“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





22 April 2012


blurry old days blurry old photographs

Wine tasting

The dead-weight of years crushing down, down,
largely destructive, yet has crushed from these barren lives
a wine we'll call Australian, since no tariff has been paid.
Taste it. Not bitter but with the dust of the outback
prominent. Slide it around the palate. See with what rosy light
the chandelier blazes through this blood you suckle on.
Consider the delicate bouquet of revolution
it was a good year for martyrs.
Jan Palach lit up half the silent east with his death agonies
taste the ashes you thought were sediment from long storage it is hard
to forget. Remember too the vintners whose feet trod flat the grapes,
trod flat the barbed wire at Lone Pine so the press could sing,
sing of "significant advances", of selflessness. Taste it at V. C. Corner,
how many heroes then trod flat the fields to grow the grapes
you think you taste.
An amusing little vintage, you call it, vampires of humanity,
from your penthouse the world is beautiful the filth of streets
is far below
the dead cannot be smelt unless the wind changes bringing you
the sound of death of city solitudes of  labourers returning
home exhausted
from factories you control. You suck their lives away,
their spirit, an amusing little wine.
They toil that you can celebrate your profits, play aristo with some amusing friends
drawn from the ranks of profiteers, scuttling from
Europe to get near the cash,
jetting from Texas to pick up the pennies
better men would scorn to touch.
It was a good year, you say, the auditors agree; inside
a wilderness a hermit
listens/the change he speaks of to the world will come;
dare you face it?

Michael Dransfield
Windhover, 1972

Michael Dransfield was a poet, inspiration, and fellow hitch-hiker.  He was a man who could take you to the elves in your valley. He wrote this poem in the Blue Mountains, I reckon, on ANZAC Day (which this year falls this Wednesday). Maybe Rodney Hall published it on ANZAC Day in The Australian. That woulda made sense.  Doesn't matter now.  But it was the first time I considered wine becoming literature, more than being the writer's lubricant and a mere facilitator.  It set me considering the idea of writing, not just about wine, but about the many intoxications and complications it offers, good and bad.

And the way it smells of summer dust.  

A year later, Michael died in hospital on Good Friday, 20th April 1973, aged 24.  The nation was told it was a heroin overdose, but Michael couldn't afford to buy a heroin overdose.  He took as much of it as he could afford,, but I reckon he died from complications arising from the end of his starving itinerant piece of shit life. 

The Coroner didn't write that.  I wrote that.

Poets cannot afford to buy heroin, cocaine, or great wine.  Most poets eat shit and drink piss. Some, like Bob Adamson, have been finely placed by the universe to fish the Hawkesbury and determinedly, gradually write himself to bits.  Adamson probably eats the best of all the poets I know, but that's more than rare luck boyo that's well-earned, fish-gutted respect of a river before you get the biro out.  Love to the fierce Juno.

Michael had slept under one too many Tasmanian bridges and smoked too many discarded butts mixed with all types of dubiousness; the pneumonia got him. 

Most didn't find out until a few days later, when Rodney Hall published this poem in The Australian as a tribute to one of Australia's most promising poets, ever.  (I think he also published I Tell Myself I'm Through With Love, which should be tattooed on every architect.)  

On the 39th anniversary of Michael's death (yesterday), the Rochford Street Review published a series of articles and discussions of this remarkable, but little-known Australian literary pioneer.   

I've spent many pensive moments wondering how different Australian poetry would now be if he'd miraculously survived.  It's like pondering what Australian winemaking would now be had Stephen Hickinbotham not got killed.  One thing is certain: you don't get too much poetry like this in today's Weekend Australian! 

And another thing probly is, too: knowing this joint, there are quite a few great poets among us whom nobody'll know til they're dead: under a bridge, under the knife or plain old under the gun. 

The best measure of any society is the condition of its poets' teeth. Of Australian poets, only Sir Les Murray can afford a smile for the camera.  Unless you get such ivory envy that you open yourself to the horn business, and get back to Michael's observations of those who grow them through their foreheads.

In the woods around the castle live unicorn.  They roam the paths and glades - I see them often. Many are silvery, some white; one, glimpsed sometimes, is golden. They are like magical horses, like mystic Arab horses. Very early, walking at dawn, I meet them.  They know me, but they are shy, and do not stay.
Michael Dransfield


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