Thursday, January 29, 2009

From the land of plenty

By John

Figurative language can be a con — a way of having it both ways. I don’t mean an ambiguity that suits a fencesitter, but both ways in terms of ‘artistic integrity’ and making a political stand about an issue. As if the two are mutually exclusive. There needs to be a para-figurative language that denotes specifically without ambiguity (which I usually aim for in a poem!) in terms of tone and aim of critique, but that also allows for a flexibility in range of ‘message’, effect, and, indeed, affect. Somewhere between agitprop and the tone poem.

Here’s an example... The poem below is an out-and-out attack on GM crops which the latest government (a right-wing government) has imposed on the people of Western Australia. A ramping-up of larger-scale GM canola trials. They’ve been going on small-scale around here for years. GM culture has infiltrated in so many ways. Lies about ‘feeding the world’, when in fact the GM companies mean lining their own pockets, don’t wash, I’m afraid. That GM crops contaminate non-GM crops, and the non-GM environment at large, is well attested.

I have always found it somewhat ironic that some scientists accuse the anti-GM activists of defending organics as an act of class sabotage — claiming that organic food is a trendy middle-class fad irrelevant to the real world of commercial and mass cropping to feed ‘the masses’. I feel everyone has the right to clean, unadulterated and non-GM food. The ironies multiply if one considers the middle-class privilege and appendages (cars, televisions, playrooms full of fads, conference dinners...) enjoyed by so many of these scientists themselves. Actually, scientists often consider themselves a class apart. What’s more, the damage inflicted by their monocultures is visible and obvious. Something isn’t working. Greed, government and corporate power, profit-taking even outside the Gordon Gekko realms, is part of it.

Gene patenting isn’t altruism; it’s research grants, jobs, kudos, flat-screen televisions and snappy four-wheel drives for inner-city driving (sorry, plus the odd drive out to check field trials). I rant because I want to indicate the passion behind writing the following poem. I mean business. I am being critical. However, I do believe in exchange and conversation, and have conversed with many a GM scientist about these issues. Of course, they can send plenty of criticism back my way as well, and I take that on board. So, though I am certain in my opposition and criticism, for this opposition to work in poetic form, it must let the language ironise somewhat my own certainties. To ‘lose’ the poem in vagaries would be against the aim, but to damn and leave no room for figurative language to take the reader elsewhere, to allow an escape or points of entry that are about their own way of seeing, I might as well not bother with using poetry at all.

Thus, I have written this in what I am calling a para-figurative mode (a poor coinage, but a pragmatic one), even if it tilts closer to the agitprop than the metaphoric. Main thing is, the figurative (however slight here!) works like a sheet anchor, dragging the bottom rather than holding the boat firmly in place. The ownership of ‘plenty’ is one that allows me to use this technology (the Net) in the comfort of a private (if shared) dwelling, with land around me that state law says is protected from trespass. Thus the ‘para’. It’s not a desirable state, but a critique of the certainties of agitprop. I have plenty, compared to many. I still believe in the dissolution of the state, in the absence of government, in the value of community consensus, in veganism, in pacifism, in a non-GM organic world, in the conservation of flora and fauna and so on. But I have plenty, and that needs challenging. (I will add a second poem beneath this to illustrate a more figurative version of the 'para-figurative' political poem.)


In anticipation of the moratorium
being lifted, farmers and their families
(because it’s school holidays),
fly east to witness the first GM canola crops
planted for commercial gain in Australia.
The families follow the GM farmer (and the farmer
of GM) and snack in tents on not-yet-GM food.
This is the science that will feed the world.
And this is our ‘proficy’. It’s technology,
like your kids’ Playstations
or the GPS in your four-wheel drive.
Food technology is stimulating.
The company supplies the seed
and a compatible herbicide; soon they’ll meet
our needs for frost and even drought-
resistant strains. A company for the times.
Canola will thrive in dust. We’ll feed the world
(if they can pay). It’s scare tactics
when they rave about grain alcohol fuels
leaving Haitians feeding their kids
cookies baked out of mud and salt.
Enjoy the new science of the new
Western World: internationalist,
profit spread through ‘starving
countries’ where GM companies
have subsidiaries, outlets, local
scientists, shining offices, advertising
agencies, military affiliations,
farmers willing to feed us all. Back
in the West, spread the word,
let the kids brag about it at school,
topdress, lead the people to plenty.

John Kinsella

Malherbe’s Genetic Modifications: A Classicist Doctrine

Hey, I just heard the CEO of Monsanto
make odes out of genetic modification:
in steel rooms new crops make new promises,
their rules unclear, though we know
what he means, making doctrine
out of old-school plants, growth
pushed to the cultivatable limits.
Classical rules arise out of what’s planted.
Farmers feeding profits,
engineers of rhyme and reason,

seeds and flowers inspiration
without imagination. Same locally,
though subtextual: wheedling
away in the background, test sites
embedded in crops, ribboned
and star-picketed. In the East,
the moratorium has been lifted,
and the West itches to follow suit.
Hunger doesn’t have eternity,
and the body is a laboratory.

Clear as a world without imagery,
yellow canola fields effuse bienséance.
Direction as generic as pollen,
as seed in seed banks, as tailor-
made poisons in realms of poison
and lip-service; if you examine
the lubricity of canola seed, traipse
from one paddock to another,
it spreads its signature,
its overconfidence.

John Kinsella

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bluff Knoll and the south

By Tracy

Just back from Albany (where the much cooler days were a relief -- though still warm enough to swim) and the Great Southern.

On the journey south, we stopped in the Stirling Ranges and I took this snap of the top of Bluff Knoll, which is the highest peak in the Stirlings.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The terrorism of states

Written by John, posted & shared by Tracy

The machine of the state is essentially militaristic. The state of Israel is a fully military colonial machine. The destruction of the Palestinian people is its core aim — to create space for itself, to assuage its own guilt at its mistreatment of those who do not ‘enjoy’ the privileges that come with participating in its statehood (and who resist its expansion/consolidation), and to ensure its own survival.

All states defend their own existences, and the existence of Israel has its obvious historical reason for being (and in some ways the psychology of its aggressions is understandable, if contradictory — but being understandable does not make it right). It’s the idea and reality of the state itself that engenders the brutality of a modern Israel, and any other state for that matter. Australia, the United States of America, Russia (and its so-called ‘federation’), the United Kingdom, China, France... right down to the smallest island nation-state, are part of the same picture.

Human brutality is not isolated to ethnicity, creed, or belief, but to the abrogation of self and community empowerment to the centralised militaristic ‘protection’ of the state. Every soldier is made a murderer by the actions of the state. Every soldier who participates is responsible, whatever they do or don’t do. It is a collective guilt and a collective injustice. Participants — voters, party officials, those who pretend it’s not their concern but continue to benefit from the state’s military actions — are equally culpable.

Non-violent resistance is the only way — and as poets, every poem we write should be a form of resistance, an act of linguistic disobedience. States murder more than they protect. And they protect to perpetuate their own existences. Disarm Israel. Disarm all states. Disarm all individuals. Weapons are a violation of all people’s rights. Until people who are not in the killing zones understand and resist the state, the killing will continue. For most, it’s a moment of indignation with the news headlines; then they move on with their lives. Killing knows no providence.

To make it clear — on a micro level, both Jewish and Palestinian peoples (and any other peoples for that matter) can co-exist (and have the right to co-exist) more justly without the machine of the state (Israeli, Palestinian, or any other form of state), and without the tools of conflict. The abolition of all states is the only avenue to justice, liberty, and fraternity. Ultimately the existence of any state means the oppression of those whom it perceives as threatening it, or acting against its interests, and, indeed, its own citizens.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Skinks or goannas?

By John

A few years ago, after the publication of my book The New Arcadia, I wrote an article entitled “By Any Other Name” (it originally appeared in the Australian Poets’ Union journal and somewhere else I don’t recall as well). This article considered the poetic dynamics of local namings for plants and animals. I am fascinated by how one species of, say, a tree, can be given alternative names within a region, how throughout one’s life a “misnaming” from childhood can stick and become a reality.

In my book Divine Comedy: Journeys Through A Regional Geography (also here), this is particularly true when it comes to the name for Tiliqua rugosa. Most commonly named the “bobtail”, this skink is found throughout Australia and is known in the suburbs as much as the country. Around where we live in the wheatbelt, it goes by a variety of names: yourin (the Nyungar name), bobtail, bobtail goanna, bobtail lizard, blue-tongue lizard, blue-tongue goanna, and shingleback.

I have heard all these names used many times. I read that they are also known as “sleepy lizard” in the region, but I have not heard that name used by locals. Our family usually call them “bobbies”, “bobtails”, “blue-tongues”, or “blue-tongue goannas”. Of course, Tiliqua rugosa (and I only use the Latin name as a “constant” for convenience, not as a recognition that it is a standard that cuts across, say, the constant of the Nyungar name, “yourin”), is not a goanna but a skink. So already in a number of the namings there is a taxonomical error. From a poetic point of view, in terms of what they say about locality and issues of belonging, I find such misnomers generative and deconstructive of hierarchies of classification. The reptile scientifically called “Tiliqua rugosa” is what it is to those who live with it for an endless variety of reasons. The naming grants agency (as it should) and distinguishes an individual relationship.

In the book Reptiles and Frogs of the Perth Region (though we are further out than that, there’s still a lot of crossover, which makes this a useful book for identification purposes — it’s interesting to think about such processes of standardised identification and putting a scientific name to your own, personalised or familiarised “common” name), we read: “The large number of different common names around the country indicates the familiarity Australians have with the species.” Thus a “misnaming” sticks: it becomes (here, right now), the “blue-tongued goanna” — a misnaming, in truth.

So when I come to write a poem, the process of naming becomes all-important. It changes the geography of the poem’s language itself. What’s more, there is also another species of the genus Tiliqua — the Western bluetongue (Tiliqua occipitalis) a different lizard entirely (it is somewhat similar to look at, though without the thick scales and with a more tapered tail). Both the bobtail and the Western bluetongue have a distinct blue tongue they project with mouth agape when threatened. When I write a poem, I take this knowledge to the process of naming.

Also, a lot of my poetry is “in-situ” poetry, with notes for poems taken within the space they describe, and a specific observation or occurrence behind their writing. I am there, in the poem, with the action. “Look, there is a blue-tongued goanna” may be technically wrong, and I know it, but that’s what was said at the time, so it sticks, and the poem evolves out of the process of engagement and naming.

As an activist, I see my poems as forms of affirmation and resistance at once. I always take the side of animals and plants. What I resist is this kind of thing, noted in the previously mentioned reptile guide, and witnessed by myself numerous times over my life — leaving me angry and determined to resist people’s violences in all ways possible:

“During the warmer months many bobtails fall victim to vehicles on roads; unfortunately some motorists intentionally hit these placid animals”.

And one might add to this list snakes, rabbits, foxes, and numerous others — I regularly see drivers swerve to the other side of the road in order to hit creatures.

And speaking of reptiles, we saw a Western granite worm lizard a few days ago and I wrote the following poem (a 64 plus 4 poem!):

Western Granite Worm Lizard

Springs out of the fossorial
so tightly wound about the loop
of scale and flesh, its shovel nose
— foot of compass — lifts, distracts;
squeaking high above slenderness,
vocal cord that knots in dashes,
mesmerised in its magic box,
a binary of ones and noughts:
eyes are lidless.

John Kinsella