Michael Dransfield: A poet you can feel, but never truly understand. During a time of great change, both ideally and physically, in Australian history, a young man by the name of Michael Dransfield made his presence known in the highly evolving scene of poetry. Dransfield was an eccentric character, to say the least, and was recognized for his masterful ability of truly capturing the essence of many of life's situations. Regardless of the "heaviness" or the difficulties of the subject matter being portrayed throughout his poetry, Dransfield was mentally equipped to fully encompass any life experience and dawn light on some of its "eternal truths" in the world. Although he tragically died of a heroin overdose in 1973 (he was 24 years old), Dransfield made a lasting impression on Australian poetry; never to be forgotten and to be forever considered "one of the foremost poets of the '68 generation of counter-cultural dreamers" (Chan, 2002). Throughout his brief existence on this earth, Dransfield was able to produce an extensive body of work that ranged from the human act of "loving" to the dreadful experience of having a drug overdose.
His work is "framed within the literary construct of the 'Generation of '68' " because it undeniably challenged the "literary status quo" during that period of time, and he "overwhelmed it with sheer talent" (Kinsella, 2002). Dransfield was innovative, unique, and was seen as somewhat a "global poet, and something of a prophet" (Kinsella, 2002). He existed during a time where poets were more inclined to avoid any mention of what they really did (in the drug using sense), taking refuge in the socially accepted subject of football, rather than confronting the challenges associated with drug use. Dransfield had no such inhibitions, he was the "quintessential drug poet" in Australian literary history, and it was through his drug usage-both the beauty and the destruction of it-that Dransfield was able to fully let his talent and generosity shine for all to see. He blazed the new trails for all those that were to follow him, and successfully created a place for the "authentic experience" in the realm of poetry.
It is a shame that it took such a personal tragedy "for [Dransfield] to engage so definitively with the experience of addiction... in such an astonishingly short time" (Armand, 1997). His work can only be marveled at and admired for its "richly cosmopolitan tone, its urgent sense of possibility, its sheer 'cannibal energy', and its persistent attempt to resolve difficult emotional problems" (Armand, 1997). He was an incredibly complex and witty character, and truly wove his existence in and out of reality; leaving his readers unsure of what was "real" and what was not. Some say that "he embroidered everything, including correspondence and his conversation and relationships, with his imagination", creating a world in which "reality" no longer had a dominant presence (Adamson, 1999). Using drugs as his creative catalyst for both his real life and his poetry, Dransfield "dropped acid and used heroin in the attempt to push himself beyond the boundaries of the known" (Chan, 2002). "As if to validate a process of enlightenment that would otherwise be submerged in guilt...
[Dransfield] used drugs and drug culture as figurative vehicles-frameworks for a language of investigation and exploration of the creative principle (Kinsella, 2002). He gave up his sense of an individual self, and aimed to truly become the essence of his poetry. In his poem 'Like this for years', Dransfield claims that 'to be a poet in Australia is the ultimate commitment/ [of] knowing that you are completely alone in a desert full of strangers'. You can sense his feelings off loneliness and self-sacrifice in his tone, almost to the extreme of martyrdom. He gives the reader the sense that he has given the totality of himself to the life of the "struggling, misunderstood poet", regardless of all the negatives that this existence can bring. He choose to be the implement in which the creative source of the world worked through; acting almost as a prism, exuding the creative light of the world for all to see.
Dransfield accepted all consequences that came with the total submersion into the drug world, and understood this to be the only way in which his unique poetic personae could grow and develop. As his poetic existence flourished, Dransfield himself began to die inside. The Australian attitudes and standards during the late 1960's have been said to be contributors and possible destroyers of Michael Dransfield's spirit. To many he was considered "a drug addict, a draft dodger, a uni drop out and a hippy", and during those times these stereotypes were invitations for abuse and societal rejection (Aitken, 2000). Despite all of this, Dransfield strive d to make his poetry represent more than just the words used to describe certain situations. He has an underlying meaning in his work that is apparent in between the lines of each and every verse and phrase.
This meaning was created through his physical use of drugs and manifested into poetry that can be seen as none other than a "real sense experience". Dransfield appreciated the drug experience, claiming that 'once you become a drug addict / you will never want to become anything else', and used the transcendental nature of the experience to take his poetry to a new dimension. Dransfield's poetry has the ability of fully embodying the soul's experience. There is a raw sensationalism in is work that dawns light of life's simply treasures and great tragedies, alike. Regardless of the topic at hand, Dransfield never ceases to fully capture the subject and relate it to a multitude of other life realities. He was "constantly investigating the way the self and subject-object relationship shift in the poem [hoping to] attain some kind of symbolist purity in art, to lift spiritually above the material, but [to remain] analytic and empirical" (Kinsella, 2002).
In his poem 'Epiderm', Dransfield fully allows the reader to take another look at the mysterious and unique nature of human skin; an organ which we are all so familiar with. EPIDERMCanopy of nerve ends marvelous tent airship skying in crowds and blankets pillowslip of serialized flesh it wraps us rather neatly in our senses but will not insulate against externals does nothing to protect merely notifies the brain of conversations with a stimulus I like to touch your skin to feel your body against mine two islets in atoll of each other spending all night in new discovery of what the winds of passion have washed up and what a jaded tide will find for us to play with when this game begins to pall He begins this poem by likening the skin to the fantasy item of an 'airship'. He acknowledges the vulnerabilities that both the skin and airship have, claiming that they do 'nothing to protect'. He then uses enjambment, complex linearity, to take the poem beyond the subject matter of skin as a conductor of information to the notion of the desire of touch. The lines 'I like to touch your skin / to feel your body against mine' allows the reader to get lost in the vivid imagery of the poem. You can sense that two bodies are becoming one ('atolls') by the sexual passion that begins to overtake the poem.
Not only does Dransfield link the skin to the sensation of touch, and then touch to a sexually experience, but he concludes the poem by highlighting the bleakness of modern society. When he states, 'and what a jaded tide will find for us to play with when this game begins to pall', you can sense the animosity that Dransfield has for contemporary society. You can tell that he feels that society has exploited sexual freedom, and that this exploitation results in a lack of fulfillment in any sexual experience. Dransfield's vision of society is one that is focused purely on consumerism and "games", and that this mentality is why people today are so dissatisfied with their trivial existences. This poem is just one of the many works in which Dransfield fully touches on an array of subjects that are all interconnected at their core.
Dransfield also engages in the reoccurring themes of overdose, withdrawal, rehabilitation and addiction, and these works are easily considered some of his greatest masterpieces. With a devastating immediacy, and an unmistaken realness, Dransfield really allows the reader to take a closer look at these life experiences. In the poem 'Overdose' Dransfield states: Rob my veins / of meaningful blood, or poisons / with perilous narcotics. Falling over / a desk, trying to / stay awake when to sleep means death / Overdose/ Nothing but the whim of survival / Consciousness demands vigilance/ [... ] Drifting / unintelligibly through afternoon, across the day's / almost endless expanses, wishing for / the cool shore of dusk...
Dransfield does an amazingly efficient job of describing the tumultuous experience of having an overdose, and really doesn't hold back on expressing the magnitude of the situation in a person's life. Claiming that one must 'set a course / for the Pillars of Hercules', it is easy to understand that experiencing and surviving an overdose is not a simple task. It is an experience that shakes the body at its core, leaving a person helpless and vulnerable to anything around them. De-void of both purities and a poison in the blood, Dransfield really creates the sense of uneasiness and discontent that the body feels while floating in a "limbo" so to speak. The overdose demands the full attention of the person experiencing it, and does not let up its pressure until the nightmare ceases to exist. He highlights that the presence of time is seen in a negative light during this experience in a person's life, and that it leaves one feeling as if they are in a state of delirium where mental sanity ceases to exist.
Dransfield makes this poem as excruciating as he can, and with that fully encompasses the essence of what it is to be trapped in series of moments that take you to the highest of heights of the human experience; an experience in which a strong will is undeniably necessary for survival. In the poem 'Fix' Dransfield, again, truly exemplifies the uniqueness of a situation in which a person needs a quick drug fix in the middle of the night:' It is waking in the night, / after the theatres and before the milkman / altered by some signal from the golden drug tapeworm that eats your flesh and drinks your peace " The vivid imagery of a tapeworm consuming a person's peace really adds to the helpless nature of the drug user, making it seem that they are held prisoner by their own addiction. Claiming that to get the quick fix 'hurts much less than withdrawal' and that the drug 'send [s] the dream-transfusion out on a voyage among your body machinery' leaving the person in a deep, peaceful sleep, it is easy to see how desirable this fix really is to a drug user. By allowing a person too completely escape from reality leaves them feeling happy inside.
The person can reach a point of physical and mental bliss (for only a moment), which re-instills their 'love' for the drug experience. 'Once you become a drug addict / you never want to be anything else' is the message that Dransfield really brings home in this poem. As sad as it is to look at the experience of a drug user, the realness and authenticity of this poem really allows the reader to form an understanding as to how a person would choose such a tragic life. On a softer side, Dransfield also does an amazing job of expressing his simple love for is one-time life partner Hillary Burns.
In the poem 'Hillary' Dransfield lets the sweet simplicity of his feelings exude from each line: You are sitting in a tree The wind blows your hair Your hems The leaves and grasses There are bits of sunlight all over you The simplicity of nature's symmetry; the way in which the wind leaves, trees, grasses, and sunlight complement Hillary's unparalleled perfection is the essence of this poem. So soft and easy the wind blows symbolizing our synchronicity with the world around and in us. Dransfield worships Hillary as he does the miraculous Mother Earth. Dransfield-lost in an inner struggle with himself and society-truly represents the nature of the poet. By isolating himself from the community around him, and embracing the drug world Dransfield made the ultimate sacrifice to his art. He truly became the paradox of his existence by wanting to be recognized as a legitimate poet, but at the same time wanting nothing to do with contemporary society as it existed in the late sixties and early seventies.
With his best work seeping in contradictions, Dransfield truly complemented the experience of life in his work. With a balance of complexity and simplicity, life is nothing other than the biggest paradox that exists. All in all, what truly makes Dransfield a thoroughly modern poet is that he truly focuses on the experience of the creative "self" finding its place in the external world? He chooses to be the medium of his artistic expressions, letting the creative energy flow through and within him at all times.
His life was his work, and his work was his life. "Be it about pollution or saving the rapidly dwindling native forest, or societal issues such as sexual liberty and drug usage, Dransfield wrote to be heard" (Kinsella, 2002).
Adamson, Robert (1999).
A Prodigy Life'. Michael Dransfield's Lives by Patricia Dobrez: a review. Aitken, Adam (2000).
Armand, Louis (1997).
Still Life with Hypodermic: Michael Dransfield and the Poetry of Addiction'. Chan, Jasmine (2002).
Links the work of poets Michael Dransfield and Samuel Wag an Watson. The Paper, 38, p. 45-46. Dobrez, Patricia (1999).
Michael Dransfield's Lives: A Sixties Biography. Melbourne University Press. Geoffrey & Cains, S. (2003).
A critique of Epiderm, a poem by Michael Dransfield'. Derma nities, (2) 1, p. 9. Kinsella, John (2002).