Friday, August 19, 2011

I am NOT a nature poet...

By John, posted by Tracy

I have recently been disturbed by pre-publication statements appearing around my book Jam Tree Gully, due out with WW Norton in the US in November. These statements describe me as a ‘nature poet’. I want to state, once again, that I am not a nature poet, nor a ‘nature writer’, in any way. As I said in a recent interview with Overland regarding this matter:

I detest ‘nature writing’. I consider myself a writer of the environment - an ethically and politically motivated writer who perceives each poem, each text I write, as part of a resistance against environmental damage. ‘Nature writing’ is a concept is too tied up with validating the relationship with the (Western!) notion of self, of egotistical sublime, of the gain the self has over the ‘nature’ s/he is relating to. This privileging is a problem. Which is not to say I have a problem with the inevitabilities of the anthropomorphic, if that necessarily brings about greater respect for ‘nature’ than would arise without it. So once again, it’s relative.

Thing is, it is out of my respect for ‘nature’ that I feel so strongly about its fetishisation in ‘nature writing’. Poetry as environmental activism, sure. Poetry that tries to respect ‘nature’, sure. Poetry that problematises the human-nature equation in terms of culture and ecology (for which there is no pat ‘solution’!), sure. But...

And here’s a poem of mine from many years back that states my position most clearly:

Graphology 300: Against “Nature Writing”

Nature writing equals the new racketeering.
Nature writers make good use of plane travel and restaurants serving up nature.
Nature writing equals recognition as gratification.
Nature writers wear tough boots and mark their trail out hiking. They need to get back. They drive cars.
Nature writing equals the house in good order for the property owner. The sub-textual paths past the native garden beds are called ecology.
Nature writers grow at least a little of their own food. Or would if they could.
Nature writing equals the woods sans Macbeth. Possibly sans witches.
Nature writers get as close as they can to the birds, soaking up their natures.
Nature writing equals a separation in order to get closer — almost everyone can do it, if they see the light.
Nature writers are those who make the choice to step out of their front doors and breathe in the fresh air, or declare that it’s time to move to where it’s fresher.
Nature writing equals — not — pastoral and needs no bucolics to play out the hierarchies — it lives outside the narrative. It favours local picnics — best if the animals don’t even know one’s there.
Nature writers who are academics get paid for the conscience — administratively, at least, it’s called eco-criticism.
Nature writing equals the recognition that poisoned flesh and cellulose are not good to eat — support your local organic market.
Nature writers have, in the very least, a hidden spirituality.
Nature writing equals market-place economies.
Nature writers know that economy and ecology share the same prefix and have thought long and hard about this.
Nature writing equals quiet time following field excursions to get it down — preferably, a hut in the forest, a writing retreat. The keeping of like-minded company, occasionally hearing the birds tweet. Seeing a kangaroo, bear, or antelope, a double treat.
Nature writers get angry with consumerism — don’t giggle.
Nature writing equals space for tokenism but makes good use of natural colouring to bury it.
Nature writers know that via the Indo-European, gwei is to live, with metathesized variant striking a colourant, an accord with the weather outside their window, concordance with weather within: birds quiet without, a blowfly annoying within. Quick, vivid, vitamin, whiskey, amphibious, microbe, and hygiene all derive from this living, this high-life we all live, though most are more interested in the suffixed zero-grade form *gwi-o-. bio-, biota, biotic; aerobe, amphibian, anabiosis, cenobite, dendrobium, microbe, rhizobium, saprobe, symbiosis, from Greek bios, life (> biot, way of life), according to American Heritage, or Variant form *gwy- (< *gwyo-). 1. azo-; diazo, hylozoism, from Greek zo, life. 2. Suffixed form *gwy-yo-. zodiac, –zoic, zoo-, zoon1, –zoon, from Greek zon, zion, living being, animal; ultimately, though, they prefer nature to say bios or gwei for it declares nation, heritage, identity, it declares a place for the righteous, the knowing, the in touch, the separate. They don’t wish to be part of any club you’re a member of.
Nature writing equals overlays and underlays, carpets the best rooms in pile soothing to the feet. It shows real pleasure is in the walking.
Nature writers know as much proper-naming as they have time to accumulate.
Nature writing equals not being read by those land-clearing, or the contrary.
Nature writers want to look wherever something has been set aside. Attrition.
Nature writing equals targeting cats, not people.
Nature writers can be hunters or animal-rights activists.
Nature writing equals landmarking and wishing on a bird during war.
Nature writers become more animal by eating animals.
Nature writing equals the separation of the grotesque from the healing.
Nature writers are inspired, searching for intactness, and patient. They have time up their sleeves.
Nature writing equals the vicarious, equals verisimilitude, equals carving out a niche in the schema, in the pleasant picture.
Nature writers aren’t saving Mount Bakewell, don’t take on farmers with shotguns, will make do at a pinch with non-organic produce, are a bunch of fucking hypocrites.
Nature writing is a departmental party trick.

John Kinsella

Monday, August 15, 2011

Paradise Lust

By John, posted by Tracy

Here’s an extract from a long-term work-in-progress: Paradise Lust. Obviously coming out of Milton’s Paradise Lost, but also (later) Paradise Regained, this section is from 'Book One', which I have just completed. The final section of my 'Book One' is still in typewriter-script.

I’ve been writing ‘Book One’ on & off over the last nine months — as it largely reacts to local, regional and international political/ecological/social events, as well as to ecological concerns in general, it tends to be picked up when anger rouses me. I don’t intend it to be a diatribe — in fact, it’s more an engagement with Milton’s original (grabbing and reconfiguring his text, conversing with it, or just attempting to outrun its polished inevitability of form and idea).

However, I see it as a case of making a private torment public for a couple of reasons: firstly, the cathartic nature of public utterance, and secondly, in that perversely linked contradiction, the obligating nature of public utterance. A kind of desire to be held accountable for one’s mental and emotional resistance.

The stimulus to this section was the outrage I felt hearing ‘Twiggy’ Forrest speak (on a Four Corners documentary), regarding his desire to get ‘approval’ from traditional owners for yet another iron ore mine in the Pilbara. A very rich white man saying he can identify with the sufferings of local indigenous communities because of having been brought up in the same area seems to me classic colonial paternalism. Surely he does not know, because surely he can’t know.

I’ll say no more because I actually think the poem says it better. Poetry is the ultimate pacifist vehicle, I feel: its volatilities are tempered by the constraints of language and distance, which leads hopefully to more constructive outcomes.

Which is not to say I don’t think that one should stand up in person and clearly articulate an opposition — I certainly do. But reading a poem in person can often be a whole lot more effective than either speaking or yelling at the brick wall of self-interest (especially when it’s dressed up as ‘caring’: e.g. as soon as you here the words ‘training’ and ‘employment’ in the context of working in one’s own mines, you have to worry about motives, as much as the predictable questioning of the value of handing over money to ‘those’ people).

Poetry is action, and the story of Satan’s fall and battle with the legions of God, and his corruption of Adam and Eve, is the vehicle par excellence for dealing with issues of greed, exploitation and the capitalist desire for ‘choice’, and also the folly of pride, in a colonial context. For any who might think that the days of Australian colonialism have passed, think again. It happens on a private and state level most days, especially in Western Australia, a truly exploitative and paradise-lusting state.

I might add that the mining billionaires around here don’t merit Milton’s ‘glorious’ epic rendering of Satan (with his human depths and complexities!). And they are as much the ‘princes, potentates, and warriors’ of Heaven as they are of the sulphur of Hell. Whichever ‘side’ deploys military metaphors as signs of pride and worth is going to be suspect.

I am justifying the ways of no one, but I am justifying the rights of the exploited and the wronged (human and non-human) more than those who want to manufacture a ‘paradise’ in images of their own desires!

Paradise Lust 5 (Book 1)

Hesperian Celtic utmosts, island
to island I am not a person, prevalent
and prevaricating point-of-view: we are
what we watch with sore and running eyes,
get-back-together myth a rubric and flocking-
cause, damp walls I read of to go to: flight,
hypocritical hue or due: highest word orders
traipsing attention-seekers (ordnance)
reared in standard courage: clarion trumpeter
vengeance to perform, scrupulous as lustre
I cannot express my need for birds beyond
the window at dawn: sonorous and true,
‘martial sounds’ I make what I will of: damn me,
I am sure you will! Nightfright is explosives
and butane cannons a valley-fright, nightline
gone wrong at head of bed: I dreamt a cube
you looked into and there was an explanation
mark floating in analgesics — all those banners,
all those labels ‘with orient colours waving’:
hideous namesake who would locate and blame,
‘geek’ is the New Right with righteous indignation
flowing offhand, enlivened by microwaves,
phalanxes of digitisation, I escape to granite
folds where radon broods and alters ‘gift’
as much as birthrighteousness; none makes
from attack to battle traps clawing ankles
in the ‘firebugs’ storm of calling: who
are these dazzlers who surround me?
Who files and anglegrinds the view away?
Who cuts the heart out of the hill?
I place inside an empathy: I am mosquito
and gnat flayed less beautifully and with lesser
advertisement (never mind the samples, here
come the augmented profit programmes);
metaglories & heroic rage: O namesake disgrace,
race you to atomic or armoric knights, a flooding
of baptisms, a jest of clubbing: I cannot replace
the lifetime story I saw in a friend’s look,
acknowledging progress, a swirling of planet
faster than any measurement of orbit, any
counting down of days: we saw the juggler,
and the seat we sat at: a smile, a wave,
a passing over: I won’t say your name, I won’t
say it yet: names are more than I can bear: a pun
is worse than a lie to outflank the eye, resolution
of pictorials: a peerage of atoms and all their
(wasted? never) space; mortal shape immortal
or eminent, loss of tower and language
bright beneath the weighty beams of forests
turned to ships: ‘behind the moon’ in stunning
eclipse, a theft of archangel’s ruins; camera
obscura lumière of twilight sheds across the valley
which will never be tolled though thunder will
come tomorrow diastole in bloody pressure
not a sign of cheek fading to wet wood or thinking
ahead to flames. Passion in those billion spirits.
Heaven-blame is a scathing of forest and heath
and even clumps of spinifex edging rolling desert;
each battlefield mock-up to feel terrain sucked
away (a new uranium mine will open deep
in Western Australia) to little denial, little
weeping or bursting of the ranks; think:
what is work and who does work work for?
My father was a workaholic, my mother
works into her senior years, I work through
the night, and shiftworkers flying around the clock
make life about the life-altars of uranium oxide:
I was hideously exposed in my teenage years.
Myriad double-take, retaking of taken land:
firesale and compensation: digging deep to test
depth of the sign, marker of land and lines.
Lacking skin, lacking totem, lacking expressions
of light where growth begins, nothing is glorious;
those legions of state that would empty me out
into the borrow pit, so shorter days getting longer
in penumbra, exile outcast to blow channels
wide open, to excise and ‘repossess their
native seat’ — no question, just deliverance
of paternal facts (witness Four Corners forrestry);
throne; who sits where sits paternal overhang,
extended through funeral claims; who knows,
maybe pity beats deep unless profit plays havoc,
plays variations or riffs on stories: evidence
is the court’s maverick play, is the specialist’s boon,
is the shunning arriviste counterseal to have
a workforce, a New Slavery where pay is all prophecy,
is all Brave New Worlds and Nineteen-Eighty Fours
rolled over: New Slavery landless in ways
that count; repute custom consent regal concealed
billionaire monarch butterfly off course
aflame; rife rife rife rife rife rife rife rife
as sons as generations of hymns and songs
and daughters left in shade where the hills have
gone concave; onward Christian soldiers all things
bright and beautiful in your backyard you measured
out and made yourself; ‘spirits in bondage’ take your
seats at the table, this is the best offa ya gunna get: work
choices red as iron, red as the lips that tell you what’s
good for you: ‘money is not the answer’ from the obscenely
rich should shake the bones supporting such lips: Warhol’s
factory implosion: abyss war abyss: who spake?
Flaming swords — billions — are inevitable
in the swirl of being heard and lullifying:
the cherubim’s glorious cancelling out,
‘illumined hell’ and the hill hideaway
flattened out by the rolling smoke,
grisly leftovers of the hunter’s assignation
(one of the BOYS tried to run me down
but covered his action by keeping his line
and not following my steps onto the gravel).
The surveillance aircraft that grids us flies
its ‘glossy scurf’ of boundaries, and the truth
of womb envy plays out in HIS great ore
belly, his cultural involution he makes us
understand: capitalising sulphur, who could
speak more clearly of mining worship: ‘pioneers
of spade and pickaxe armed’: trenches and
all the metallic dead, all the metallic dead.

John Kinsella