Yes, in the words of Jersey-based pop band Real Estate, ‘It’s real!’
Seven years in the making.
Trans-continental in its composition.
Green as a blade of grass in its wrapping.
Leaves of Glass is real.
‘But what’s it all about …’ I hear you whisper.
Well, as I’ve explained here and here and here, Leaves of Glass is a book of poems (47 in all) based on actual correspondence between American ‘Dead Poets Society’-inspiration Walt Whitman (W.W.) and Aussie no-hoper poet Bernard O’Dowd (B.O’D.). These two cats wrote letters to each other in the 1890s in which they poured their hearts out to each other and generally raved on.
In fact, to be honest, most of the outpouring and ranting was on the part of B.O’D. For his part, W.W. seems to have enjoyed the attention, and wrote back to B.O’D with a sort of ‘I’m amused but only in a flattered way’ tone, as if he’d known him his whole life. Between them, W.W. and B.O’D. racked up at least twenty letters, although it’s apparent that many of the letters are missing.
All of which possibly does little to explain why I became so fascinated by this weird ‘roaring days’ correspondence. Call me old-fashioned, call me what you will — I guess I just found the whole thing kind of funny and sad at the same time: funny because B.O’D. was so obviously besotted with his ‘revered master’, but sad because the two of them were unlucky enough to have been writing a century too early to benefit from the Internet and email.
Anyway, my book – called Leaves of Glass in homage to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – takes the correspondence as its cue and features poems about both B.O’D. and W.W. as well as re-writes (cover versions) of their works. It’s published by Puncher and Wattmann and is available via the P&W website and in all good (read: about two) bookstores. Or, if you’d like a signed copy, send me a message.
The first ‘launch’ of the book took place at Bella Union bar, Trades Hall, Melbourne on 1 December. The second will take place at Balmain Town Hall on 14 December. Information about both events can be found here. You can also sign up to attend the Sydney event via the Facebook event page.
The book, which was inspired by actual correspondence between Walt Whitman and Australian poet Bernard O’Dowd, and which features re-imaginings of both poets’ works, will be available at two P&W events in Melbourne and Sydney in December 2013 – that’s less than two months from now!
I’m also happy to say that I’ll be in attendance at these shindigs in order to read some poemz, sign autographs and mainline champagne. I’ll post more details soon but I’m looking forward to catching up with loverz of all things Whitman, O’Dowd and Oz-po.
In the meantime, here’s a teaser: ‘O Kitteh! Meh Kitteh!’, a LOLCats transliteration of Whitman’s ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ that may or may not appear in the book.
Writers participating get to answer 8-10 questions (about their book/blog/their writing), and then tag 5 other writer friends to post their own “next big thing” the following Wednesday. Ivy’s instructions were for me to post by or before Wednesday, 19 December.
Rather daringly, I’ve followed Ivy’s re-arrangement of the original order of the questions.
I find that my students are often much more able than I am to move easily between print and electronic media and to see the value in each. Remember that I am very much a creature of print culture and so always an alien to even the revolution in which I play a part. Like any reader and writer I still love the fetish of print, the beautifully bound volume, the sensuality of text. Increasingly I also value the vibrancy of electronic text, the dynamic of it. Everyone always focuses on the drawbacks of electronic media (“you can’t read it in bed”) which are transitory and largely artifacts of the current (brutish) state of technology. In time there will be beautiful, even sensual, e l e c t r o n i c objects which are utterly portable and transmutable (even transcendental) in ways that we cannot yet imagine for the book even after centuries of imagination of its beauties. Perhaps at that time we will come to see books for their multiplicity rather than their authority, learning from electronic media to appreciate that their lastingness was not in their supposed canonicity but rather their actual community. We will then live happily ever after.
Michael Joyce (1987)
(Cordite On Demand, 2004)
Earlier this year, deciding that my life wasn’t nearly as busy as it could be, I set up an imprint for Cordite Press, known as COD, or Cordite On Demand. Its aims were pretty ambitious – basically a complete shake-up of the Australian publishing industry. While this is obviously still light years away and despite COD’s all-too-brief lifespan, we did manage to publish two books, the first of which was written by Melbourne-based poet and cricketer Tom Clark, under the pseudonym tom see.
The book was designed with the dimensions of a vinyl record single cover in mind, and the book was also notable for its great cover illustration (by Charles Lake) and its listing of the table of contents on the book’s reverse. We printed 250 copies, and I’ve got a few left. As this was my first attempt at publishing a book, I obviously learnt a good many lessons the hard way. The launch was great, though!
Nevertheless the process of publication was really fascinating and interesting for me – not least because we used the services of BPA, a Melbourne-based printer who offer digital printing, at a lower price than traditional offset printing. While I have my reservations about the pros and cons of POD as opposed to offset printing, this first book proved to me that it is possible to produce a good-looking book according to your own design specifications, and that it won’t necessarily cost the earth to get it printed.