John Forbes: "Monkey's Pride"

Monkey's Pride
The stunned mullet & other poems
John Forbes
By John Tranter on March 2011
John Forbes died suddenly at his home in Melbourne in 1998. He was forty-seven. His remarkable erudition was lightly-worn, and he was as interested in Australia's traditions of military honour, larrikin humour and laconic understatement as he was with great art or literature. He was glumly aware that poetry, once a powerful and moving force, had degenerated in an age of plastic (the title of one of his poems) to nothing more than an occasional tinsel decoration. Or had it? This poem, one of his very best, plays in subtle ways with the role and "vocation" of poet, displacing his authorial authority again and again, and feinting and dancing around a dozen surreal and glittering images before facing his muse in the kitchen of her heart. Society may have elected him to decorate its falling apart with a useless panache, but many poets, including me, would give their right arm to be able to write such a strange, funny and beautiful poem with such effortless grace. I often wondered about the oblique title: years after John had died, a friend told me it was the name of a racehorse. I assume it won: John had little time for losers.