Here are two booth photographs of John Forbes doctored by him sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. Written on the back of the left photo: ‘I am the founder of the Pan-Slavic Revolutionary Street Poets Union & three time winner of the S_____ award for migrant weirdness. Give me some moneys!’. On the back of the right: ‘Vietnam, man? I fucking loved it man, it was fucking unreal. Now I teach math at Colorado State’.
A few years on John and I were both at an Adelaide Festival, hanging around the fringes. We amused ourselves by each pretending to be the other when we were introduced to local big wheel Graham Rowlands. Over the years we had attempted to write in the style of the other and I still keep finding lines in John’s poems that he borrowed from me at one time or another. They’re his lines now and I’ll probably be the only one to know their origins, not that I’m at all worried by this. The wonder of it is that it was at all possible, given our respective poetics. It was odd in the seventies when reviewers like Jamie Grant seemed to think that we were interchangeable, especially since my writing had largely derived from Pound, the Black Mountain folks, and the San Franciscans, while John’s drew its strengths mainly from the New Yorkers (and the French Surrealists whom they translated).
Being an ‘Australian Poet’ wasn’t, at the time, an easy option. Certainly a lot of the conservative poets like Grant didn’t think of us as being Australian at all: we were ersatz Americans. It was strange years later to read my poems in America at a number of venues and have people comment on how ‘different’ the work was from anything they’d heard. We did feel ‘of our place’ and ‘of our time’ but this hadn’t translated for the poetry neocons. They were the ‘lords and masters of their faces’; we were the ones who couldn’t pretend to fit the popular view.