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Books & Poetry

Poem: Greek Tragedy

Books & Poetry

In this week’s Poet’s Corner, Jeremy Gadd remembers Shane Johnston.

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Greek Tragedy

George Johnston, war correspondent and author
of the renowned novel ‘My Brother Jack’ was married
to feminist pioneer and essayist Charmian Clift.
They had two sons, Jason and the poet Martin,
and daughters Gae and Shane.

Is your name, ‘Shane’, at the end of your father’s
biographical note; briefly referenced for posterity
all that is left of your life: a footnote in your father’s fame?
You were more than that, much more to me…

These black and white photographs capture
mother, daughter and brother Martin, hand in hand,
strolling along Hydra’s coarse beach sand –
but photos are one-dimensional and do not do justice

to the innocence and vigour of childhood or to
that idyllic time when your parents shared creative synergy.
You were part of a unique, expatriate literary community.
You listened to Leonard Cohen’s lyrics and to him

practising guitar long before he became an iconic star.
Did anything indicate Cohen might eclipse Johnston
and/or predict your family’s tragedies to come?
You were flesh and blood, full of fun, politically aware,

with emotional empathy, fond of bathing
in the sun and – understandably – most things Greek.
My memory is of a young single mother
(when society scorned such entities)

without regular income (in the days before social security);
doting on your infant child but sleeping on a mattress
upon a rented floor; enjoying erudite company, even
tolerating the occasional bore while holding your intellectual

own among raucous male camaraderie intent on beating
the closing bell at Balmain’s bohemian Forth & Clyde Hotel –
featured in Sandy Harbutt’s cult film Stone – simultaneously
concerned about baby and sitter back home (pre-mobile phone).

I recall you desperate for a dollar and
needing friends – but not of losing hope.
I lost touch and later learnt you did not cope,
that you had slid down a darkening slope.

You chose to walk to a different beat
and, like the soldiers who fell defending Crete,
will always remain young.
These images of you are bitter-sweet.

Your name, ‘Shane’, at the end of your father’s
biographical note; briefly referenced for posterity.
Is that all that is left? You were
more than that, much more to me…

Jeremy Gadd was born and raised in Armidale and lives in Sydney. A graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art and holder of an MA Honours and PhD from the University of New England, he worked in professional theatre in Australia and the United Kingdom before concentrating on his writing, for which he has received several literary awards. Poems and short stories have appeared in numerous Australian and overseas periodicals and literary magazines, as well as in four collections of poems and two of stories published variously in Australia, the US and UK. Two novels have appeared with boutique publishers, one in Australia in 1998 and the other in Canada in 2015. Further details of Jeremy and his works can be found here and here.

Readers’ original and unpublished poems of up to 40 lines can be emailed, with postal address, to poetscorner@solsticemedia.com.au. Submissions should be in the body of the email, not as attachments. A poetry book will be awarded to each accepted contributor.
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