ISBN 9781876044619, $29.95
‘Wimmera’ is a classical epic poem about the Victorian district in which Homer Rieth lives. Here, though, the poet substitutes human beings for gods and goddesses. The scope and ambition in this grand poem is laudable.
Interestingly, Rieth is a long-ago migrant to Australia, and there is a distinctly European philosophical subtext here, as is to be expected in an epic – ‘so what is it then about any place/that fills and empties alike/the world with its life’. The poem does, however, have its historical heroics that should please those who enjoy Australian idiosyncrasies – ‘I can still see he says Jim Hardingham’s bullockies/the bales stacked four storeys high/on top of them a bunch of shearers with the look in their eyes/of a job well done’. There are also many passages of descriptive, uncontrived pastoral poetry that flow easily and with a certain beauty.
Although divided into twelve sections, at 360 pages the poem is a bit relentless, having little variation in tone throughout – this in spite of Rieth’s rich imaginings and admirable tenacity. It was composed as part of his Doctorate of Creative Arts, and that probably explains its length, which might be a problem in an age of shrinking attention spans. No matter how judicious and broad the reportage, range of form and topic, antitheses of allusion and the literal, I found that I began to flip through sections and felt that it might be easier to come to know the Wimmera by reading an actual history of the district. (I hear lovers of epic poetry howling!)