I’m really pleased to say that three works from my Leaves of Glass MS – namely, ‘Cute’, ‘Rivet’ and ‘Swagman Ted’ – have found an electronic home in UK-based online journal Blackbox Manifold. I’ve almost lost count of how many of these Whitman (left) vs O’Dowd poems have now been published, but I’m starting to think a critical mass has been reached. Whatever that means. My thanks to editors Alex Houen and Adam Piette for taking an interest in my work, and a cyber-hai to my fellow contributors, including Mary Noonan, Matthew Sweeney and Ron Silliman. Check it.
The last time a poem of mine appeared in Jacket was way back in 1999, when Cars (for Bruce Beaver) was published in issue 8. While it makes me feel old to say that I’ve waited eleven years to see another of my poems in Jacket, the wait has been more than worth it!
Pam Brown has guest-edited a little feature for Jacket #39 on Rewriting Canonical Australian Poems which, as the name suggests, consists of works that re-write ‘canonical’ or well-known Australian poems. In the feature you’ll find works by David Brooks, Justin Clemens, Michael Farrell, Duncan Hose, John Tranter and moi.
I’m really chuffed that three of my poems have been selected for the feature, all of which are re-writes of poems by Australian ‘proto-nationalist’ and poet, Bernard O’Dowd. In case you didn’t know, I’m a bit of an O’Dowd tragic, meaning that I’ve written quite a few poems about his life, most of them inspired by his correspondence with Walt Whitman.
And so, without further ado, here’s the link to Red Dawn Ward, Oz and “The Campfires of the Lost”, three re-writes based on O’Dowd’s ‘Dawnward’, ‘Australia’ and ‘The Campfires of the Lost’, respectively. For those who are interested, you can now read the full text of O’Dowd’s Dawnward?, the collection in which these poems were first published in 1903, online.
Things have been pretty quiet in the Dreamnation of late, thanks mostly toas a , a political organisation in Den Haag (The Hague). Nevertheless, my old life as an Australian writer continues to come back to haunt me in the form of Zombie publications, both in print and online.
Actually that’s not entirely true: it’s first of all my previous incarnation as an Australian writer in Seoul that’s catching up with me, in the form of an article in this month’s Victorian Writers’ Centre newsletter entitled ‘Year of the White Tiger and Steam: David Prater describes his name-changing three months in Seoul’. While the article doesn’t actually ‘reveal all’, seeing my residency described in print does make it all seem less ‘unreal’, if that makes sense. It’s also nice that they’ve included an extract from my poem, Turtles for Myron Lysenko in the issue.
Another more surprising ‘re-animation’ event occurred two weeks ago when Wollongong-based surf literature magazine Kurungabaa contacted me by email to say that two of my poems – ‘Storm Girl’ (draft) and ‘Merry Weather’ – would be forthcoming in their next issue in print. As someone who lived in Wollongong as a teenager, and who even after a week-long surfing course could barely manage to kneel on a surfboard, it’s somehow gratifying that two of my only-vaguely surfing-related poems have made the cut.
It’s kind of ominous that the date of publication for Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing 1 is April 1, particularly given that this is also the launch date for Cordite Poetry Review’s next issue, the undead-inspired Zombie 2.0. On the other hand, it’s great that two of my poems, namely ‘(On The Tomb Of) Agnes Smedley’ & ’I couldn’t agree with you, more’ (first posted here and here) will be included in the anthology and thus return from the dead in print.
In other dead poet news, two of my ‘Leaves of Glass’ poems – ’Gang Languid’ & ‘Algae’ – are forthcoming in Southerly‘s special poetry issue (69.3). Leaves of Glass is a book-length MS based on correspondence between Walt Whitman and Bernard O’Dowd. Three more from the same series – ‘Dawnward’, ‘Oz’ & ‘The Campfires of the Lost’ – have also found a home, but more on them soon. The Southerly issue will be launched at the University of Sydney (in the John Woolley Building Common Room, in fact), where twenty years ago this week I first started out as a student of English, and then Australian literature.
The return of the memory of myself as a tragic young (still seventeen, in fact) poet, moping around the corridors of the Woolley Building, penning painfully adolescent verses in the style of Kenneth Slessor or William Blake, fills me with a kind of cringe-worthy fakestalgia. The truth is, twenty years ago, when Southerly turned fifty, I’m pretty sure I never even heard about it. The magazine itself was just a concept to us – something that got produced at some upper echelon of the University, and which we were made to understand quite obliquely that we would have to wait a good twenty years to ‘get into’.
But all of this is just self-preening in the end. Today, on International Women’s Day, rather than just congratulating myself on all of my own publications, I’d like to salute the editors who made all of the above possible – all of whom just happen to be women.
Therefore, in the spirit of Oscars (TM) acceptance speeches, first of all, I’d like to thank Robin Deed of the Victorian Writers centre, who invited me to write an article for their newsletter. Thanks also to Rebecca Olive from the Kurungabaa editors’ collective for accepting my poems for publication in that journal. Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing is edited by Karen Andrews and I’m grateful to her for her patient responses to my queries. The guest poetry editor for Cordite’s Zombie 2.0 issue is Ivy Alvarez, a fantastic poet and blogger, who also put me onto Kurungabaa in the first place via the excellent Dumbfoundry (RSS). Finally, props to Kate Lilley, Southerly‘s poetry editor, who first introduced me to contemporary American poetry in a course she taught at the University of Sydney in the early 1990s.
Happy International Women’s Day!
1. Iz in ur bodeh xtrc, Teh rms ob dey iz luvs purr meh. Iz w00t an iz purr dey, Dey not want! meh purr till iz go wif dey, respawnd dey, An puur dey, an den WTF dey ful wif teh LOL ob teh sowl. Iz not want dawted dat fose iz kurupt feir own bodeh cawnceal femselvs? An if fose who googie teh nom r bad sa dey who defile teh ded? An if teh bodeh does not want do fulleh as mwch as teh sowl? An if teh bodeh ware not teh sowl, wut iz Srly? 2. Teh luvs ob teh bodeh ob yung nekkid guy or Kitteh, teh bodeh itsef awl Zzzzzz ... ZOMG! Dat ob teh yung nekkid guy iz parfet, an dat ob teh Kitteh iz parfet. K.? Srsly. Kfxbai.
Walt Whitman, ‚ÄòI Sing the Body Electric’
Leaves of Grass 1st edition
Dear Mr. Eric O’Dowd,
I have thought of you often, ever since the day I discovered your father’s letters to W.W. in an old issue of Overland, in what remains of the library at my university campus in Hawthorn. Let’s just say a lot of shit has gone downhill since B. O’D. first trod the boards. For a start, there’s not many books left in the library here. But then again that’s where I found him, deep in the library, in the serials compactus, and so things can’t be all that bad. He’s still catalogued under A821.4, I checked.
I read B.’s first letter, the draft he never sent, with a sickly kind of horror. Perhaps I recognised, in its embarrassingly gushing tone, something of my own early attempts at communication with a poet I considered great (if not my master). Another poet named B.B., whose works I read as a young Ozlit student, and by whom I was ‘blown away’ (as we say in the industry), both mentally and intellectually.
B.B. was himself something of a letter writer, like most poets fond of writing words, the more personal the better. He published a book, in which he wrote to a range of poets, both living and dead it turns out. I refer to him in one of my fictitious correspondences between B. O’D. and W.W.
Well, I wrote to B.B. several times myself, after a fortuitous meeting set up one night at someone else’s book launch. I went to visit him in a hospital near Manly and just sat there for who knows how many hours while he talked and talked, about reading detective fiction, about the cranes of Auckland, about gods. Did I need to say anything? I didn’t.
In any case, I later wrote him several letters and he responded to each one in turn, writing in blue ink on sky blue stationery, the handwriting shakier until at the conclusion of his final letter he admitted that he did not understand at all the poems I had sent him, and was passing them on to another friend who, I paraphrase ‘knows more about these things’.
Dear Whitman … may I call you that? I suppose you scarcely care, being food for worms. Still, I’d like to call you Bernie, if that’s all right. My parents had a Jack Russell called Bernie. He was a beautiful dog. Usually I’m not much of a fan of dogs but Jack Russells are okay. Kelpies, too. Your letters are like beautiful dogs to me.
I used to sit on the back step and gently touch Bernie’s ears, trying to guess at the thoughts that raced like a small electric stream through his body. I guess I wanted to be a dog myself, a nice kind of dog. I wanted people to talk to me, to play with my ears.
It’s too late, of course. The time when I could easily pretend to be a dog has long since passed away, like everything. The innocent days when I could worry about the part in my hair have likewise disappeared, my flat-top days. I was a dreaming country kid in a big steel town, unsure of his place, hesitant as a dog on a floating pontoon.
Notice how the dog leaps into the sea anyway, propels himself through the water with small, cute paddling movements. See how the dog manages to keep his head above water, the way he shakes the water out of his pelt when he is back on the beach. Who would have thought that the hair of a dog that small could hold so much of the sea.
Sometimes it comes back to me, the feeling of those years. Whenever this happens, my poems become miniature letters to myself, notes towards the memoir I don’t have the ego to write. Maybe you’d appreciate the metaphor—after all, your letters to W.W. contained many such fragments of self, hesitant descriptions that read RSVP advertisements. Age, height, build, hair colour. Like a colonial game of Guess Who.
Or have you not read them?