Sunday, March 31, 2024

For My Friend Marjorie Perloff (1931-2024)


Elegy for Marjorie


I’ll talk as if neither of us are here,

leaves that cling or won’t fall,

fourth person in the dialogue.


When the body dissolves, a unity

forms around sand and leaves,

the very specific songs of remaining


words. In the absence of lyrics,

we make an assemblage of protests.

In a lyric of absence, we haul


a grammar across that landscaping.

Many meanings reduce to one

when we try to utter ‘development’.


Others will be having this conversation,

too. Now we’ve sorted the issue

of distance. Once. For all. And.



            John Kinsella

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

On Les Murray

Les and I had a complex interaction due to different ways of seeing the world, but we still had overlaps and strong shared interests. I think Les's dynamic thinking around language will always be a vital and interesting thing, and a poem like 'Bats' Ultrasound' shows an empathy with the non-human world that is moving, emphatic and genuine. You really get the sense that he not only 'feels being bat' but can draw connection between animal and human (mammal to mammal) that is both allegorical and quite real. 

Les, to me at least, seemed to identify as an outsider, and though some would say he relished this 'position', I felt that he was actually quite lonely amidst all the acclaim and public interest. Poetry for him seems to have been a bridge between his 'difference' and what he imagined the world was. As he sought to translate for us, he also sought to translate for himself. I think his finest poems are those full of 'strangeness' and yokings between the familiar and unfamiliar. Sometimes these yokings can jar and seem a little off (certainly from my pov, politically), but they can also bring a reader to self-analyse their own perceptions and use of language. 

There are many contradictions in this, but contradiction drove Les's poetry, and I am all for generative contradictions.  Because Les focalised all life through 'the glory of God', he seemingly and maybe for him necessarily created a hierarchy of humans over animals, but I always thought Les's empathy could be more than 'wonder'... in fact, it could be a form of almost secret sharing, an affinity in being unable to find a place in any hierarchy. 

I strongly believe Les's work is most often read in a reductive way — really, to get to his essence you have to almost lift him out of reality into that space where language is forming, is almost unutterable.

      John Kinsella

Friday, March 1, 2024

Poem for Poets Who Resist War

 Graphology Superscription 3

Two poets have been imprisoned in Russia for reading poems against war in Ukraine.

            Hooded crows are probing luminous gardens full of the storm.

A spring tide has ripped out of Bantry Harbour exposing winter mudflats —

there had been some flooding — and two people are digging for lugworms.

There is a prismatic glister of oil, an iridescence of unearthly behaviours.

All of this is tragic. All of this is connected. All of this aligns, though it might

not seem obvious. In the violent interstices. Mud and haemoglobin.

Standing outside the perspiring window and not looking back through its glass.

            Hooded crows are probing luminous gardens full of the storm.

Two poets have been imprisoned in Russia for reading poems against war in Ukraine.



            John Kinsella

Thursday, February 29, 2024

On Modes of Protest — a letter regarding collective responses

On the need for collective, co-ordinated responses (to crimes against humanity, specifically the war on the people of Gaza): ...’only’ that peaceful interventions should (to my mind) be made in all possible contexts and that we need to speak to people to bring 'them' on board with addressing situations rather than entrench 'them' as enemies. I strongly believe that peace (in all contexts) can only come about by the privileging of open conversation, to show that human rights also involve the consciences of those who violate them and those consciences need addressing. As a pacifist, I am on the path of total disarmament (of all), and I think that empathy is core to change. At present there is no concrete world language of empathy outside a few individuals and groups — no means of translating different cultural values, lived experience, heritage  etc, into a comparative model so people generally understand difference as something necessary and inherent rather than something that poses a threat. That such rights are essential beyond all else. For me, the apparent total non-protest and the apparent lack of civil disobedience around Australia's militarisation (or, rather, its dramatic upscale from a force of colonial oppression to one with colonial-imperial designs) is entangled with all the other oppressions it overtly or inadvertently supports. So, really, I argue for a holistic approach to protest — we cannot hope to effectively help stop genocide in Gaza while the very basis of our lives in Australia is entrenched in the legacies of genocide itself, and future projections of this (via the realities of AUKUS and the like). We need to protest empathetically, persistently, emphatically (non-violently) and holistically and not in bits and pieces. A concerted but non-belligerent approach. Many will disagree with this, and see belligerence as essential, but in my life of enacting and participating in protest, I have found belligerence to be ineffective. Being emphatic and persistent — never giving in — is a different thing from 'belligerence'.

            John Kinsella

Friday, February 16, 2024

Stop the Carnage - Stop the War - Stop the Attacks on Gaza - Permanent Ceasefire - No More Violence - Leave Rafah in Peace!




A city on the edge of catastrophe.

Designated ‘safe zone’ where,


defying the limits of space,

over a million people


have been herded.

Choke point. Crossing


to nowhere. Edge

of annihilation.


Such moments

too many in power


across the globe

want to make history


before and as they happen.

To relegate. To regret


after the fact,

after massacres


have been totted up

and converted to statistics.



            John Kinsella



Tuesday, February 13, 2024

In Memory of Saskia Hamilton (1967-2023) - poet, editor and teacher

For Saskia


To discover months after — no reason

why anyone should tell me, the overlap

a geographical and temporal subset.


And I never arrived to read to your crowd,

but even then you were generous.

I can’t believe that such things


mean nothing to the dead —

no, there’s time to consider

even as we pass between classes,


the quick words of occasion.

Those peripheries of friendship;

associates from an earlier period.


But we did talk over punk

and Fugazi, our belief in poetry,

though never too much.



            John Kinsella

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Sanctuary — a verse play

    John Kinsella

This anti-war, pro-refugee verse play is for anyone to use without permission. I have added a sound file read by Tim, Tracy and John here.

Sanctuary: for three players



Displaced Person 1


We must hurry,

they will close

the last crossing

at midnight.




Displaced Person 2


Why are they shutting people out?

Why are they abandoning us?

I cannot move faster.

I am tired. My legs

won’t work properly.



Person Right at Home


How much more do you expect

us to give? Our homes are our




We are responsible

for them. We are acting

responsibly. We must

protect our way of life,

as you of all people

should understand.

I took magnificent photos

of the northern lights —

close enough to touch,

bandwidths of the soul.



Displaced Person 2


You set numbers and if we

fall outside the quota

we are to be left nowhere?

You throw up fences

of false economies,

talk about gift horses

and who is eligible

and who is not.



Person Right at Home


Everyone is somewhere.

Even when you’re dead

you’re somewhere.

We are also people of faith.

Your somewhere

doesn’t have to be here.

I have always been

a weather watcher.

I pay for carbon credits

when I travel.



Displaced Person 1


We will not get through.

It is too close to midnight

and the shortest distance

isn’t a straight line.



Displaced Person 2


I am hearing they’re already

turning our people away.

And there’s talk of those

who have managed to cross over

being evicted as soon as the law

for their protection can be altered.

It’s happening as fast as an attack.

The roads have been blocked.

Trains cancelled. Flights

reserved for those with visas.

They promise instead to send

more weapons, more uniforms.



Displaced Person 1


Or they say we use weapons

against their weapons

which cancels us out.

We have not lifted

the weapons sent by anyone.

We are trying to leave the war zone,

our homes. Under the rubble

they remain our homes,

but they are uninhabitable.

The idea of home needs to stretch

to accommodate us, let us find peace.



Displaced Person 2


We left skies full of drones and missiles.

We left ground and buildings torn open.

We left a rising sea of blood. We left

under the gaze of the media: entertainment.

We left as witnesses who won’t be heard.



Person Right at Home


It’s complex, isn’t it. These overlapping

underlying interactive criss-crossing decussating

issues... the balance of life the means of production

the quality of life the scales of justice the contexts

of history. It’s complex. But a full house is a full house.

We ask for your understanding. All that ice

melting into the ocean. All those non-sequiturs.

We offer you weapons or we demand you do not

pick up weapons. We send food parcels or we starve

you if you do not comply. We are counter-indicative.

Stay at home. Stay where you are. Keep your footing.



Displaced Person 1


A literacy of loss.

A literacy of avoidance.

A literacy of evasion.

A literacy of production.

A literacy of accumulation.

A declaration of fatigue,

of weariness with ‘plights’,

of the diction of ‘bathos’.

A loss of balance. Vertigo.

And if we can’t speak,

we can only be silent,

irrelevant? Homeless.

Occupants of somewhere.

Nowhere. Fluctuations

in the atmosphere.