John Forbes

A feature in Jacket 3

John Forbes, Petersham, Sydney, 1980, photo (c) John Tranter
John Forbes, Petersham, Sydney, 1980, photo (c) John Tranter

Jacket 3, April 1998, is dedicated to the memory of the recently-dead Australian poet John Forbes. Born in 1950, John Forbes suffered a heart attack and died suddenly at his home in Melbourne on 23 January 1998. He was forty-seven.
He was a subtle, ironic and brilliant poet, wholly dedicated to his art. In this issue: some poems by John, some photos, Gig Ryan’s eulogy, a review of his last book, and some poems by his friends.  — J.T.
John Forbes — five poems:
— ‘Speed, A Pastoral
3 recent poems from Damaged Glamour
poem: ‘Dean Martin’s definition of happiness’
Gig Ryan — i.m. John Forbes (with ‘Love Poem’ by John Forbes)

Ken Bolton — ‘(Two Portraits)’
Carl Harrison-Ford on John Forbes and his last book of poems
Rae D.Jones, ‘grim reaper blues’
John Kinsella, ‘The Dam Busters’
Nigel Roberts, ‘Dialogue with John Forbes’
Tracy Ryan, poem
Also this: Ken Bolton’s 20-page Introduction to the poetry of John Forbes in Jacket 26.
In my review of his last (posthumous) book «Damaged Glamour», I wrote:
John Forbes was part of that vigorous generation of young writers whose fresh styles and new ideas began to be noticed in the late 1960s, though he was younger and arrived a little later on the scene than most of them. When I was editing an issue of «Poetry Australia» magazine, I rejected some poems he sent to me — he was still a teenager — in late 1969. But I published his second book, «Stalin’s Holidays», in 1981.
His growth as a poet and critical thinker during the decade of the 1970s was extraordinary. He absorbed masses of novels, poems, military history, philosophy, and cultural and art theory, and developed a cynical understanding of politics. All this found its way into his subtle and ironic verse.
What did he write about? Simple-minded poets and earnest readers always want poems to be about matters of the “heart”. Okay, Forbes wrote about the “heart”. Like this, from the poem “Troubador”:
where the heart burns
      like an old tyre
      filling the air
      with flecks of carbon
      & a terrible stink…
He wrote about politics too. His “Ode to Karl Marx” begins with a nod to Miss Havisham from «Great Expectations» —
      Old father of the horrible bride whose
      wedding cake has finally collapsed…