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by Ingrid van der Voort, poetry buyer, The Hague. August 2005

Last June I met Australian Poet John Tranter, one of the participants of the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam. I have been reading his online poetry magazine from its early days on, and I thought it would be great to ask him few things about it, and about his own work; this resulted in a very enjoyable conversation.

john tranter I: You started back in 1997. I came across it in its third issue, and liked it immediately. 1997 was pretty early to start a webzine.
JT: That's right, there were a few, but not so many. It looks pretty much as it should look like in print. Basically, it is a print magazine, published on the web, which it uses mainly for distribution. The Internet is marvelous for reaching people, and it's also a very cheap means of distribution. There are some hyperlinks, a great invention!

I: It seems to me that Jacket Magazine provides for a need for poetry readers to come together.
JT: Yes, it brings many different kinds of poetry. Being an Australian who was beginning to write poetry, I felt I was really outside of most of the traditions of poetry, so I looked at them from the outside. I just read whatever poets I wanted to, whether they were British or American, or Germans and French poets in translation. If you are an American or German, you are mainly formed by reading poetry in your own tradition, language and culture; so being outside these in a way is a very fortunate position. I can combine them all if I want into one magazine.

I: Your own poetry seems pretty classical, and influenced by poetry from all over the world.
JT: For me, there's certainly the need for good technique. I often say that becoming a poet is similar to becoming a surgeon or a classical musician. It takes maybe five to ten years to learn how to do everything. And when you can do everything you focus on the things you really want to do while you specialize yourself. When you learn the piano you might like the romantic period and may know Liszt very well, but first you have to learn everything, also about Mozart, Bach, the neo-romantics and moderns; when you got all of that, then you can choose something you like. I read very widely for the first 20 years, when I was becoming a poet, and kept finding interesting new writers that I liked. The American poet Frank O'Hara had a friend Larry Rivers, a painter. He went back to "reading" famous old Masters' paintings which he redesigned in his own terms. I think that's what poets do all the time. There is this long tradition, and I keep going back to it. It's how you learn to master poetry. Poets these days don't seem to be so aware of that for some reason. I think you should read as widely as possible. How can you learn to write if you don't read what other people write? And you'll have to do all the different things, rhyme and rhythm and alliteration and all kinds of formal things. How you say it, is just as important as what you say.

I: I have the Jacket Magazine issue of Salt Magazine in the store.
JT: That was a co-production; we combined an edition of Jacket with one of Salt and edited it cooperatively. It was an interesting thing to do. When an issue of Jacket goes into print, there is a feeling of greater permanence, because you have something you can pick up and look at.

I: There is something I noticed: when I hold something I read, it seems to stick much better to my memory then when I read something off a screen. I think that has to do with people primarily being tactile creatures, not visual ones.
JT: I agree with that, you remember much better what you read in a book or a magazine. On a screen it just seems to disappear. It's not enjoyable at all. I also think it has to do with eyesight, because I hardly ever detect typos on a screen, but when I print it out, I always get all of them.

I: People seem to be very eager to publish in your magazine. There are a lot of interesting poets and writers in Jacket, many of them even big names.
JT: I didn't know that would happen. I cannot even pay my contributors. But they want to be in it!

I: Do you know them personally?
JT: Yes, I meet them when I travel, I've been abroad often, and everywhere I go people say: "Oh, you're the Jacket Editor".

I: Poetry festivals are not just an opportunity to bring poetry to the public, it is also very important for anyone involved in poetry somehow, to discuss things and to get new ideas.
JT: Being here has actually given me the idea to do a Dutch issue of Jacket.

I: I was able to get some of your books from the US, because they are available as Print on Demand titles. Lighting Print seems a very lucky development for poetry. Note: Print on Demand is a new printing process whereby a book is digitally stored. Each time there is a demand for such a title even a single copy can be reproduced. In this way books don't need to go out of print anymore.
JT: It's a very important development. Unfortunately there is no lightning print press in Australia. The market is too small. It is the best way to print poetry of course, because you have a very small market, and it keeps books available. Salt Publications uses it a lot. They have a very great interest in Australian writers, they publish about 25 of them.

I: We know a few names here in Holland though: Dorothy Porter, Tom Petsinis, Les Murray.
JT: Les Murray has a book out in Dutch!
I: Yes, he visited the Poetry International festival few times, and people just loved him. Are there any more Australian poets we should keep our eyes on?
JT: There are so many. When I edited the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry with Philip Mead, we were given some 300 pages. When we started collecting all the poetry that we thought should go in it, we had about 86 poets. There was a book called "Australian Writers" that contained every writer in Australia, and 600 called themselves poets. We had to leave out 530 or so. But even then we ended up with a book that was 480 pages. I felt we should mention all poets if you name any, because you're unfair to the others.

I: Wouldn't it be a great idea to publish an anthology containing all those Australian poets on the web?
JT: But doesn't Poetry International already do something like that with the website? They have a project to publish many poets from different countries, in many languages. It's a very good idea. I worked on that briefly but didn't have the time for it, and passed it on to someone else. But it provides a window to other people's cultures.

I: Is it important to read poetry from other cultures?
JT: I think it's a very good thing to do. I enjoyed reading Rimbaud, Rilke, and many others. They should be available somewhere; but to get every poet translated into every other language is time-consuming and costly. The English language is lucky, because we have so many countries where it's spoken, so we have already a range of different cultural forms to read in poetry.


In the manner of Cavafy

Those coastal fevers are for young people.
They like the heat. Here in the hills

The air's cool. Young love, it takes
your breath away - who can say no?

On a sports field, girls in armour
whack at each other. Evening comes on.

The street lights give out a violet glow.
From time to time you hear a passing car.

I sit up late, reading sad stories
under the light of a lamp called Raymonde.

[John Tranter; Studio Moon]

Books by John Tranter:

The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry (December 1995)
Studio Moon (April 2003)
Heart Print (August 2001)
Trio (September 2003)
Salt: An International Journal of Poetry and Poetics: Volume 14 (September 2002)

Published in the Newsletter of The American Book Center, August 2005

Muses Incorporated


A shepherd without sheep mixes in with the weathered adobe walls, passes in front of the disintegrating church that teaches heaven inside its naked rib cage, with an altar full of chalked down signs and absent little virgins like the emigrated conscripts like the village romances, dying of sadness in some diocesan museum, piled up with its likes without another unction but the boredom of a lay brother who lost faith when touching what he was not supposed to. Sad.

© 2007 Ingrid van der Voort

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