Michael Dransfield was born and educated in Sydney, attending the University of Sydney for a brief period before dropping out. He worked intermittently, living mainly in Paddington, Balmain, and Darlinghurst in Sydney and travelled frequently between Tasmania and Queensland, visiting his large group of friends and fellow poets. His work often reflected the voices of people marginalised by society. Dransfield experimented with drugs and alternative lifestyles and was a member of Sydney's counter-culture. He was an active protester against the Vietnam War and was conscripted, but excused for health reasons
Dransfield was first published in the mid sixties in the underground press that sprang up during that time of great political and social unrest. The quality of his poetry soon saw him gain a broader audience, and he became one of the most widely read poets of his generation. Dransfield's poems were published in Meanjin, Southerly, Poetry Australia and Poetry Magazine, and his first collection, Streets of the Long Voyage, was published in 1970. He published two more books, including Drug Poems (1972) which was the result of a drug-inspired poetic experiment.
With others of his generation, Dransfield rebelled against older conservative poets like James McAuley and A. D. Hope, but he often drew on traditional forms when crafting his poems. Critics have drawn comparisons with Tennyson and Swinburne, but his unconventional use of punctuation, typography and language produced unique expressions of his own time. Dransfield spent several periods in rural Australia, inspiring many poems which explore the differences between urban and rural existence. He also regularly explored issues related to drug use and the fragility of human relationships.
In 1973, Dransfield, plagued for some time by ill health, psychological problems and a worsening drug habit died, aged 24. The reputation of Dransfield's poetry remains strong. Rodney Hall edited and posthumously published several collections of Dransfield's poetry during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Patricia Dobrez published a significant biography in 1999.