John Tranter is Australia’s most highly-awarded poet. His book Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected (2006) won four major state awards, and his latest book, Starlight: 150 Poems (2010), won the Melbourne Age Book of the Year poetry award and the Queensland Premier’s Award for Poetry. He received a Doctorate of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong and is an Honorary Associate in the University of Sydney School of Letters, Arts and Media and an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He has given more than a hundred readings and talks in various cities around the world. He has published more than twenty collections of verse, and has edited six anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (with Philip Mead) which was a standard text for twenty years. He founded the free Internet magazine Jacket in 1997 and granted it to the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, he is the founder of the Australian Poetry Library at http://poetrylibrary.edu.au/ which publishes over 40,000 Australian poems online, and he has a Journal at johntranter.net, a regular Commentary page at https://jacket2.org/commentary/john-tranter and a vast homepage at johntranter.com.
Photogaph: John Tranter, Cambridge, 2001, by Karlien van den Beukel
Poem Beginning with a Line by Kenneth Koch
This Connecticut landscape would have pleased Vermeer:
The pearly light that photographs the town,
The autumn blessing and the bitter cheer
of winter close behind, with frosty crown.
The weekender lies abandoned for the week,
the den and sunroom vacant. On a couch,
the New Yorker open at a page that speaks
of Aquascutum, Harris Tweed and scotch.
O Aquascutum, shield me from the blast,
And Harris Tweed, protect me from the cold.
As for scotch, let’s leave it till the last
To warm my aching bones as I grow old.
Vermeer, to please his mistress, heard her sighs,
And painted pretty landscapes full of lies.
Another Poem Beginning with a Line by Kenneth Koch
This Connecticut landscape would have pleased Vermeer —
The trash, the pickup truck, the cans of beer —
If only Vermeer hadn’t been such a shit.
Oh well, it’s hard for an artist to paint a hit —
To make the cut, to climb the greasy grade,
To make a real impression on the trade —
It’s really hard, when you’re totally pissed.
It isn’t easy, when you’ve slit your wrist.
So fuck Connecticut and fuck Vermeer —
Who is this Dutchman with his can of cheer?
I’d rather look at Guston, or some Pollocks —
Who cares if the theory’s mostly bollocks?
The landscape is really just a frame
For something that just sat there all the same.
Ainslee Meredith is a poet, editor and student from Melbourne. Her poetry has been published in various places, including Going Down Swinging, Southerly, harvest, and Voiceworks. In 2011, she won the John Marden Prize for Young Australian Writers (Poetry). Her first collection will be published by Express Media and Australian Poetry in 2013.
The clearest night is still unlit
when she calls, so closely,
on the telephone nobody watched;
saltwater and snow-water
fire-break the causeway, send
patina torches up
like false churches. The dream
is an antelope
hit to the side of the road
by a car going to swamp
for fuel. A way to ascension, this
hold on my head you have even as
I walk from South Hero
to your hotel on the game
road, forging breaths
solid as oncoming eyes.
Anna: a man followed me
because I was alone and lost
my right to choose between men,
or to not choose at all.
But the tide is low:
I am clear to cross
with my hands in my pockets,
bent over under the full moon.
Once there was a girl and she
was a ladder
inside a grandfather clock.
On her spine
a bookplate read À L’INDEX
as in ‘Brother Léon forbids this one.’
She had a date in the grand library,
but walking down Saint-Denis
the sea shone through her
brass escapement, its words
of surety: Messrs London c.
She could stand all night
on a graveyard shift
outside the Cinéma ’quoise,
unfaithful letters in
dead-cold hands, defining
those spent images – a risen
mass, clockwise, a lost
war, 5 a.m. doorstep, a child
born to a woman and a bear,
cusped sleep. After all, the librarian
won, hid her in the inner pocket
of his wooden overcoat. Like that,
a pillowcase for quiet hands.
Grace V. S. Chin, a former Malaysian journalist, holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Hong Kong. She currently teaches English Literature and Drama Studies at the University of Brunei Darussalam. Her poems have been published in Hong Kong U Writing: An Anthology, Sweat & The City: Stories and Poems from the Hong Kong Workplace, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.
In History class, I sat with my eyes
closed, listening, to the drone
of the teacher’s voice, each word
losing its way in the drowsy
afternoon heat. A fu-
fuzzy-faced boy entered
my daymare, his disjointed arms
reached out, jarring me
“Why,” he asked
in plaintive tones,
“you cannot speak
Mandarin-ah? It’s your
Groggy and stunned, I groped
in wavering Cantonese, voice strained
with explanations, syllables leaking
with every translated English word.
do I describe
self? I speak
think and talk
with friends, learn
and write Malay
do I sift
tongues, as delicious
as rojak, separate one
from the other, and you lose
their precious taste.
That afternoon, his question rang
in my head, and only the branch
the window pane outside
spoke for me.
Conversations with my dead mother
Conversations with my dead mother are rare
I should think
but she keeps coming to me
when I am quiet and pliant
in my sleep. It’s not fair,
I cry, hearing the slush
of heavy water in my bones.
“You don’t eat enough,” she declares
each time we meet. As if stuffing face
would help ease my pangs, or take away
the silted memories. She sits
with legs crossed on the kitchen
stove, a fat female Buddha
with Mona Lisa’s smile, grandly waving
her spatula like a wand, granting me wishes
that never came true for her.
She spent her life here,
boiling black bittersweet
medicinal herbs to chase away
our childhood demons, cooking
all day long in her big black
steel wok, a thousand aromas hung
in the air, each defining her
in ways we never knew — her
longbeans stir fried in belachan,
chicken braised in soya sauce
and chopped red chilis, nasi lemak,
onde onde, pandan chiffon cakes,
curry chicken, square tofu topped
with minced pork — while little brother
and I played on the table, hands deep
in floury dough as she chopped
her way into our stomachs
and hearts, and scrubbed
her wok until fingers were raw
and wrinkled. She aged
before our eyes but we
did not know it, shutting
our eyes and ears to the smashing
of glasses thrown onto walls, the yelling
for us to leave her alone, the crying
when father failed
to come home, the crashing
of her body on the floor.
All at once, I am
my mother’s daughter again,
chopper in hand, dicing small,
red onions at the sink, eyes blinded
by the sting of tears, they fall, one
after the other, flowing
like unspoken words
into the sinkhole.
Tim Grey is a writer from Melbourne, who works a journalist, photographer and editor. He’s also part of The Red Room Company, where he helps create, publish and promote poetry in unusual ways.
“it bundles in the mangrove, caulked
on waterline. the etymology incomplete;
black and clear below.
a second beer swims and fizzles
with repetition. sunrise panics and
spills like breath or my letter.
hair like hair; my hand dripping out
like your hand or my hair. red quartz
lay like leaves everywhere. don’t
american jets curl and wake
us, their hands the definite articles
that knit the map to land.
wood unravels a proletarian scent,
water burns a bag in the earth,
underneath. we wait.
hematite raft climb down and go
somewhere secret. busts in the ash-sand
peculiar grass waving a grid
on the sea-bed, the half moon
on a gorge. say nothing but the sand-path, which
is all the word means: sister”
flat sunlight transports its late sticks to that other, bees
plumb and phase , meddle with transparency; the lip
of smell. sunlight palls, a bridge through substance parted
spring is mouth in her small privacy. she watches
girls float on the asphalt pause, pool between convent and
Brougham, imagine they’re unseen. iron fencing clots and
weaves. a fairlane slows to boat. from the facility
above, the westerly fumbling at the window, grasslands
pressed against almost, municipal. the dryer wets the walls.
small language of her
shopping closing on the bench. the elevator’s every zone
Dan Disney was born in 1970 in East Gippsland, where he grew up. He has worked in psychiatric institutions, paddocks, warehouses, and universities, and currently divides his time between Melbourne and Seoul, where he lectures in twentieth-century poetries at Sogang University. Articles and poems appear in Antithesis, ABR, Heat, Meanjin, New Writing, Overland, Orbis Litterarum, and TEXT, and poems have recently received awards in the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize (2nd) and the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize (USA). He is on the advisory board of Cordite scholarly. His first full collection of poems, and then when the, was published by John Leonard Press in 2011.
‘only someone who already knows how to do something with it can significantly ask a name’
—— from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus
old buildings, falling out the sky
after the shriek of love leaves her body
I’m still there, a peasant and ass
laboring through dark hills toward the small bright windows
meanwhile, afternoon seethes across a mechanical sky
the tzzz-ing of aircon
telling cicadas the rain
is a promised machine falling in pieces
‘don’t go’, I tell
her eyes darkly flicking, a slow
river in my shadow
listening to echoes deep in cold
(knee-high, green texta, weedy piss-stained carpark wall)
‘be the beauty you wish to see in the world’
I spent childhood in a hurricane. Hungry dogs wolved at the door.
Mother was an old television, father a fourth dimension. Had rain
fallen in downward lines, we’d have embraced and called it utopia
while deserts hurled themselves, sleeplessly, upon us
in the mind of the forest, the birds
are dreams tweeting rhapsodic operas. Flowers crane
their necks, louche
and metaphorical, while history looks on and falls
into place the way sunlight does. Morning is
thumping overhead, quipping ‘quieten!’ to the hives
chorusing a mist.
Thus the forest darkens, brightly
amid a copse of trees, ‘it’s not the flesh, drooped
and unblooming, but
our bones that groan so
beneath the slump of heaven’
the wooden temple amid hoarfrost. Her voice alone, is filled
with centuries. And when she talks, memories crowd
her bony feet and hop like chicks
(each sentence made of sunlight)
headline: ‘Bird of Paradise Cloned in Underworld
(Underworld Birds Not Happy)’
clutching the finger bones of dolls dreams
all the doors grinning
while night storms in: she’s there
in the corner of her lives
drinking the black
I was not there. The bird did nothing.
I was there pointing and the bird lifted and was then held out by air and this was called reality.
morning was a rain-smudged lens
focused into millennia
where strangers bent an early light
trailing the gloop of history indoors
new buildings, falling into the sky
Ravi Shankar is a poet and critic and the editor of Drunken Boat. His first full length book was Instrumentality (Word Press, 2004). Along with Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal, he edited Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond (W.W. Norton & Co.). His work has appeared in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and on the BBC and NPR. He teaches in Fairfield University’s MFA Program and in the first international MFA Program at City University of Hong Kong. Deepening Groove was winner of the 2010 National Poetry Review Press Prize.
gorged with dream,
opaque to the spectacle
of the spectral trace
left by bodies in motion,
in medias res, like after
a magician has left a pinch
of magnesium shaving
in the air to ignite
then vanished off-stage
in a wake of white
light. Not like
moment of monstrosity,
but rather the subtle
uncanny pushing out
and further into
the mind until buds
burst into no blossom
ever before seen nor since.
Bop with a Refrain taken from Jonathan Safron Foer
Half-past on the 9:07 local to New Haven, the Bronx
tenements pent in vaguely post-apocalyptic paragraphs
rushing past too fast to cohere into prose, leaving loops
of graffiti, marred and boarded windows, a hoops game
glowing yellowish in the mercury vapor of street lights,
a Pontiac Bonneville, tireless, jacked up on cinder blocks.
Time waving like a hand from a train I wanted to be on.
Riding a train embodies democracy. Not like cramped,
dank seats of a bus or on the highway where cars mark
the demographic by make and model, here everything
is equalized, time and space included. The post-punk
pierced girl, ears plugged with music, sits next to a man,
silk cravat loosened, fixated on his snuff box, providing
the grand illusion of temporal continuity, the centuries
stacked one on top of the other, a set of encyclopedias.
Time waving like a hand from a train I wanted to be on.
Slouched in the seat, westbound, my forehead pressed
to the scratched up window, rapidly being carried away
from the city, something important recedes, something
else coheres, but I can’t seem to conjure a single word
as to what these might be, why I’m filled with such vast,
implacable sadness. I just want to get home, go to sleep.
Time waving like a hand from a train I wanted to be on.
Mark Young has been publishing poetry for nearly fifty-five years. His work has been widely anthologized, & his essays & poetry translated into a number of languages. He is the author of more than twenty books, primarily poetry but also including speculative fiction & art history. He is the editor of the ezine Otoliths. He lives on the Tropic of Capricorn.
A line from Frantz Fanon
Leaving aside the
Gaelic for kiss my
ass, most Declarations
of Independence are
top heavy with awk-
ward or extremely
dated references. Some-
times they present
in the form of a
pure orange pocket
synthesizer with a
sound set restricted
to industrial use
because of extremely
mixed reviews. At
other times as an
that purports to look
at all aspects of life
as spiritual practice
but then recommends
the confining of women
to the home & the use
of tanks to shell densely
populated areas. Colon-
ialism begets patriarchal
systems. The methods
A line from Fidel Castro 2
Winter is getting me
down. A unit of cult-
ural information has
put the Galactic Senate
under attack, driving
it from crisis to crisis.
That slavery is inexorably
tied to the availability
of oil is the standard
paradigm for most
crises; but now recent
trends of farmland
birds need to be fact-
ored in. Please complete
the enquiry form below
& I will provide you
with a list of exclusive
Havana Vacation Homes
available for weekly rent.
A line from Courtney Love
laced up their tennis
shoes, Real Madrid
went on another goal
spree, the strife-prone
program turned on
its heel & headed to
a park; but not even
a change in appetite &
toilet habits can stop
the generally low inter-
city mobility of urban
populations. So. We
drowned them all in
their swimming pools.
Judy Johnson has published three poetry collections, a verse novel and a novel. In 2011 she spent a month at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland as part of the Varuna Alumni exchange program. A poetry collection is forthcoming in 2012.
The Right Fit
Always your thoughts
for the world.
As though a seamstress
took your measure early on
with a cool yardstick
and what was kept for the record
was an outline
you immediately outgrew.
There is no cure
for not living in the moment
but it can’t hurt to ponder
the methodical dust
released by its action
of the tailor’s chalk mark.
It can’t hurt to meditate
with a mouthful of pins.
Words, after an absence
Tend the graves of photographs,
love letters, dried daisies.
Finger the devotions
one by one
like knots in a prayer rope.
Gather inklings and injuries
as kindling for fire.
Attune to textures
the soft crystals of silence
in the air above old monasteries.
Listen to which footsteps
on the heart’s risers
produce a squeak
and which treads
Accept that the poem already exists
in no known language
and in perfect order.
And now that your task
take the one tool you have.
Try hard to find
a way back to the page
Try harder to do no harm.