Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Alan Wearne read last week at the Menzies Centre and again last night in the Shearsman series. He presented very different work at the two readings. The Menzies reading showcased poems from his recent Giramondo book containing shorter poems while the Shearsman event focussed on The Lovemakers, his most recent verse novel. This volume has had a tortuous history. Penguin Books (Australia) agreed to publish the work but then decided to break it into two volumes. Then, despite the critical success of Volume 1, they chose not to publish the second half of the work. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation came along some years later and published Volume 2 in a form approximating to the Penguin design. But Penguin had already pulped the first book and not all that long afterwards the ABC did the same. At last, thanks to Tony Frazer and the University of Wollongong (who partly funded the project), the work is available as a single volume (and with Shearsman’s POD approach, it will remain available as long as the author wishes it to). This was something to celebrate. In introducing the author, Tony Frazer called the book the ‘War & Peace’ of verse novels, referring here to more than just its size. Wearne began writing verse novels some time ago; long before the form became fashionable again (his two previous verse novels are Out Here and The Nightmarkets: both worth seeking out). There have been many less than satisfactory attempts in the genre in recent years and some of these have garnered more publicity than Wearne’s work. Unlike many of the other verse novelists, Wearne is a master of form. I remember reading The Nightmarkets and discovering a complex rhyme scheme in a passage so subtly put together that the fact hadn’t obtruded immediately. These works are no more and no less difficult than Browning: you just have to pay attention. And Wearne’s models are by no means nineteenth-century authors only. The New Yorkers have their place in the origins of these books too.