processing Unit years. (Wikipedia) A 1997 paper by Ouyang, Kaplan, Liu and Libchaber has shown that the maximal clique problem can be solved by means of molecular biology techniques. A pool of DNA molecules corresponding to the total ensemble of six-vertex cliques was built, followed by a series of selection processes. The algorithm is highly parallel and has satisfactory fidelity.
Appears–in: Big Bridge on the Internet, 2003; Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
221 . Night
A whirring contraption whispers across the snow
A version of Vicente Huidobro’s ‘Night’. You can read the original here:
Appears–in: Poetry Review UK, March 2002; Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
222 . Harry’s Bar
By the time the stranger turned up at Harry’s Bar
A version of an epigram by Callimachus (‘The stranger had a wound and we knew it not’). The version below is reprinted from the 1921 Loeb Edition translated by A.W. Mair.
Appears–in: Critical Quarterly UK, 2002; Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
223a . What the Cyclops Said
[ ] poets have two remedies
A version of an epigram by Callimachus (‘How excellent was the charm that Polyphemus discovered for the lover.’) The version reproduced here is reprinted from the 1921 Loeb Edition translated by A.W. Mair.
The poem was originally constructed as part of a note to another poem, ‘Cruising Height’. My friend Martin Johnston manufactured for me the original of the epithet ‘petrol-scented’ for this note. You can read the poem ‘Cruising Height’ and its note here:
Appears–in: Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
223b . Where the Boys Are
Waking up, I’m half man, half headache
A version of an epigram by Callimachus (‘Half my soul still lives… ’). The version below is reprinted from the 1921 Loeb Edition translated by A.W. Mair. The title (a straight translation of a phrase in the original) is also the title of a song by Connie Francis (nee Concetta Franconero) and the movie Where the Boys Are, made in 196o, and set in Florida. One of the young women offers the opinion that ‘Girls like me weren’t built to be educated. We were made to have children. That’s my ambition: to be a walking, talking baby factory.’
Appears–in: Poetry Review UK Jan 2003; The Best Australian Poems 2003, Black Inc., Editor: Peter Craven, p.46; Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9.
224 . Notes from the Late Tang
On the mountain of (heaped snow, boiled rice)
Begins with two lines from Li Po (Li Bai) and incorporates fragments from Tu Fu, Robert Creeley (‘Kore’)and a lecture by J.R.Prynne.
Appears–in: Critical Quarterly UK March 2002; Triquarterly (Chicago) 2003; Collected in Tranter, John. Borrowed Voices. Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2002. ISBN-1-899549-74-9. You can read the Creeley poem here:
Robert Creeley: ‘Kore’
As I was walking
I came upon
the same road upon.
As I sat down
by chance to move
if and as I might,
light the wood was,
light and green,
and what I saw
before I had not seen.
It was a lady
by goat men
Her hair held earth.
Her eyes were dark.
A double flute
made her move.
where are you
‘Kore’, from For Love (New York: Scribner’s, 1962), Collected Poems p.206.
226 . The Twilight Guest
First, she purchased
‘The Twilight Guest’ uses the end-words of ‘Twilight Polka Dots’ by Barbara Guest.
Appears–in: Verse [UK] vol.13 no.2–3 1996, pp.62–63; Jacket no.10 January 2000; The Weekend Australian 25–26 August 2001, Section: Review, p.8.
227 . Paid Meridian
I had stretched out the silk
‘Paid Meridian’ uses the end-words of ‘On Sitting Down to Write, I Decide Instead to Go to Fred Herko’s Concert’, by Diane Di Prima. ‘Paid Meridian’ is an anagram of her name.
Appears–in: New American Writing 1997; Westerly vol.42 no.3 Spring 1997. pp56–57.
228 . The Green Buick
I’m off, he said. He shrugged on a soft dark
21: the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit] From Allen Ginsberg’s 1955–56 poem ‘Howl’ Part II: ‘… Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river! / Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!… ’
Appears–in: The Times Literary Supplement no.4883, 1 November 1996, p.6; The Weekend Australian 7–8 February 1998, Section: Review, p.31; Thylazine: http: //www.thylazine.org/, January 2002.
230a . Moonshine Sonata
I come to, knocking on the door of the cellar —
Title] Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 14, C sharp minor, Op. 27 no 2, is known as the Moonlight Sonata; in German, ‘de Moonschein Sonata.’ The original title of the sonata was ‘Quasi una fantasia’ (It. almost a fantasy). The popular title of ‘Moonlight Sonata’ was invented several years after Beethoven’s death. In 1836, the German music critic Ludwig Rellstab wrote that the sonata reminded him of the reflected moonlight off Lake Lucerne. Since then, ‘Moonlight Sonata’ has remained the ‘official’ unofficial title of the sonata. (from Aaron Green, Your Guide to Classical Music, at classicalmusic.about.com.)
Appears–in: The Times Literary Supplement no.4931 3 October 1997, p.21;
230b . Trastevere
God, here I am, hungover inside
‘Trastevere’ uses the end-words of ‘Re: searches [fragments, after Anakreon]… ’ by Kathleen Fraser). In the Northern Autumn of 1967 my wife-to-be Lyn and I stayed in a flat on the Viale Trastevere in Trastevere, an old and fairly central suburb of Rome, for two weeks, en route overland to Asia.
68: Perec’s lipographic novel] Perec’s novel (it has no letter ‘e’) is La Disparition brilliantly translated into English as A Void by Gilbert Adair.
Appears–in: London Review of Books vol.20 no.19 1 October 1998, p.6
234 . Radium
‘Radium’ uses the end-words of ‘Buried at Springs’, the late James Schuyler’s elegy for his friend Frank O’Hara. It was initially titled ‘Elegy, after James Schuyler’, until I found I had rather too many elegies. At a launch party for my book Studio Moon in New York on 27 October 2003, John Ashbery read out this poem in place of a launching speech. I was asked to write a diary of those few weeks in New York by the Poetry International site. You can read those pages here:
Appears–in: Poetry (magazine Chicago) late 1996 (then titled ‘Elegy, after James Schuyler’)
236 . In Praise of Sandstone
Look at the rows of houses — no, not those ones,
‘In Praise of Sandstone’ is an ode. It uses the end-words of ‘In Praise of Limestone’, by W.H.Auden. Sydney is built on a sandstone escarpment. Some geology: the Sydney Basin Bioregion lies on the east coast of Australia and covers a large part of the catchments of the Hawkesbury-Nepean, Hunter and Shoalhaven river systems. It consists of a geological basin filled with near horizontal sandstones and shales of Permian to Triassic age that overlie older basement rocks of the Lachlan Fold Belt. The sedimentary rocks have been subject to uplift with gentle folding and minor faulting during the formation of the Great Dividing Range. Erosion by coastal streams has created a landscape of deep cliffed gorges and remnant plateaus across which an east-west rainfall gradient and differences in soil control the vegetation of eucalypt forests, woodlands and heaths. The region includes coastal landscapes of cliffs, beaches and estuaries. (National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales.)
86: the living are few and the dead / are many] The conclusion of a parable by the Lord Buddha. A woman whose son had died asked Buddha to bring him back to life. He said first she should find a household which had not been touched by death. Of course she could not, and realised that mortality is part of the human condition.
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.58 no.3 1999, pp.8–11; Antipodes vol.18 no.1 June 2004, p.45;
239 . Chinese Poem, after Mark Ford
Christmas, Grandad came down from the mountains,
This poem adumbrates some themes the English poet Mark Ford touched on in an interview in Verse magazine (volume 10, number 1, Spring 1993): ‘And then content is a problem as well. I can’t bear poems about grandfathers, or fishing expeditions, or what it’s like to move into a new house… And then there’s form! What should a poem look like, should it rhyme? The course is pretty well all hazards… The only way to do it is by not caring.’
Appears–in: London Review of Books vol.19 no.1 2 January 1997, p.6; Antipodes 1996.
240 . Christopher Brennan
He spoke German,
The poem is a sestina. Christopher Brennan (1870–1932) is perhaps Australia’s first modern poet, though in many ways his vocabulary, his idea of the role of the poet and his understanding of what poetry could do all avoid the challenges of the twentieth century, just as Les Murray’s poetry, for example, rooted in the fashions of the 1950s and 1960s, avoids the challenges of the twenty-first. Brennan studied classics and philosophy at the University of Sydney, travelled to Berlin and back, corresponded with the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, worked at the Public Library in Sydney and after striving to obtain an appointment for many years became a lecturer at the University where he had studied. He life was damaged by alcohol. He led a bohemian existence, was fired from his position of associate professor of German in 1925, and died in poverty seven years later. His enthusiasm for symbolist ideas was ahead of its time in Sydney, where the popular Bulletin magazine advanced the hearty ideals of the bush ballad school, but his fondness for grandiose themes and cloudy images delivered in a largely artificial poetic vocabulary prevented him from responding to the developments in poetry after 1890. His important volume Poems 1913 is available on the University of Sydney Library’s site at <http: //setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozpoets/index.html>
Appears–in: Eureka Street vol.6 no.5 June 1996, p.31; Antipodes vol.10 no.2 December 1996, p.126 [then titled ‘Christopher Brennan (1870–1932)]
241 . Epitaphs
It seems so long ago — tell me, did you bring your family
Appears–in: London Review of Books vol.21 no.3 4 February 1999, p.6; The Sydney Morning Herald 20 March 1999, Section: Spectrum, p.9; Thylazine’s Special Feature : Poets at Work (http: //www.thylazine.org/) 2002.
243 . See Rover Reach
Something’s bothering the dog tonight —
‘See Rover Reach’ uses the end-words of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach.’ See the note for ‘Grover Leach.’
11: Mark Strand] An excessively handsome Canadian-born poet (b.1934), and — like Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky — Poet Laureate of the US. His honors include the Bollingen Prize, three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the Edgar Allen Poe Prize, and a Rockefeller Foundation award, as well as fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation. He is a former Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.
Appears–in: Paris Review March 1997;
244 . Grover Leach
It’s Saturday, meet me tonight,
‘Grover Leach’ uses the end-words of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach.’ See the note for ‘See Rover Reach’. The epigraph quotes a line from an early Ashbery poem; the ‘old dog tray’ mentioned makes a metonymic appearance in the poem. I should add that Mr Ashbery insists that the phrase ‘Old Dog Tray’ is the title of a song about an old dog called Tray; such a dog’s name does appear in King Lear (‘The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me!’) , and Stephen Foster did write a song with that title in 1853. Nonetheless I cling to my conceit, bolstered by what seems to be an oval tea tray painted with the portrait of a dog which I came across in an antique shop on Madison Avenue (see photo). Of course it could be an oval framed painting.
5: Ferris Wheel] The Ferris Wheel is named after Pittsburgh, PA native George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., who designed a 75-meter (250-foot) wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois in 1893. This first wheel weighed 2000 tonnes (2200 tons) and could carry 2,160 persons at a time; The Ferris Wheel was the largest attraction at the Columbian Exposition standing over 250 feet tall and powered by two 1000 HP steam engines. There were 36 cars each the size of a school bus that accommodated 60 people each (20 seated, 40 standing). At 70 tons, its axle was the largest steel forging of the time. It was 26 stories tall which was four stories taller than the tallest skyscraper in the world — also in Chicago. (Wikipedia)
Appears–in: Antipodes vol.18 no.1 June 2004 p.44; Poetry Review UK vol.89 no.1 Spring 1999, pp.52–53
246 . Elegy i.m. M.J.
Not the smoke from the truck driver’s cigarette
‘Exiles’ bookshop was established by Susumu Hirayanagi and Nicholas Pounder at 207 Oxford Street, Sydney, in February 1979, and closed in late 1982.
12: Nicholas puts up the Mickey Mouse poster / in the window of Exiles Bookshop / advertising a poetry reading] I was the designer, layout artist and silk-screen printer. The words the literary mice are reading out are of course the opening words to Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’. Here’s an image of the poster:
27: Not the pop! as the cork/ comes out of a bottle of cold retsina –/ Malamatina brand, the green and yellow label/ picturing a little man drinking] Ken Bolton has kindly pointed out that Malamatina brand retsina comes in two sizes, 500 ml and 2 litres, neither of which has a cork. I must have been thinking of the sound of a cork coming out of a bottle of, say, Patraiki retsina.
You can read my twenty-page essay on Martin Johnston and his writing on this site: [»]
Appears–in: Southerly vol.61 no.2, pp.24–25; Quarterly Review of Literature Singapore at http: //www.qlrs.com/ Sep 2001; The Best Australian Poems 2003, Black Inc., Editor: Peter Craven, pp.54–55.
247 . The Beach
You open your eyes and realise it’s the morning of a summer’s day
‘The Beach’ is a hypermetrical sestina. The beachside suburb of Bondi is pronounced ‘bond-eye’. For what it’s worth, most of the events recounted in the poem are factual. See also ‘Yeats at Bondi’.
Appears–in: (then titled ‘Requiem for Summer’, with this first line: ‘It’s the morning of a summer’s day in the inner west… ’) The Australian’s Review of Books vol.6 no.3 April 2001, pp.18–20
7: I didn’t think to snap shut the shotgun and shoot] The shotgun was a single-barrel Iver Johnson twelve gauge. See photo of me with the gun, when I was about twelve, circa 1955.
255 . Five Modern Myths
The Guarani Indians of Paraguay
These myths are not actual.
Appears–in: The Times Literary Supplement no.4919 11 July 1997, p,.26; The Best Australian Poems 2003, Black Inc., Editor: Peter Craven, pp.45–46.
256 . Three Poems about Kenneth Koch
He never writes poems about writing poems,
‘Three Poems About Kenneth Koch’ uses the end-words of ‘3 Poems About Kenneth Koch’, by Frank O’Hara. Only a lunatic would take any particular statement in the poem to be necessarily true.
5: He’s not a disguised Mayor Ed Koch] Ed (Edward Irving) Koch, b.1924, mayor of New York City (1977–89). He is credited with avoiding the city’s bankruptcy during the financial crisis of the late 1970s, though this is not incontrovertible, and, unlike his namesake, has very little hair.
12: Under Aldebaran] The title of the Australian poet James McAuley’s first book, published in 1946. The second syllable of Aldebaran is stressed. Aldebaran is a first-magnitude star, orange in colour, in the constellation Taurus. McAuley (along with his friend Harold Stewart) concocted the hoax poet ‘Ern Malley’ in 1943. Kenneth Koch, as a guest co-editor of the Paris / New York magazine Locus Solus, published two of Mr Malley’s poems in 1961 as examples of collaborative verse. That Frank O’Hara should use this rare word, with its oblique link to Koch and Ern Malley, is very strange.
Appears–in: HOBO Poetry Magazine no.14 September 1997, pp.46–47; Poetic Voices ed. Michael Rothenberg (Internet) November 1999; Jacket 15 2001.
258 . Black Sugar
This is her best dream, isn’t it pathetic?
‘Black Sugar’ is in the form of a pantoum: see note.
Appears–in: Landfall (NZ) March 1994;
259 . The New Season’s Patterns
The new season’s patterns shocked everybody
‘The New Season’s Patterns’ is in the form of a pantoum: see note.
Appears–in: The Age (Melbourne), 1 May 1993, Saturday Extra, p.7.
261 . Like Advertising
Like advertising, and like hunger
‘Like Advertising’ is in the form of a pantoum: see note.
Appears–in: Active, Reactive : Literary Arts Review (UTS) no.2 March 1993, p.21.
262 . Rimbaud in Sydney
Romanticism has never been properly judged —
‘Rimbaud in Sydney’ is in the form of a pantoum: see note. It is made up of phrases taken alternately from the writings of Arthur Rimbaud and an article in the Sydney Sun-Herald, Sunday 25 October 1992.
Appears–in: Ulitarra no. 3 1993, p.21; Verse vol 11 no 1, spring 1994, p.14; also The Best Verse vol 12 no 2,1995, pp.138–139.
263 . The Waiting Room
The movement slows: everything grows dark.
‘The Waiting Room’ is in the form of a pantoum: see note.
Appears–in: London Review of Books vol.15 18 November 1993, p12; Antithesis vol.7 no.1 1995, p.161.
264 . Amulet
Swimming in my memory, a place of pleasure
‘Amulet’ is in the form of a pantoum: see note.
Appears–in: HOBO Poetry Magazine no.4 December 1994, p.55; Kenyon Review, The Age (Melbourne)
265 . The Seasons: Spring
Jack carefully lowered the needle onto the surface of the spinning
‘The Seasons’ is made up of four haibun. See note.
1: Café de Flore] In Paris.
Appears–in: Verse June 1998; East Village Web (Internet) June 1998; Salt 1996
266 . The Seasons: Summer
Rodney twined a length of tartan ribbon around the sleigh bells
1: Hyde Park] An antipodean Hyde Park: situated not in London but in Sydney, opposite the plate-glass windows of the large department store David Jones, whose window-dressers can sometimes be seen lost in thought as they gaze out at the grass across the street. The blazing heat of summer in Sydney occurs at Christmas time; and in fact all the seasons in this poem are reversed in one way or another.
267 . The Seasons: Autumn
The flowers wilted under the studio lights, and Jerry sweated. His
268 . The Seasons: Winter
You look for that new Country & Western station at the Uptown
3: the / close of the tax year] 1 July to 30 June is the financial year in Australia, and late July is in winter.
269 . Small Animal Poem
Okay, there’s room for one
The stanzas are not quite sapphics, but they’re more like sapphics than anything else I was doing in the late seventies when I wrote this poem. And I almost manage to avoid full rhyme (complain/blame, gone/wrong, begun/done). Milton railed at the ‘troublesome and modern bondage of Rhyming,’ and I know just how he felt. Around the time I wrote that poem my wife Lyn had just bought a Basenji dog and a bitch. I’m a country boy, and at that time I didn’t like keeping dogs in the city. Our two children loved them, but our two Abyssinian cats hated the Basenjis — a breed originally from the Congo — and vice versa. Why so many African half-wild animals? I guess the poem’s as much about rhyme and mirrors, about couples and twins, about guilt and obligation, as about anything else.
You can read ‘Small Animal Poem’ (with these notes) on this site: [»]
Appears–in: Overland no.74 1979, p.26; in the electronic volume Yoo-Hoo, Fugaces!, A Salt Reader ; Salt no.5–7, Editor: John Kinsella,, 1995, pp.271–272; http: //home.vicnet.net.au/~ozlit/edit9704.html; also at http: //johntranter.net/poems/fugitive.html;
270 . The White Hole Paradox
1: Chuang Tzu’s logic lepidoptery] Chuang Tzu (or Chuang Chou) (365?–290? BC) was a Chinese philosopher noted for the following paradox. After having awoken from a sleep in which he dreamed he was a butterfly, he wondered whether, in the terms of Chinese Solipsism, he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly, of a butterfly who was now dreaming that he was a man; a man, furthermore, who was engaged in a problem in Chinese Solipsism originating in the butterfly’s mind.
5: psychopannychy] The sleeping state of the soul after death and before resurrection.
5: wayzgoose] Printing houses’ annual festivity.
8: stumble on a phrase] The phrase, or rather passage, is from Proust’s Swann’s Way (Part One) and goes as follows: ‘Unfortunately I was not able to set at rest, by further talks with Bloch, in which I might have insisted upon an explanation, the doubts he had engendered in me when he told me that fine lines of poetry (from which I, if you please, expected nothing less than the revelation of truth itself) were all the finer if they meant absolutely nothing.’
23: written by his friend Li Po [… ] like peach blossoms] See Li Po’s poem ‘Conversation in the Mountains’: ‘If you were to ask me why I dwell among green mountains / I should laugh silently. My heart is serene./ The peach blossom follows the moving water. / There is another heaven and earth beyond this world of men.’ See also my two versions of it in ‘Two Short Poems, after Li Po’: [»]
25: paper boat (‘frail butterfly’, don’t forget Rimbaud) / and launched onto an autumn pond]
Si je désire une eau d’Europe, c’est la flache
Noire et froide où vers le crépuscule embaumé
Un enfant accroupi plein de tristesses, lâche
Un bateau frêle comme un papillon de mai.
— A.R., 1871
‘If there is one water in Europe I want, it is the black cold pool where into the scented twilight a child squatting full of sadness launches a boat frail as a butterfly in May.’ — the penultimate stanza of Rimbaud’s ‘Le Bateau Ivre’, from Oliver Bernard’s translation of the Collected Poems for Penguin, 1962, ISBN 0 14 042064 9.
28: it seems further away than the Perfect Carburettor / (John Forbes)] The reference is to John Forbes’s poem ‘The Sorrowful Mysteries’, lines 9–12: ‘I don’t know much about bolts from the blue / But a house in the country spells death / And we are as far away as ever from / The Perfect Carburettor… ’
The poem was written in March, 1979. I’ll let the late Martin Johnston provide the background to this one. From his notes, written some time later: ‘Going back to the wayzgoose poems. Foreword. One evening at dinner — or rather at the bibulous postprandial stage — the two authors fell to discussing dictionaries — the joys of ploughing through. MJ: yes I got psychopannychy — in [his poem] “To the Innate Island” while looking for something else altogether. JT: Same here with Wayzgoose. MJ: I wonder what a (short?) poem would be like that — validly — contained both words. A few days later JT: I’ve written it; next day MJ: I’ve written a reply. Stiff formal conditions. (1) each poem had to be thirty lines long, simply because, having got through 100 sonnets, JT was now writing only at that length (MJ was just moving into a series of sonnets!) but as it was JT who actually started, the length was up to him. The rest of the conditions became imposed as the series progressed (and, occasionally, removed when they became too rigorous.)’ ‘The White Hole Paradox’ was the first poem. The ‘rest of the conditions’ involved using alternate lines from one poem in the next, using the line-endings from one poem as the line-beginnings and (reversed) as the line-endings of the next, and so forth. Seven poems from the series have survived, together with some rococo and not-too-serious notes. You can read ‘The White Hole Paradox’ (with these notes) on this site: [»]
Appears–in: New Poetry vol.28 no.1 May 1980, p.3; A Salt Reader ; Salt no.5–7, Editor: John Kinsella,, 1995, pp.272–273. OzLit on the Internet at http: //home.vicnet.net.au/~ozlit/edit9704.html
271a . Yeats at Bondi
Bondi Beach —
After Peter Porter’s ‘Gertrude Stein at Snail’s Bay’ the Yeats haiku was irresistible. In the last line of Yeats’s ‘Byzantium’, the famous Irishman contemplates the Mediterranean: ‘That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.’ See also ‘The Beach’.
2: drongo-thronged] The drongos are a subfamily of small passerine birds of the Old World tropics. These insect-eating birds are found in usually open forests or bush. Most are black or dark grey in colour, sometimes with metallic tints. They have long forked tails, and some Asian species have elaborate tail decorations. These are aggressive and fearless birds, given their small size, and drongos will attack much larger species if their nest or young are threatened. In Australian slang, the word drongo is a synonym for idiot. (Wikipedia)
3: nong-tormented] A nong is a fool or an idiot. Australian slang.
You can read ‘Yeats at Bondi’ (with these notes) on this site: [»]
Appears–in: A Salt Reader (Ed. Kinsella, John). Applecross, Western Australia : Folio, 1995. p.277.
271b . Hawaiian Haiku
In April and May 1985 I gave four readings and talks on contemporary Australian poetry at various very hospitable venues in Hawaii, ranging from a school to the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As far as I could make out, on the island of Oahu there seemed to be three worlds operating alongside and in-between one another in separate space-time dimensions — the workers and managers in agriculture and business, the drafts of tourists stumbling through in a daze, and an academic elite decorating the fringe. Where was the gritty black-and-white twilit zone I had glimpsed through a TV screen in the sixties, the world of Steve McGarrett and his pals, his police automatic, his clumsy criminal enemies, his cameraman, lighting person, hairdresser, and makeup artist? Steve who? Never heard of him.
You can read ‘Hawaiian Haiku’ (with these notes) on this site: [»]
Appears–in: Sydney Morning Herald, 1991 (?);A Salt Reader (Ed. Kinsella, John). Applecross, Western Australia : Folio, 1995. p.277.
271c . Two Short Poems, after Li Po
In a small town in the Southern Hemisphere
The great Tang poet Li Po (sometimes known as Li Bai) was an early favourite of mine, and I think I first read this poem — usually titled ‘Question and Answer in the Mountains’, or ‘Conversation in the Mountains’ When I was about sixteen. I have borrowed from the translation given in Robert Payne’s wonderful anthology The White Pony (Mentor, New York, 1960). Payne says of Li Po that his poetry ‘. . . is full of young girls, flowers, birds, stars, the plum blossoms in spring, and the chrysanthemums in autumn. All that was coloured with life he celebrated, and death never enters his poems.’ He wrote some twenty thousand of them, and threw most of them away; less than a tenth remained after his death at the age of sixty. Legend has it he drowned; he’d been carousing in a boat, and drunkenly tried to embrace the reflection of the moon in the water. His brilliant fragments from another world are a useful specific against trenditis, theoretico-dyskinesia and the French Pestilence.
2: the RSL] The Returned Services League, an organisation that runs entertainment clubs all over Australia subsidised by the rich returns from poker machines (fruit machines) and offering popular singers and comedy shows.
3: the Blue Mountains] An area of half a dozen suburban towns strung along a hilly highway some fifty miles west of Sydney.
12: shaving lather] Presumably shaving lather would swirl down the plug-hole anti-clockwise in the Southern hemisphere where this poem is set, whereas Li Po’s peach blossoms would swirl down their mountain stream in a clockwise direction.
You can read ‘Two Short Poems, after Li Po’ (with these notes) on this site: [»]
Appears–in: Scripsi vol.3 no.1 April 1985, p.178; A Salt Reader (Salt ); no.5–7, Editor: John Kinsella, Folio, 1995, pp.278–279.
272 . Two Poems for Mr Stevens
I was of two minds,
Wallace Stevens’s famous poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ has always seemed excessive to me; both in its length (though its last poem is deeply beautiful), and in its baroque rigour. And what of the twentieth century? The Stevens poem could well be set in the eighteenth, a period I dislike. I thought for some time of changing ‘hotel room’ to ‘motel room’ to make that point more firmly, but decided that would be going too far.
You can read ‘Two poems for Mr Stevens’ (with these notes) on this site: [»]
Appears–in: Southerly vol.46 no.3 September 1986, p.271; A Salt Reader (Salt ); no.5–7, Editor: John Kinsella, Folio, 1995, pp.281–282.
273 . What Mortal End
Those quick inventive brains, who with early distant
One of two poems (the other is ‘Her Shy Banjo’) composed with the aid of the computer program ‘Brekdown’. It is written in the voice of Matthew Arnold, and the title and the bogus author’s name are both (wonderfully apt) anagrams of his name. For an explanation of the program’s modus operandi, see http: //johntranter.net/prose/brekdown.html
Appears–in: Meanjin, Vol 50, No 4, 1991; _Postmodern Culture_ v.3 n.1 at http: //www3.iath.virginia.edu/pmc/text-only/issue.992/pop-cult.992, September, 1992;
274 . Her Shy Banjo
Rain, without it there can be no September music
One of two poems (the other is ‘What Mortal End’) composed with the aid of the computer program ‘Brekdown’. It is written in the voice of John Ashbery, and the title and the bogus author’s name are both anagrams of his name. For an explanation of the program’s modus operandi, see http: //johntranter.net/prose/brekdown.html
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.50 no.4 Summer 1991, p.634; Jacket no.4 July 1998; the journal of the Sydney Personal Computer Users’ Group; _Postmodern Culture_ v.3 n.1 on the Internet, September 1992;
275 . Fin de Siècle
Families of seething photons boil off the TV screen
The poem is dedicated to Philip Mead, who co-edited The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry with me, and contains an acrostic to that effect.
Appears–in: Meanjin vol.53 no.2 Winter 1994, p.266; B City in Illinois, no date.
276 . An American in Paris
A beautiful nap, and April comes to kiss
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer.
24: Mélodie d’amour] A popular song first released by Wes Bryan on 3 October 1960 and titled Melodie D’Amour. The version by the Ames Brothers is more popular. The first verse: Melodie d’amour, take this song to my lover / Shoo shoo little bird, go and find my love / Melodie d’amour, serenade at her window / Shoo shoo little bird, sing my song of love.
277 . Benzedrine
Love is endless oil and the best
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Allen Ginsberg, ‘Howl’.
Appears–in: Papertiger, 2003;
278 . The Master of the Black Stones
The master listened, a vacant expression
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Yasunari Kawabata, The Master of Go.
279 . Flying High
He held contest with the vegetable universe
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Captain W.E.Johns, Biggles Defies the Swastika.
281 . Pussy Willow
Yes, he did do wrong, this harum-scarum
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
23: my work of novel glory in the tongs] Hair-curling tongs.
37: Our fairy decorator] A punning play on a phrase in Robert Lowell’s poem ‘Skunk Hour’: ‘And now our fairy / decorator brightens his shop for fall, / his fishnet’s filled with orange cork, / orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl, / there is no money in his work, / he’d rather marry.’ How Mr Lowell divined the decorator’s nuptial preferences he doesn’t say.
Appears–in: Fusebox (Ratapallax, New York) August 2003;
283 . Smaller Women
I resigned to tell mother a secret sign,
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
Appears–in: Poetry International, http: //australia.poetryinternational.org/cwolk/view/22919, November 2005; The Best Australian Poems 2003, Black Inc., Editor: Peter Craven, pp.48–50
284 . Transatlantic
Paris was not a place, it was the event,
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas.
Appears–in: Poetry Review UK date(?); Meanjin vol.63 no.4 February 2004 (pp.12–13)
286 . Under Tuscan Skies
In the calm of a Lyons’ Tea Shop near Picadilly
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Edward Morgan Forster, Room With a View.
1: a Lyons’ Tea Shop near Piccadilly] ‘Before the growth of the coffee bar phenomenon, Lyon’s Corner Houses and Fuller’s tea rooms were amongst the few places you could go for a cup of tea or coffee and whose opening hours were much less restricted than pubs and licensed restaurants. Staffed by waitresses in black uniforms and serving tea and cakes, they were not the haunts of a young crowd. The first Lyons teashop opened in Piccadilly in 1894, the first Corner House in 1909 and by 1920 they had the largest tea-packing plant in the world. The Lyons Company was a major force on the British high street during the first half of the twentieth century.’ Matthew Partington, from http: //vads.ahds.ac.uk/learning/designingbritain/html/lyons.html
5: the life so short, the craft so long to learn] Chaucer’s version of Hippocrates’ apothegm ‘Art is long, life is short,’ in Chaucer’s words ‘The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.’ Also Longfellow: ‘Art is long, and time is fleeting.’ The Latin ‘ars longa, vita brevis’ is a translation by Horace of the phrase from Hippocrates, often used out of context. The ‘art’ referred to in the original was the craft of medicine, which took a lifetime to acquire. The Sydney poet Mark O’Connor inverted the concept: ‘Ars brevis, vita longa / Make more beer, and make it stronger.’
45: ursine] Bear-like.
56: I was young fool! ] [should be:] I was a young fool! ] [word missing]
Appears–in: Poetry International, http: //australia.poetryinternational.org/cwolk/view/22918, November 2005)
289 . Year Dot
I read of how one hushed
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and real estate advertisements for properties offered for sale in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, June and July 1994.
290 . The Urn of Loneliness
Morton opened the diary: ‘the hot flush of Angela’s lips
See: note on the Malley Variations. Ern Malley and Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness.
Appears–in: Meanjin Feb 2004; Meanjin vol.63 no.4, February 2004 (pp.14–15)
293a . At the Tomb of Napoleon
They handed me the French army on a plate,
2: half a million fresh young bodies] An understatement: in the wars caused by Napoleon’s obscene ambition, two and a half million military personnel in Europe were killed, and over a million civilians were killed in Europe and in rebellious French overseas colonies.
3: and came back for more] The ‘Hundred Days’ is the name given to the days from 20 March 20 to 8 July, 1815, which saw Napoleon’s escape from imprisonment and exile on Elba, his raising of a new army, and his last campaign to dominate Europe. The combined forces of the British and Prussian armies finally brought the campaign to a stop in the battle of Waterloo. Waterloo cost the Anglo-allied forces around 15,000 dead and wounded, and the Prussians some 7000. Napoleon lost 25,000 dead and injured. 8000 of his troops were taken prisoner.
4: six nested coffins and a ton of marble] [should be:] 4: six nested coffins and a ton of granite] Napoleon’s body rests in a crypt at L’Hôtel des Invalides in Paris. It is encased within six nested coffins. At the time the poem was published in Urban Myths I laboured under the mistaken belief that the outer coffin was made of red marble. I have since researched the matter and learned that it is made of red granite porphyry (or aventurine quartzite, close to porphyry) from a quarry in Karelia, Finland, owned by Nicholas I of Russia. Fortunately the word ‘granite’ has the same metrical structure as ‘marble’ (as well as alliterating nicely with the word ‘grief’ in the next line) and I have changed the poem accordingly. Here’s a note from the (untrustworthy) internet: “The sarcophagus, placed on a green Vosges granite pedestal, is crafted in red porphyry from Finland. Inside it, Napoleon rests in his uniform of colonel, wearing the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour, with his hat placed on his legs. He is enclosed in six coffins placed inside the other: one of tin-plate, one of mahogany, two of lead, one of ebony, and the other of oak. On the ground, a multi-colored mosaic recalls the names of the Emperor’s principal victories — each of which are also commemorated by the encircling twelve colossal winged statues.” (Flikr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/1399095675/)
Appears–in: Times Literary Supplement no.5285 16 July 2004 p.17
293b . Bats
In a freezing attic somewhere in Prague
One day in the early sixties I had a vision or hallucination of a huge bird flapping over the skyline of Prague at dusk, a city I had not seen before. I finally made it there in 1999, to do a lecture at Charles University and a poetry reading at The Globe bookstore, but I didn’t see any birds or bats, only a neatly beribboned pet goat being taken for a walk late one night.
5. sobbing in time to the music] I must have had crooner Johnnie Ray (1927–1990) in mind: he had a huge hit with his lachrymose ditty ‘Cry’, which had teenagers all over the world in floods of tears for months in 1951. He was partly deaf and bisexual, though we didn’t know either of those facts at the time. There was also Guy Mitchell (born the same year, coincidentally the same year John Ashbery was born; died 1999) whose ‘Singing the Blues’ was a big hit in 1957. It was a chirpy hillbilly number, about as much like the blues as ‘The Beer Barrel Polka’, though in distant New South Wales we didn’t care about things like that. It contained the immortal if ungrammatical lines ‘There’s nothing left for me to do / But crying over you’, which was sung ‘cry-high-highin over you’: a kind of rhythmically-synchronised sobbing.
Appears–in: The Sydney Morning Herald 16–17 August 2003, Spectrum p.22; Leviathan UK 2002;
294a . Care and Feeding of a Small Poem
Allow enough sunlight. Ignore
294b . Manikin de Vin
They’re all lined up under the lights
Appears–in: Poetry (Chicago), December 2002; Journal of the Literature and Philosophy Society, University of Sydney, late 2005.
295 . On a Noted Vista
This high view
296 . A Poet in the Reading Room
A boardroom coup: a dozen angels gather
A homage to Peter Porter.
297 . Stage Door
The nymph Syrinx
In Greek mythology, Syrinx was a nymph who, in an attempt to escape the… ahem… affections of the Greek god Pan, transformed herself into reeds. Pan cut some of the reeds and made from them the first set of pan pipes, naming them syrinx in honour of her. Pan is the only god to have died in our time.
298a . Thistles
A chill mist rises from the ground to meet
line 7: ungulates] Any of a number of hoofed mammals superficially similar but not necessarily closely related taxonomically, including cows, horses, tapirs, rhinoceroses, hippopotami, and so forth.
298b . Whisper
Close by the bones of Joshua Blane
This poem was written while I was living in Cambridge, England.
Appears–in: Poetry (magazine Chicago) (date?); Journal of the Literature and Philosophy Society University of Sydney, Sep 2005;
300a . Anguish
The May frostbite is still on the land,
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Angoisse’.
300b . Bottom of the Harbour
Maria today got a heap of stuff,
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Bottom’. Rimbaud’s title (an English word) probably refers to Shakespeare’s character Bottom.
301a . Deluge
Upgrading the late edition for all US units.
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Après le déluge’.
301b . Departure
As a view
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Départ’.
302a . Horticulture
Thomas Cecil, what did you do?
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘H’.
302b . Lives
Put me on the list of local media maniacs.
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Vies’.
7: Enola] Enola Gay is the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped ‘Little Boy’, the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare, when the United States Army Air Forces attacked Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, just before the end of World War II. Because of its role in the atomic bombings of Japan, its name has been synonymous with the controversy over the bombings themselves… . Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., of Florida, commander of the composite group, elected to fly the atomic mission himself. Thus, he selected a plane from his group and renamed the plane after his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets (1893–1983, who in turn had been named after the heroine of a novel). Tibbets, interviewed on the Pacific island of Tinian later that day by war correspondents, confessed that he was somewhat embarrassed at having attached his mother’s name to such a fateful mission. (Wikipedia)
303 . Marinara
Michelle speaks especially to Cleveland:
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Marine’.
13: Dornier] A German bomber used in the Spanish Civil War and in the Battle of Britain.
304a . Metro
Two guys from Detroit pored over the suicide letter
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Métropolitain’.
304b . Movements
The Gulf of Aden did enough, but
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Mouvement’.
305a . Parade
The dollar goes to a city that is his only speaking song
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Parade’.
305b . Pronto
No joy in this one, Bob. Would you like to be
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Promontoire’.
306 . Royalties
We’ll make common cause with the Right,
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Royauté’.
2: Ford Foundation / who helped the CIA guy in Paris] Here’s what the CIA says about itself: ‘The Congress for Cultural Freedom is widely considered one of the CIA’s more daring and effective Cold War covert operations. It published literary and political journals such as Encounter, hosted dozens of conferences bringing together some of the most eminent Western thinkers… Somehow this organization of scholars and artists — egotistical, free-thinking, and even anti-American in their politics — managed to reach out from its Paris headquarters to demonstrate that Communism, despite its blandishments, was a deadly foe of art and thought. Getting such people to cooperate at all was a feat, but the Congress’s Administrative Secretary, Michael Josselson, kept them working together for almost two decades until the Agency arranged an amicable separation from the Congress in 1966.’ (from the CIA’s website at < http: //www.cia.gov/csi/studies/95unclass/Warner.html>)
13: Bunting] During and after World War II, the British poet Basil Bunting served in British Military Intelligence in Persia eventually as Chief of Political Intelligence, then as a correspondent for The Times. As a British spy working for British and American oil and political interests, he encouraged agitation against the democratically-elected prime minister, Dr. Mossadegh, and was expelled from Persia by Mossadegh in 1951 (or 1952: conflicting dates are given.) The CIA developed a successful plot to topple Mossadegh and installed the Shah (and his feared secret police) in 1953. The following year the CIA overthrew the government of Guatemala: business as usual.
307 . Scenes
The subcommittee poses a threat.
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Scènes’.
308a . Shames
Don’t kid me, I’m not Noah.
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Honte’.
10: the Tutsi player] The Tutsi (or Watutsi, or Watusi) are one of three native peoples of the nations of Rwanda and Burundi in central Africa, the other two being the Twa and the Hutu. The Twa (or Watwa) are a pygmy people and the original inhabitants. The Hutu (or Wahutu) are a people of Bantu origin, and since they moved into the area they dominated the Twa. Large numbers of all three were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. (Wikipedia)
308b . Sorehead
I was arrested because of that internal memo,
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Matinée d’ivresse’.
12: standard deviations] In probability and statistics, the standard deviation is the most common measure of statistical dispersion. Simply put, standard deviation measures how spread out the values in a data set are. More precisely, it is a measure of the average difference between the values of the data in the set. If the data points are all similar, then the standard deviation will be low (closer to zero). If the data points are highly variable, then the standard variation is high (further from zero). (Wikipedia)
309a . Story
The Seagate exited at the same time, telling him
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Conte’.
309b . Subcontinent Nocturne
Units of troops learn to fear what the body seeks.
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Nocturne vulgaire’.
310 . Villas
In April, the sun was to be the display manager.
A speech-to-text poem (see note) loosely derived from Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Les Illuminations’, ‘Villes’ (‘Ce sont des villes!’) .
312 . Shadow of a Doubt
Handsome Uncle Charlie, burdened by crime.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Alfred Hitchcock often listed Shadow of a Doubt as his favorite among the 53 films he directed in his 50-year career. In the film, Uncle Charley (Joseph Cotten) comes to visit his sister’s family in Santa Rosa, California. Uncle Charley is especially drawn to his niece Charlie (Teresa Wright), who is named after him and who idolizes him. The plot turns sinister as a pair of detectives show up tailing Uncle Charley, whom they suspect of being the ‘Merry Widow Murderer’. Charlie, just in her late teens, is faced with a terrible disillusionment and the threat of murder.
313 . North by Northwest
A hero breasts Manhattan traffic, always
In Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) mild-mannered Madison Avenue advertising executive Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) is mistaken for a government agent by a gang of spies led by the urbane James Mason. Thornhill becomes entangled in a series of dangerous adventures and is pursued across the States by both the spies and the government while becoming further entangled in the arms of a beautiful blonde (played by Eva Marie Saint). Highlights are a crop-dusting plane that hunts down and tries to kill Grant in a mid-west cornfield, and the final chase across the gigantic faces carved into Mount Rushmore.
314 . Dark Passage
Poor Vincent Parry: he rolls out of a garbage can
Based on Delmer Daves’s 1947 movie Dark Passage. Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and sent to San Quentin prison for life. He escapes, but has little chance of getting away until a stranger named Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) helps him evade the police. Irene is a wealthy San Francisco painter who hides Vincent in her home. While he is alone in the house, a woman whose voice Vincent recognizes comes to the door looking for Irene — Madge (Agnes Moorehead), a spiteful woman who gave false testimony at Vincent’s trial. Vincent realizes he is too recognisable, and a friendly cab-driver takes him to a plastic surgeon. The first part of the movie is shot from the hero’s point of view; we first see his face after the surgery, when the bandages come off. Guess who he looks like? Dark Passage was based on the novel The Dark Road by David Goodis, and the narrative is marred by implausible coincidences.
315 . Girl in Water
Waiting to meet a pretty girl — any pretty girl —
Loosely based on the 1958 Hitchcock movie Vertigo, starring Kim Novak and James Stewart. Scottie (James Stewart) is a San Francisco detective who retires after a traumatic experience with heights that has caused him to suffer from acrophobia (fear of heights). (Agoraphobia is fear of crowded spaces away from the sufferer’s safety zone.) His college friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) persuades him to follow Elster’s suicidal wife, Madeline (Kim Novak). Gavin says that his wife is possessed by the spirit of his wife’s great grandmother. Scottie is taken by her beauty, and tails her around San Francisco. The two fall in love. But when Scottie is unable to save Madeline from killing herself — or so he believes — because of his fear of heights, he has a nervous breakdown. After he recovers he comes across a woman named Judy (Kim Novak), who bears a strong resemblance to Madeline. Obsessed by his love and loss, he begs Judy to change her looks and clothes to look like Madeline. He then discovers that Judy (from Kansas) in fact acted the part of Madeline as part of a plot by Gavin Elstir to kill his real wife. Judy accidentally falls to her death. Scottie is left alone again. The similarity of a mirror image to a portrait painting plays a vital role in the film, and betrays Judy’s secret double life; indeed the plot of the film is doubled. Alert readers will note that the words made up by the first letter of each line of this poem spell out a message, as does (separately) the last letter of each line. The initial acrostic grew out of a conversation with Douglas Messerli about Hitchcock’s movies; Messerli said in an interview with Charles Bernstein: ‘Why, when I was 12 years old did I so thoroughly enjoy Hitchcock’s Vertigo, for example, and yet at 13, hate North by Northwest — a movie I now love?’ (‘Making Things Difficult’: Douglas Messerli in conversation with Charles Bernstein, September 7 to 12, 2004, in Jacket magazine 28 at http://jacketmagazine.com/28/bern-iv-mess.html To me it seemed obvious why a 12-year-old boy would surrender to the charms of Vertigo, thus the acrostic; though as it happened my analysis was inaccurate in Douglas Messerli’s case. The telestich (the last letter of each line) implies a Lacanian reading of the many mirrors and portraits in the movie and how they reflect the boy-girl relationship; the poem was written as part of a Doctor of Creative Arts thesis for the University of Wollongong, and in that context a nod to Lacan seemed like an interesting idea.
317 . Black and White
Everything loose, including the morals:
Loosely based on the 1957 US movie The Three Faces of Eve, about a young woman with multiple personality disorder. The script by Hervey M Cleckley is based on a book by Corbett Thigpen which is based on a doctor’s notes about an actual case, though the facts have been distorted to fit the story, according to the book I’m Eve, by the real person who is the subject of the film, Chris Costner Sizemore with Elen Sain Pitillo.
319 . The Popular Mysteries
A fact is as real as
This poem was the last poem in my collection Selected Poems, Hale and Iremonger, 1982.