John Tranter is a leading Australian poet. He was born in Cooma, NSW, in 1943. He attended country schools, and took his BA in 1970 after attending
university sporadically. He has worked mainly in publishing, teaching and radio production, and has travelled widely, making reading tours to venues
in the USA, Britain and/or Europe in 1985, 1986, 1989, 1992, 1993,1996, 1997 and 1998. He has lived in London (1966-67) and Singapore (1971-72). He
now lives in Sydney. He is married, with two children.
In 1975 he co-designed the first Books & Writing program for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a program format which was still going
strong twenty years later. During 1987 and 1988 John Tranter was in charge of the ABC Radio National weekly two-hour arts program Radio Helicon, and
from 1990 to 1993 he was the poetry editor of the Sydney-based business/arts weekly the Bulletin. He is a director (with his wife Lyn) of
Australian Literary Management, Australia's premier literary agency.
He has received several senior fellowships and other grants, and has been a visiting scholar at various institutions, from Visiting Fellow
in the Faculty of Arts at the Australian National University to writer-in-residence at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and at
Cambridge University. He has published sixteen volumes of poetry, including a Selected Poems (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1982). A selection of his poems
appears in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (New York, second edition, 1988).
John Tranter's Under Berlin, published by the University of Queensland Press, won the Kenneth Slessor Prize (the New South Wales State
Literary Award for Poetry) in 1989, and At The Florida won the Melbourne Age "Book of the Year" award for poetry in 1993. His most recent books are
The Floor of Heaven (Harper Collins, 1992), a book-length sequence of four verse narratives, the poetry collections
Gasoline Kisses (Equipage,
Cambridge, 1997), Late Night Radio (Polygon, Edinburgh, 1998), Heart Print (Salt, Cambridge, 2001) and
Different Hands (Folio/Fremantle Arts Centre
Press, 1998), a collection of seven experimental computer-assisted prose pieces. He has been awarded a visiting residency at Cambridge University
tenable from October 2001 to March 2002.
He compiled and edited (with Philip Mead) the new Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (1992), published in Britain and the USA in 1995
as the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry. Earlier anthologies include the controversial
The New Australian Poetry (Makar, Brisbane,
1979), and a selection of ninety-four poems from the Australian bicentennial poetry competition in 1988, published by ABC Books as
He is the editor of the free Internet quarterly literary magazine Jacket
In a freezing attic somewhere in Prague
a hungry songwriter invents Sincerity, but alas,
too early. A decade later, a popular singer,
struck by the intimacy a microphone fakes,
invents a way of sobbing in time to the music -
earnest little hearts are wrecked
from San José to Surbiton. The angelic
choirs, should they be tempted to rebel,
would they hit on a trick so lucrative? Clouds
of butterflies reassure us: we are so much more
serious, and intelligent - think of rockets, and
the invention of dentistry and napalm. Sincerity?
It will take a Poet Laureate to turn it to profitable use.
Bats circle the Old City, low and silent.
The eagle who kills with lightning
idles in a palace smothered by flowers.
Of course he is never seen. The sky above is
pale green and Saharan blue, shreds and patches of it
peeping between the dark leaves...
it must be the Côte d'Azur, it must be fast cars,
idle young men inflamed by gasoline!
And when the exhaust note has faded, why,
calm returns, the last century returns, my
abandoned world returns, the world I have lost,
the life I threw away, the Juliet I neglected -
can any of that be recovered? Blue devils
topple from gliders into a pattern: parachutes,
idols, descending... history is this delicious day
over and done - old orchards: forgotten fruit.
Now the waterfront, patrolled by helicopters,
where monkeys dance, guitars pluck at the air,
children in red makeup clutch at your sleeve,
and, looking down from a secluded window
a beautiful woman dazed by magazines...
paying for an exclusive suite done out
like a library, books bound in buckram, so she can
doze on a divan, nothing more useful: nothing
more ravishing than her vulnerable sleep - let us
creep and whisper! Below, a cul-de-sac choked with
expensive shops towards whose glow and glitter
her soul inclines, whose chandeliers illuminate
her heaven, whose throngs act out a million dramas
curt, cruel, and concentrated, just for her: I dwell on it -
be jealous! - and adore it in silence.
© John Tranter 2002.