Between 1889 and 1892, young Australian poet Bernard O’Dowd corresponded with the ageing Walt Whitman. Leaves of Glass, David Prater’s second collection, vividly imagines this long-distance relationship. This is not, however, a historical novel in verse. It refracts the correspondence through a perpetually shifting series of voices and forms, from heavily ironic, mock-traditional ones (‘Treading: An Air’) to the language of personal columns. There is even a translation of Whitman’s ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ into the language of LOLcats, that is, rewriting the poem as though by a cat (‘Gowayz Ob Lol: “O Kitteh! Meh Kitteh!”’). Despite having some sharp literary and cultural observations to make, there is nothing precious or stuffy about this book. To take one sample of this mixing of times and voices, ‘Swagman Ted’, a prose-poem/letter from O’Dowd to Whitman, begins: ‘Revered Master, Perhaps it was “Banjo” Paterson’s curse – we’ll never know; as someone once observed, news reaches us slowly over here, is constantly being delayed (or censored?) in the mail.’
Graeme Miles has published two collections of poems: Recurrence (John Leonard Press, 2012) and Phosphorescence (Fremantle Press, 2006). After completing a PhD in classics at the University of Western Australia, he spent six months as an Asialink writer in residence at the University of Madras, then a year in Belgium as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Ghent. He has lived in Hobart since 2008 and teaches ancient Greek language and literature at the University of Tasmania.
From the New Issue
The Ratline: Love, lies and justice on the trail of a Nazi fugitive by Philippe SandsReviewed by Sheila Fitzpatrick
Spinoza’s Overcoat: Travels with writers and poets by Subhash JairethReviewed by Dan Dixon