Michael Dransfield is one of the enigmas of Australian poetry. When he died at the age of 24 on 20th April 1973 he had published three books of poetry (Streets of the Long Voyage, The Inspector of Tides and Drug Poems – though Drug Poems also contained a number of poems which first appeared in the first two collections). While he has conveniently linked to the so-called ‘Generation of 68’, looking back, like many other poets of that period, he does not fit easily into the commonly head notions of what the generation of 68 was all about.
I first came across Dransfield as a seventeen year old discovering for the first time that there was a poetry that was closer to the song lyrics I was listening to rather than the poetry we were being taught in High School. I discovered New Poetry magazine and the work of Laurie Duggan, Bob Adamson, J S Harry and many others. I also discovered Dransfield through the Robyn Archer LP Wild Girl in the Heart –an album were she put the poems of a number of contemporary Australian poets to music. ‘Outback’, in particular, spoke to the young left wing poet I then was. These were the days of yellow-cake shipments through White Bay in the middle of the night. Australia was no longer ridding on the sheep’s back, rather they were digging the ground away from under us – and Dransfield seemed to sum it all up in that single poem.
As a result I then hunted the two UQP paperback poet books he had released Street of the Long Voyage and Inspector of the Tides. In these books I discovered some of the most lyrical contemporary poems I had yet come across (I was, admittedly, coming off a low base). Poems like ‘Pas de deux for Lovers‘ and ‘Deuteronomy’ were a revelation and I spent far too long trying to replicate the style and mood of poems such as these. Then there were the slightly more difficult poems, including poems like Bums’ Rush which, even looking back over forty years, remains one of the best ‘drug poems’ every written in Australia.
Later I would track down the other books, Drug Poems I bought off a friend, Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal I found in a second hand shop in Canberra and the later Rodney Hall edited collections: Voyage into Solitude, The Second Month of Spring and the Collected Poems, I bought as they came out. I don’t have John Kinsella’s Selected Poems…some how I felt I had all I needed.
In retrospect what has stuck in my mind was the excitement that I felt when I first came across ‘Outback’ on Robyn Archer’s LP and Streets of the Long Voyage. This was the first time I felt real excitement on reading a book of poetry…fortunately it was not he last.