Letters from history

In giving a voice to 20 exceptional Australian women, TIMOSHENKO ASLANIDES, BEc '76 brings to life an intriguing genre of poetry, as RICHARD FOX discovers.

Combining subtle layers of complexity and ironic allusion is all in a day's work for Timoshenko Aslanides.

Researching the life and times of 20 remarkable Australian women and giving voices to them was an ambitious task, as he readily admits.

"Like Ovid's Heroides, but unlike almost every other male poet in the Western tradition who has written verse letters, mine are all written in the personas of women. In my case, Australian women," Aslanides says.

"In doing this, I have, in effect, inverted the Ovid template: Ovid's women are all (with the one exception of Sappho) mythological, whereas my women are all (with only one exception) historically quite real − even if they are all dead, another necessary, if obvious, qualification."

Letterature: Verse letters from Australian women is an anthology of imagined poetic letters from women including Nancy Bird, Tilly Devine, Elizabeth Macarthur and Dorothea Mackellar.

It's a culmination of inspiration from a 36-year career which has included a British Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1978 and The Canberra Times Artist of the Year award in 2002.

"I've used one or two of the letters to do what the ancient Greek poets and playwrights did through their poems and plays: use literary forms to define as historical fact a preferred interpretation of the past," Aslanides says.

"The best example is the letter from wool-growing pioneer Elizabeth Macarthur in which she makes it quite clear that it was she, and not husband John, who really established the wool industry in Australia."