The Green Bell: a memoir of love, madness & poetry

By Paula Keogh Affirm Press

It’s 1972 in Canberra. Michael Dransfield is being treated for a drug addiction; Paula Keogh is delusional and grief-stricken. They meet in a psychiatric unit of the Canberra Hospital and instantly fall in love.

Paula recovers a self that she thought was lost; Michael, a radical poet, is caught up in a rush of creative energy and writes poems that become The Second Month of Spring. Together, they plan for ‘a wedding, marriage, kids – the whole trip’. But outside the hospital walls, madness, grief and drugs challenge their luminous dream. Can their love survive?

The Green Bell is a lyrical and profoundly moving story about love and madness. It explores the ways that extreme experience can change us: expose our terrors and open us to ecstasy for the sake of a truer life, a reconciliation with who we are. Ultimately, the memoir reveals itself to be a hymn to life. A requiem for lost friends. A coming of age story that takes a lifetime.

Paula Keogh

Paula Keogh has a PhD in creative writing from La Trobe University and received the 2015 Affirm Press Mentorship Award for the development of The Green Bell at Varuna. She taught at RMIT University for nine years. She has lived in Canberra, Adelaide and Toronto, but considers Melbourne home.

Judges' report

Paula Keogh’s portrait of a relationship formed in spaces of dark and light is touching and insightful. Set in Canberra in 1972–73, The Green Bell is centered around the time Paula shared with the poet Michael Dransfield, following their meeting in the psychiatric ward of Canberra Hospital. It is also an important illustration of the social and cultural changes of the times, and a recent history of psychiatric care in Australia and controversial DST and ECT treatment. The present-tense narrative heightens its subject matter of poetry and pain, and evokes an immediate past, while advocating for a better future. The Green Bell is an important life story, thoughtfully told.