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John Forbes

Speed, a Pastoral



it’s fun to take speed
& stay up all night
not writing those reams of poetry
just thinking about is bad for you
                       — instead your feelings
follow your career down the drain
& find they like it there
among an anthology of fine ideas, bound together
by a chemical in your blood
that lets you stare the TV in its vacant face
& cheer, consuming yourself like a mortgage
& when Keats comes to dine, or Flaubert,
you can answer their purities
with your own less negative ones — for example
you know Dransfield’s line, that once you become a junkie
you’ll never want to be anything else?
                    well, I think he died too soon,
as if he thought drugs were an old-fashioned teacher
& he was the teacher’s pet, who just put up his hand
                                        & said quietly, ‘Sir, sir’
                    & heroin let him leave the room.


John Forbes died suddenly at his home in Melbourne, on the afternoon of Friday 23 January 1998, at the age of 47. Sometimes exasperating, always talkative, occasionally provocative, John was a dedicated, talented, brilliant and erudite poet; one of the best Australia has ever produced. He was as fond of contemporary philosophy and military history as he was of poetry, and he will be sadly missed by his family and by his many friends.
      This poem is taken from a selection of ten poems by John Forbes published in the 470-page paperback Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry (published in Australia as the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry) edited by John Tranter and Philip Mead, available in the UK and the US through Amazon Books and other retailers.
      I met John in 1970, and published his third book Stalin’s Holidays ten years later. The poetry of Michael Dransfield, the Australian poet mentioned in this poem, often revolved around the theme of drugs. He died on Good Friday 1973, at the age of 25. Though John and Michael both lived in Sydney and were more or less the same age, they never met.

— John Tranter, Editor, Jacket magazine.

Photo, below: (left to right) the poets Rae Desmond Jones, John Forbes, John A.Scott, Laurie (Laurence) Duggan, at a poetry book party in the beer garden of the Courthouse Hotel, Newtown, Sydney, June 1985. Photo copyright © John Tranter 1985, 1998

John Forbes (2nd from left) 1985


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