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    [»»] Starlight wins the 2011 Age Poetry Book of the Year     and     [»»] the 2011 Qld Premier’s Award

John Tranter site

Free Grass magazine, 1968

This is an electronic edition of the only extant number of «Free Grass» magazine. This edition is made up of HTML text and linked photographic images. An “image” or “text” link at the top of each of the five pages allows you to alternate between the photographic image of the original mimeographed page, and the HTML text version of the same page.
Noted in my Journal on 2012/06/01.

Follow these links:   |   page 1 |   page 2 |   page 3 |   page 4 |   page 5 |   type samples

«Free Grass» splashed into the pond of little “underground” magazines in Australia in 1968. Like most of the others — «The Great Auk», «Ourglass», «Mok», «Cross-currents», «Transit» and «Free Poetry», it was roneod (that is, mimeographed, or printed on a «Gestetner» brand rotary silk-screen duplicator, developed in the 1890s). The editorial standards were loose, to say the least, and there was a strong counter-cultural flavour to the thing. Strangest of all, it lived up to its title: it was literally free. Dozens of copies landed gratis in alternative and literary bookstores, to be given away to the bemused customers, and into the mailboxes of young poets and their friends.

«Free Grass» was greeted enthusiastically — young poet Richard Tipping, co-editor of «Mok» magazine, wrote a poem in praise of its anarchist spirit, which was printed in «Transit» number two in early 1969.

But when the magazine’s keen fans tried to contact the editor, they discovered two things: even though the magazine quoted generous rates of payment for contributions, no editor’s name was given, and there was no postal address. A note at the foot of page 4 said “this is not a magazine, but a state of mind. it’s editor is a mufti in disguise.” The usual meaning of the word “mufti” is “civilian clothes, in contrast with military or other uniforms, or as worn by a person who usually wears a uniform”, or, loosely, a disguise. Something funny was going on. But what?

The truth slowly leaked out: one morning in late 1968 I (Sydney poet John Tranter, editor of «Transit» magazine) had written the whole of «Free Grass», all five foolscap pages of it, typing it directly onto mimeograph stencils, interspersing his spontaneous lyric effusions with nonsense sentences and fragments from a list of cryptic crossword clues in the daily paper. I ran it off the next day, and mailed out the copies. At the time I worked as a lithographic platemaker for the in-house Printing Department of the national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Commission. (The three lines of ornate type that made up the masthead were typeset using Letraset rub-on type and printed on a Multilith 1250 photo-litho machine.)

That same year I had written a poem in the style of (and copying the form of a poem by) the hoax poet Ern Malley, and published it in «Transit» magazine. Was this hoax magazine «Free Grass» meant to destroy the underground poetry of the time, as Ern was meant to detonate like a booby-trap and take with him into oblivion the pretentious experimental poetry of the mid-1940s? I don’t think so.

The magazine was meant as a gentle parody of the “underground” magazines of the day, and in the more flexible and tolerant Australian society of the late 1960s, it had no harmful effect. Life went on, time passed, and «Free Grass» quietly faded away.

A second number of «Free Grass» was partly printed. Its cover featured a holograph fragment from a letter written (in English) by Charles Cros, a friend of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, mentioning a long poem by Rimbaud which — if the fragment told the truth — had lain undiscovered for over a century. These pages were never collated, bound or published, and are now lost.

There is a (loose) key to the names of the fictitious authors of the poems in «Free Grass», and it is to be found partly in the University of Sydney Arts Faculty Handbook for 1968, among the list of teaching staff in the English Department, and the characters who inhabit the books recommended for First Year English study that year, which include «Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man» by James Joyce, and «Passage to India», by E.M.Forster. I had studied English I as a part-time student that year.

For the forensically-inclined, the link to the type samples takes you to a page that displays enlarged type samples from three rather similar mimeographed publications: «Surfers Paradise» magazine # 2 (Steve McGarrett issue), 1979 (my Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter, c.1957, ten characters to the inch); «Leatherjacket» magazine # 2, June 1973 (Smith-Corona as above); and «Free Grass», 1968 (unknown typewriter, twelve characters to the inch.) The scale is image width = 520 pixels = 1¾ inches.

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