Starlight: 150 Poems by John Tranter (St Lucia : UQPress, 2010) ISBN: 978702238451
My pick for the poetry publication that rocked my world in 2010 is, in many ways, a conservative one. It is no surprise, really, that John Tranter’s Starlight would head the list, not because he is so dominant, or so (dare I say it) predictable, but for the fact that Tranter is, simply, one of the best living Australian poets. He is at once challenging and entertaining, and his work retains a freshness that vivifies his concern and voice.
And a lot of it is damn funny as well.
I’d like to illustrate what I mean by a quick glance at “Well-Equipped Men” on page 83, to cite one poem. Already the humour is there, the “Well-Equipped” of the title treading the fine line between bawdy and the almost literal. The wordplay extends beyond the title, as you’d expect; the “clever Cleveland” at the end of light perrenially delights me, and the title really only comes into play about halfway through the sestet. Where the sonnet starts talking about the “muscly brothers in the rusting truck.”
The poem travels, as well, from “old-fashioned plaid” to “popular songs from the fifties” to “tawdry items,” in the octet, to “a dazzling uniform” and “a loaded sawn-off shotgun” through the brothers “on target for the abortion clinic” to the end where “the news story / inflamed them and no one is responsible.” That ending, that final image just works wonders for me, and Tranter packs worlds into the compass of small poems here, small literally, not figuratively.
Of course, this is only one poem among many others. And it can only be
said that there’s a lot more there where that one poem came from.
You can find out more about Starlight and purchase a copy of the book here.
Phillip A. Ellis is a freelance critic and scholar, and has recently completed English Honours through the University of New England. His poetry collection, The Flayed Man, has been published by Gothic Press, and he is working on another collection, to appear through Diminuendo Press. Hippocampus Press has published his concordance to the poetry of Donald Wandrei. He is the editor of Australian Reader, Calenture, Studies in Australian Weird Fiction, Melaleuca and Breaking Light Poetry Magazine.