Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oak Park Reserve and Gnamma Holes

By Tracy

Yesterday we went for the first time to a place called Oak Park Reserve, just out of Goomalling.

It was late in the day but we still managed to walk around one loop of the track, which runs through a section of the reserve full of flat rock and sheoak, and leads past an area with gnamma holes. These are water-collecting holes in the rock, sometimes very deep, made or modified by Aboriginal people (in this area, Balardong-Nyungar). They occur in other parts of Western Australia too.

Because it was getting dark and shadowy I couldn't easily get a photo of the gnamma hole we saw, but I did take a snap of one of the flat granites.

Where the track begins you can also see grooves in the rock which the signs say were where Nyungar people sharpened spear and axe-heads, among other things.

Around the reserve are big lakes which are now completely salt. It's a bit like arriving at Lake Taarblin further south: utter devastation.

Dead trees in a waterless expanse. The mind tries to reconstruct how it must once have looked. Farmland surrounding Oak Park is so saline and bare that it misled us, as we travelled, into thinking we must have overshot the designated "picnic area", but this was it.
(Above: Lake Taarblin, south of Wickepin)
(Below: Edge of salt lake at Oak Park Reserve)

We saw only a small part of the reserve, and hope to go back again and learn more about the area, especially its significance to Nyungar people (which must be ongoing) within the context of respect and sensitivity for that significance.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pink Flowering Gum

By Tracy

Here's a photo John took in our back garden today.

And here's a poem from me...

Pink Flowering Gum

This frustration at imprecision
I must refuse, using only the general name,
could search and press for taxonomic clarity: yes
to this feature, no to that, and whittle
back to Latin exactitude but what
would it prove, only restate an apparent
lack of purchase on the world

how can you be a poet
and not know that?

said as I wandered a coastal heath
long ago in youth, lost in the vast
profusion of instances
just as today I hover bee-light, birdlike
around this mass, a bursting presence
outside language in which all states
make themselves felt at once, from newgreen nub
through slick huddle of thread like wet feathers at
egg-chink on to this pink, each flung fist or flourish that rings
its single stigma frail as snail horn that would wince
should I presume to touch.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Poets and “their" Words?

By John

Another fine day in the central wheatbelt. Winter. Further north, farmers are direct-drilling into dust. Hoping the rains will come. Wrote a piece on drought today. Thinking about land and ownership, I came across an incredible poem by Norman Cameron, entitled “The Invader”. The last stanza goes:

Invader-outcast of all lands,
He lives condemned to gorge and crave,
To foul his feast with his own hands:
At once the oppressor and the slave.

Born in 1905, Cameron was a propagandist for the British military during the Second World War. Prior to and after the war he worked in advertising and this poem is (ironically to me) so effective because of the neat lines that accumulate, compile, like advertising slogans. What I like about it is its universality: could equally apply to the British and others invading Terra Australis and dispossessing the indigenous peoples, or to an invasion in, say, wartime Europe. There’s also the resistance of the invaded, that no matter how hard the invader tries, they can’t access the identity, the spirit of those robbed. This brings to mind issues of hybridity and, I admit a little obscurely, copyright.

As an anarchist, I see copyright as a defensive reaction of the State. To own and control words, no matter whose those words are, is to control reception and usage. As a writer, I make my living in part, and sometimes entirely, from selling my words. This is complicit with the state and capitalism in a variety of ways, though one always argues that it’s better than other ways of feeding the State-capitalist system. I guess, depending on what your words are intending to do, and what they are actually doing (impossible to say, really). In terms of “umbrella” anarchism, you can turn this process against the capitalist State – writing against it, and at the same time managing to feed yourself and your dependants. It becomes a subversion of the means of production. As I said to a correspondent today, referring to a portal where people might access poetry free unless they wish to download it for anthologising, academic and similar purposes:

“i am not one for copyright as an absolute (or as such), but i am one for poets making a living! so, on that level, i think it's very positive that poets get some reward for their efforts. textual piracy doesn't bother me, but i do like the idea of poets being fed!! ... i particularly like the fact that people can access free - then, if they wish to profit from the work, the poet gets something back - that seems ethical to me.“

Intellectual property seems like another way of staking claims when all the land has been stolen, “used up”, staked and demarcated. But in the end, what’s being discussed in the case referred to above is the issue of “work”. For me, work not property is the vital variable. Work doesn’t mean one should have more rights than any other to something (an object, a space, an idea), but that appreciation and respect should be given for that work. “Work” is not merely labour in the obvious sense; it is not only value-adding, sustaining at best and fetishising at worst, but a sense of belonging and participation. This can be cultural work. This can be spiritual work. It can be preparing the meal, or growing food, or seeking to “protect” a piece of vulnerable bushland against the profiteers of the capitalist State, or of the State in general (communist states are just hyper-controlled and cartelled versions of capitalist states — the corporation is the Party, rather than the oligarchy of business interests).

Which brings me to think of land owners in the nineteenth century around here. One prominent family, the Slades, owned a property known as Glen Avon out near Toodyay on the Avon River. We often drive out that way, and visit a small church off an elbow of the river where the Slades are buried. I have written a number of poems about the place. The Slades interest me, as they were the parents of a very great Western Australian poet, Elizabeth Deborah Brockman (for some of her poems, see this online anthology I edited). There is an essay on Brockman’s poetry and life in my book that’s launched next week — Contrary Rhetoric: Lectures on Landscape and Language. I have been fascinated by Brockman's slim oeuvre for many years and would go so far as to say that she is one of the greatest poets in English of the nineteenth century. She is basically unknown, even in Western Australia.

For the last few years I have been preparing a book of Deborah Brockman’s work (I am told by a family member met at a literary function in Perth that she preferred to be called just “Deborah”, and not Elizabeth Deborah), with help from my mother Wendy Kinsella, and more help to come from Tracy. It’s a major task. I feel there are many undiscovered poems, and trying to track them is not easy. Almost everything we have of hers is from her book of poems published posthumously by her uncle in Scotland, Poems (1915). Those poems were collated from Western Australian newspapers and journals, especially the Church of England Magazine. What makes it more complex is that Brockman often published under the name “E”, and quite a number of poets did just that throughout the colonies. I believe some of the pseudonymous poems carried by other colonial newspapers in Australia may have been her work. I know she corresponded at least once with Henry Kendall, and swapped poems. Anyway, Tracy is going to do a few days' research soon in various archives and hopefully we can unearth a few more pieces to include in the book.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Patricia Highsmith and metaphoric plagiarism

By Tracy

Given John's entry on Philip K. Dick, I thought I'd post a little about my own favourite (supposed) genre writer, who isn't "merely" a genre writer at all, or is only in the best sense... who is perhaps to the so-called suspense novel as Dick is to the science fiction book? (No offence intended to those who write straight genre.)

There's lots you could say about Patricia Highsmith. The Norton site on her includes a sample short story from her astonishing and disturbing collection, Little Tales of Misogyny. It's actually one of the best tales in that collection.

But what follows here is just fragmentary musing on one aspect that crops up again and again in her oeuvre.

There's a paranoia about imitation expressed throughout her novels and short stories, often taking the form of the double, the murderer and his victim, or an uncomfortably close relationship between two men.

(Less a fear of being a plagiarist, than the fear of being plagiarised, being copied?)

In the Ripley novels, I'm thinking of how this motif applies to Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf, right down to Tom assuming Dickie's identity – which is done not only by imitating his look, but by forging his signature; also imitating the style of his letters – this is imitation rather than plagiarism, but has features in common with it. There are also forged artworks from second novel on. And there's a would-be imitator in The Boy Who Followed Ripley.

Or Walter shadowing Melchior Kimmel in The Blunderer, almost coveting (but unable to commit) the other man's crime. Their convergence is devastating.

There's a double of the protagonist in Highsmith's short story “The Second Cigarette” (published first in French), which, as an aside, bears some similarities to contemporary novella Cosmétique de l’ennemi by darling of French-language lit, the Belgian Amélie Nothomb… I am not suggesting she got the idea from Highsmith, but the two works are in some ways strangely (uncannily?) alike.

I want to write an entry on Nothomb another time -- that's a whole other universe.

Back to Highsmith, who wrote, in Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, pp140-141:

“… I am not interested in seeing how another writer handled a difficult theme successfully, because I cannot keep his or her example in my mind when I am faced with my typewriter and my own problem. I read Graham Greene’s novels for pleasure, but I do not ever think of imitating him or even of being guided by him – except that I would like to have his talent for le mot juste, a gift that can be admired in Flaubert too. And given this laziness about studying my own field, it is easy to rationalize and excuse it by telling myself I believe I run a danger of copying if I read other people’s suspense books. I don’t really believe this. There is no enthusiasm in copying, and without enthusiasm, one can’t write a decent book.”

I know what she means. But given how much enthusiasm for copying her characters show, is this a less-than-honest disavowal? Does it reflect a Bloomian anxiety of influence she seeks to deny?

More on that another time maybe.

In Highsmith's story, “A Dangerous Hobby”, the thief/murderer cannot make himself authentic as himself – tries to turn himself in but is not believed, because no one can authenticate his confession – he is not even remembered by the woman he burgled, and she in turn is the only one of his victims he can remember the name of…

Fear of dissolution of boundaries with others?

Plagiarism is taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. It may mean simply the idea or shape of an idea – it may mean lifting, verbatim, what someone else has written, cobbling it together (Julien Sorel in Le Rouge et le noir is a walking plagiarism, quotes Rousseau to seduce his mistresses who think it is Julien's own speech, quotes whole chunks of Latin text to impress people etc).

The problem of originality: thinking of Bloom again, and those who have investigated his ideas bearing in mind the peculiar position of the woman writer. Highsmith often seemed not to see herself quite as a woman. It's a tangled area I am going to spend more time thinking through.