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John Forbes (1950 – 1998)

John Forbes, Stanmore, NSW, 20 July 1990, photo by John Tranter John Forbes, Stanmore, NSW, 20 July 1990, photo by John Tranter

John Patrick Forbes was born on 1 September 1950 in Melbourne. His father worked in the Royal Australian Air Force, and Forbes grew up in New Guinea and Malaya, and later Sydney and Melbourne. He began training for the Catholic priesthood, but abandoned this for university study, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts with honours from the University of Sydney in 1973. He subsequently began research on a thesis on the work of American poet Frank O’Hara, which he did not complete.

Part of the ‘Generation of 1968’, Forbes began publishing his poems in the early 1970s in journals such as Poetry Magazine and New Poetry. His first collection of poetry, Tropical Skiing, was published in 1976. He worked at various jobs, ranging from furniture removals to writer-in-residence and literary reviewer, and published Surfers Paradise magazine and worked on magazines such as Leatherjacket. Moving to Melbourne in 1989, he was closely involved in literary activities including writers’ festivals and poetry readings, and was involved with small presses and the publication of literary journals such as Scripsi (1981–1994). In 1998, at the age of 47, Forbes suffered a heart attack and died at his home in Melbourne.

Poetry Collections
  • Tropical Skiing (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1976).
  • On the Beach (Sydney: Sea Cruise Books, 1977).
  • Stalin’s Holidays: Poems (Glebe, NSW: Transit Poetry, 1980).
  • The Stunned Mullet and other poems (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1988).
  • Thin Ice and other poems (Surfers Paradise, Qld: Surfers Paradise Press, 1989).
  • New and Selected Poems (Pymble, NSW: Angus and Robertson, 1992).
  • Troubador: Poems (Applecross, WA: Folio, 1993).
  • Roman Poems (Sydney: the Author, 1994).
  • Damaged Glamour (Rose Bay, NSW: Brandl and Schlesinger, 1998).
  • Collected Poems: 1970–1998 (Rose Bay, NSW: Brandl and Schlesinger, 2001).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Ken Bolton, “The Poetry of John Forbes,” Jacket 26 (2004).
  • Ken Bolton, ed. Homage to John Forbes (Rose Bay, NSW: Brandl and Schlesinger, 2002).
  • Ivor Indyk, “The Awkward Grace of John Forbes,” Heat 8 (1998): pp, 138–50.
  • Cath Kenneally, “John Forbes – Forbes, Intuition and a Song: Interview,” Otis Rush 8 (1993): 88–102.
  • Philip Mead, “John Forbes (1950–1998),” Australian Humanities Review 9 (1998): pp. 14–16.
  • Geoff Page, “John Forbes,” A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1995): pp. 69–71.
  • Alan Wearne, Inside Story: Conversations with a Dead Poet (Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1999). Videocassette (VHS), 57mins.