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John Tranter (1943 – )

John Tranter with his dog Tiger, photo by Susan Gordon-Brown John Tranter with his dog Tiger, photo by Susan Gordon-Brown

John Tranter was born in Cooma, New South Wales, in 1943. His father, Fred Tranter, taught at a one-teacher school in the village of Bredbo, 36kms north of Cooma; his mother had two teenage children from a previous marriage. When he was about four years old the family moved to the town of Moruya, on the New South Wales south coast, where his father taught at a large public school before resigning to take up farming and establish a soft-drink factory. Tranter did well enough in his Intermediate Certificate exams in 1957 to gain a place at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, a selective state farm on the south-west outskirts of Sydney. Although he ultimately failed Agriculture in his Leaving Certificate exams in 1960, he did attain an honours pass in English. A teacher encouraged him to begin writing poetry, and one of the first two poems he wrote won a prize in the school’s annual magazine.

In 1961 he matriculated to the University of Sydney on a Commonwealth Scholarship to study Architecture, but withdrew from the course before the end of the year and in 1962 commenced an Arts degree. While studying Arts he contributed to the student weekly newspaper Honi Soit and became friends with its then editor Bob Ellis. He was again unsuccessful in his studies, however, and dropped out at the end of 1962. He worked in various casual jobs for the next few years, before travelling to England by ship in 1966 and eventually finding work there as a mail van driver in London. With his partner Lyn Grady, he returned to Australia in 1967, after travelling overland through France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The couple married in March 1968.

Tranter began publishing poetry in Australian literary journals and poetry magazines from the mid-1960s, and wrote with increased energy after his return to Australia in 1967, his work appearing regularly in Poetry Australia magazine among others. In 1969 he established his own magazine, Transit New Poetry, which lasted only two issues before folding—this was the first of a number of poetry publishing ventures Tranter would be involved in. He decided to return to the University of Sydney, initially studying at night while working in the printing department of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), then, after securing a Teacher’s College scholarship, as a full-time student. His first poetry collection, Parallax and other poems, was published as a special issue of Poetry Australia in June 1970.

In 1971 he was appointed as an editor at the Singapore branch of the publishers Angus and Robertson, a position he retained until 1973. On returning to Australia he took up a job with the ABC’s Radio Drama and Features department, beginning a long association with the ABC as a producer and broadcaster. From 1975–1977 he worked at the ABC’s Brisbane studios, returning to Sydney in 1977. With Jan Garrett, he developed the weekly book review program ‘Books and Writing,’ which ran from 1975 until 2006. In addition to his work at the ABC, he worked for SBS television (1981–1986) and as a teacher and lecturer at various tertiary institutions. In the 1980s Tranter established the small press Transit New Poetry, publishing several collections by Australian poets including Gig Ryan and John Forbes.

Since 1970 Tranter has published some twenty poetry collections. His work has regularly appeared in Australian and international literary journals, and has been widely anthologised. His books have won a number of major Australian literary awards: Under Berlin (1988) won both the Grace Leven prize and the Kenneth Slessor prize, At the Florida won the Age Dinny O’Hearn prize (1993), and Urban Myths: 210 poems: new and selected (2006), won the Kenneth Slessor prize, the C. J. Dennis prize, the John Bray award, and the South Australian Premier’s award. He has been the recipient of a number of literary grants and senior writing fellowships, including writer-in-residence positions at Rollins College in Florida (1992) and in the English Faculty at Cambridge University (2001). He has travelled widely, and made regular reading tours to the USA, the UK and Europe throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Regarded as one of the leading ‘Generation of ’68’ poets, Tranter’s work has been influenced by the New York School of poets (ca.1950s–1960s), as well as the French symboliste poets of the nineteenth century. His poems sometimes employ experimental techniques, and often involve witty and cosmopolitan reflections on modern urban life. He has also been active as a literary critic and, particularly, as an editor, including of a posthumous selection of Martin Johnson’s poetry and prose (1993), and the anthologies The New Australian Poetry (1979), the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (with Philip Mead, 1991), and The Best Australian Poetry 2007 (2007). In 1997 he founded the highly regarded online poetry magazine Jacket, which he continues to edit and publish. With his wife Lyn, a successful literary agent, he lives in the Sydney harbourside suburb of Balmain.

Poetry Collections
  • Parallax and other poems (Sydney: South Head Press, 1970).
  • Red Movie and other poems (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1972).
  • The Blast Area (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1974).
  • The Alphabet Murders (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1976).
  • Crying in Early Infancy: 100 sonnets (St Lucia, Qld: Makar Press, 1977).
  • Dazed in the Ladies Lounge: poems (Sydney: Island Press, 1979).
  • Selected Poems (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1982).
  • Gloria ([King’s Cross], NSW: [Nicholas Pounder], 1986).
  • Under Berlin: new poems 1988 (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1988).
  • The Floor of Heaven (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1992).
  • Days in the Capital (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1992).
  • At the Florida (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1993).
  • Gasoline Kisses (Cambridge, UK: Equipage, 1997).
  • Late Night Radio (Edinburgh, UK: Polygon, 1998).
  • Blackout (Cambridge, UK: Barque, 2000).
  • Ultra: 25 poems (Rose Bay, NSW: Brandl and Schlesinger, 2001).
  • Heart Print (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2001).
  • Trio (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2003).
  • Studio Moon (Cambridge, UK, Salt Publishing, 2003).
  • Urban Myths: 210 poems: New and Selected (University of Queensland Press, 2006).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Michael Brennan, ‘Last Words: Tranter and Rimbaud’s Silence,’ Jacket no.27 (2005). http://jacketmagazine.com/27/bren-jt-ar.html
  • David Brooks, ‘Feral Symbolists: Robert Adamson, John Tranter, and the Response to Rimbaud,’ Australian Literary Studies 16.3 (1994), pp. 280–88.
  • Jim Davidson, ‘John Tranter,’ Meanjin 40.4 (1981), pp. 427–41.
  • Martin Duwell, ‘John Tranter,’ in Selina Samuels, ed., Australian Writers, 1950–1975 (Detroit, USA: Gale Research, 2004), pp. 291–98.
  • Martin Duwell, ‘The New Australian Poetry,’ Australian Literary Studies 13.4 (1988), pp. 493–502.
  • John Kinsella, ‘John Kinsella interviews John Tranter,’ John Tranter: three poems and an interview, online, http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/tranter/3poems-interview.html
  • Kate Lilley, ‘An Interview with John Tranter,’ Southerly 61.2 (2001), pp. 6–23.
  • Kate Lilley, ‘Tranter’s Plots,’ Australian Literary Studies 14.1 (1989), pp. 41–50.
  • Peter Minter and Kate Fagan, ‘Murdering Alphabets, Disorientating Romance,’ Jacket no.27 (2005). http://jacketmagazine.com/27/faga-mint.html
  • David Prater, ‘David Prater interviews John Tranter,’ Cordite no.22 (2005). http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/14234/20051128-0000/www.cordite.org.au/archives/000927.html
  • Noel Rowe, Modern Australian Poets. Horizon Studies in Literature (South Melbourne, Vic: Sydney University Press in assoc. with Oxford University Press, 1994).
  • John Taylor, ‘John Tranter: Absence in Flight,’ Australian Literary Studies 12.4 (1986), pp. 458–70.
  • [John Tranter, ed.], Jacket, online, www.jacketmagazine.com
  • [John Tranter], John Tranter site, online, http://johntranter.com/00/index.html
  • John Tranter on SETIS, University of Sydney, online, http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/tranter/index.html
  • John Tranter, ‘The Left Hand of Capitalism,’ Poetry Review 89.1 (1999), pp. 42–45; rev. version, http://jacketmagazine.com/00/about.shtml
  • Alan Urquhart, ‘Hacking at the Pattern: Post-Romantic Consciousness in the Poetry of John Tranter,’ Southerly 53.3 (1993), pp. 12–29.