Leaves of Glass: it’s real!

LeavesofGlass_cover front

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.

Any questions?

Smokin’ Leaves of Glass!

I’m really glad to announce that my second full-length poetry collection, Leaves of Glass, will soon be released by smokin’ Sydney-based publisher Puncher and Wattmann. Long-term readers of this site would know that said collection has taken a few years to finalise but the wait has surely been worth it.

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.


the cute and loving appreciation of my book and me 
by them in Australia has gone right to my heart . . .
Walt Whitman writing to Bernard O'Dowd (1892)

Jag önskar verkligen sända minnen och kärlek till dig
& hur mår din mor bernard mår hon bra? Jag hoppas verkligen det

(trots att jag aldrig mött henne eller ert goda själv men likväl
sänd henne mina hälsningar & säg åt henne att vattna sina prästkragar ofta 

& är allt väl med fred woods? Jag hoppas verkligen att hans 
      blåmärken snart är borta
(vad som hände med honom kan trots allt jag inte heller berätta

& unge jim hartigan mår han också bra? Jag hoppas verkligen det
var snäll och sänd honom mina bästa hälsningar & lösningen

på denna veckas korsord som bifogas & ada hoppas jag 
mår bra du talar så väl om henne jag undrar huruvida hon är

din fru på riktigt trots allt dra nu inte några förhastade
slutsatser bernard jag kan bara döma efter vad du berättar

angående dina tarmrörelser bernard är de regelbundna
jag ber så för dig du ska veta mina synpunkter i den här frågan 
      torkade plommon och

kärnmjölk (tillräckligt sagt eva antar jag mår bra? Åh 
jag hoppas det & som jag vet nu hon är mycket söt på det fotot

du nämnde det bifogade kom aldrig fram tyvärr
fortfarande ser jag henne ganska bra härifrån & väldigt söt är hon

& hennes föräldrar herr och fru fryer är båda fina? Jag hoppas det
var snäll och hälsa vänligt till kära herr fryer mina uppriktiga

gratulationer till att vunnit bridgeturneringen &
fråga inte hur jag känner till den! Säg till ted att han är 
      efterlyst i flera

stater här (jag är säker på att han fattar skämtet det är personligt
jag minns inte vem louie är men var vänlig skicka honom eller henne

varma hälsningar & till sist tom touchstone som jag inte kan
placera (nej jag får inget men antar & hoppas han

mår bra jag antar att det var allt men säger också hej till andra vänner inte
nämnda som husdjuren katterna mjölkmannen (åh han är en snygg en

“Secret Lives of the Colonial Poets”

The news may well be out of the bag but in any case, I’m very excited to say that I’ve been successful in obtaining funding from Arts Victoria to develop a new collection of poems, based on correspondence between Australian poet Bernard O’Dowd and American bard Walt Whitman.

The correspondence (which has been preserved in the State Library of Victoria and also published in Overland magazine) is notable both for Whitman’s brevity (he was, after all, on his death bed), as for O’Dowd’s idolisation of the man he calls ‘master’, and once even ‘comrade’.

O’Dowd was a peculiar old bird. He loved Whitman so much that he made a special cabinet in which to place all of his published works. It too is preserved in the State Library in Melbourne. The first letter he wrote to Whitman he never actually sent, and no wonder – it’s acutely embarrassing. Nevertheless it is from this letter that much of my initial inspiration for this project stemmed.

The collection, whose provisional title is Secret Lives of the Colonial Poets, will be largely concerned with the inner thoughts of some of Australia’s colonial rhymesters, including (but not limited to) O’Dowd, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall and other poets whose work has been anthologised and whose major output occurred prior to Federation (ie before 1901).

Call me a weirdo, call me what you will, I just want to bring sexy back to the colonial days. I just want to get inside the mind of a man like O’Dowd who wore a leaf of grass on his jacket as a form of homage to the bearded one. I guess I just want to disappear inside the words and thoughts of these strange, almost forgotten fellow-weirdos.

What’s exciting about the funding is (obviously) the chance it gives me to spend some time developing a new body of work; but I’m also flattered to be included in the same round (see link above) as the frontman of The Fauves, Andrew Cox, who has received funding for a solo project. I was lucky enough to interview Coxy for Cordite several years ago, and his answers to my nerdy poet’s questions were both generous and fascinating.

Anyway, I’m not due to start working on the project until April (by which time I will probably have changed my modus operandi entirely). However, just as a taster I’d like to share with you one of the poems I included in the funding application: O’Dowd Zero. Of course, it’s a draft but I’m hoping to write in this kind of vein throughout the period in which I’m funded.

O’Dowd Zero

& you make the leaves of grass & of the trees
speak for themselves! great scald of demos i
am yours oh master bending down to me! like
a tree of man & of men (mighty rivers flowing
through your poems & the day like a dripping
tap & i a drum that tap will fill with a restless
spirit stranded here beneath the reeds on the
river's bank & there we shall walk my prophet
after you have dunked my head & blessed it
made me drink the brown river waters silted
by imperial drones the fury of our resistance
master! none shall stand before us (tho none
be in danger from our gentle hands apostles
walking together our hands brushing gently
the grasses rushes our secret lives rising up
like nations to be counted among the new &
old this new democracy! of our own making!
bard of wisdom & of long summer days alone
in libraries lit by a stained glass sun reading
from your poems arrayed in battle formations
line after line of soldiers' language & orders
tho not from on high the master's commands
we cannot hear for the rushing sound of that
river finally leaping free of drought (old grey
father of my new religion one of men & words
that flow like rivers of milk from the trunks of
she-oaks river gums as swarms of bees attack
pollen seas & our fingers sticky with that love