Instruction for an Ideal Australian: John Forbes’s Poetry of Metaphysical Etiquette.


  • Duncan Hose University of Melbourne


John Forbes, poetry, poetics, ANZAC, self-mythologising


The question of value in poetry or poetry of value often resolves to a question of metaphysics: what goes in to a poem or how it carries its symbolic freight will tell of the poetics involved in the practice, more particularly how the poem might function as a specular technology. Crudely, we might say that some poems are written as paeans to the ephemera of the world by a sovereign soul that is tonally and formally certain of a metaphysical guarantee (even in the expression of uncertainty), either through theosophy, ‘pious self-regard,’ or just good luck. There are other poems, not pagan exactly, but which seem to have an appetite for the material-historical circumstances of the world in which they find themselves, that go for the world in its lurid contingency, where there might be a wilful and cheeky inclusion of things that are not only ephemeral but redundant to good taste, thereby threatening the traditional sacred territory of the poetic itself. By way of luxuriating in the habitus of his work, this paper argues that the poetry of John Forbes presents a reformed metaphysic of surfaces that, far from flattening ‘deeper’ concerns of literature, offers a new kind of etiquette for the spirit by which our perception, symbolic inception, and response to the world is a constant kind of poesis, or creative production of our selves that is at once more lively and Ideally less delusional. It will examine Forbes’s conception of poetry as the ultimate technology for regulating and playing with the processes of self-mythologising by fiercely interrogating the symbolic economies, or the textural architectonics of communities, from which selves are made and through which they are cultivated as beings of language.

Author Biography

Duncan Hose, University of Melbourne

School of Culture and Communications Doctoral Candidate