Featured Writer Willem Tibben: Biographical Note

! ENCHANCED Willem Tibben reading at launch

Willem Tibben reading at the launch of suburban veneer, NSW Writers’ Centre, Sydney, 22 April 2017. photograph by Helen Lu

Willem (Bill) Tibben
came from Holland to Camden in 1954 where he grew up on dairy farms. He worked in the NSW Public Service for 43 years and retired in 2007. His first published poems were in Neucleus (University of New England’s student newspaper – 1977) and since then he has published four books: near myths (1986), the conscious moment (1996), the fascination of what’s simple (2005), and suburban veneer (2017). Willem is President of Youngstreet Poets; member of Auburn Poets and Writers’ Group; and a regular attender at Live Poets at Don Bank.

Poems from suburban veneer

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017:

Danny Gardner’s audience address
Maureen Ten’s audience address

suburban veneer is available from Belgrove Press. contact: saleswt@belgrovepress.com


Playful Interplay: Mark Roberts reviews ‘Portraits – 54 Poems’ by Lizz Murphy

Portraits – 54 poems by Lizz Murphy. PressPress 2013

MURPHY Portraits OFCI was a little surprised to find myself thinking of Laurie Duggan as I read Lizz Murphy’s seventh (by my count) collection of poetry. Portraits consists of 54 very small poems – ranging from one to seven lines (with the exception of THE BUDGERIGAR which is almost conventional at 12 lines) and I made an immediate connection with these fragments/cameos/vignettes and Duggan’s use of the very short poetic form. In a recent review of Duggan’s The Pursuit of Happiness (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2013/04/16/fragments-and-the-whole-mark-roberts-reviews-the-pursuit-of-happiness-by-laurie-duggan/), I commented on the “fragmentary” nature of much of his writing. Indeed, in Pursuit there were two sequences which consisted purely of very short three and four line poems (‘Angles 1-18’ and Angles 19-32).

But where Duggan often uses these fragments to build a much larger ‘whole’, Murphy is content in this collection to let these small poems stand by themselves without the shelter (wind break?) of larger works. Perhaps the cover is a subtle hint – large pixels seeming to form the suggestion of the poet’s face – drill down deep enough and everything breaks down into fragments.

Indeed the titles of the first few poems suggest there might be something in this with titles like ‘THE PORTRAIT, ‘THE MODEL, ‘MIRROR’ and ‘STILL LIFE’. But we learn quickly that this is not a conventional portrait:

At her easel
her palette knife splits yolk
Fried egg breasts

and MIRROR is one of Murphy’s one line poems (one can’t imagine a poem much shorter than this two worder!)

Silver-back gorilla

There is also a playfulness to many of Murphy’s poems which suits the very short form:

Lemon lemons
Glass glasses
Silver silverware
Unstable table





As we start reading the poems in sequence, however, we can notice patterns forming. For example, immediately following SUBURB


we have WIVES:

Women without names

While the pigeons which appear picking up crumbs in HOMELESS take a lead role in the next poem A PIGEON PAIR. Then there is again the playful interplay between poems in FLY and FROG.


There are also a number of poems in Portraits that suggest haiku. A PIGEON PAIR, for example, is a beautiful example of contemporary haiku:

Teeming city
Porthole by the curb
Roily rainwater

the unexpected use of the word ‘roily’ frames this little poem perfectly and manages to convey an image of the dirty, muddy water in the pothole being stirred up by the passing traffic. In MONOPRINT we find what might be described as an extended haiku – it almost ticks all the boxes:

Corn yellow hair
Blue breast dance
Comfortable skin
Seedpod opening

To return to the Duggan reference, Murphy, like Duggan, ethusiastically embraces the found poem . In between SHOP FRONT and ROADSIDE COLLECTION we have THE MASSEUR:

“Swedish massage
See Bev
at the butcher shop”

In Portraits Murphy has given us a perfectly balanced collection of tiny poems which fits the PressPress micro chapbook form like a glove. While being able to be slipped into a back pocket it is a volume of diverse content and form that rewards multiple readings. It will be interesting to see in which directions Murphy heads next.

– Mark Roberts


Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and is working on a collection of poetry.

Portraits is available from http://www.presspress.com.au/Murphy.html

Confronting the Culture, Language and History of War: Mark Roberts reviews ‘Valence: Considering War Through Poetry and Theory’ by Susan Hawthorne

Valence: Considering War Through Poetry and Theory by Susan Hawthorne. Spinifex 2011.

Valence057In a recent interview Alison Crogan was asked “Is poetry important”. Her answer was blunt and honest:

The fact is that it is not important to many people: They get by their whole lives without encountering it, and who is to say they are the worse for it?………..it is important to me. It’s an art in which language is put under pressure and investigated in ways which questions the assumptions that we make about it” (http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/croggon-alison/a-unicorn-0612043/reviews/interview-alison-croggon-may-2013-21)

For the poet who comes to poetry with an avert political consciousness, who wants poetry to speak, question and argue, the issue becomes more complex. They are, for example, confronted by Auden’s statement in ‘In memory of W. B. Yeats’:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Poetry can be an effective tool in to pressure both language and the assumptions that underlie society – but if such analysis remains, for the most part, firmly anchored in “the valley of its making” what is the point. The question, for the political poet, or the poet that has written a political poem, is how to escape from the valley?

Recently, during the ‘festival’ that ANZAC Day seems to have become I considered what happens when poetry/art does venture out its valley. I repeatedly heard Eric Bogle’s ‘The Band Played Walzing Maltida’ being played on the radio and TV – but the more I listened to the context it which it was being played the more I realised that it was no longer the anti-war song that I remembered. The words hadn’t changed but it had become an almost anthem, a hymn if you like – the message was now celebrating sacrifice and death rather than mourning and questioning them.

I guess if you work hard enough you can turn anything on its head – the ruling classes, after all, are not noted for their appreciation of irony and subtlety.

In approaching Susan Hawthorne’s extraordinary chapbook, Valence I found myself thinking of a number of things. Of course there was the tradition of war poetry, which most of know from the poetry of the First World War (Wilfred Owen and Sigfred Sasson). But there were also other images – a beautiful illustration by Carol Archer of a fence at Pine Gap on which the women who had camped at the gates, had tied many little ribbons (P76 Issue 2 1984). I also recalled an exhibition I had seen and reviewed in 1985 – Peace and Nuclear War in the Australian Landscape, an installation by Darani Lewers, Jan Birmingham and Tanya Crothers. In an interview I conducted with the artists Jan Birmingham spoke of the difficulty of representing images of war as powerful sections of the media have appropriated many of the more terrifying images of war and made them seem glamorous and exciting. (http://printedshadows.wordpress.com/category/exhibitions/peace-and-nuclear-war-in-the-australian-landscape/)

Valence is an “annotated poem”, each page contains a poem, together with some notes describing the thoughts and references behind the poems. At the back of the book there is a Bibliography referencing books and journal articles. Clearly this is no ordinary poetry book. We are also given a brief introduction:

I wrote this poem in 2009 over several weeks. I had been thinking about war, about the roles played by my mother and grandmother in the twentieth century wars. Then there was my mother’s brother, imprisoned in Changi who never recovered. How do you measure this loss?

The poem begins with the suggestion of war, the language which prepares us, pushes us towards acceptance:

all day long the gods have been screaming
their prevalent song of war and pre-emptive strike

language is important here, the language of war, of grief, of violence and loss. There are images, unexpected, that take your breath away – lines like:

that widowed ground has been filled with half-grown trees

recall old battlefields, the bodies buried and the vegetation returning. It also calls to mind the women, the civilian victims – the rape, the loss of family, the destruction of community – all part of the modern war machine: “buried poetry risen unbidden”

Memory plays a central role in these poems. The personal history of war, remembered atrocities, still fresh/flesh after decades – a lived history. In poem 6, about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Hawthorne writes:

in Sabra and Shatila only bodies are left
shadows of screams echoes of eyes
that have stopped seeing stopped recording
a nation’s memory will not unwrap when the chain
is nothing but missing links one by one
each memory becomes a wilderness

The book ends with a sense of despair – the legacy of the horrors of the 20th Century which continues into the new century:

you dream of flight with wings with claws some days
you sob because all the elegies for the dead all the strings
played with furious pathos will not stop the clot of war

But the poetry is really only half of Valence. It is an annotated poem and each page contains both a poem and a set of notes/observations. While at first this is a little disconcerting – do you read the poem and the notes at the same time or do you read all the poems before going back and reading the annotations? Once you overcome this slight dilemma, the annotations actually add to the impact of the overall poem.

The annotations often extend the poem they are linked to, expanding both the context and the meaning. The annotation for the first poem, for example (“all day long the gods have been screaming/their prevalent songs of war and pre-emptive strike/ war leaves you gobsmacked words slaughtered in the throat”), expands the impact of the poem:

Militarism, fundamentalism and the sex industry share the same ideology. Traumatised and vulnerable individuals become fodder for war and religion and pornography and prostitution.

In poem 6 (about the 1982 Lebanese War), Hawthorne shares with us the inspiration for the poem:

This poem came from seeing the film, Waltz with Bashir, an animated film made by Ari Folman in search of memories he had lost following the 1982 Lebanon War. Like the patients referred to in the poem, the minds of those who participate as soldiers in war sometimes stop recording

Valence is a powerful book on a number of levels. It contains a powerful anti-war poem, rich in imagery and history, full of passion and measured anger. It also operates on a more direct level, directly confronting the culture, language and history of war. In the end it doesn’t fit well in Auden’s poetic valley – it is a work that demands to be widely read. Perhaps it should be compulsory reading in the period leading up to the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

pine gap

Carol Archer ‘Pine Gap Fence’ P76 Issue 2 1984

– Mark Roberts


Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and is working on a collection of poetry.

Valence is available from http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/Bookstore/book/id=226/

A Taster-Plate Full of Possibilities: Paul Summers reviews ‘Water Mirrors’ by Nicholas Powell

Water Mirrors by Nicholas Powell. UQP Poetry Series. 2012

water mirrorsThe hyperbole of publishers’ back-page blurbs is deserving of a critical review section in itself. UQP are in fluent overdrive here, proclaiming this debut collection to be: exceptional, luminous, dazzling, extraordinarily forceful & ruled by a gentle but masterly technique.

As a critical (& slightly cynical) reader i’m now anticipating one of two things: A work of astonishing genius or the disappointment of yet another over-egged or over-hyped pudding. I’m happy to say that this slim collection veers cautiously toward the former but does on occasion take recourse in the latter. Ultimately though it left me more hopeful than disappointed & to someone who scans as much contemporary poetry as i do, that counts as a notably good result.

To be fair to the UQP marketing department, there are many moments within the covers when the writing, or phrasing within the writing, more than lives up to its hype. Powell has a deft eye & ear for intimacy & vulnerability, & a strong, sensual , poetic vision of landscape & situation. Although in this reader’s opinion, he is better at documenting intimate moments or poetic ‘flash fictions’ than he is at maintaining more extended narrative.

In Dip, the book’s second poem, we encounter the protagonist’s seeming reticence to allow himself to be poetic, to trust in the validity of his ‘felt’ language & not let it be domineered by the language of ‘thought’.

Launching the miniscule canoes of frangipani leaves,
He thinks to say, the tree grieves, and thinks

Better of it, focussing on how the breeze
Feels on a cleaned body, and happy to have
Not shot his mouth off.

Perhaps this is a clue to the niggling demon which haunts some of Powell’s work in this collection, a confidence to trust in the economy (& obliqueness) of his own poetic language. There’s a lack of thrift sometimes, a prosaic intruder which infiltrates his phrasing, which is frustrating knowing how well he can condense & control. He needs to trust in his undoubted skill as a poet more, be confident & within that confidence, extend the parameters of his world & the ruthlessness of his economy.

Despite the pan-continental back-drops these are insular poems, inward looking poems from his own ‘little window’. They can occasionally feel slightly devoid of a ‘punctum’, nice vignettes but surprisingly empty of emotionality but when he writes well, the poems dance & the moments are well & truly nailed. My only other minor criticism is that it sometimes it feels as though ‘The Poet’ is a little too present, too pre-occupied with being a poet, whatever that actually means.

Powell is at his best when the language feels instinctive, honest & not overly wrought.

Light caught your tongue, & your tongue, sun

(Wild apples)


History is made by how we speak

(Line for the new year, Lithuania)


The pleasant pain of making



…the tincture of bedsheets

(Blue hour)


Clubbed by sunlight we have fallen
asleep in the cheap seats dreaming

(The Flag)

Late Winter is a truly beautiful little poem, my favourite in the collection – it marries the minutiae of domestic detail with the vastness of an external natural almost metaphysical presence; it’s beautifully observed & is one poem handled with an incredible degree of economy.

Water Mirrors is inarguably a strong debut for which Nicholas Powell should be applauded, but it is, for me anyhow, glowing with promise rather than dazzling; it is generally strong but not exceptional. What Powell gives us with this offering of 42 poems is a taster-plate full of possibilities. I look forward to reconvening for the next sitting; I’d be backing him to get better & better.

– Paul Summers


Paul Summers is a northumbrian poet who lives in Central Queensland. his poems have appeared widely in print for over two decades and has performed his work all over the world. A founding co-editor of the ‘leftfield’ UK magazines billy liar and liar republic, he has also written for tv, film, radio, theatre and collaborated many times with artists and musicians on mixed-media projects and public art.

Water Mirrors is available at http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/book.aspx/1207/Water%20Mirrors

The Ultimate Commitment: Michael Dransfield on the 40th Anniversary of His Death

Dransfield PriestTomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Michael Dransfield who died on 20th April 1973. Last year Rochford Street Review published a series of articles and reprints of reviews on Dransfield as we felt that the approaching 40th anniversary of his death deserved acknowledgement – perhaps a new edition of some of his books for example. I did suggest to UQP that a facsimile edition of Street of the Long Voyage would be very popular…but alas today it appears that all of his work remains out of print.

So to commemorate this date I am republishing a review I wrote of the Rodney Hall edited Collected Poems which first appeared in Southerly in 1988.

The Rochford Street review Dransfield feature can be found here: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/04/20/michael-dransfield-table-of-contents/

Robert Adamson is organising a memorial reading/seminar to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Michael’s death – for further details please check the Michael Dransfield Appreciation Group on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/groups/6075328475/ – or keep checking back here as Rochford Street Review will be publishing details as soon as they are available.

– Mark Roberts


Michael Dransfield Collected Poems Edited by Rodney Hall. University of Queensland Press 1987. Reviewed by Mark Roberts. First published in Southerly Volume 48. No 4. 1988. Collected on the Printed Shadows Website December 2011

When Michael Dransfield died on Good Friday, 1973 at the age of 24 he had already published three collections of poetry and established a reputation as one of the most successful and popular of the new wave of young Australian poets who had emerged in the late 1960s. Since his death a further four collections have appeared, culminating in the Collected Poems (UQP 1987). When one considers Dransfield’s rapid rise to prominence, together with the attention focused on his lifestyle and the tragedy of his early death, it was almost inevitable that, to some extent, his life would come to overshadow his poetry. In fact, in the fifteen years since his death, the ‘Dransfield myth’, together with the decline in fashionably of the romanticism at the heart of much of his poetic imagery, has meant that his reputation as a poet has been attacked by a number of critics. In such a context, the publication in one volume of all of Dransfield’s published work, provides us with the opportunity to review his overall achievement and, hopefully, to reach a more realistic assessment of his work.

One cannot begin to examine Dransfield’s career, however, without noting the important role Rodney Hall has played over the last twenty years in bringing Dransfield’s work to the poetry reading public. It was Hall, then poetry editor of The Australian, who first ‘discovered’ Dransfield’ in 1967. It was Hall who passed Dransfield’s work onto Tom Shapcott who was then putting together an anthology of contemporary Australian poetry for Sun Books which would eventually become Australian Poetry Now. Shapcott and Hall also helped Dransfield prepare his first two published collections, Streets of the Long Voyage (UQP 1970) and Inspector of Tides (UQP, 1972). While Hall encouraged Dransfield during his life, Dransfield’s death revealed the extent of Hall’s devotion to the younger poet. Hall took on the task of collecting all of Dransfield’s unpublished poems and prepared a selection for publication. The result were the two posthumous collections, Voyage into Solitude (UQP 1978) and The Second Month of Spring (UQP, 1980).

Hall has organised the Collected Poems so that the volumes in which the poems first appeared are mostly kept intact. As a result the poems appear in rough chronological order beginning with Streets of the Long Voyage (containing poems written between 1964 and 1969), The Inspector of Tides (1968 to 1971), Drug Poems (1967 to 1971), Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal (poems from mid 1971), Voyage into Solitude (a posthumous collection of unpublished poems from 1967 to 1971) and The Second Month of Spring (poems from 1972). Not all these volumes, however, have been left intact. In the introduction Hall argues that where a poem has been published in more than one collection, he has chosen to leave it in the ‘large book’. As Hall believes that Drug Poems was an anthology of “pieces addressing a particular subject”, a number of poems that had previously appeared in Streets of the Long Voyage and Inspector of Tides, and others that would later appear in Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal, have been left out of the Drug Poems section in the Collect Poems. While Hall’s argument for this exclusion is, of course, perfectly reasonable, it means that the overall effect of the Drug Poems section in the Collected Poems is reduced.

Reading through the poems from streets of the Long Voyage and The Inspector of Tides I was once again struck by the balance Dransfield is able to find between the apparent simplicity of his individual images and the overall complexity of his most successful poems. This can be clearly seen in one of his best known poems, ‘Pas de deux for lovers’, which begins

Morning ought not
to be complex
The sun is a seed
cast at dawn into the long
furrow of history

A seed is, of course, a simple object. But it contains the potential to be something far more complex. So Dransfield’s morning sun becomes a planted seed and, as it sprouts, the day suddenly becomes far more complicated until we reach the final line:

is so deep already with involvement

This overall richness of imagery, achieved by selective use of language and a careful juxtaposition of individual images, is one of Dransfield’s great strength in these first two books. One can recall numerous poems where he achieves it – ‘Chris’, “Surreptitious as Desdemona’, ‘Linear B’, ‘Death of Salvatore Quasimodo’, ‘Bum’s Rush’, ‘Ground Zero’, ‘Geography’, ‘Loft’ and ‘Inspector of Tides’ among others. While Dransfield, of course, was not the only one of his contemporaries to achieve this, the ease with which he achieved it again and again in these first two books, both of which were published before he was 22, is an indication of just how early he matured as a poet.

Dransfield was a self-declared romantic and the richness and delicacy of his imagery was an important part of his romanticism. The poems in his first two books are filled with what might be called clichéd romantic symbols – magic carpets, crystal wine glasses, Greek mythology, Vincent van Gough, ruined mansions , fallen aristocrats, candles and dukes. But Dransfield’s romanticism was not confined to his poetry. He increasingly attempted to live the romantic image of the ‘suffering’ artist cut off from mainstream society because of his/her sensitivity. This can, perhaps, be best seen in his drug poetry. Streets of the Long Voyage, The Inspector of Tides and Drug Poems contain some very powerful and moving drug poetry. ‘Bum’s Rush’, for example, is one of Dransfield’s best poems. But as his addiction deepened, drug related imagery began to dominate his poetry more and more.

In his earlier poetry drugs became a vehicle for his romanticism:

Becalmed now
on Coleridge’s painted sea in Rimbaud’s
drunken boat. High like de Quincey or Vasco
I set a course
or the Pillars of Hercules, meaning to sail
over the edge of the world


Even death, if it was surrounded by drug imagery, took its place in Dransfield’s iconography of romanticism:

last week, I think on Tuesday,
she died
just gave up breathing
toppled over
a big smashed doll
with the needle still in her arm
I made a funeral of leaves
and sang the Book of Questions
to her face as white as hailstones
to her eyes as closed as heaven

‘For Ann so still and dreamy’

Dransfield, in fact, clothed the life of the poet and the junkie in the same romantic imagery;

Once you have become a drug addict
you never want to be anything else


to be a poet in Australia
is the ultimate commitment

‘Like this for years’

The inference here is clear, poets and junkies are really two sides of the same coin. This sense of the suffering individual artist/drug user, while clearly growing out of the milieu of the late 1960’s, has come, in time, to represent the less successful aspects of Dransfield’s romanticism.

On the acknowledgement page of the original Sun Books edition of Drug Poems, Dransfield states that a number of the poems “will appear in Memories of a Velvet Urinal to be published in the USA in 1972.” This was an overly optimistic note. According to Hall, Geoffrey Dutton had promised to take the manuscript with him to the US but, as it turned out, it was not accepted for publication. Memories of a Velvet Urinal was, in fact, to remain in a number of different manuscript forms until Maximus Books in a Adelaide published a version in 1975.

Shortly before his death, Dransfield gave Hall one of the manuscripts of Memories of a Velvet Urinal which Hall then sent to a British publisher. As this was clearly a later version of the manuscript than the one eventually published by Maximus Books, Hall has used it in the Collected Poems. The differences between the two versions are quite important. Dransfield had actually discarded a number of poems which appeared in the Maximus edition – “madness systems parts one, two, three, four and the last”, “Making it legal 1 &2”, “Flametree” and “To the great presidents” appear only as appendices to the Collected Poems. The situation is complicated by the appearance in the Collected Poems of another poem with the title “To the great presidents”. In the Maximus edition this poem appeared under the title

were no
no more war

Hall argues, and the evidence would appear to support him, that this actually represents a separate concrete poem and not a title. At this point I would have appreciated a further note of explanation from Hall concerning the transfer of the title “To the great presidents” from one poem to another.

The Collected Poems version also rearranges the order of the poems so that the book is now divided into four sections. This is, in fact, the most important change as it brings Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal into line with both Streets of the Long Voyage and The Inspector of Tides, both of which were divided into sections. The Maximus edition has the feeling of almost being thrown together. It begins with ‘Epitaph with two quotations’, a poem which is physically difficult to read and one of the weaker poems in the book. The Collected Poems version, on the other hand, opens with the title poem, ‘Memoirs of a velvet urinal’, a striking poem about a homosexual encounter. Dransfield, by regrouping the collection, and rejecting a number of poems, has tightened the book considerably. Whereas it was quite easy to believe after reading the Maximus edition that all the poems had been written in the four-month period between May and August 1971 (which, in fact they had), the Collected Poems version has a much more crafted and professional feel to it.

There is also a tendency in Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal for Dransfield to move away from the heady romanticism of his earlier work. In a poem like ‘Play something Spanish’, lines like:

planes of light. yes. they were effective. yes. you
are lost in them, their obvious coast
led you away to a place you cannot identify. spain?
never. play something metaphysical…..

suggest that contemporary American poetry was beginning to have a greater influence on his work. Unfortunately, there are also poem, such as ‘Poem started in a bus’, which depends upon a heavily clichéd, moralist ending:

…..Its easy
to forget violence while violence
forgets you

It’s difficult to escape the feeling that Dransfield could still have done more to the manuscript of Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal. The evidence suggests that, in the face of a number of publishers’ rejections, this editorial process was well underway at the time of his death. If he had lived, Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal, in time, may have been shaped into a volume which surpassed the achievement of his first two books.

Voyage into Solitude is the first of two collections of unpublished work which Rodney Hall edited after Dransfield’s death. In this first collection Hall assembled his selection from the period 1967 to 1971. In effect this represents the material that Dransfield, and those who helped him, rejected when editing material for those books he did publish during his life.

Overall it is probably fair to say that Voyage into Solitude is a tribute to the editorial process which went into the first four books. There are only a few poems in this collection which I would have been prepared to argue for. These would include ‘Sonnet’, ‘The sun but not our children’ and the wonderfully descriptive ‘Pioneer Lane’. For the most part, however, it is easy to see why these poems were left out. Many seem incomplete, an image doesn’t work properly or, as is more common, is too clichéd to be effective. Though it was obviously important for Hall to collect and publish these “rejected” poems, in the context of the Collected Poems, Voyage into Solitude remains a book primarily for the Dransfield scholar or enthusiast.

While Dransfield seemed to be developing, almost organically, away from the lush romanticism of his earlier work in Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal, the poems in Hall’s second posthumous collection, The Second Month of Spring (UQP 1980), marks a dramatic change in both style and content. All the poems in this collection were written during the last year of Dransfield’s life. In April 1972 Dransfiield, while riding his motorcycle, was run off the road south of Sydney by an off-duty policeman. Besides some serious injuries to his head and leg, the pethadine he was given in hospital undid months of effort put into overcoming his addiction. As might be expected, the accident figures prominently in these last poems:

used to get through
three five six
books a day
now can’t read
much more than
one short poem
or an article
blame it on
happens to all who happen here
it was the same
in darlo
months ago
since my last
in fact
i write
cannot revise
they also serve

‘October elegy for Litt’

Dransfield stopped referring to his work as poems during this final period, preferring to call them raves. In effect the work in The Second Month of Spring can be likened to the final explosion of light a star gives off as it starts to collapse in upon itself. These last poems are, in fact, intensely personal, almost to the point of being a diary in verse.

As far as style goes they are poems cut back to the bare essentials:

even an
ugly joint
will get you high
as afghan


Word plays often become an end in themselves, and even his earlier work is not safe:

look ahead
straits of the long


While this is not great poetry, it is difficult not to be moved by the extremes of emotion – anger, hope, resignation – and, at times, the intense physical pain, which these poems highlight.

Rodney Hall, in his introduction to Voyage into Solitude, made the point that Dransfield is one of the few Australian poets to ever have “a genuine popular following….among people who do not otherwise read poetry”. The sheer size and scope of the Collected Poems, I believe, illustrates why Dransfield was able to build up this following.

Dransfield may have felt that being a poet in Australia was “the ultimate committment”, but there is no doubt that the late 60s were an exciting time to be a young poet in Australia. While most of his contemporaries saw themselves as “modern” poets, breaking the hold of the conservatives on Australian poetry, Dransfield was reading the romantics as well as contemporary American and European poetry. Though critics may disapprove of Dransfield’s romanticism, there is little doubt that, during the late 60s, it tapped a feeling among young people and, as a result, can be said to lie behind much of Dransfield’s initial popularity.

Perhaps, in the final instance, Dransfield’s greatest strength can be seen in the development we can trace in the Collected Poems from the early, richly romantic poems, through to the more hard-edged poems of Memoirs of a Velvet Urinal. Sadly, his tragic death in 1973 cut short this development. We should be grateful to Rodney Hall for editing this collection because, if nothing else, it has helped focus attention back towards the poems and away from the “Dransfield myth” which has come to dominate his reputation since his death.

-Mark Roberts (1988)


Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and is working on a collection of poetry.

A quick search of the UQP website suggests that there are no Dransfield books currently available (even the John Kinsella Selected Poems is “currently unavailable for purchase”).

The best place to read Dransfield’s poetry would be the Sydney University based Poetry Library who have 398 of his poems on-line http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/dransfield-michael

Fragments and the Whole: Mark Roberts reviews ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ by Laurie Duggan

The Pursuit of Happiness by Laurie Duggan. Shearsman Books (UK) 2012.

dugganLaurie Duggan was one of the first Australian poets who captured my imagination when, as a seventeen year old, I came across ‘Marijuana Christmas’ in an issue of New Poetry. Forgetting for a minute how exciting the title ‘Marijuana Christmas’ was to a 17 year old, Duggan’s poem was expansive, both in subject matter and the way it spread across the page. It was also much longer than the poetry I was used to, spreading across 8 pages of New Poetry. But while it was long, it was also fragmentary, as Duggan took notices stuck to the wall of a post office, quotes from newspapers and friends, signs glimpsed from a train and worked them into the poem with some beautiful descriptive and lyrically rich poetry.

This fragmentary nature of Duggan’s writing has been has been commented on before and there are some obvious parallels to the visual arts – the use of collage and bricolage for example. For me, one of the keys to understanding this part of Duggan’s writing became apparent in an interview David McCooey conducted with him in 2003 (Double Dialogues Issue 5 2003. http://www.doubledialogues.com/archive/issue_five/duggan_mccooey.htm). In this interview Duggan talks about how a childhood illness, which resulted in a collapse at school, hospitalisation and substantial memory loss, impacted how he approached writing one of his early books, Adventures in Paradise (1982):

One of the problems I have with my childhood—and this affects the way the poem gets going and its compositional process—is that I have very few real memories of it. I did, as Adventures suggests, have a stroke when I was sixteen, and I think I suffered a good deal of memory loss as a side-effect. So what the poem presents is really a disparate group of snapshots (often things I think are memory are memories of photographs viewed later rather than the actual events).

He then goes on to describe memory and autobiography as “ridiculous constructs, made out of all sorts of odd pieces of information”. While he might be talking about a specific book and process it is possible to see this early approach to writing reflected through much of his subsequent work. It is at its most obvious, perhaps in the powerful book length poetic narrative The Ash Range (1987) where he welds together fragments of historical documents with descriptions and analysis in both prose and poetry to create a powerful narrative of place (the Gippsland area of Victoria), both real and imagined.

I began reading The Pursuit of Happiness at the same time I came across the notion of ‘fragmentary literature’ through the US based on-line literary journal Qarrtsiluni (http://qarrtsiluni.com/about/). The journal was having a literary ‘Fragments’ themed issue and, through the guest editors, Olivia Dresher and Catherine Ednie, I discovered the ‘manifesto’ of the Fragmentary Literature movement in the shape of Olivia Dresher’s introduction to the anthology In Pieces An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing (Impassio Press 2006). In this she writes:

One quality of fragmentary writing is the lack of a traditional beginning or end. Instead, the two are merged into a brief and concentrated middle……. Fragments can stand alone, separate from one another; they are written (and can be read) in quick, illuminating bursts and can feel complete just as they are. There’s an energy within a fragment that gives the writer and reader a sense of freedom’

This notion of ‘fragmentary writing’ made me recall McCooey’s comments around Duggan’s use of bricolage in his Double Dialogues interview. Indeed in The Pursuit of Happiness we can see Duggan experimenting with fragments, both as stand alone extremely small poetic structures and also as components in much larger pieces.

Perhaps the most obvious use of the small fragmentary structures in the collection can be seen in the two Angles sequences, ‘Angles 1-18’ and Angles 19-32. Interesting the two sequences occur towards the beginning and the end of the collection, effectively providing bookends for the majority of the poems in the book.

The ‘Angles themselves range from simple ‘found poems’:

on Clapham High Street
– drycleaners of distinction – “

Angles (4)

Which recall a much earlier fragments of found poetry such as:

In Herani, the Post Office
“Counter-cultural Americans are
just as mad as straight Americans” ”

‘Marijuana Christmas (1976)’

to almost haiku like sequences:

the door knob
cold to touch
frost on the western rooftops
ethereal blue plastic
on rows of vegetables”

Angles (7)

On one level these short fragments almost seem to be pieces that Duggan couldn’t expand or place in a larger piece, but liked too much to discard. As Dresher says they can be read “in quick, illuminating bursts and can feel complete just as they are”. They may also be working however, on another level. The title ‘Angles’ perhaps provides a hint. Each fragment provides a different view, a different angle of looking at the poet’s surroundings – in the this case the different social and physical landscapes of England. While there are longer poems here that examine different aspects of Duggan’s experience of England (and indeed Europe), there is an immediacy to these shorter pieces which suggests perhaps an outsider attempting to come to terms with a new environment which, while familiar on may levels, still has many points of difference from the familiar Australian context.

This notion of the post-colonial returning to the colonial centre, the ‘empire writing back’ (to borrow a phrase from Bill Ashcroft and Helen Triffin), is an interesting way to approach Duggan’s recent English based writing. There is definitely something very ‘un-English’ about much of the work in The Pursuit of Happiness and his previous two collections, the chapbook Allotments (2011) and Crab & Winkle (2009). Duggan approaches the English landscape with a lightness and brightness which perhaps springs from his descriptions of the Australian landscape. In the same way that the early colonial painters painted the Australian landscape through an English/European perspective, Duggan brings to his observations of England a sensibility that has been shaped by a very Australian consciousness.

It is interesting to approach the longest poem on this collection, ‘The Nathan Papers’, with this understanding in mind. ‘The Nathan Papers’, we are told, is older than the other poems in the book, having been written during an eighteen month residency at Griffith University during 2005-2006. The poem begins centred firmly in a Australia described by an artist:

eucalyptus after rain, even this , trunks straight or sinuous,
reminds of Sydney Long, art has made this environment, its
pathways, marked, curve towards the dormitories”

It is a familiar landscape, populated with familiar people and places. Bus connections are described in detail and Duggan describes places once familiar to him which have now been lost:

the Green Iguana (Newtown)
the Prince Edward Hotel (Darlington)
Nicholas Ponder Bookseller (Double Bay)
But not Nicholas Ponder.

For someone not familiar with the Sydney literary scent of a certain period then perhaps some notes would have been appreciated at this point, but this naming of place is a technique that Duggan is continuing to employ in his more recent English writing.

Indeed the conclusion of this poem finds Duggan in England “in the dining hall, Eliot College, Kent”. ‘The Nathan Papers’ details an important journey for Duggan, from the familiar and comfortable to the new which, at the same time, is much older than the post-colonial Australia he has left behind. It is a journey that has been at the centre of his recent work and which he has further developed with skill in The Pursuit of Happiness. It has provided an extra dimension to Duggan’s work and one which I will be interested to see develop over the next few years.

Mark Roberts


Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and is working on a collection of poetry.

The Pursuit of Happiness is available from http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2012/dugganPoH.html

Recording Images: Robbie Coburn reviews ‘Flying Low in the Minor Key” by Anthony Lawrence

Flying Low in the Minor Key by Anthony Lawrence, River Road Press, 2011.

Anthony-Lawrence-CD-cover-image-21-150x150Anthony Lawrence is unquestionably one of Australia’s most important contemporary poets. Flying Low in the Minor Key, released on CD as part of the excellent River Road Poetry series, brings together 30 of Lawrence’s finest poems spanning from his first collection to his most recent and uncollected work, read by the poet himself.

There is much to enjoy here, and it is clear this fine compilation has been delicately chosen to be listened to either in its entirety or simply as individual tracks.

The blurb for the release sums up Lawrence’s style perfectly, as “perhaps the most Romantic of Australian poets” but the true appeal in Lawrence’s work is in his stark imagery and diversity, and this collection is a wonderful display of his command over the lyrical, and the clear drive of narrative that runs fiercely through his verse.

This is evident from the moment the listener presses play in the fantastic opener “The Drive”, which recounts a childhood incident involving the firebombing of a car, beginning with Lawrence remembering the drive to the police station with his father:

My father could not look at me as we sat in the back of a white Sedan
on our way to the police station
But I looked at him.
He was staring straight ahead through all the years his son
had disappointed him.

It is this no-holds-barred, controlled lyricism that separates the poet from many of his contemporaries, tackling less glamorous topics with clarity while still upholding his use of description, creating an atmosphere that is honest, confessional and compelling. The poem continues:

When the detectives arrived I was having a family portrait taken…
I ran behind the Sunday school buildings and confessed
to the lawn scraping currawongs,
I watched black smoke, like useless prayer, gutter into the Sydney sky.
The sirens were a long time coming.

While ultimately being an appreciation and acknowledgement of family that is hidden during the angst and turmoil of adolescence, as the poet and his parents now “talk… about the violent spirit of a teenage son”, while sharing “their names” and “blood”, Lawrence consistently manages to intertwine experience with evocative imagery, creating a visual element most written poetry fails to achieve.

Another standout is the award-winning and hauntingly atmospheric “The Rain”:

Rain, and driving thoughts of rain, miles
and hours of it, inches and yards of light
and dark rain, where seamless cloud has been
stitched and gathered into a great undoing
of itself…

A heavily descriptive piece, water is a consistent theme in Lawrence’s work, particularly in earlier collections The Darkwood Aquarium, Three Days Out of Tidal Town and Cold Wires of Rain, and becomes a foundation for much of the work presented here.

The poet has a particular appreciation for the alluring qualities of rivers and oceans in poems such as “The Trawler” and “Oceanography”, while the title poem, far different in subject describes “the night’s paint being prepared or still wet on the leaves and grass”, as a change unexpectedly occurs.

The latter poem breaks away from Lawrence’s usual take on the lyric, written in the 2nd person, creating vivid imagery that causes the listener to ponder its deeper meaning, revealing the impressive range and control of the poet’s voice. Lawrence characteristically writes from the point of view of a naturalist, and this piece effectively summarizes the collection as a whole.

Ultimately, this is a brilliant CD, presented in a beautifully printed cardboard sleeve that demands to be heard again and again, and would be enjoyed by any regular readers of Lawrence’s work and indeed all lovers of good poetry.

To hear the poems is an experience far more intimate than simply reading in silence, and Flying Low in the Minor Key is moving and memorable listening, reaffirming why Lawrence, all these years on, remains at the forefront of Australian poetry.

– Robbie Coburn


Robbie Coburn is a poet and writer from country Victoria. His first chapbook Human Batteries was published by Picaro Press in 2012. He can be found at  www.robbiecoburn.com

Flying Low in the Minor Key is available from River Road Press: http://www.riverroadpress.net/?page_id=331

The Ruthless Eye: Rae Desmond Jones reviews ‘Undercover of Lightness’ by Andrew Burke.

Undercover of Lightness by Andrew Burke, Walleah Press, Hobart Tasmania. 2012.

Many of Andrew Burke’s poems begin with a chatty casual style but end with a comment which carefully deflects the mood of the poem and makes it a reflection or moral observation deeper than the reader might expect from the tone. The process is not formulaic, as the reflections are diverse and most follow a narrative logically from each poem’s beginning. In ‘Washing, for example, Burke engages the reader with the tone of an experienced and skilful teller of tales of the good old days:

Today you won’t see one
but back in the sixties
the historic house I lived in had
a timber and wire clothesline,
propped up in midstring
by the long sapling of a eucalypt tree …

With this easy style the reader settles in for a straightforward yarn. However, by line eight, the points of reference broaden:

…………Urban Aborigines,
out of work and down on their lunch,
walked door to door selling these props …

Significantly, the washing line wires

hung loose between two crucifixes
with movable arms…

Details continue to accumulate without any explicit moral, although the poem’s sympathies are clear at the end:

…… on the night of a full moon
a small feathered woman would arrive
and sit on top of the post near
the gnarled and knotted mulberry tree,
her wisdom silent in her,
two deep eyes focused on me
as I wrote by moonlight,
sitting on the backsteps,
pad resting on sunburnt knees.”

Andrew Burke is a keen observer of people, politics and behaviour. The method he uses in Washing is typical, however he ranges across a variety of subjects and themes. The conversational tone sets the scene then he draws his point out with subtlety. There are poems when the opening gambit becomes blunt, when the subject is confessional, as in ‘Diary: Royal Perth Hospital 2010’ , where the title is an alert:

I am Bed 6GC
beside the helipad.

He (assuming that the subject is the poet) is no longer Andrew Burke, but a number and two capital letters:

identity band on
they won’t lose me
I’ll know who I am.

A double appears, disturbing evidence of his fragility:

There’s a ghost of myself
on this bed’s TV –
star of my memories.

The poem relates the central events of the following days. On Operation Day

Christ and his two thieves
left their crosses
at the cathedral next door:

weathered concrete,
not a splinter on them.

It’s just a story,’ the chaplain says.
‘You should know that, Andrew.’

I grew up with Christ’s thorns
tattooed on my brain.

The narrative (there is almost always a narrative – this poet is a natural teller of stories) describes a conversation of “cross / rhythms and syncopation” with a tall, urbane African orderly, as he enters the theatre where the spotlight is on him. He is not comfortable with this particular starring role:

My Greek chorus
leans in leans out.

By Day three, his body is a battleground:

as choppers drop
squads of para-
noia troops – terrorists
attack through tubes
into the interior night
shadows of my brain,
a mind field. I am
reduced to fears…

Gradually the tone of relaxed confidence returns with recovery, as he watches the 2010 Wimbledon men’s Final, and

A woman in
the crowd has
my mother’s hat on
last worn when
Rod Laver won the cup …

in the meantime,

Obese bed K2 farts robustly,
bed K4 snores to wake the dead.

Finally, he “keeps (his) eye on the exit sign.” It is an explicit use of poetry as therapy, which is not his usual way, although in the last section of the volume, entitled ‘Selected Poems, he ruminates at length, on some difficult family relationships:

Dear Father 

How sick I get of your ghost
stirring the blood between us,
how sick of the ties
that hold me.

Then resolves it:

father, I untie you –
air rushes out / and I whoop…

Burke’s eye for exercising (or exorcising) the telling detail re-appears in the series written in China, where he captures the poverty and seething vigour of China. He observes Bike mechanics in the street:

One old spark plug
lies on the pavement,
and a young boy,
opportunist at five,
picks it up and scurries away.
Maybe Dad will be pleased.

In ‘Linfen Morning’ he makes a series of acute but innocuous observations of household economic activity, then: “One man is gone from the streetscape. He wrote an anti-government message in his shop window and was not there the next day.” The prose poem continues to describe the bustle of the town as though the disappearing man is not important or significant, then the work is abruptly closed by a pointed haiku:

at night, fireworks
at dawn, torn red paper shells
dye the gutter pink.

The volume is replete with a variety of subjects scrutinised through an impeccable bullshit detector. The tone is mostly gentle but the eye is ruthless. Undercover of Lightness is a good title: beneath the cover a lot happens.

– Rae Desmond Jones


Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall Flying Island Books 2011.  He has just finished editing The Selected Your Friendly Fascist which will shortly be published by Rochford Street Press.

Undercover of Lightness is available from Walleah Press http://walleahpress.com.au.

Why Dransfield…Why now?

One of the things I want to do with Rochford Street Review is to make sure writers receive the recognition I feel they deserve. I can think of a number of writers straight away which I think should be front and centre….creative writers who we should all know about, writers who should be cast in bronze, like footballers and cricketers around the gardens of the SCG or MCG…..Poets such as Vicki Viidikas, Kerry Leaves, Jennifer Rankin, Charles Buckmaster and many others.

In choosing to highlight Dransfield in this first feature I am accurately aware of the comment Laurie Duggan made in foam:e Issue 8 when he commented on Louise Waller’s review of Vicki Viidikas’ New and Rediscovered:

“I’ve read Louise’s review of Vicki Viidikas. It’s right on the money. A whole book could be written about why a male poet like Michael Dransfield (who died of drug use) could be continuously lauded and republished while a woman like VV was largely forgotten If you don’t want a whole book, then one word might do: Romanticism.”

But despite Duggan’s comment I don’t believe Dransfield’s reputation is as secure as he suggests. My understanding is that only the Kinsella edited Selected Poems is still in print and much has been made of Dransfield’s exclusion from the Lehmann/Gray anthology.

For me Dransfield remains an illusive figure. He wrote some wonderfully lyric poems, some other poems (particular some that were published after his death) were not so good. All the time, however, there is the image of the ‘poet’. the romanticism (real or created) which has threatened to swamp his poems.

And I want to get to those other poets, Viidikas, Leaves, Buckmaster and, in particular Rankin who, I believe is one of the most under-rated Australian poets of the last 40 years.

When I started thinking about pulling this piece on Dransfield together I asked various people for their views on Dransfield. There were some interesting replies, many of which were pasted on various pages on Facebook.


Chris Mansell remembered: “First reading I ever went to was: David Campbell, Martin Johnston, and Michael Dransfield. What a reading. I still remember it v vividly. Bought his book later but was too shy to ask for him to sign it”.


Richard James Allen wrote: “I wish I had met him. His iconoclastic spirit seemed to haunt the corridors of his old school, Sydney Grammar, which I also attended, in liberating way – a nice antidote to the more traditional Banjo Paterson, also an alumni. I always recall, “a moving target is harder to hit”: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/dransfield-michael/ground-zero-0712045


Richard Tipping recalls: “Michael and I were the youngsters in an anthology Twelve Poets in 1971, when I was 21 and living in Adelaide. Michael was a year older. We never met, though I lived in Sydney for two years (1969 and 1973) and we had friends in common. One of my favourite Dransfield poems is which I sometimes recite by heart – begins: “in the forest / in unexplored valleys of the sky / are chapels of pure vision” and includes ‎”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 idols and wars and caring … ” Apologies for ragged quoting. Just to say that Michael words remain an important part of the experience of Australian poetry.


Juno Gemes recalls “My Aunt was Chief Librarian at Sydney Grammar for 40 years…apparently the library has strong holdings in Michael Dransfield’s papers…”


Christopher Barnett writes “michael was a great lyric poet with a connection to the lyricism of js neilson, christopher brennan, james tulip & a parallel connection with robert (adamson). it does not surprise me that minor poets have tried to aggrandize their own reputations by excluding him & the little we have from charles buckmaster. what defined them was their generosity & a very real connection to people poetry had ignored”.


Rosemary Nissen-Wade “I’ve been introducing Australian poets to an international online audience unfamiliar with them. All have been well received; Dransfield was the one whose poetry most overwhelmed them. They thought his writing beautiful, brilliant, and extraordinary. So do I.”

Philip Rees - This is a painting i did in Febuary-March last year ..it is inspired by the poem Bums' rush..its called ''out...to where the ice is thinnest'',acrylics,textas,pencils,house paint,dirt on wood, 1.2mtrsx 1.2 mtrs,
For me Dransfield poems have always since i first read him in the early 1970's invoked images in my mind's eye.

Michael Dransfield – 39 Years Dead.

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.

The album cover for Robyn Archer's Wild Girl in the Heart.

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.

Mark Roberts