Gig Ryan reviews 'The Green Bell' by Paula Keogh

Gig Ryan reviews 'The Green Bell' by Paula Keogh

The Green Bell

by Paula Keogh

Affirm Press $29.99 pb, 288 pp, 9781925475524

Gig Ryan

Gig Ryan

Gig Ryan has published six books of poetry and her New and Selected Poems was published in 2011 (Giramondo, Australia; and

...

Since Michael Dransfield’s death at the age of twenty-four in 1973, there have been two books of poems, a Collected Poems (1987), a study of his generation, Parnassus Mad Ward (Livio Dobrez, 1990), as well as Michael Dransfield’s Lives: A sixties biography (Patricia Dobrez, 1999), and John Kinsella’s Michael Dransfield: A retrospective (2002). Unlike other poets who died too young, such as Charles Buckmaster (1951–72), Dransfield had cultivated an older, more established group of poets who ensured that his many poems would be issued posthumously.

Dransfield’s best poems vary from ornate lyricism to witty satire to defiant protest to a playful, often tragic bluntness: ‘Nothing left but the / whim of survival’ (‘Overdose’). Paula Keogh, Dransfield’s fiancée at the time of his death, shows a more idealised view of the man than the manipulative and self-promoting poet recalled by some peers and investigated admiringly in the Dobrez studies. To Keogh, Dransfield was ‘a shy exhibitionist, sensitive and outrageous, old-fashioned and avant-garde, earnest and ironic’, whose genuine love and shared interests lessen her confusion.

The Green Bell begins with Keogh and Dransfield cutely romantic outside the Canberra psychiatric ward where they had met, but then reverts to the chaos of Keogh’s first breakdown, when even the doorknobs of her student college room were menacing. Her schizophrenic psychosis is bracingly vivid, and the subsequent treatments resemble those in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), with their routine of pills and electroconvulsive therapy: ‘A nurse stands to the side of a trolley that supports a rectangular black box with dials and cords ... I realise you don’t die once only. Death is not a one-off event.’ This is 1972, a year before Dransfield’s death, and treatment of those deemed mentally ill, or drug-addicted, is brutal. Both Keogh and Dransfield had lost a close friend at school; Dransfield was also grieving his father’s recent death. Keogh’s schoolfriend died mysteriously while undergoing treatment for mania in Sydney. (Chelmsford Hospital’s ‘deep sleep therapy’, from which at least twenty-four people died, is mentioned in passing.)Yet although they discover affinities and solace in each other, Keogh seeks a defined reality, while Dransfield yearns for escape.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are already a subscriber, click here, or on the ‘Log In’ tab in the top right hand corner of the screen, and enter your username and password to log in. If you have logged in but are still seeing this message your subscription to ABR Online may have expired. Please contact us or click here to renew your subscription to ABR Online. More information about ABR Online can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in March 2017, no. 389

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.