Wednesday, June 22, 2022

On Timothy Mathews There and Not Here: Chronicles of Art and Loss

Comment on n Timothy Mathews There and Not Here: Chronicles of Art and Loss

In this quite astonishing rhizomic engagement with the wonder of making art, with honouring its myriad forms and arrays, we trace exchanges and conversations between painting, novel, graphemes, translation (literal and figurative), architecture, film, theatre, performance, song/ ‘verse-music’, poetry, novel, and stories that coincide but might not ‘match’, as there’s no single narrative, ever. Timothy Mathews encounters the artist constantly and engages in ongoing acts of critical and creative renewal. And this needs to be the case because loss and grief are informants that keep confronting us, as we try to counter, absorb and sustain life in their zones. As Mathews says of Hepworth: ‘optimism and the lightness of her hand as she works seethe with the mourning that only life can know’. Who we see with, how we see, are pivotal questions. And out of this existence comes uniqueness. Mathews writes: ‘At the start Matisse talks to us in his hand-drawn words about the uniqueness of a new picture, about how an art work has to be unique to exist at all’. This book is a late modernist Metamorphosis, driven by a deep desire to ‘see each other, touch each other’ through the affect of art.  Or as Mathews puts it in engaging with William Kentridge: ‘the participation of humanity in its own betrayal. Participation. Understanding’. In all of this there is the constant search for hope, where the critic alongside artists in all manifestations acts as a conduit to possibilities of self within community. Set against the desecrations of the world by rampant capital, this book offers a synthesis of contraries rather than binaries. We celebrate the flow of this book, always concerned with loss, with how we articulate loss in convergent and digressive ways, and how much all of this is connected with physical, mental and philosophical movement. For me, the book is a beautifully woven assemblage of transitions, connection, redemption, communities and personhoods made of seeing-participation; of grief as knowledge and remembering – an embrace of the immensity of flatness and its generative shaping; a confluence of lines of difference, punctuated with pauses and blinks that are an investigation of vulnerabilities and tensions. Mathews versifies the fusion of audience with aloneness. In making art, we attempt to move beyond alienation, and possibly into the generosity of art and body, action and the life of a painting, of it being painted. We attempt to live, to imagine, to embrace abstraction as part of our living in the world, which is a world of empathy, and memory. And we experience trauma and love, the unforgiving nature of death and confrontations of violence, the fragile issue of what is killed and what is betrayed, and the self-doubt that rages through looking for expression through art. We ask what is ‘attack’, what is killing death, and we consider that ‘Perhaps heaven is a word made of art’. Elegiac anger co-exists with one’s failures, but art is hope isn’t it? And there’s the interesting matter of to whom each piece and the book as a whole are addressed. Interior monologue? Public address? Or a fresh hybrid of both in this meditative but restive revolution in art criticism. And in the foreground as much as the background is the oscillation between France and Britain, shifting the focal lengths of reception to the globe in this intensely post-humanist work.


John Kinsella


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Against War and War Propaganda in its Myriad Forms

Euphoric Hero Dysphoria


Each hero latched onto

in order to manufacture

more heroes, to pick up

more arms supplied by

‘allies’ whose industries

of arms and related items

(‘supplies ‘) make a killing

justified by the economic

trickle-down effect so bills

can be paid and consumer

items purchased as if good

conscience had anything

to do with that euphoric

hero dysphoria a president

or high command would urge

on would embody as bodies

on streets in trenches by churches

and where trees or even fields

of wheat grew as the seasons

still managed to function

until recently, until metaphors

once again fell into line,

rushed to serve death.


            John Kinsella


Monday, May 9, 2022

Another Poem In The Effort to Protect Julimar Forest From Mining


Silently Into the Sea of the Forest: Chalice’s Plans for Julimar Forest


‘And silently they crossed the threshold. And close by garden vines covered with green foliage were in full bloom, lifted high in air.’ 

            Argonautica (Book II)



Silently into the sea of the forest

 ‘soft’-tracked vehicles will creep,

no wheels to crush undergrowth

they hope in future to delete.


Silently into the sea of the forest,

gently gently off-track — no tyres

pressing their case, just metal expecting

what’s flattened to shoot back into place.


Silently into the sea of the forest

those drilling rigs are determined to go —

to reach down further than roots

and mirror the hollow of sky.



            John Kinsella

Monday, May 2, 2022

Anti-War Poem — Second Ode to Disarmament

Second Ode to Disarmament

Each order each line of command

each siege-besiege counterpoint,

a percussion of shelling and wounding.


Till the last body the last round,

the mincemeat slurry of nation and body,

of flesh and ideology, bird memory in a bunker.


To be unlived to invest in a living future

relegated when the time comes: the way

we talk in D minor at ease or under pressure.


Each order each line of command

each siege-besiege counterpoint,

a percussion of shelling and wounding.


War loves its clichés, its brutal

realities. ‘According to some sources’.

Doctors without borders sewing limbs together.


Till the last body the last round,

the mincemeat slurry of nation and body,

of flesh and ideology, bird memory in a bunker.


Where to gather seed in a resplendent season

of memory, where to look when the season is harsh.

Under the barrage the dawn chorus loses its way.



            John Kinsella


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Campaign to Save Trees on the Northam-Pithara Road

Tracy (not in the pictures, of course, but as committed as any of us!) and I are not long back from time spent out at the site of Mains Roads' destruction of salmon gums and other trees on the Northam-Pithara Road about 10-12ks outside Northam heading north, on Ballardong Noongar boodja. Tracy took photos and videoed me speaking against the damage and reading my 'Sammies' poem originally written to help support efforts by many to stop Main Roads' destruction of ancient trees (we're talking up to 400 years old) along the York-Quairading Road a few years back (gathered in the collection I co-wrote with Yamaji poet Charmaine Papertalk Green, False Claims of Colonial Thieves). You can see that poem here.

Main Roads have an ongoing campaign of roadside (and beyond roadside) habitat destruction that is remorseless and gathering pace. Road widening, road realignment, remaking to suit increasing truck traffic and exploitation of country... with only the bare minimum effort applied to ecological concerns. Good people are out there campaigning constantly to stop this catastrophe, and sometimes they have small successes, but it's hard to be everywhere. The philosophy of utility and development needs shifting on a fundamental level. The destruction of these trees is the destruction of heritage and history, it is the deletion of vital elements of the sacred. It's an ongoing disaster on a massive scale (consider the fate of bush along the Toodyay-Perth road, along the Great Eastern Highway near Wooroloo etc). It's a deeply ingrained systemic problem. 

I am delighted that campaigners who spent time on site through the week succeeded in saving trees — or at least to have them tagged as being saved (in my experience, sadly, this doesn't necessarily mean they will be saved in the long run, so extra vigilance is required and the road design plan has to change). I fear, looking at the markings and pattern of road-widening (and sadly from much experience), that whatever they have tagged in the short term as to be left will in fact be removed unless it's changed at the planning level. I celebrate the communal work of the on-site protesters who at least had the workers listening to them. Good on them all — it's how and where change is really made. At the face of things. I arrived days after this, but documented nonetheless and worked on site on a new poem of peaceful but determined resistance.

I stood between two sammies (salmon gums) close to the road and the poem located itself. 

As it also located itself in the chopped down two/three-hundred-year-old trees further down the road... one with the word 'owl' painted on its corpse. 

Here is the on-site poem:

Sammies Sammies — Ancient Trees on Northam-Pithara Road



sammies sammies,

deep reach, earth to sky,

and location location

for so many birds,

written into their DNA.


sammies sammies

deep reach, earth to sky,

part of the elemental sacred,

essential to health of country,

cut to the quick, deleted.


sammies sammies

deep reach, earth to sky;

owl markers, cockatoo compass,

honeyeater spires, insect plumage —

hold out against the onslaught.


sammies sammies

deep reach, earth to sky;

sammies sammies

deep reach earth to sky,

deep reach earth to sky.



            John Kinsella

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

New Poetry Books from Tracy Ryan and John Kinsella

Tracy and I both have new poetry books out. Tracy's Rose Interior is out with Giramondo and the first volume of my collected poems, The Ascension of Sheep: Poems 1980-2005, is out with UWAP

As Tracy says of Rose Interior, 'Interiors suggest exteriors', and the poems seem to me to pulse with inner and outer perception, creating a flow between states of being. It's fascinating for me to have experienced the 'externals' of many of the poems, but to have processed them internally in very different ways. No matter how well you know each other, and despite such close proximity a lot of the time, poems come from very different places, and the figurative is the result of such interior processing. It's quite exciting for me to encounter things I think I 'know' in such different configurations, events that seem quantifiable in time and space, in such different narratives. And this isn't just to do with 'place' or even 'experience', but also how we read the world around us and why we read it in such ways. I love the dialogues with language that are such a part of Tracy's work — how a misheard 'sound' can bring a cascade of alternative meanings, how a hedgerow in West Cork is like a text in itself, how a moment of encounter in nature can evoke an array of discordant memories making things uncanny. And there is a fascinating 'sequence' of homeschooling poems that speak before and during the pandemic, that both disorientate and reify.

My Collected Poems is coming out over three years in three volumes with University of Western Australia Press. I am grateful to Tony Hughes-D'Aeth for his generous, intense and contextualising introduction to the first volume, The Ascension of Sheep. This volume includes my (anti-)pastoral trilogy, The Silo, The Hunt and The New Arcadia, along with my other collections, chapbooks, pamphlets, unpublished collections (that were intended for publication but, say, a publisher closed down etc.), and some material retrieved from archives, covering the period 1980-2005. I am particularly pleased to be able to include poems that were intended as part of The Silo but were cut at the last moment. I discuss some of this briefly here.

Oh, a word on covers... Tracy's was done/designed by Jenny Grigg and is part of her excellent general redesign of covers for the latest Giramondo poetry series. There are some stunning abstract covers and the promise of fascinating collections (it is such a consistently strong poetry list) by poets such as Adam Aitken, Claire Potter, a forthcoming Lionel Fogarty entitled Harvest Lingo (I am really excited about this), Andy Jackson, and Eunice Andrada.  Find them here. And here's Tracy's cover:

My cover is part of a series in which the frame will change colour for each volume. The image is of 'Painting' by brilliant Karl Wiebke  — see my piece on Karl here. I have written many poems on Karl's work over the decades, and have known him a long time, so I was excited to have this cover which includes words I painted over Karl's painting (as part of a collaboration we were planning over a quarter of a century ago... Karl has the second painting with my words, I think) from my poem 'Helen Frankenthaler's Interior Landscape, 1964' (p.135, Volume One) plus a couple of extra words for the occasion!

Anyway, I hope people find things in these books that interest them. 

    John Kinsella

Thursday, March 17, 2022

All Refugees Are Refugees




A child in front of a tank

is a child in front of a tank;

a parent between a soldier

and a child is a parent

between a soldier

and a child;

a frightened, hungry

and at-risk person

is a frightened, hungry

and at-risk person;

weather against the skin

is weather against the skin;

bullets, shrapnel and flame

will burn any victim the same;

seeing the sky filled with drones

rather than birds is seeing

the sky filled with drones

rather than birds; the loss

of shelter and no longer

knowing what you’re

likely doing tomorrow

is disarray regardless

of where birth papers

were signed; a student

who studies for tomorrow

knows when tomorrow

has been taken away —

it is more than a learning curve;

the sun on the snow

the rain on the earth

the missiles and bombs,

the recoil of collapsing buildings;

a child in front of a tank

is a child in front of a tank.



            John Kinsella