Ode to John Tranter

This morning
a soggy newspaper
on your doorstep announces
that all Australia has become
a suburb of Melbourne,
Sydney is just a dream
and Queensland a form of neurosis
which will go away
if you try hard enough.
And you think
it’s going to be one of those days.
The Labor government you elected
is somewhere to the right of Ezra Pound,
the only Liberal you know
has started to wear pink t-shirts
and that operation
Peacock had
was really
a sex change.
But it’s not
the politics—
only 9am, and already
the next generation
of new poets
is bleeding loudly on the airwaves and
a little voice inside your head tells you,
“Les Murray can’t walk on water.
You must believe me!”
and you know it’s true
what waves
it would cause
if he tried!
You realise suddenly
that it must be
an Overland day!
because you can’t see any women
in your kitchen
except one on the back
of a packet
of corn-flakes,
and even she’s only a token,
but no,
it’s a Quadrant day?
after all
it is their government
that’s in power
and Barry Humphries still
looks good in a dress.
Under the shower
you try to forget
everything that’s gone wrong,
to wash away your unemployment
like indelible ink
or freckles.
it may be just another
boring day,
a Hansard day, or
an Age Monthly Review day
and you could sit in front of the bar-heater
smoking pages of the Times Literary Supplement
one by one and
learning to write by osmosis
or spontaneous combustion,
because you don’t give a damn
about cancer
or mixed metaphors or
your neighbour’s dangling participles—
you just want to be
a famous artist
and have the government
(any government)
proclaim you a living national treasure
so you won’t have to beg for food
from the Australia Council Soup Kitchen,
so the Literature Board will send you
a leather jacket
and every Monday
a carton of tailor-mades
and a six-pack of Coke
will arrive by certified mail
and you could do John Forbes or Gig Ryan
rip-offs, in public,
and no-one will know you’re faking it!
In fact
it may be a Scripsi day
only one hour after you thought it was
an Overland day
there still aren’t any women in your life
and you always wanted to travel
by proxy,
except that you couldn’t tell the difference
between Michel/e Tournier and Butor
if it hit you over the head
with a bi-lingual dictionary
and no-one you know
would dare speak Swedish
in polite conversation.
it’s definitely not a Scripsi day
it could be a Meanjin day!
because you’ve always wanted
to go fifteen rounds with an editor
who thought (s)he could make
the lame see and
the blind talk
and you know if you submit a poem
to anyone from Melbourne University
there’s always a good chance
the empty gin bottle
will stop spinning
at your name,
and that bonsai-epic verse
about the forces of light and darkness
you sent
will be read by every socialist household
in Moonee Ponds.
Then it hits you!
a kind of existential panic
only West Australians are really familiar with—
it might not be any kind of day at all,
it might be a Going Down Swinging day
when nothing happens
and years pass you by
like artistic brain-damage
or Sisyphus in a Maserati.
No, no—
it feels like one of those days,
a day for writing odes to John Tranter
when all the most beautiful and irrelevant
words in the world
sing with one voice in praise of poetry
and their own impotence,
a day when
Jacques Derrida is a brand of ice-cream
or any drug
that melts in the mouths of poets,
not being yourself
is a pleasant change,
a day for cleaning the sky of static
and all those bleeding hearts,
and you step out
on the world
Heaven is my woman’s love,
That’s the place I want to be.
Heaven is my woman’s love,
That’s the only place for me.
Originally published in Meanjin in 1984.