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We moved to the coastal town of Moruya when I was about four; the climate there was more Californian.
I fell out of the car on the drive to Moruya, late at night. On a bend in the dirt road the passenger-side door came open by accident - the car was an old Chevrolet sedan. I fell onto the road and bounced through the blackberries into a ditch.
I managed nearly a year of Architecture at Sydney University in 1961, and the next year passed some Arts subjects, though I failed first-year English. In my last year of high school a teacher gave me some poetry to read - D. Lawrence, Gerard Manley Hopkins, some Chinese poetry - and suggested I submit something to the school yearbook magazine. Mind you, the competition wasn't that tough; this was an agricultural high school, a state-government-run boarding school, and most of the kids there were expecting to go on to a career in farming, God help them.
Then in 1966 I saved some money and went to England on a passenger ship, the Fairstar, and worked at menial jobs in London for a year. It took me about five years to work out what poetry was really about, and to catch up on enough reading to know the areas where I should be putting my energy. I latched onto him through a pulp novel based on his life by James Ramsey Ullman titled The Day on Fire, the shorter paperback version.
John Tranter: Well, yes, of course I've read Ashbery; I found his writing refreshing and liberating. But Ashbery also spent a decade in Paris, and that interest does tie in with my early liking for French poetry.
I think I came across it first in Donald Hall's anthology Contemporary American Poetry published by Penguin in 1962. I think you can make out a line of influence that weaves back and forth: from Poe in the US to Baudelaire in Paris, then through Rimbaud, Mallarmé and Laforgue back into English through Eliot (an American) in London.
Then I hitch-hiked back to Australia across Europe and Asia - Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India - with my girl-friend Lyn, exploring the hippy trail and having various adventures. Ullman has him heterosexual, for goodness' sake, writing love-lorn poems to a beautiful but remote girl, when he wasn't busy exploring the coffee-shops of Paris with his poet pals. Then I found the Enid Starkie biography of Rimbaud, and then the Penguin Rimbaud with its sparkling prose translations by Oliver Bernard, and I was away.