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Chinese Poem, after Mark Ford

John Tranter, 2 January 1997

... Christmas, Grandad came down from the mountains, and we had to go fishing, on the ornamental lake. The ornery mental lake, that’s what I call it. ‘Do I have to, Pop? It’s just animal death!’ Fishing, fishing, till everything is killed. ‘How’s the love-life?’ Grandad asked. My father was having trouble, some affair that was going wrong ...

Shadow Detail

John Tranter, 25 June 1987

... You press the bakelite button, and wait, and wait. Presently the lift rattles down to the ground floor, and the attendant passes you something through the brass grille. The chlorine sifts down through the water, turning pastel blue. That woman floating fifteen feet above the floor of the pool – she’s taking medication for weight loss a cheapskate pharmaceutical that stretches and compresses the day until it disappears into the hot white dot in the centre of the screen ...

Pantoum: The Waiting Room

John Tranter, 18 November 1993

... The movement slows: everything grows dark. A man checks the knot in his tie. It’s twilight and a fine rain smears the windows. Will you miss your train, and the delightful party? A man checks the knot in his tie. It’s twilight; superhuman powers will never be yours. You will miss your train, and the delightful party. They argue about civil rights ...


John Tranter, 15 September 1988

... Flying up a valley in the Alps where the rock rushes past like a broken diorama I’m struck by an acute feeling of precision – the way the wing-tips flex, just a little as the German crew adjust the tilt of the sky and bank us all into a minor course correction while the turbo-props gulp at the mist with their old-fashioned thirsty thunder – or you notice how the hostess, perfecting a smile as she offers you a dozen drinks, enacts what is almost a craft: Technical Drawing, for example, a subject where desire and function, in the hands of a Dürer, can force a thousand fine ink lines to bite into the doubts of an epoch, spelling Humanism ...


John Tranter, 25 June 1992

... The door slides shut with a hiss and it seems we’re moving out     falteringly at first, the brick     flats tilting then     reluctantly shifting aside. We’re starting a long journey with half the plot, some of the story, nothing to worry about and hardly a clue.     Now a canal’s rotating slowly,     now a sodden paddock, starring     a wrestling girl and boy ...

Miss Proust

John Tranter, 1 July 1999

... To her the kissing group of husbands and wives was like a gang of schoolgirls in the laundry, all fuss and bother, no proper theory of how sexuality is conditioned by the economic strictures of society and not by the games shows and the sporting programmes or by the lies that stain the pages of cheap paper, for example, when her friends told her she was a rotten writer plumping up the pillow of her conventional emotions so she could feel in love temporarily click on click off and revel in a moody air in the kitchen, scribbling diary entries as though they were great roiling thoughts or worse, riveting literature meant to be read out during the long night of the adult education course training tapping dogs to do the new job, it’s obviously made for love, this mechanical device with its ribbon spooling out reams of confectionery and duplicity that young women desperately want to believe could happen to them, like doctors who are stern and rich – no, will happen to them – and the pretty nurses who are young and whimpering, but somehow dazzling, the same story, only glowing with a more literary quality – what the fuck – now it happens, only the ending is wrong, and the hero, called Kevin or Duane, is a loser – there are no doctors here, they live elsewhere with their wives, their investments, and their matched pairs of children ...

On the Road

John Tranter, 17 February 2000

... We met at the bar concealed behind a false front in the alley behind a curtain dyed purple and green down the stairs to the shuttered room baking in the Summer of Love, a country girl, dark glasses, twelve feet of cedar bar stacked with drinks but we already had those drinks, and it seems in the pool of liquid on the bar surface, after I finished pawing at her soft willing body, I could see the outline of a face ...


John Tranter, 4 February 1999

... It seems so long ago – tell me, did you bring your family to our marriage of convenience and regret? I remember your hearty cousins fresh from the Home Counties, so pleased with their good selves, ready to chance an arm, their knack with spoon and needle an astonishment. Didn’t you find time for a quick shot of something with the blokes? That one with a noticeable tic, that other nodding and leaning on a stick, their brave future shouted on the back of a toilet door? I admit the first funeral was a fright, like losing a finger in a kitchen appliance ...


John Tranter, 1 October 1998

... God, here I am, hungover inside the little café near the markets, jittery, scribbling a babble of sentimental language in my purple notebook emotion container – no, buy some strawberries (fruit market) in the sun from the old Italian women who mutter ‘Thank you, signora, it’s a pleasure to serve even a rich and impious Anglo lady such as yourself, take another punnet, our brothers take precedence in our father’s will, but we’re content with that ...

What became of Modernism?

C.K. Stead, 1 May 1980

Five American Poets 
by John Matthias, introduced by Michael Schmidt.
Carcanet, 160 pp., £3.25, November 1979, 0 85635 259 4
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The New Australian Poetry 
edited by John Tranter.
Makar Press, 330 pp., £6.50, November 1979
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Carpenters of Light 
by Neil Powell.
Carcanet, 154 pp., £6.95, November 1979, 0 85635 305 1
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Mirabell: Books of Number 
by James Merrill.
Oxford, 182 pp., £3.25, June 1979, 0 19 211892 7
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The Book of the Body 
by Frank Bidart.
Faber, 44 pp., £4.50, October 1979, 0 374 11549 4
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Skull of Adam 
by Stanley Moss.
Anvil, 67 pp., £2.50, May 1979, 0 85646 041 9
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Poems 1928-1978 
by Stanley Kunitz.
Secker, 249 pp., £6.50, September 1979, 0 436 23932 9
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... McMichael has a fine delicate touch in brief evocative lyrics and can open out into longer forms. John Matthias at his best achieves a steady tone, a dense texture, a clear focus on complex material. And in some of Robert Pinsky’s poems (‘Sadness and Happiness’, for example) there is a momentum, a sense of invention and of language rushing ...

Sweeno’s Beano

Nigel Wheale: MacSweeney, Kinsella and Harrison, 1 October 1998

The Book of Demons 
by Barry MacSweeney.
Bloodaxe, 109 pp., £7.95, September 1997, 1 85224 414 3
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Poems 1980-94 
by John Kinsella.
Bloodaxe, 352 pp., £9.95, April 1999, 1 85224 453 4
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The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony 
by John Kinsella.
Arc, 108 pp., £7.95, January 1997, 1 900072 12 2
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The Kangaroo Farm 
by Martin Harrison.
Paper Bark, 79 pp., £8.95, May 1998, 0 9586482 4 7
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... twenty years would be worth putting together in an accessible collection, as Bloodaxe has done for John Kinsella. Poems 1980-94 reprints his first eight books and some early poems. The collection is evidence of an energetic, wide-ranging spirit intent on extending several strands of Australian poetry. According to Kinsella, the meaning of the urban ...

Marvellous Boys

Mark Ford, 9 September 1993

The Ern Malley Affair 
by Michael Heyward.
Faber, 278 pp., £15, August 1993, 0 571 16781 0
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... we are as the double almond concealed in one shell,’ he broods in ‘Colloquy with John Keats’, going on to predict his own equally untimely demise in harsh demotic terms – ‘Look! My number is up!’ After his cremation at Rookwood Cemetery Ethel opened his trunk and set about disposing of his pitiably meagre possessions; in the process ...

Still Defending the Scots

Katie Stevenson: Robert the Bruce, 11 September 2014

Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots 
by Michael Penman.
Yale, 443 pp., £25, June 2014, 978 0 300 14872 5
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... people’s champion’, a role he played in the 1975 novel The Wallace by the prolific Nigel Tranter and, twenty years later, in Braveheart. But Martin was right that the appeal of Bruce would be significantly stronger to Salmond. Bruce re-established something that could be called Scotland and imbued it with a sense of identity and a belief in its right ...

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