Seething since 2000*
Happy new year, everyone! I hope your 2015 turns out to be even better than your 2014. Rather than engage in a Facecrack-style review of ‘my’ 2014—boy, didn’t that one get old quick?—I thought I’d celebrate with a review of the reviews of my book Leaves of Glass. To sum up, despite the fact that 2014 was the first year since 1998 in which I did not have a single poem published, it was nonetheless a great year because five people reviewed my book. And the good news is that they all liked it. Honestly!
If, like me, you’ve spent any time at all writing poetry, you’ll understand the buzz that comes from acceptance. Whether it’s hearing someone yell out ‘Nailed it!’ after you’ve performed one of your poems in public, receiving a letter from a journal or webzine informing you that they’d love to feature your work, or having one of your poems printed on a large poster and displayed in a bus shelter, there’s something special about the poetry contact high.
Experience such acceptance often enough, and you might just manage to have the confidence and props to submit a manuscript for publication. In my case, I’ve been very lucky. My first book, We Will Disappear, was reviewed three times. I was, of course, stoked to have been reviewed at all. But that was back in 2007. A lot has changed since then. For a start, it looks like my publishers, papertiger media, forgot to renew their web domain, and it’s now been taken over by a cyber-squatter. Which is sad, but what can you do? Just move on, I guess, and cherish the book (and those reviews).
Fast-forward six years, to the release of Leaves of Glass. To be honest, having lived outside Australia for those six years, I didn’t expect the book to garner any reviews at all. However, over the course of the past 12 months (this is poetry, after all) the book has been reviewed in not three but five publications: Australian Book Review (a shortie), Cordite Poetry Review (a longie), the Weekend Australian (together with two other books), Westerly (together with around a dozen other books) and Southerly (another longie). Phew!
To recap, for the uninitiated, 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.
Graeme Miles, writing in Australian Book Review, sez:
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.
Sally Evans, writing in Cordite Poetry Review, opines:
This collection showcases Prater’s capacity to deploy a variety of different poetic forms and voices while maintaining a compelling sense of narrative. The O’Dowd–Whitman correspondence provides scaffolding for this collection, which is nevertheless a masterful engagement with complex poetic techniques of voice and structure. Leaves of Glass is not an easy book, though it is highly rewarding, especially to a reader with some familiarity with Whitman’s work.
However, this is far more than a stuffy exercise in poetic biography. The adept portrayal of two distinct personalities, particularly the troubled O’Dowd, and the carefully crafted language throughout the collection, ensures that the reader is engrossed and delighted with every new experiment.
Fiona Wright, writing in the Weekend Australian, reckons:
But Prater never allows this playfulness to tip into silliness, and balances these more mischievous poems with a real tenderness and warmth, as well as a pervading sense of pathos and even eroticism in the correspondence. So too do the poems develop to touch upon the strange concept of poetic ambition (the poem A.821.3 refers to the eponymous library classification number as ‘‘that place where we all someday hope to die’’), as well as to open out O’Dowd and Whitman’s relationship to reflect the even stranger one between contemporary Australia and the US.
Leaves of Glass is a linguistically and structurally nimble work, constantly surprising and definitively idiosyncratic.
John Hawke, writing in Westerly, observes:
The best of these reinscriptions of both O’Dowd and Whitman take their parodic cue from the poets’ reliance on vatic metaphors, upon which Prater extemporises to absurd length. This is deconstructive poetry in a direct sense, interrogating the claims of nationalism and liberal humanism encoded within these tropes for their echoes of militarism and the ANZAC mythos that followed the utopianism of the 1890s … Prater is merciless in pinpointing the atavism that binds our current version of nationalism to its nineteenth century archetypes—the virtue of this book is that it so effortlessly inhabits both periods simultaneously.
Finally, Liam Ferney, writing in Southerly, declares:
Prater is alive to the way digital, whether through memes, social media, emails or other channels, is changing the way we communicate and I can’t think of another Australian poet more determined to position poetry at the centre of the exploration of this change.
Leaves of Glass is a complex, dense and multi-faceted book, but the premium Prater puts on fun means it is always a rollicking read. It is a book that is serious but never takes itself too seriously.
All of which leaves me slightly dizzy with appreciation. I have to admit that, on reading each of these reviews, my inner acceptance addict was whispering ‘Can I get a “HELL YEAH”?’ But why trust the reviews alone? Why not buy a copy of Leaves of Glass today and find out for yourself, before the Puncher and Wattmann website disappears forever!