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Todos Santos

"Christopher Brennan" by John Tranter [Introduced by Thomas Moody]

To honor the late John Tranter, one of Australia’s finest ever poets, I thought I would share some of my favorite poems of his over the coming weeks. “Christopher Brennan'' encapsulates much of what makes Tranter so special. The poem most obviously showcases his mastery of form, which fulfills the demands of the sestina so nonchalantly it seems to be at the same time a perfect representation of the form and a highly exaggerated parody. The voice: casual, ironic, conversational but detached, as if the speaker is partially distracted or worse, the poem is uninterested in itself. The poem is ostensibly a biographical sketch of the Australian poet Chirstopher Brennan, but within this portrait Tranter deals with a number of themes that occupied him over the course of his life, most notably the value of poetry (Tranter once mentioned in an interview that every eleven years or so he developed a strong distaste of poetry and questioned its worth) and how to locate Australian modernism within an international context.




Christopher Brennan was an Australian poet born in 1870. Heavily influenced by German Romanticism, he is probably best known for his 14 part cycle “The Wanderer.” Brennan was also an early enthusiast of the French Symbolists, in particular Mallarmé, to whom he sent his first collection and received back a note of praise. The poet John Hawke has written that at the turn of the 20th century there was “a stronger interest in Mallarmé’s poetic philosophy in Australia than virtually anywhere else in the English-speaking world.” Brennan was at the avant-garde of this movement. In 1897, the same year Un Coup de dés arrived on Australia’s shores, Brennan produced a handwritten facsimile of Mallarmé’s masterpiece, a parody called  Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic- Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope & Pocket Musicopoematographoscope.  Years later, Tranter would continue this tradition by producing his own mistranslation of Un Coup de dés, “Desmond’s Coupe.”

You can read Tranter's thoughts on Brennan's parody here.

Christopher Brennan


He spoke German,

Fluently, and French.

One he got by study,

the other from an inclination to drink

absinthe, like the poets who were always writing

among the cafes and the bottles and the crowds of women.


How do they do it? He liked women,

though they seemed a little too German,

at times, invading the domain of writing

and buggering up his whispered amatory French

the way that a few too many drinks

would ginger up but addle the study


of his volumes of foreign verse. In the study

he worked at a huge monument to women

for an hour or two, then had a drink.

Phew! Like a good German

he had a method for everything, and like the French

he wasted it on writing


poems about feelings like writing

all through the night. His study

lamp glowed out across the Quad. Famous French

poets wrote to him, once or twice. Women

from one end of Europe to the other admired his German

manners. Ah, Heidelberg! Must be time for a drink.


Back to the heatstruck colonies. God, a drink

would go down well, eh? Those oafs writing

gibberish and hoping for a pass in German

Romantic literature, look at them, as though study

were enough! What about inspiration? The women

of Sydney are not really suited to modern French


poetry. And now Mallarme’s gone loony — too French,

if that were possible. One last drink.

In a sheep-farming province, young women

who wish to develop the discipline of writing

should take up the study

of German…


He yearned to dream in French, but all he heard was German.

He inclined to drink, and trudged through a torrent of study

And when he reached for women, they became his writing.



November 18, 2017

November 10, 2017

November 01, 2017

October 26, 2017

October 20, 2017

October 12, 2017

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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