“Who was Michael Dransfield?” Robert Adamson revisits ‘Michael Dransfield’s Lives: A Sixties Biography’ by Patricia Dobrez

Michael Dransfield’s Lives: A Sixties Biography by Patricia Dobrez reviewed by Robert Adamson.

Robert Adamson originally reviewed Michael Dransfield’s Lives: A Sixties Biography in The Australian Book Review in 2000. While this article is based on the originally review, it has been completely revised and rewritten so that very little remains of the original article.

The envelope containing the last letter that Michael Dransfield sent to Robert Adamson. The letter is now held by the National Library

Michael Dransfield was a prodigy whose life was cut short. When he died at 24 he had already published three books of poetry, since then another five volumes have eventually been published. By the time UQP released his Collected Poems in 1987, Dransfield’s reputation had grown, his poetry had been discovered by a broad readership, and his Collected Poems became the best seller in the entire series. Although his first book Streets of the Long Voyage appeared in 1970, when Michael was 22, he had been writing poetry from an early age.

Michael’s life became mythic and his reputation obscured his poetry. This 600 page biography Michael Dransfield’s Lives by Patricia Dobrez might be the place to look for what we can know of the reality of Dransfield’s life and work. Dobrez asked “Who was Michael Dransfield? ‘Did he himself know the answer to this question?” How does his poetry stand up after 39 years? His work is popular among young poets and has been highly regarded by three generations of poets who are now well established. His books have sold consistently over the years, and in 2002 a new selected poems was released, Michael Dransfield: A Retrospective, introduced and edited by John Kinsella.

There is a vast body of research behind this biography. Dobrez had access to Dransfield’s correspondence and papers, and she interviewed his family, friends and fellow poets over a long period of time. Here are lists and dates, the letters and plans for a future sketched on scraps of paper and envelopes; an archaeology through layers of time, facts and memory. There’s the infamous incident when Michael was invited to the Adelaide Writers Week by Geoffrey Dutton, but then when he was told that A.D. Hope would be appearing on the same program, Michael refused to go. This book is in honor of Michael Dransfield and his ‘lives’ but he is still not turning up for the literary festival. I thought knew Michael quite well for several years and yet after reading this book found myself wondering just how well I knew him after all.

Dobrez’s generous quotes from Dransfield’s work give the biography much of its energy, written in a jump-cut style which carries the narrative along swiftly, when it’s not cluttered with theory or quotes from other writers. At times Dobrez employs language that fogs up the clarity of both her own prose and the lucidity of Dransfield’s poetry. In the chapter ‘Age of Aquarius’ Dobrez quotes from the poem ‘Island’

there is no real thing.

none of these things is real.

he takes another book from the shelf,

glances, puts it aside, jabs a

needle in his

arm, listens to the wireless, kills it

with a touch.

there is no real thing.

he rises, and the face of the mirror empties.’

The sparse language, and short lines are insisting: ‘these lines’ are not real either, this is not confession, it’s poetry’. Dobrez, however, comes up with this interpretation: ‘It is as if enveloping post modern technocratic society were conspiring to rob its members of the real, so that relief might come through artificial channels, the mass media, or books, or drugs,’ what Dobrez misses is that poetry itself could be for Dransfield yet another ‘artificial channel’. He didn’t write in the ‘confessional mode’ that was so popular at the time. (In 1967 Sidney Noland’s portrait of Robert Lowell adorned the cover of TIME magazine along with a story about ‘confessional poetry’.) It’s always misleading to look too closely at the poetry for clues about the life. Dransfield can be flexible and witty, he can swing from symbolist to dada in one line, or from lyric to parody in a poem. He can easily mix the whimsical realism of Jacques Prevert with the sarcastic rhetoric of Gregory Corso.

Dransfield’s first collection of poetry: ‘Streets of the Long Voyage’.

Based on a reading of the poetry this biography gives the impression that Dransfield was a heroin addict, and it’s true he used drugs, he certainly smoked dope and tried acid and pills but there’s no proof he was addicted to heroin. Dransfield was never charged with using or possession and yet when he died the newspapers reported his death was from an overdose of heroin, this was not correct, no substance which may have caused his death was identified in the autopsy. Dobrez reports that the coroner’s ultimate finding on the cause of death was ‘acute bronchopneumonia and brain damage.’ In a later entry in ‘Australian Dictionary of Biography’ Dobrez adds an even more curious note: ‘The coroner found that his death followed a self-administered injection of an unknown substance.’ This makes sense when one considers the fact that Dransfield couldn’t have afforded a serious heroin habit. He hardly worked other than on his poetry during the last two years. In Dransfield’s company of friends there was much experimentation with prescription drugs like Mandrax and tranquilizers, where the tablets were crushed and cooked in a spoon, filtered with cotton wool and then injected intravenously. The ‘mystique’ of the hypodermic and the vein was practiced in circles where there was no money available.

I believe there is as much fiction in Dransfield’s ‘drug poetry’ as there is in the ‘Courland Penders’ work, where Michael explored his imagined ‘aristocratic’ family and their inherited mansion, although I find the drug poems much more convincing. Dransfield loved pretense and outright fantasy and used both in his life and poetry. He invented a world for himself that he could retreat to when he wanted to live an imaginary life. Dobrez calls this particular ability of Michael’s ‘Imagineering’, and it’s woven through his existence. Imagineering, even though it sounds a bit clunky, is a good word, portraying the sense of Dransfield as he attempts to steer his future onward as a poet. His talent for self-promotion was as strong as his talent for writing, don’t be fooled by the hippy vagueness, underneath the theatrics there was a steely deliberation. Dransfield embroidered everything with his imagination, his correspondence, conversations and even his relationships. His existence wove in and out of reality, and many who weren’t poets found it difficult to tell what was real or imagined (in fact, there were many poets who also found Michael’s ‘imagineering’ hard to take.

The second collection: ‘The Inspector of Tides’

When Michael turned up at 50 Church Street, Balmain, the house where we edited Poetry Magazine, he knocked on the door and introduced himself. He told me he had just finished a manuscript and knew I was looking for poems to publish. He said he could write several poems in a night and I didn’t believe him. It wasn’t long before I learned that he could indeed write several poems in a day, some would turn out to be keepers, however this ability to create spontaneous lyrics wasn’t as much a gift as a handicap. He needed tough and critical friends around him but I don’t think he was ready for them. He returned the next day with a manuscript and submitted it to the magazine. I read through it and thought there were a quite a few poems that were more than good enough to publish. My co-editors, Martin Johnston, Carl Harrison-Ford and Terry Sturm weren’t so easily impressed, but they eventually agreed to publish some of Michael’s tighter, less romantic poems. The first was:

Ground Zero

wake up

look around

memorise what you see

it may be gone tomorrow

everything changes. Someday

there will be nothing but what is remembered

there may be no-one to remember it.

Keep moving

wherever you stand is ground zero

a moving target is harder to hit

Looking through back issues of Poetry Magazine and New Poetry, I must say the editors’ decisions made a lot of sense, after 40 years Michael’s poems continue to read well. There are major poems like ‘Geography’ and ‘After Vietnam’ along with fine lyrics like ‘Mosaic’ and ‘Environmental Art’..

‘Drug Poems’.

I read this biography by Pat Dobrez alongside Dransfield’s Collected Poems—I must say this book was more compelling to read now than it was when first published in 1999, especially in terms of reassessing Michael’s work—as one reads you are compelled to re-read the poetry. Dobrez conjures a simulacrum of Dransfield by determination and a dogged scholarship that opens out the poetry to be reassessed in its historic context. In Streets of The Long Voyage and The Inspector of Tides the poems seem more accomplished and innovative than I remember. There’s a lightness of touch, he made strokes with words like a painter, I kept thinking the most attractive feature of Dransfield’s work was its open lyricism. There’s an ease of movement that only comes with much consideration of form and practice. Dobrez quotes Felicity Plunkett who writes that Dransfield’s poetry makes a determined ‘appeal for the right to a fluid subjectivity’ and this quality adds to the apparent ease of his work. Along with the English Romantics and the European poets he loved, Michael had absorbed lessons from Don Allen’s New American Poetry. By 1971 much of his best poetry was written in an open field style he adopted from the Black Mountain school. He was interested in crossing the styles of the French Symbolists with the New American poetry. ‘Byron at Newstead’ is another of his poems we published in Poetry Magazine, in the final stanza he evokes lines from Mallarme’s letter to Henri Cazalis, May 14, 1867 : where Mallarme says that he had almost forgotten what the self was, that he needed to see himself in a mirror in order to think. Here’s the final three lines of Dransfield’s poem:

to be a poet

what it means

to lose the self to lose the self

‘Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal’. Dransfield’s fourth collection which was published after his death.

Dobrez points out that Dransfield was ahead of his time in his decision to be a professional poet. What poet in this country before him tried to make a living from poetry alone? In his early years Les Murray, around the time of Dransfield’s first book, was employed at the National Library with translation work. Something Les said recently would have appealed a lot to Dransfield: ‘Why write poetry? For the weird unemployment.’ Before Les Murray, Henry Kendall comes to mind, though in his case being a professional poet wasn’t a choice, Kendall found it difficult to hold down a job. The question is multi-layered. The acting out of the role of ‘poet’ is a complex business, it can be seen as a rebellious act, or as John Forbes once said, it can lead to a poet into a position of becoming a ‘socially integrated bard’. In the 1950s and 60s established poets hardly mentioned their employment, on the backs of their books they pared away the personal details, you’d be lucky to come across their hobby or sport.

These lines from Dransfield’s poem ‘Like this for years’ are often quoted by young poets as evidence of Michael’s courage, as a challenge and an example, especially the final couplet:

In the cold weather

the cold city the cold

heart of something as pitiless as apathy

to be a poet in Australia

is the ultimate commitment

This poem goes beyond the idea of poetry as a profession, it speaks of attitudes many Australians have towards a person who might call themselves a ‘poet’. It reminds me of similar concerns in these lines written by Hart Crane in his home town of Arkron in 1921:

‘The stars are drowned in a slow rain,

And a hash of noises is slung up from the street.

You ought, really, to try to sleep,

Even though, in this town, poetry’s a

Bedroom occupation.’

Voyage into Solitude – The first posthumous volume of uncollected work edited by Rodney Hall.

Hart Crane’s lines are the reverse side of Michael’s bravado. It’s true that to call yourself a poet in Australia can sometimes be the ‘ultimate commitment’, firstly there’s no money in it and secondly, to call yourself a poet in some quarters would be to engender ridicule. When Hart Crane wrote these lines about his home town he was 22 years old, the same age as Dransfield when he wrote ‘Like this for years’.

Dransfield’s first volume was published in 1970, the second in 1972. I feel he should have waited another year before publishing a third book. He might have caught up with himself and not tripped into his next phase as the ‘drug-poet’. However, a few months after The Inspector of Tides in 1972, Sun Books, released a volume of Dransfield poems entitled Drug Poems. I remember thinking the title was a big mistake in terms of the feedback it would create for Michael. The publisher was determined to cash in on the times, as a book it was packaged to slant towards the sensational. There was a head-shot of Dransfield that bled to the edges of a poorly designed cover with lime green pop lettering. The overall production was cheap, as opposed to the economical design of the UQP paperbacks. Drug Poems, even with Geoffrey Dutton hyping it to the skies, was poorly reviewed or ignored at the time and only sold a few hundred copies. Don Anderson was the only critic who had something positive to say about it, ‘ They are hard, clear, disciplined, fully realized poetry, which add to his already considerable reputation.’ Dobrez comments on Don’s language ‘To have one’s poetry acclaimed as ‘fully realized’ was, of course, to receive the Leavisite imprimatur for mortal adequacy.’

The Second Month of Spring – The second posthumous volume of uncollected work edited by Rodney Hall.

.

Up until Drug Poems Dransfield had a charmed run with his editors and publisher.  Tom Shapcott guided him through the process of publishing and editing the first book, reading several manuscripts, cutting poems then editing a shape for ‘Streets’. Rodney Hall, as literary editor of the Australian, published many of Dransfield’s finest lyrics on a regular basis and this helped gather Michael a following. Then came Shapcott’s important anthology, Australian Poetry Now, a book that contained a large selection of Michael’s poetry, where Shapcott referred to Dransfield in the Introduction as being’ terrifyingly close to genius’; creating a backlash of course, but nevertheless good publicity.

Michael offered both manuscripts, Drug Poems and Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal, to my publishing venture, Prism Books. I advised him to cut poems from both books and create one volume. I also suggested the poems could do with some tightening up and re-drafting. This didn’t please him at all, in fact he threw a tantrum and stopping talking to me for a month. Dobrez notes the disagreement between us at the time but doesn’t include the details. She does however quote Max Harris, he was not at all impressed with Dutton’s promotion of Dransfield as a ‘drug-poet’. Harris thought the

The Rodney Hall edited ‘Collected Poems’.

book’s presentation was corny and wrote in his newspaper column, ‘If Michael Dransfield achieves major statue from among the pack of younger poets, the stimulus to his writing and the recognition of his developing talent will have come from the restlessly enthusiastic squawking in the market place by the incurable Dutton’.

When Drug Poems was launched at the Adelaide Writer’s Week in 1970—the year Ginsberg was invited—junkies thought it was a joke and anyway didn’t have money to spend on a book. Ginsberg was friends with William S Burroughs who knew drugs and how to write about them. Readers of Burroughs could see through Dransfield’s work. Younger readers were more easily persuaded. Dransfield included the rigmarole of recreational shooting-up, along with details picked up on the street and described the rituals of heroin addiction. There were several powerful poems in the book and this is what upset the local literary set who didn’t know about heroin and its sleazy world.

I believe Michael Dransfield went astray when he decided to play out the role of the drug poet. Dobrez writes in her first chapter ‘So it is that, in the chapters which follow, we witness the ‘Imagineer’, with one eye turned towards waiting journalists and critics, surreptitiously manufacturing his own myths: the ‘poet who dared to be different’; the poet who was a traditionalist and a rebel, member of a fantastic patriciate and man of the people; the poet of the ‘drug world’ who lived ‘in the underground’; the passionate social critic; a sublimely deluded younger Francis Webb; someone ‘terrifyingly close to genius’.

Who’s to know what he really took and what effect it may, or may not have had, on his poetry? His poems can as easily be read as warnings against heroin as Alan Wearne has noted elsewhere. Dransfield became addicted to the role he played; it was different at the time, even before Brett Whiteley came out as an addict, it was linked in Michael’s mind to pop culture along with the images of the French Symbolist poets and painters. A dangerous game he thought he was merely flirting with. He was a born poet and was still gathering his energies and skills, his roles and the ‘imagineering’ were youthful impulses that went out of kilter. In the end it was his lyrical gift came through for him, profound and timeless, as in his poem Geography:

(part III)

In the forest, in the unexplored

valleys of the sky, are chapels of pure

vision. there even the desolation of space cannot

sorrow you or imprison. i dream of the lucidity of the vacuum,

orders of saints consisting of parts of a rainbow,

identities of wild things / of

what the stars are saying to each other, up there

above the concrete and the minimal existences, above

idols and wars and caring. tomorrow

we shall go there, you and your music and the

wind and i, leaving from very strange

stations of the cross, leaving from

high windows and from release,

from clearings

in the forest, the uncharted

uplands of the spirit

Michael Dransfield’s poem ‘The Change’, as it appears in ‘New Poetry’, June 1971. Thanks to Sam Moginie (http://moremeteos.tumblr.com/post/21412969278/michael-dransfields-poem-the-change-as-it)

___________________________________________________

Robert Adamson is one of Australia’s leading poets. He is currently The CAL Chair in Poetry in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney.

21 thoughts on ““Who was Michael Dransfield?” Robert Adamson revisits ‘Michael Dransfield’s Lives: A Sixties Biography’ by Patricia Dobrez

  1. Pingback: Michael Dransfield: Table of Contents | Rochford Street Review

  2. It became important at the beginning of the seventies to live the life of a poet. Shelton Lea did just this – also with the drugs and even more alcohol but perhaps without as much genius as Dransfield – by with at least as much ‘imagineering’ and romanticism – his poem ‘Maggie’ who died in his arms one night in the ‘Gardens of Babylon’ (On the corner of Gertrude St and Brunswick St Fitzroy – outside the high rise flats – four gum trees) is as beautiful as is his Nebechanezza poems published the week before he died. The girls liked Dransfield and Shelton -I think Les Murray spent a couple of years wandering too – before he secured is translating job in Canberra. It seems to me most of the good Australian poets of the seventies spent at least a year or two in the sort of homeless/wandering/psychosis that Dransfield unfortunately never survived – Charles Buckmaster, one of the first La Mama/Pram Factory poets, blew his head of with a shotgun and left but a few poems seeking some sort of enlightenment/ transformation/ redemption. Robert Adamson, himself lived the life of a poet without any visible means of support and hung around Nigel Roberts’ place in Balmain and Dorothy Hewitt’s house / Brett Whitely’s studio like a mad lover and formidable gatekeeper for the post Sydney push – the new avant grade of romantic surrealists with attitude. Living the life of a poet in Australia without any visible means of support, including literary grants is a matter of great interest in both Sydney and Melbourne and rural Australia – it producers a different sort of poetry than that of the social engineers and academic gatekeepers – the ‘Writing & Editing’ courses. Jazz Duke/ John Anderson/ Shelton Lea/ Eric Beach/Adrian Rawlins/ Geoffrey Eggleston/ Geoff Goodfellow/Michael Duggan/ even PIO – the balladeers – and the communities around which these free spirits lived. In the 1970’s some still believed in transformation by drugs though, in Melbourne – ‘art by drug’ died with the Pram Factory though Phil Motherwell soldiered on.

  3. Partrick, I think you put too much emphasis on the beginning of the seventies as some kind of awakening in poetic consciousness in Australian poetry. Brennan, Gwen Harwood, Bruce Beaver, Judith Wright, Dorothy Hewitt and Francis Webb among others were doing amazingly innovative work before Dransfield, and a few of them suffered neglect and mental illness too. How do I know about this, because my lecturers at Sydney Uni. read them and taught them to me – your so called academic gate-keepers should not be stereotyped so crudely as you have done in your post.

    • There are other gatekeepers than the academic kind – Robert Adamson is a gatekeeper though not an academic – Les Murray is a gatekeeper but not academic. Not all gatekeepers are social engineers – though many are. The point I was attempting to make though, was that there is a significant body of Australian poetry exists before and after – outside – the reach of any of the gatekeepers. The pub poets/ the bush poets/ the reclusive poets/ the real outsiders such as Shelton Lea and John Anderson, Eric Beach, Jazz H Duke who wrote and write excellent and sometimes visionary work which never enters the academic narrative. I can’t help wondering sometimes if the best Australian poem was never published, but burned in an backyard incinerator by the poets sister after he died and was heard or read by only a handful of people. Yes I read Harwood/ Beaver/ during the sixties – but also Dawe who I believe survives right through up to the present along with Murray. Wright became politicised with the liberations – just as James McCauley did with communism/ catholicism – both of them sacrificed their poetry. I preferred Merv Lilley when it came to poetry, though it was simple, I could hear the cane cutter. Dorothy was more the writer. I didn’t mean to be crude, Adam, but I do struggle with the social engineers (Wright,Kinsella etc etc) and the genre of poem that the ‘writing and editing’ courses seem to be producing and publishing. The mad free spirited/addicted/bohemian/all the way poets of the seventies were of a different quality to any of those sixties poets you mentioned – they had to go a lot further than Harwood or Beaver did. I don’t think we knew much of Francis Webb (down here in Vic) till the end of the seventies – but certainly Webb. Hewitt and Wright were the avant garde of the sixties and held in great esteem by the seventies mob. There was an awakening in prosodic consciousness during the seventies – poems started to be read and performed in pubs and clubs and dives – in plays – between the bands – on the ABC – off the backs of trucks at country festivals etc. A poet then, had not only to write poems but to read them and live the life of a poet publicly. For the first time in Australia poets became public – they could no longer exists as faceless names or pseudo names hiding around university bars. For the first time poetry acquired a face. Like Dransfield did in Sydney. He felt he had to live the life of a poet as well – the whole gestalt of it. In Melbourne that was Shelton Lea. It could be – that the authentic voice of Australian poetry was only kept sacred by those who could avoid the gatekeepers.

  4. Dear Patrick

    I used to call all the gate keepers screws until I heard the Dylan song,
    George Jackson, with this couplet:

    Sometimes I think this whole world Is one big prison yard
    Some of us are prisoners the rest of us are guards

    In 1967 I asked Roland Robinson what you had to do to be let in through the Gates, he told me to keep up my guard and to learn to spell, especially the names of people, because if you got the spelling of names wrong, it showed disrespect.

    Check out ‘Hewitt’ ‘Whitely’ and ‘James McCauley’ against their real names.

    Onward.
    Bob

  5. Sorry – Hewett/ Whiteley/ McAuley (you’d think I’d remember that one) – Adam misspelled Hewett too – but if the gatekeepers only let through the best spellers – then they’re missing a lot of very good poets. We all know that good poetry has nothing to do with spelling – though I agree it is important. Of course the poets who wrote for the voice rather than the page did not have to spell their work at all. The gatekeepers of the last couple of Australian Poetry Anthologies seem to be so unashamedly Sydneycentric that one can only wonder what their cry for ‘inclusiveness’ means – and the hypocrisy of it. There is a significant body of Australian poetry ignored – though Dransfield seems to be the major Sydney omission. Was he omitted because of the drugs? – Australian poets seem to be often judged by the gatekeepers on morality/class/race/ gender/ sexuality etc rather than the actual poetry.

  6. There are, of course, numerous groupings of poets/writers at any point in history. In m any cases these groupings are quite fluid with poets not identifying with any one group but being associated with a number of different groups – or even non at all. In some instances poets group together due to a shared poetic belief other times their poetry might be quite different but they share a political belief, or a shared geographical position. In most cases I’m not sure if the term ‘gatekeeper’ is the correct one. Were Robert Adamson, John Tranter, Les Murray, Geoffrey Lehmann or anybody else ever a ‘gate keeper’ for a poetic ‘movement’ (interestingly enough all my suggested gate-keepers are male – what does that say about the excluded poets). One could argue that the closest they might get is as editors of magazines, anthologies or small presses – Adamason in the days of New Poetry, Tranter as an anthologist (The New Australian Poetry etc) and as editor (eg Jacket), Lehmann obviously as an anthologist and even Murray as poetry editor of Quadrant is obviously keeping the radical hordes from the bedrock of poetic conservatism.
    I guess I see the vibrancy of Australian poetry as a balance between all these different groupings – and I include the non mainstream along with the mainstream here (so Women writing groups, Gay and Lesbian, no Anglo writers/writers in languages other than English, performance poets, etc). If there are ‘gate keeper’ in Australian poetry I would like to think of them as isolate figures on small rocky outcrops while the swirling and diverse currents of Australian poetry threaten to wash them off.
    The academy must be constantly threatened and editors constantly challenged (and not just by the poetry that they read but by other editors, other publications). In one respect by excluding Dransfield from the house brick that is Australian Poetry Since 1788 Lehmann and Gray have actually encouraged a groundswell of support for him – so that Emily Stewart, writing in Cordite, can say “arriving just in time for Michael Farrell, who was totally on-trend with his paper about Michael Dransfield, who seems to be everywhere right now”. (http://cordite.org.au/guncotton/highlights-from-the-poetry-symposium/).
    Yes poets like Jas H Duke and PiO have been neglected (but even here magazines like Going Down Swinging championed their causes to a degree – in Duke’s case I seem to remember an issue of GDS containing a CD of Duke’s shortly after his death). But there are also other poets such as Vicki Viidikas, Kerry Leaves, Jennifer Rankin etc who deserve more acknowledge than they have received. I hope to highlight as many of these writers as I can in future issues of RSR – anybody who wants to help stir the pot (and bypass a few gatekeepers) are welcome to come along for the ride…..

  7. I can’t spell either, though I make sure I check the spelling in every poem I publish and in each letter and every book review that I write and I hope others may read. Simone Weil and Francis Webb and a quite few others have written that attention and attentiveness are forms of payer. Paying attention to each word in the object of the poem, the song of the poem, the poem as a machine, the poem as a process or a theory, the poem as the invisible worm that flies through the night in the howling storm, all these forms of attention, including the attention to spelling are all complexities that run in the deep undercurrents of poetry and we need to take account of them. The love of language, the awareness of what each word in the poem is doing, the lyrics of the song, and that singer and lover who ‘knows too much to argue or to judge’ all indicate how much we care about ourselves, poetry and those who love to listen and to read poetry. Good spelling has to do with manners and bad spelling is a great distraction.

  8. Mea culpa, Robert, I do carefully check spelling in my poems and essays but have been a bit slack on my blogs/posts etc probably because it is more immediate and nobody else seems to worry – but yes I accept your criticism and of course thoroughly enjoyed your excellent post about the need to nurture and love language. It is not the gatekeepers who are on ‘rocky outcrops’ Mark – it’s a significant number of good Australian poets – but in the end that comes down to the fact that most people do not read (or buy) poetry anymore. Why – because they can’t understand it. So why bother. Also the way I saw it over the past forty years or so – it was the gatekeepers keeping the conservative hordes from the bedrock of poetic radicalism.

  9. By the way, Robert, I think you meant that ‘attention and attentiveness are form of prayer’ – not payer – but mindfulness in the Eastern Buddhist meaning. But I thought there were at lot more important points I was making concerning Oz poetics. What about Peter Kocan, Rod Moran, Jennifer Harrison, Jenny Boult, Eric Beach. The top is too small and the bottom too wide. The nurses in Vic went on strike for more ‘respect’ – they wanted more money. Manners can be a bit of a worry too – the Jesuits tried to beat manners into me for ten years and I survived more by poetry the
    n manners.

  10. By the way, Robert, I think you meant that ‘attention and attentiveness are a form of prayer’ – not payer – but mindfulness in the Eastern Buddhist meaning. But I thought there were at lot more important points I was making concerning Oz poetics. What about Peter Kocan, Rod
    Moran, Jennifer Harrison, Jenny Boult, Eric Beach. The top is too small and the bottom too
    wide. The nurses in Vic went on strike for more ‘respect’ – they wanted more money.
    Manners can be a bit of a worry too – the Jesuits tried to beat manners into me for ten years
    and I survived more by poetry than manners. Manners can mask deceit.

  11. I don’t think one can ask for respect. You can respect others, if you feel like it. I thought you were talking about gate keepers (whatever you mean by that, it’s a bit late now that the flood gates have been opened by the internet) and the way to pass through the Gates is by displaying manners. Yes, manners can mask deceit in day to day life, not so much in a poem, if a poem works it’s beyond manners, it either has manners or not, ‘neither our vices or virtues further the poem’. That’s if you need to pass through the Gates. Blake, Whitman, Dickinson, Keats, Lorine Niedecker and HD certainly didn’t pass through the ‘Gates’ during their lifetimes. What are we talking about exactly? In poetry we have cages or the open field. Dransfield’s work has survived for almost half a century because he left behind an open field, each time somebody reads one of his books they experience a freedom from the cages of habit
    and worn out form.

  12. redemption – I reckon most poets write for redemption – to be released from the self – out into ‘the open fields’ (paddocks) – Blake released himself early as a spiritual being trying to be human – by the love of his woman – Whitman through his homosexuality was released/ released himself – but what about poor Ezra Pound – he was caged by the gatekeepers – yet almost certainly directed/ enabled the greatest poets and writers of his time. He himself wrote profound poetry which is still ignored by the gatekeepers. I agree that Dransfield’s poems were free, perhaps that is why they were ignored for so long, (and to some extent are still ignored) but I don’t know if I can believe that Dransfield the man was not still caged when he died. Brett Whiteley seemed caged too – yet you wouldn’t know it from the paintings or his success. I can’t see how anyone could argue that Francis Webb was not caged throughout his whole life. We are talking about whether or not a falling tree makes a noise if no-one hears it fall.

  13. A Robin Red Breast in a Cage
    Puts all of Heaven in a Rage.

    William Blake

    It’s the poetry and the painting that transcend the cage: who can tell how ‘caged’ a poet or a painter may or may not be, ‘ can birds be free from the chains of the skyways?’ (Bob Dylan) ‘Though we sang in our chains like the sea.’ Dylan Thomas; and then Rimbaud’s: ‘I’ve stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; chains from star to star, and I dance. and Bob Dylan’s ‘Another blind man at the gate’.

  14. Pingback: Issue 3: March – April (and a bit of May) 2012 Contents. | Rochford Street Review

  15. The publication of Paula Keogh’s memoir lends another dimension to the fable that was Micheal Dransfield who I remember as a gangly teenager hanging around for a free toke. I find the ping back very readable.

    • So, here we are in 2017 … five years after this post was first placed .. and I note the Editor of RSR denies there are ‘Gatekeepers’ … Yet only last week he refused to publish my review of ‘The Herring Lass’ by Michele Cahill … because …. ‘Michele has read the review and does not want it to be published’. This is how you become a ‘ Gatekeeper’ Mark. So are all RSR’s Okayed by the poets first ? … how can I ever read a RSR again without suspecting that it is merely another advertisement ?

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