What a delight it is to read a collection of contemporary poetry which is not only good but entertaining and capable of arousing emotions – and the delight is intensified because the experience is so rare. Most Australian poets that I have read recently seem to think that the exercise of writing, for example ‘happy days / lost in lust’ justifies them in putting ‘poet’ instead of ‘esq.’ after their names. Geoffrey Lehmann is not one of these. On the strength of his recent book, Nero’s Poems: Translations of the Public and Private Poems of the Emperor Nero, published by Angus and Robertson, it can be seen that Mr Lehmann justly deserves the title ‘poet’, even though, for the duration of the book, we are asked to suspend our belief and attribute the poems to the Emperor Nero himself.
Lehmann’s Nero is not the Nero portrayed by Peter Ustinov – a shambling despotic pretentious fool of little wit and less self-command. This Nero is an artisan, a musician, a lover of architecture, and a man of the people. He is a street poet, one who loves to recite his works in public, particularly when he is happily indulging in one of his favourite pastimes, imbibing the fermented juice of the grape.