When Speak from Here to There was published in 2016 it was, remarkably, doing something quite new. There are of course the conversations implied in the poems of Coleridge and Wordsworth, but no two poets had committed to, in the words of Will Harris, the almost daily “structure of call-and-response, each utterance is filtered through the other”. A New Beginning offers, as Karen McCarthy Wolf noted in her review of Speak from Here, the same “warmth and a reassurance … in the correspondence itself, between a black man almost but not quite marooned in the white of America’s Midwest, and a white man negotiating his own exile from the vast physical and historical dissonance of Western Australia”, but there is much that carries that initial dialogue to new depths of trust, self-exposure and intimacy, to the expression of new themes, concerns and investigations of poetic form.
This richly multi-layered dialogue arises from responses to each poet’s public world, to the private worlds of family, to the inner world of wondering how one can write “love poems in a time of war, these times of monstrous beasts”, and from the stimulus of the other’s poem arriving in the e-mail in-tray. This is the age of Trump, the monster “Lurking in the shadows”, of the seemingly unstoppable degradation of the Australian environment, of, in John Kinsella’s words, a time when there is no “exoneration or relief” in poetry “but witness and recounting”. Above all, though both poets express their anxieties about the limitations of the prophetic (“the pain of hope, and the terror of faithlessness”), there is the countervailing witness of their immensely fertile imaginative response to each other’s words and the comfort that “On the road, you long for the like-minded” is a longing that is being fulfilled. What is also clear is that for both poets there is also a generous space for the third party to the exchange – the reader.