John Tranter — Poetry, reviews
‘Tranter may now be Australia’s most important poet.’
— US Publishers Weekly
John has published more than twenty books, including the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (1992), co-edited with Philip Mead. He is the founding editor of the internationally popular literary quarterly Jacket, free on the Internet at
John recently edited the 2011 annual anthology of recent Australian poems for Black Inc Books. Here’s part of his introduction:
Each year (since 2003) Black Inc. has asked Australian poets to submit a selection of their work for this anthology. This year it was my turn to read through the two to three thousand poems that were sent in and choose the best
“I’m not sure that we can trust the word ‘best’ when we’re talking about poetry — there are so many different kinds of poetry, from Homer to rock and roll, and then there are millions of readers with their individual tastes and prejudices — but in any case I chose a little over a hundred of what I felt were the most vigorous, varied and interesting poems for this book.…
“…what a rich, strange and diverse lot these poems turned out to be. Look at this list below, a gathering of some of the brightest images, transformations and unbelievable events that litter this collection. I suspect that these strange and potent imaginings can only have come into existence as fragments of dreams or nightmares…:
“Bent hot-dogs talk to strangers. Still, the oak trees flower above us, a canopy of lust; an academic scholar talks about whoring his mind, a poetry editor apologises for not accepting a sentimental poem about a lost ant, a well-known fiction writer snoozes on the sofa, an empty brandy bottle in her lap, Boofhead’s Egyptian style of ambulation and a vast mural of Fred and Wilma are discussed, mothers wonder how tiger snakes got into the linen cupboards, an unknown baby skeleton, a word in Arabic that means a tree that befriends doomed travellers, the irony of green rain, the devil on holiday in Tasmania, Picasso’s one red eye, Ezra Pound’s brilliant rottenness, the Master of Stomachs, a skyscraper as a babel of crockery, dawn as the clock-face of the heavens, the feedback loop of amazing grace and dead birds, phantoms on the home stretch, a woman who’s doing the accounts with one hand and killing a snake with another while she gets an armful of wood…
“…enjoy these fragments of dream-work, as Freud called it. And when you wake up tomorrow, if you’re lucky, you’ll have some dream-work of your own to think about.
Here is a link to Black Inc’s Internet page for the book: [»»]
In 2010 British critic Rod Mengham compiled a collection of a dozen essays from critics in Britain, the US and Australia: The Salt Companion to John Tranter (Cambridge: Salt Publications, 2010.) The blurb says:
“The essays published here focus on key works in Tranter’s career to date, emphasising the importance of his work as editor as well as poet, both in an Australian and in an international context. They include close readings of poems that illustrate the formal range of his work, assess the reception of his books in the context of his perceived role as symbolic representative of an urban, cosmopolitan, tradition in Australian culture, and provide fresh interpretations of his relationships with English, French and American literature.”
You can read the Preface here, on John Tranter’s own internet site.
John’s 2006 collection of poems, Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected, won:
- the Victorian Premier’s Prize for poetry in 2006
- the New South Wales Premier’s Prize for poetry in 2007
- the 2008 South Australian state award for poetry
- the 2008 South Australian Premier’s Prize for the best book in any field published in 2006-2007.
No other collection of poetry has been so widely popular with the judges of so many different awards.
His (2010) book is Starlight: 150 Poems (UQP, 2010). In 2011 it was awarded the Age Book of the Year award for poetry, and the Queensland Premier’s Prize for poetry. No other Australian writer has ever won six major awards for literature in five years.
“Reading the 150 poems in this collection is to spend time in the company of a writer steeped (well-versed?) in the work of other poets, and able to assume different narrative voices at will. There are poems inspired by the French poet Baudelaire, American John Ashbery and TS Eliot. Infiltrating his work is a dry, laconic wit and a rich understanding of culture and history. In my opinion, Starlight saves the best till last. A particular pleasure was the lively sequence ‘At the Movies’, which ruminates on films of the past, and Tranter’s updated response to Baudelaire’s celebrated Les Fleurs du mal, which is every bit as wicked and visceral as the original.”
— Andrew Wilkins, Bookseller+Publisher
The Australian Poetry Library project, which John Tranter founded in 2004, was funded with a major Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council. Professor Elizabeth Webby and Creagh Cole, from the University of Sydney, in association with CAL (the Copyright Agency Limited), head a team of researchers building a wide-ranging library of resources on the Internet. You can check its progress here: https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/
You can visit a homepage for John Tranter’s writing at a new, permanent address: johntranter.com, where you can read more than a thousand pages of poems, interviews, book reviews (including dozens of reviews of John’s various books), a biography and a bibliography, and links to dozens of other sites on the Internet that relate to his writing.
Also, his latest book, Heart Starter (Puncher and Wattman, Sydney, and Blazevox Books, Buffalo.) After the publication of Heart Starter in 2015, Tranter has decided to take a decade off from writing poetry, to concentrate on his other interests.
And his Internet Journal at http://johntranter.net