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John Forbes

One of the benefits of a Collected is that it places individual poems within the context of the poet’s whole oeuvre, with often dramatic consequences for their interpretation. When Leonie Kramer brought out David Campbell’s Collected Poems in 1989, more than half of the volume was made up of poems written in the last decade of the poet’s life ...

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The poet John Forbes died suddenly in January 1998. He was not glamorous, but his work was, for reasons that are not immediately apparent. Certainly, he was the most accomplished, along with the immensely learned Martin Johnston, of the young poets who swam into orbit in the 1970s. He was also the writer who most convincingly bridged the gap between a radical art and the relatively conservative, yet difficult, kinds of cultural theory which are expounded in the universities. Such newly collected poems as ‘post-colonial biscuit’, ‘Ode to Cultural Studies’ and ‘Queer Theory’ body forth, in their disembodied way, this concern to be a bridge-maker between academic talk and the melodious realms of poetry.

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Stalin’s Holidays by John Forbes & The Division of Anger by Gig Ryan

May 1981, no. 30

The poet John Ashbery, now a considerable force in American poetry, has said: ‘I think that any one of my poems might be considered to be a snapshot of whatever is going on in my mind at the time…’ Like John Ashbery – and Frank O’Hara (who was involved with the Abstract Expressionism scene in New York before being killed by a dune buggy in 1966) – John Forbes and Gig Ryan are, in Australia, poets who must be linked to the broad automatic writing phenomenon which gained strength with so-called Action Painting (or, to use its other name, Tachisme). The foundation of that art movement was surrealist painting, sculpture, and writing; and these were made familiar to young American artists when writers and painters such as Max Ernst and André Breton escaped from Europe before Hitler took over.

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