The Garden of Earth : Homer Rieth
Cover photograph: Tim J Keegan, Aerial view of The Darling River from 15000ft
$49.00 - Australia
$65.00 - International
Mystic of the West
When I spit, he says, I leave more moisture on the ground than the rain
out here could ever do,
the likes of which are getting more seldom, more uncertain, more remote,
and not to say
thinner on the ground than ever—sometimes no more than a cover slip
of cloud brocade,
stretching from Charlotte Pass to Three Peaks—and some days you’d think
that what’s left of the world is blowing about Mount Victory,
as a kind of aimless cloud of debris,
and Mount Victory itself seems so far away as to drive the compass points
it’s then that you realise how much Fish Falls means, and Wallaby Rocks
and Rose Creek Road, where time passes like child’s play—
and it does so, compared to geological ages, but not to the ice island, ‘Cold Edge’,
where the Svalbard Seed Vault is a store of thousands of seed lines,
ten thousand coming at a time—at a speed inversely proportional to the sound
that time makes, when it’s running out—
and you call me a dreamer, he says, because I remind you of beatific things,
like these once well-watered slopes, or the scarps and half-hidden skews
heading down to Asses Ears, crossing in no time the fragile kidney-bean grassland
of Victoria Valley, piping the last post of spring—
you resent my reminding you of such things, he says, so be it—I in turn resent
your callow digital complacency, your fatuous twenty-first century supine acceptance
of everything that they (a category of unmistakable implication) that they, let me say,
tell you, for the benefit of themselves, of course, and for your assured destruction—
consider it done, he says, and meanwhile go on warbling the praises
of genetics, the new theology—go seek the unholy grail of ‘genetic material’,
prepare your march-pasts
and ticker tapes for the future utopian breeders—then come the day
you’ll bask in the gloom of your own ignorance, naming by rote (as if that makes
it all sound more sincere, more true, more sacred!)
each seed box—brassicas, tropical crop wild relatives, oats, lupins, oilseeds,
each in a state of impermeable and virgin perfection!—ah yes, at last,
at last! the virtual as sacrosanct—and such horrors as disease or vermin or frost,
even the grotesqueries of old—drought, plague, flood—
all of them soon to be if not already, things of the past—
let us praise the Lord of Uncreation, of New Creation, of Creation by Artificial Means,
the Lord is our fortress, our collateral undamaged—and his Doomsday
is our strength and our salvation—we are one, though poles apart—
a consummation all-consuming, all-consumed—
well (I should tell you) in the end he gradually began to calm down, or seemed to,
when the talk turned to the buglers’ picnic at Zumstein’s pisť cottages—
listen, he did, to the last post of spring.
Photo: Victorian author Homer Rieth has penned a 600-page epic about the Murray Darling Basin. (Danielle Grindlay)
In what would have to be one of the most unusual publications on the Murray Darling Basin, a Victorian author has penned a 600-page poem about the river system.Audio: Victorian author Homer Rieth has penned a 600-page epic about the Murray Darling Basin. (ABC Rural)
The epic feat, titled The Garden of Earth, comes after seven years of research and hand-written ponderings by Minyip-based poet Homer Rieth.
From a young age Dr Rieth carried a burden to live up to his namesake and honour the ancient Greek poet behind epics the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Dr Rieth's first attempt to reinvent the epic — a long, single poem — paid tribute to Victoria's Wimmera grain belt, where he settled down to write 17 years ago.
But The Garden of Earth comes with a strong message about the future of the Murray Darling Basin.
"The poem is addressing very real and vital, contemporary, concerns … which might come under the more broadly framed heading of climate change," he said.
"It's a real place that, unless we look after it, will be something that will be lost."
When I spit, he says, I leave more moisture on the ground than the rain out here could ever do,
the likes of which are getting more seldom, more uncertain, more remote, and not to say
thinner on the ground than ever — sometimes no more than a cover slip of cloud brocade
— extract from 'The Garden of Earth'
"It is political because, unfortunately, mere hymns of praise are no longer enough," he said.
"That's why my poem, at many points, tries to demand of the reader that he address the future of the planet as well as simply wanting to find some poetic hymn to it."
As well as travelling along parts of the 2,520 kilometre Murray River and 1,472 km Darling River, Dr Rieth consumed as many books and reports about the river system he could find.
"I believe, without any doubt, that the poem is as valid and as comprehensive a submission that might be put to authorities who run the river systems or even political parties," he said.
"It's deeply considered, over a very long period of time, and strongly argued evocation of the river systems, the landscape, the environment [and] the continent, which it lies in our power to do something about."
It has taken about 14 years for Dr Rieth to complete Wimmera and The Garden of Earth and the author is very clear that a third epic is off the table.
"I've said most, if not all of what I wanted to say," he said.
"I think two is about right — my namesake wrote two and (ancient Roman poet) Vergil only wrote one."