Poetry Sydney is an independent literary organisation committed to a presence for poetry in our culture.

John's Funeral Service (2 September 22)

John Carey, Booranga Writers Fourtwenty launch Gleebooks 2017. All rights reserved.

John was the author of six collections, the last of which was the New and Selected, Dead Cat Bounce, and he was a superb presenter of poetry – courtesy of his background in the theatre. I had the honour of working with him on several projects, in one of which, Darlinghurst Nights, he gave a performance of the whole of Slessor’s longer poem, “Five Bells”, which was the best rendition of any Australian poem I have ever heard. “Five Bells” has a few flat moments, but John’s presentation was simply mesmerising.

His own poetry was grounded in the Australian voice – he enjoyed a beer and a flutter – but it was a version of Australian that was open to surprise and possibility, that consistently translated power into humour, and that was never anything other than kind. It didn’t, however, do a good job of fitting into any of the current acceptable categories of poetry. We had an older humorous verse based on colloquial facetiousness, but John’s work was more sophisticated than that, with a greater range of interests and, I think, of understandings. One day, we will have enough quality work of this type to constitute our own tradition of sophisticated light verse – but we don’t quite have one yet. Until then, he may have to be a bit of an outlier – a poet of the benign space-in-common between poet and audience, of a public voice which manages to be both entertaining, and respectful, at the same time as it nudges its audience towards thoughtfulness. I must emphasise that this is praise, not criticism. If poets possess any distinctiveness, they will be outliers of one sort or another.

The Australian voice can cop a fair shellacking: it can be called crude, boofy, self-interested, ignorant of what the rest of the world is up to. But in John’s hands, Australian was inventive, playful, affronted by injustice, and keen to deflate pomposity, and yet with a kind of forgiveness in it: a desire for people to live and let live. It was, quite simply, Australian at its best.

Having singled out his humour and lightness of touch, I will end by quoting from a more serious poem, one of his favourites, because of the occasion:

This is the blue you set off into on the upswing
of your life, with no sense of destination or gravity,
the blue whose immensity…
sets no limit…on the need to unlearn to believe your eyes…
                                                     on the nature
of blue, the nature of nature, on the blue of blue.       (“Blue”)

Martin Langford


You stare into a sky of an ever-reaching blue
deep as your prior notion about it, furred sepia
round the edges from traces of fires or the slow creep
of macular degeneration. The affective shading
is for each his own business, colour of Summers past
when time slowed to a hackney canter or a Provencal
ramble through heathland of mimosa and lavender.
This is the blue you set off into on the upswing
of your life, with no sense of destination or gravity,
the blue whose immensity shrinks your every mistake,
sets no limit to your travels or callow meditations:
on the need to unlearn to believe your eyes, the need
for time to sway to the rhythm of the senses, on the nature
of blue, on the nature of nature, on the blue of blue.









Reproduced with permission from Dead Cat Bounce – New and Selected Poems (Puncher & Wattmann, 2021)