Robert Drewe, 1977

Robert Drewe
So It Goes: Fangs bared

— PDF: You can view the A5-sized PDF format of this article here.
— Provenance: This item was published in the Sydney weekly
The Bulletin, 1977-06-04, p. 10, and photocopied, scanned and edited by John Tranter.

Mark Strand
US poet Mark Strand, photo courtesy Phillips Exeter Academy Lamont Library

Paragraph 1 follows:

WHO SAID that poetry was boring? Unquestionably it is the most lively form of literature; Australian poets these days lead richer and more exciting lives than short story writers, or even playwrights.


      Take the other night [Tuesday 24 May 1977] at Sydney’s Hogarth Galleries, thrown open by Clive Evatt for a reception / poetry reading for the visiting American poet Mark Strand. Both factions in the current Poets’ War were present: the New Poetry forces, led by its editors Bob and Cheryl Adamson, and their opposition, led by John Tranter.


      Tranter led off the festivities by reading his poem ‘The Famous Poets’ in which a poet blushes ‘with a sudden flood of Romanticism’ and his “false teeth chatter and shake loose!” while he is encountering famous U.S. poets in supermarkets and laundromats. There were dark looks from some quarters at this and other references to falling dentures. (see below.)


      Mark Strand then read an uncontroversial poem, followed by a spirited Adamson who (a) read a decidedly unromantic poem directed against Tranter and (b) delivered a curse upon the academic and writer Michael Wilding over some personal incident. Then followed a reading by Judith Rodriguez and one by David Malouf. The latter was interrupted by a big blonde woman (who had earlier given a primal scream in a back room) who, breathing heavily, wanted to be a work of art. She was led back into the back room and a doctor was called.


      To round off the evening the poet Laurie Duggan read what he described as a ‘found poem’ (perhaps this trend could be followed by novelists) entitled ‘Am I a Schizophrenic?’ which was actually an article from an old Cosmopolitan magazine.


      Mark Strand, bemused, said New York was not like this. He detected a West Coast influence in the gathering. However, he was enjoying Australia and quite looking forward to his stint as writer-in-residence at the Australia’s National University.

13. At the Laundromat

How lucky to live in America, where
supermarkets stock up heavily on writers!
Thinking of the famous poets floating home
to that luxurious and splendid place
inhabited by living legends like an old movie
you blush with a sudden flush of Romanticism
and your false teeth chatter and shake loose!

How it spoils the magic! In America no writers
have false teeth, they are too beautiful!
Imagine meeting Duncan in your laundromat —
in America it happens all the time — you say
Hi, Robert! — and your teeth fall out!
And you can’t write a poem about that!

duncan85-06“On a morning of slow grey drizzle in the southern spring of 1976, at Robert and Cheryl Adamson’s living room table at Lane Cove, Sydney, between bites of a late breakfast and occasional snatches of quiet conversation, Robert Duncan began writing ‘An Alternate Life’, a poem that evolved from and partly recounts his experiences whilst visiting Australia. He was here on a reading and lecture tour.” [From at]

Poem: ‘13. At the Laundromat’, from John Tranter. Crying in Early Infancy: 10 Sonnets. Makar Press, St Lucia, 1977. Photo: Robert Duncan, with cat, San Francisco, 1985, photo by John Tranter.

Robert Drewe, photo Russell Shakespeare

Novelist, non-fiction and short-story writer Robert Drewe was born in Melbourne and grew up on the West Australian coast. He is the author of the award-winning memoir, The Shark Net, and its sequel, Montebello, an account of his travels to the archipelago whose dark past filled his childhood imagination. Drewe’s long list of books include A Cry in the Jungle Bar, The Bodysurfers, Fortune, Our Sunshine, The Drowner, Grace and The Rip. Robert Drewe lives in NSW.

Photo of Robert Drewe: Russell Shakespeare.

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