Poet Aden Rolfe on John Forbes in ‘Rhyming the Dead’ by The Red Room Company

The Red Room Company  are a non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing poetry to the masses, making it accessible in new and exciting ways. Their latest poetry project is ‘Rhyming the Dead‘, commissioning ten living poets to respond to the works of ten dead poets.

Episode two of the radio program ‘Rhyming the Dead’ features contemporary poet Aden Rolfe reading from John Forbes, an infamous poet of the 70-80s who hailed from Melbourne and passed away in his prime in 1998.

Listen to episode two, ‘Emotions Are Not Hawaiian Shirts’…


Writer’s Edit was lucky enough to talk to Aden Rolfe, exploring ‘Rhyming the Dead’ as a poetry project and the importance of reading Australian poetry.

Aden Rolfe on John Forbes

Aden Rolfe is a Sydney-based writer and editor whose practice includes poetry and radio drama. His work has been featured in the AgeBest Australian Poems and Cordite. He’s performed at Sydney Writers Festival, the Queensland Poetry Festival and the Graphic Festival at Sydney Opera House. He was included in Overland’s Emerging Poets Series in 2012 and was the 2013 recipient of the Dorothy Hewett Flagship Fellowship for Poetry from Varuna, The Writers’ House.

Aden’s first poetry collection, False Nostalgia, is being published by Giramondo in 2015.

Aden’s poetic response to Forbes, ‘Ode to Tropical Poetry, can be found on the Red Room Company website.

1. How did you get involved with The Red Room Company and the ‘Rhyming the Dead’ project?

Jo Featherstone originally approached me to manage the project for Red Room, which I would have loved to do, but had neither the time nor the expertise to carry it off. The project really needed someone like Maisie Cohen to lead that side of things, so by saying ‘no’ I did everyone a favour, really.

By that point Jo and I had talked a lot about Rhyming the Dead and its creative potential, and I must have seemed to get it, because when she was locking down the last of the poets, she gave me a call.

2. What is it about Forbes that makes him important for writers and poetry readers to explore? Why should we read his work, and why is he still relevant today?

The influence of John Forbes can be found in so much contemporary Australian poetry; reading him is like tracing to the source. At the same time, his work is as interesting and refreshing as ever.

Poet John Forbes writing in Newtown. Image Credit: Laurie Duggan via Australian Poetry Library
Poet John Forbes writing in Newtown. Image Credit: Laurie Duggan via Australian Poetry Library

He’s like our John Ashbery: everyone wants to write like him but no one quite does because none of us understands what, exactly, makes the poems work, so we all just all us stand around looking like cheap knock-offs.

3. What works would you recommend to a new reader who wants to start reading from Forbes?

‘Ode to Tropical Skiing’ is the best entrée for the uncultured reader. From there you can go buy yourself a copy of his Collected Poems—just thank me later. And his letters to Laurie Duggan, which are extracted in Homage to John Forbes, are great reading.

4. Why are projects like ‘Rhyming the Dead’ and organisations like The Red Room Company important for writers and readers to be involved in?

They say it’s easy to make a life of poetry, just not a living. Projects like these go some way to bridging that gap, but more than that, they provide opportunities to connect writers with readers and audiences.

In this way, organisations like Red Room play a vital role in developing and showcasing new work by new and established writers.

The recent changes to literature funding will have a significant impact on the ability for small- and medium-sized organisations to continue to provide these opportunities, and without them, we’ll all be worse off.



Writer’s Edit would like to thank Aden Rolfe and The Red Room Company for their insights and advice. More episodes of ‘Rhyming the Dead’ can be found on SoundCloud.

Kyra Thomsen

Kyra is a writer and editor from Wollongong. She works full-time as a content writer while reading on the train and drafting short fiction stories in her spare time. Kyra won the 2012 Questions Writing Prize and has been published in Kindling, Seizure Online, Space Place & Culture and Tide. She enjoys admiring her bookshelves, watching cheesy shows on Netflix, and browsing her Tumblr. You can learn more about Kyra's previous publications, plus find fortnightly posts, on her website: kyrathomsen.com.

Recent Posts