The Dining Car Scene : Homer Reith

Book Description

Book Sample

...the poet of laburnums, golf, Tupperware and thinking about Duns Scotus in the back yard...

That Homer Rieth is one of the finest lyric poets writing in Australia was apparent with the publication in 2001 of The Dining Car Scene...

Book Description

Thornhill strikes a customized match
suavely; from a matchbook;
she leans forward, into the flame,
takes his hand, with the match in it...

Brian Edwards has said that Homer Rieth’s poems are ‘markers of the culture’. The title poem in The Dining Car Scene, taken from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, previews his approach. He presents an incident, a landscape, a book remembered, or the occasions of love or death, crisply and directly. Then he effortlessly goes further: he invites us into a meditation on earthly life and what it may mean. An entire period, Carlton in the Seventies, comes under his celebratory and critical eye, in his longer tour de force ‘Siberia’. And he does the delicate lyric.

Any poet who enchants, writing of the outer suburb of Mount Waverley, or the music of Vaughan Williams, clearly has the skills. Homer Rieth’s first collection has been long awaited. The collection was shortlisted for the 2002 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature.

ISBN 1876044322
Published 2001
58 pgs

Book Sample

Found Objects

And with that she got up and went out
as if suddenly nothing else mattered
but to retrieve that fence post of solid redwood
buried under the hard rubbish in a back street
bringing it home like an abandoned dog
among the colour bonded houses.

I have seen how she turns a thing like that
into something more puzzling than a square peg
in a round hole say a kind of cocoon
or a foot fetish a bed of roses or the flying buttresses
of a twenty first century trashed cathedral.

Sudden fits of enamelled tin or copper wire
morph into a grand piano or a pink Cadillac
crankshafts and levers are plumb for a metal makeover
these are her talismans and with that
she comes back in from fetching the clothes

the bottom of her T-shirt scooped into an apron
bursting with walnuts and autumn wind
as if suddenly tea was no longer an evening meal
but provisions for a journey into a maze
with a tree at its centre and birds on song
or a sienna burnt offering to the gods.

The Dining Car Scene in North by North West
Everything about Eve is captured in that gesture;
the sun blinking through the window, is going down
on a ridge of distant mountains,
the river, drawn to something more mysterious
than microfilm and secret agents
is following the train;
it has the curve of the Twentieth Century Limited
in its sights, the sleek silver Pullman
kicking over the rails at a speed to match
the gale force winds gathering off Lake Michigan;
it catches first his eye, then hers;

suddenly, the oboe begins the love theme;
it comes into their presence
unnoticed, but for the quiver in her voice;
each keeps up a cool patois,
they are old hands at this;
the steward arrives, takes down the order;
she suggests ‘brook trout’;
he sips on a Gibson, worrying about honesty
in women, but not about his own;
and then, seeing her reach into her clutch bag
for a cigarette,

Thornhill strikes a customised match
suavely, from a matchbook;
she leans forward, into the flame,
takes his hand, with the match in it,
doesn’t let go,
but draws the smoke in slowly,
pulls him towards her, by the fingertips,
with no apparent pressure,
until his hand is in the magnetic field
of her face, where the matchlight
plays on the groomed perfection
of her platinum blonde hair;
and then, in a glance that becomes a look,
there is an electric pause,
and she blows the match out;

across their table, through the dining car window
you can see the soft dissolves
of sunset, river and mountain scenery,
the milestones of another journey.
Later, after betrayal has left its wound,
you will remember all this;
you will see it set in the resolute faces
on Mount Rushmore; you will see it as it was
that evening in Drawing Room E, Car 3901,
as she leaned towards him,
revealing an ambiguous smile;
only later, will he understand how much
it meant to her; how for the first time, like him,
she had a chance of doing something,
finally worthwhile.


We had seen fountains, embossed with mythical figures,
the original streams of consciousness;
we had seen the miry wonders
of iron, cement, oxides, meeting under the water sign,
a Zen garden, to fill with conundrums
the many solitary hours;
we had seen a vision of summer,
of graceful trellises hung with vines and snake skins;
we belonged, without release, in a dream world
of bush geometries and river eucalypts;
leaning over the bracken water of the dam
we watched the shadow-play of their branches;
beyond the stubble, paddocks of rape seed, wheat, oats,
would not let you out of their structured sight;
birds hid in the thick foliage of trees,
keeping the tracks of combines and harvesters
under constant surveillance;
lambs for slaughter bleated on a fetch of pasture
with every shift of the wind,
disturbing the spirit level of the hills;
a deep drone from the north drifted down,
perhaps the dirge of the mulga flats,
or the hard and brindled dunes;
you got used to this land, broken in by it;
finally you succumbed to its moods,
to the different smells of scrub, honeycomb and shag,
the taste of bore water, ancient as the boulders;
some afternoons you lay in the grass
looking into the windswept sky,
your limbs absorbing the soil’s last moisture,
head lost in the altostratus;
clouds followed the bend of the river,
the musk smell of its bulrushes,
leaving tonnages of light on the weigh bridge,
the tare and gross of loads, like backfire
and pebble dust, caught in the wheel bearings;
at night, we’d sit out on the verandah, talking softly
to the darkness, the smoke from our cigarettes
trailing away like the words;
gradually, the sky turned gentian blue,
riddled with vast blotches of verdigree and pitch;
then, the fall of an eerie stillness, just before the big smash
on the highway of stars.

A Day in the Backyard thinking about Duns Scotus

And when the light falls
like this, under the guard of the shade,
ripe as juniper berries,
it’s difficult not to be a bit prone to being
filled with a sense of is-ness,
joining the tesserae of patches, of hedge and shrub,
the dogs lying about on the lawn,
pavers, roan and piebald,
a rickety back fence, about to fall,
and the parched grass, waiting all day
for the sprinkler’s

and when the shade spreads
like this, under the guard of the light,
the geraniums nozzle the kink in the hose,
trains toot, Frankston-bound,
over igneous crumble and bolted sleepers;
our apple tree buds without me lifting
a finger, or catching a breath;
Jackson, the pomeranian, barks at swooping magpies,
Buster, his bette-noir from the bush,
follows suit;

and when the light falls
like this, in an ambience of astonishment,
that’s as it should be;
you consider how much a figment of the mind
the ordinary day is,
how little it salvages, yet how much it purloins
from the real;

and when the shade spreads
like this, mothy, spidery,
hidden worlds comes into their own,
they make us conscious at last
of Duns Scotus, his living presence,
the sheer amazingness of animals,
of birds, the philharmonics of their wings
above a patch of pulses, or a row of cruciforms;
other scraps of existence are rendered as insect,
or mineral quiddity, each with its own
template and atomic weight;

and when the light falls
like this, the wind is a coat of paint
on peeling weatherboard,
daisies dance with shrinking weeds;
they catch the sunlight out on a rusty latch,
or in the toolshed where the sky
-light dazzles;
it gets under the guard of the axe, the pick and shovel,
a mattock or an orbital sander,
as if to say to the camellias, to the trumpet tree,
‘give the dog a bone,
I am you    you    and you


Poetry from Black Pepper
Melbourne Elegies, Bread, Russian Ink, The Dining Car Scene

Brian Edwards
Mattoid, No. 55, 2006

Homer Rieth’s The Dining Car Scene is extremely impressive. The immediately obvious richness of his poetry comes from combinations of sharp ‘local’ detail and an erudite field of reference informed always by his special feeling for the resources of language itself. Provocatively metaphoric, lyrical and romantic, these poems invite listening and rereading.

As a tribute to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, the 1959 thriller with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the leading roles, the title poem intermingles recollection and analysis. With precise details setting the scene, and with the poet become both director and critic, we are reminded, as well, and economically, about the larger narrative of which it is part and about the world beyond the dining car. As film characters. Eve and Thornhill may be symbolic figures played by actors, but in its precise attention to the scene’s careful construction (to position, gesture, music, and lighting), the poem invites us to participate, again, in another mode of interplay between art and life, artifice and reality, and in ways that remind us that such distinctions are not so simple. As its replay demonstrates, our responses to art are emotional and intellectual; and the process of making connections and meanings is its own reminder not only of the complexities of involvement but also that the borders are down:

across their table, through the dining car window
you can see the soft dissolves
of sunset, river and mountain scenery,
the milestones of another journey.
Later, after betrayal has left its wound,
you will remember all this

As the train moves through its landscape, with driver Hitchcock in control, the viewer (now poet) is simultaneously in and out of the scene, compelled by its dynamics to review its significance and to transcend its moment.

The local is precious and Homer Rieth invests it with special significance. In ‘Found Objects,’ it is not only the sculptor’s transformative vision that is valuable, the talent that turns enamelled tin and copper wire into a grand piano, but also a profound sharing ‘as if suddenly tea was no longer an evening meal/but provisions for a journey into a maze.’ In these poems late autumn in Melbourne is celebrated in fondly detailed rituals at The Francis; ‘Perceval’s Yellow Painted Ship at Williamstown’ becomes a smorgasboard of vegetables, literary reference and waterside work; falling for love can bring regrets ‘like reading Herodotus with a hangover;’ a patch of country Victoria is evoked in laconic images and stuff of dreaming; and in the gold country of Ballarat’s layered history, a ‘leather-bound Utolff Beethoven’ prompts thoughts not only of the great composer but also ‘all who fell on Bakery Hill.’ There are many sources of enchantment in this collection.

For me, the stand-out piece is ‘Siberia,’ a long poem that works through so many different registers. Its provocative blend of landscape and cultural reference creates Siberia as not only a place but also a state of mind. What does the word evoke? ‘You mustn’t believe everything they tell you / about Siberia, comrade.’ Concessions to images of vast distances, cold and human suffering are followed by:

In Siberia the spider weaves his cosmic web
in the ministry of the Milky Way
the icon of the madonna is kissed by passing asteroids
the Venusians beam faint signals to the voyager
who’ll never come home

In this territory ‘you have to remember Siberia was the end of the line / before the line was ever drawn.’ A finely felt tribute to Yevtushenko leads to ‘little boy little poet / you knew even then/in the end / we’re all Siberians’ which itself leads into a statement of community, a people’s collective that allows ‘Siberia’ a place in Melbourne with the messages coming in, as well, ‘from Nantucket to Ben Bulben’:

The society of poets is a freemasonry of the word
the months passed into a paroxysm of years
spring gave way to winter and no one thought it strange
the word was made flesh at Naughton’s
where philosophers met to talk of truth and beauty
at Jimmy Watson’s wine bar east of the Urals
at Irkutsk north to Lake Baikal The Albion Hotel
like kings wisely following an unlikely star
poets passed their secrets along the underground
like delicate incendiary devices

Here the litany of place names documents a social history (the Pram Factory, Johnny’s Green Room, the Yarra, Punt Road Hill, Festival Hall...) that incorporates memories across time and place and is lit with the revolutionary fervour of poets at the barricades, a community who share drinks and moments and who cry out against atrocity. Declamatory and gentle, nostalgic, insistent, passionate and occasionally comic, this is a great poem. Against a history of appalling abuse, terror and death, it offers community, sharing and of course, the words of poets.

These are interesting collections. Black Pepper continues to present writing that warrants attention.

The Dining Car Scene

Tim Thome
Famous Reporter, No. 24, December 2001

The town of Minyip in Victoria’s Wimmera district is small, flat, tired and doesn’t at first glance seem to have much going for it, but among its population, barely large enough to keep both its pubs in business, are two remarkably gifted poets.

Eric Beach’s work, both in print and in performance, is well known to most Famous Reporter readers, and, to be fair, he has lived in Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart for considerably longer than in Minyip, but not as well known is the poetry of Homer Rieth.

The Dining Car Scene reveals Rieth as a perceptive and talented observer of the details of Australian life, rural, urban and suburban, but beyond that as a chronicler of the human condition in a wider geographical, historical and cultural context.

His long poem, ‘Siberia’ which is the most significant piece in the collection, moves effortlessly between the imagined (or imaginatively received) landscapes of Yevtushenko, Tolstoy and Solzhenytsin and the wine bars of Carlton. Melbourne’s Festival Hall, where both Yevtushenko and Johnny Famechon have performed, becomes a metaphorical venue for the convergence between poetry and pugilism. The spirit of the 1960s poetry scene in Australia is summed up in the line, ‘We got the trans-Siberian to Sydney’.

In a rather different vein ‘Fairy Penguins’ is a wry piece not so much on the effects of the Low Head oil slick as on the role of other species as ‘a slow / and easy catch for tomorrow’s headlines’. In fact, for all that Rieth comes across as very much the suburban poet, the poet of laburnums, golf, Tupperware and thinking about Duns Scotus in the back yard, he has a very interesting take on ‘nature’.

Some of my favourite passages in the book are those where he deals with ‘the sheer amazingness of animals’ (or of plants or minerals). Even thrip, slugs and snails are vividly evoked, while his intense scrutiny of green walnuts on the tree or the way ‘the light / prickles the sugar gums’ demonstrates a willingness to observe closely in order the more interestingly to transform what is observed into art.

And yet he is also excellent when dealing with people. The moving ‘Requiem’ makes this reader believe that he not only knows but loves the subject, an old man dying in hospital whose ‘neat hand had crossed a good thing in the last’. The paean for his lover, ‘the sort who’ll die with her Doc Martens on,’ who ‘can roll a tin of tea in her sleep’ with a similar clarity evokes both a character and a relationship.

Among the most convincing passages are those that are set in the suburbs and country towns where ‘the street lamps have found a good line and length’ or where one is made to wonder ‘how much pressed ceiling roses / remember’. His ‘Twenty Fifth of April’ gains its strength as a poem about Anzac Day as much through being set where ‘the trenches meet the suburbs’ as from his calling up of images redolent of military nostalgia.

Above all, what I really like about Rieth’s poetry is its scope. He can contemplate a culvert, a toolshed or a nun and create memorable poetry from the contemplation, can apply parodies of well-known advertising slogans to war in a witty and timely piece, and can celebrate a world where the interaction between humanity and the environment is a fruitful source of images and ideas, not just a simplistic battleground.

The Dining Car Scene

Imago, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2001

Homer Rieth’s poems, in The Dining Car Scene, are far less complex than those of Hammial [Bread]. They are about moments captured in time by one medium or another - in the title poem by a camera shot in a Hitchcock film - and laid out in detail, real, associated or imagined, and comparative. One has the impression of Rieth walking through streets, through the countryside, through the literature and personae of other countries, with his eyes wide open, taking note of the finer points that go to make up those surroundings and giving them equal place and significance with the large and obvious.

There are three longer poems, that is of over two pages, the longest being ‘Siberia’, which deals with the various conceptual deserts, or places of the lost, created as a metaphor to the real Siberia. ‘In the end we’re all Siberians’; ‘Siberia your frontiers never end!’; and ‘Wherever you go Siberia’s waiting for you’.

Mostly these are reflective poems, although a shaft of irony shoots out in a few, such as ‘War’ which satirises not only the place war holds in our society but also the clichés that surround our attitude to it and to the society that can produce it.