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John Tranter, Author . Salt $12.95 (116p) ISBN 978-1-876857-32-5

Tranter may now be Australia's most important poet. Since the late '60s, Tranter's cosmopolitan, oddball verse, inspired by John Ashbery and others, has offered a postmodern, hip, slippery challenge to the better-known rural poetics of Les Murray. During the 1990s, Tranter emerged as an international figure, first by editing well-received anthologies, then with the Internet journal Jacket. This volume of new poems, his 14th Down Under, is now available here via the Aussie-U.K. venture Salt as his first U.S. release, though a separate U.S. edition of any of Tranter's books has yet to materialize. Of its four sections, the second and best, "The Alphabet Murders," makes a great introduction to his work: its 27 segments (from "After" and "Before" to "Zero" and "After" again) use their meta-detective tales as excuses to talk about reading, writing, associative thought and literary history. Recalling both Ashbery and O'Hara, Tranter promises to "eat page/ after page of this 'plain speaking'"; imagines a "young Poet demolished by the smoke/ eating into the paint that held his face together"; and asks if "you've experienced the feeling of reeling in/ a tricky fish?" The untitled set of 28 sonnets and delightful prose poem that conclude the book present light-fingered commentary on subjects from "Starlight" to absinthe and middle age: "I re-live youth asleep," one affecting line admits, "and leave it behind at dawn." Readers who skip past the diffuse first two sections to "The Alphabet Murders" or to the sonnets will see why Tranter has mattered to Australians for so long. (Apr.)

Forecast: Jacket (www.jacket.zip.com.au) is one of two or three journals that have become compulsory for working poets of all stripes; it, plus Tranter's frequent U.S. readings, have broadened North American recognition of his work. If this title falls into the right hands, expect a warmly received and reviewed U.S. selected within a year or two. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 08/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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