David Prater, ‘Leaves of Glass’ in The Australian

Poets home in on tradition 

Fiona Wright reviews Prater’s Leaves of Glass, Bolton’s Threefer, Jones’ The Beautiful Anxiety in The Australian, May 17 2014


There's a wonderful playfulness and energy to each of the three collections under review, all published by small Sydney publisher Puncher & Wattmann. Each brings together new work from well-established poets, all firmly rooted within the poetry communities of this country. It’s unsurprising, then, that each book is engaged with these communities, as well as with tradition, albeit in very different ways.

David Prater’s Leaves of Glass (77pp, $25) perhaps takes the widest lens in its consideration of tradition, reimagining and reworking material gathered from a correspondence between the young poet Bernard O’Dowd and the ageing patriarch of American verse Walt Whitman towards the end of the 1800s.

The poems engage with eclectic registers of language and of poetic practice. The opening and closing poems, for example, are constructed entirely from the first and last lines of letters from the correspondence, while poems such as W00t Wiitmen: “To a Commawn Pron” and Song of Meself translate Whitman’s lines into lolcatz and vernacular Australian respectively. Similarly, the poem O’Dowd Seeks Whitman is structured as an online dating ad:

24yo dawn-red hair western districts ozpo seeks 80ish
NS/SD amerikan dusky-grey hair ex civil war nurse po
for inter-continental correspondences & hero worship
must heart oz-po philo/ sci-fi &/or long walks on beach

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.

Fiona Wright

Read this review in The Australian

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