Black Pepper, $29.95 pb, 374 pp
That Homer Rieth is one of the finest lyric poets writing in Australia was apparent with the publication in 2001 of his collection The Dining Car Scene. Now, with Wimmera, his lyric strengths are displayed in epic form. Presented in twelve books and 374 pages, initially titled ‘A Locale of the Cosmos’, grand in conception and impressively detailed in execution, this is a significant achievement indeed, and a major contribution to Australian literature.
Wimmera is conceived not only in terms of specificities of place but in the company of poets. Although it is constructed without their heroic figures, gods and great battles, it acknowledges the classical epic tradition of Homer, Virgil and Dante; its democratic spirit recalls Whitman; and, above all, its lyrical attention to landscape and nature is essentially Romantic. Fellow travellers include the primary English Romantic poets – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley – together with Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot and John Shaw Neilson. Indeed, it may be said, the poem’s reach extends well beyond the Wimmera landscape that is its primary focus, since a European splendour, with references to Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England, is brought to bear in various ways upon the local. Operating not as ornamental intrusions but as part of the work’s informing sensibility, these references, often covert, establish connections that are philosophical, aesthetic, cultural and historical. They underscore an interplay throughout between particular and other, here and elsewhere, this time and other times, specifically Australian and broadly human.