Writing is what I love doing. There is almost nothing like it. Even playing two or three close sets of tennis will not quite compete with having a good poetic theme discover you, and then managing to nut it out, to make it chime like a bell. No wonder the French critics are so fond of talking about the jouissance of a text. When a poetic shape-and-theme I’ve been struggling with comes good, it comes like an express train. And, whether painful or pleasing, writing has become an absolute necessity, so that I grow fretful, grumpy, zany, if I haven’t written anything decent for several days.
This ailment first caught up with me when I was in the Air Force. I did six months’ National Service at Laverton in 1952–53. When I went in, I was still the potential scientist I had been since discovering Mendeleef’s periodic classification of the elements (surely the greatest of all taxonomies?) at the age of twelve; when I came out, it was as a poet in the making. Six months of dozing in the uniformed public service gave one all that time for reading the European monsters: Flaubert and Kafka, Woolf and Yeats, Baudelaire and Dostoevsky. I was hooked. Sadly, typically, I did not read any Australian writing at all, until I discovered Judith Wright, and Kenneth Slessor’s ‘Five Bells’.