Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Counterintuitive Ghazal, 26th January, 2022

If I’ve learnt things askew, it feel it’s not because of bad intentions —

rather, I laud the form and am sad if spirit shifts when I make use of it.


On a day of trauma for many, a day of mourning a day of anger

at ill-gotten gains, when there are no platitudes, only pain, I call on it.


I call on a form of desire with all ‘erotics’ stripped away because

of the greed of one body over others, because of the chasmic longing in it.


Third person singular, I locate those items of ongoing occupation,

and they are all around me and I make use of them as I make recourse to it.


I don’t for a moment believe that life can be renewed for the oppressed

from the ‘rotting corpse of the settler’ as violent Frantz Fanon would have it.


In fact, I see the artists and poets and singers redressing the wrongs

and bringing repair, knowing the gun was the end of justice and not start of it.


But Fanon was right about loss of dignity and hope and ongoing mental illness

wrought by the settlers who played their part and excluded or validated it.


I laud this form because of its moments linking to moments, its building

out of longing and despair — in the interconnectedness, each couplet unique in it.


I feel the trauma of Karla Dickens’s artwork that antiflags and is forever

more than object — January 26, Day of Mourning — and acknowledge it.


I am a flagless person but that doesn’t exonerate me. I feel my bare feet burn

on the ground and know it’s more than a reminder. In my weakness I call on it.



            John Kinsella

Note: for more on Karla Dickens see this article.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Un-mapping and De-exploration

I have been thinking about Kenneth Slessor's 'Five Visions of Captain Cook' and Philip Mead's 1997 call for a postcolonial reading ('as yet unwritten') of the poem (especially in the context of 'voyager narratives'), and my irregular but committed long-term anti-colonial reading-writing process of trying to un-map and de-explore... to refute colonial narratives in all their forms. This personal undertaking really began with my 'Zimmermann poems' (collected in Poems 1980-1994 — a selection of which are included in the first volume of my Collected Poems due out shortly with UWAP) written in the late 1980s, but which really found its fullest expression in the final version of The Benefaction (1997... and also in the first volume of my Collected Poems), a long poem attempting to undo the deeply disturbing and almost blithe colonial-explorer conquest journals of George Grey. 

In collating some texts in preparation for the next stage of this ongoing task of 'undoing' and 'rereading', I came across this 2017 'poem-text' of mine on William Dampier — an attempt at 'un-mapping' and 'de-exploring'. I will just let it speak for itself (or not... maybe other than noting that the 'a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse' saying is taken from Joseph Ritson, 1793, in primetime English colonialism), but it is another point of reference in a lifelong attempt to challenge and abandon the 'statue' myths of colonialism that still dominate official Australian narratives of 'national identity'... that still inform the 'literary canon', and that are the 'textual' basis for trade, pastoralism, mining, international relations, and the other underpinnings of the business of being 'Australia'....

Un-map De-explore

'Five Visions of Captain Cook' is not an elegy but a monument in poetry to acts of history that are tapped and re-tapped to validate nation, even where the 'explorations' are tangential or geographically distant (all are focussed through the poet's 'settler' entrenchment), whereas Slessor's great poem of time, 'Five Bells', is an elegy in cascading ways — as 'Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells' is caught in the harbour that serves nation (though the ferries ply back and forth and do not join the trade-routing, they are part of the matrix of colonial presence), he is eternally becoming life-death-memory in the flows of the harbour, and, as such, is incorporated into symbol and functionality of colonial argosy... So do we measure between events as the definition of our being 'part' of history even when we are invisible (or erased). The sense of loss is personal, but also a distress in the act of articulation, of making aesthetic the irony of presence (without ever saying so). So, colonial time (and White Australia Policy time... unsaid but never unwritten in any Australian text of the time) vs. modernist shifts in perceptions of time (alienation of auto-biography etc) —there's an incipience in Slessor, but he's still caught in the voyage and its memorialising. His 'absence' is never as clinical as it might seem, as 'Five Bells' always reminds us. 

Though often interpreted otherwise, I think that the 'chronometer' section of 'Five Visions of Captain Cook' is in fact Slessor's most viable challenge to voyager heroism (which is certainly caught up in), if there is any ‘challenge’ being made at all (ultimately, there probably isn’t). The conflation of irony with 'time' interrupts the inevitability of spatialisation of the poem and of the 'enlightenment' narrative itself (which is, ironically, a conservative affirmation of imperial science consuming/conquest motifs), and consequently the visions collapse. Cook’s demeanour and behaviour (‘snored loudest’) reassures his crew/followers/apologists, but his ‘skill’ and bravado also show the limits of irony (Slessor’s... which is mostly affectionate, if wry) — none of those who suffer from Cook’s legacy will ever feel reassured. Of course, Cook is seen through exteriors in an almost comic way at times, but it's more affection than mockery in its ironising of the 'romantic' pseudo-swashbuckling pop-lit escapades of 'seafaring captains' of 'the period'. The emphasis on the superstitious and magical as opposed to Enlightenment science (exemplified by Joseph Banks) is given Eliot-esque play, but nonetheless reinforces the colonial play (almost hi-jinks). Nature (the sea, the 'kraken', the weather) is the force to be reckoned with and maybe ultimately wins out, but this strains against the modernist urges (and urban organisation) of the poem itself as it shifts modes of telling/imparting 'views' of Cook. This seems to me to be at the core of the modernist crisis of cause and effect, of never being able to escape the politics that informs it, however much misdirected or denied.

Apropos of all the above, I doubt there's a more terrifying piece of glib imperial 'disposability' than Slessor's self-reflective (and reflexive):

'So Cook made choice, so Cook sailed westabout,
So men write poems in Australia.'

80 000 plus years' worth?

    John Kinsella

Sunday, January 9, 2022

On 'Nature Reserves'

The fact that we need 'nature reserves' is an indictment of colonial-capital in itself, but without them there'd be very little 'original' native vegetation remaining and consequently an even greater loss of species diversity, and animal-life in its own rights. I am troubled by the idea of 'reserves' as a statement of ceding what has not been ceded, and of corralling land into parcels that are only allowed to persist because so much of the land around them has been occupied. Further, such reserves are also a form of 'occupation' (if a 'better' version), and exclusion of full rights of traditional ownership. To my mind, these 'nature reserves' should be under local Aboriginal management.

We have just spent a few days in Geraldton (where I went to high school and where my brother and his partner live), and spent time skirting nature reserves to asses their 'condition' and how they are or aren't being respected. Most nature reserves in Western Australia that I have encountered suffer from degradation along their boundaries (especially when they abut rural holdings, mines, commercial, industrial and 'real estate' developments), but also from the dumping of rubbish and incursions by hunters and recreationalists. 

The edges of reserves are as important as the interior, and yet because of their proximity to other modes of 'land usage', they are inevitably negatively impacted. On the periphery of one nature reserve we visited was an array of dumping/rubbish, ranging from building scrap to heaps of grass clippings, from a massive variety of plastic waste to assorted house objects. As one ventures further in, the rubbish becomes 'historic' in the sense that prior (to being a gazetted nature reserve) usage by 'settler' presencing leaves many damaging traces that are only partially absorbed into the restoring/recuperating ecology — rusting tin drums (oil, poison etc), bricks and mortar, garden residues, bottles and so on. 

The rubbish situation wasn't severe by comparison to some instances I've come across, but it was still a marker of frustration (and ecological disdain, even abuse) over space 'set aside' that's not part of the acquisitive accrual of property — of 'ownership' that erases traditional cultural custodianship of country. Rubbishing is an act of resentment against the uncolonial.

Here are a few images of Howatharra, one of the Chapman Valley/Moresby Ranges reserves. Most of the ranges with their incredible flat-topped hills (reaching a height of 183m and around 50 million years old), has been cleared and occupied by farms, but a few nature reserves are scattered across their length and breadth. 

Nature Reserve, Chapman Valley

Following a Kangaroo Trail

Not Vanishing but Appearing!

A clearly sacred place, these reserves would be better maintained and sustained in Yamaji custodianship, and would have a greater chance of 'reconnecting' into a larger, more diverse and complex habitat. For that, we will have to wait for the return of country, but I hope and believe it will happen in time. 

The first image above is of the location/designation sign, the second two are of me 'vanishing' into the 'scrub'. It is an intense and diverse habitat, and I only walked along a kangaroo trail, sidestepping numerous echidna diggings around termite mounds. Honeyeaters could be heard constantly working the myriad plants. I am interested in the visual aspect of 'vanishing' because how we see ourselves in relation to bush is part of a colonial residue that compromises ways of seeing. Of course, I am not 'vanishing' but actually appearing... I am carefully following a trail with a light imprint and will follow it back to the periphery. In the bush, one is constantly appearing and never vanishing. [On the other hand, I am happy to be 'consumed' or 'swallowed' by the scrub  — that is, to become as much one with it as I can... but again, I do not see this as vanishing, as 'loss', but as gain/increase/growth...]

This has led to my rethinking the dynamics of 'prospect' and 'refuge' in that through refuting 'landscape' as a measure of country, I now see open spaces as a 'refuge' of conquest and eco-destruction, and vegetated/rocky/ravined/hilled places as 'prospect '— that is, their apparent closedness is actually an opening out into knowledge if we should choose to look, listen, sense... to understand Aboriginal knowledges of place, to be more sensitised to country itself. For the non-Indigenous person, this can only be done with the intent of respect and a willingness to learn.

Edging the Howatharra Nature Reserve, Moresby Ranges, Western Australia [Argonautica}

The levelled range

Says those canyons of the sea

Aren't like this now, but will be.


No ‘Köppen climate type’

Can address the fragrance

And textures of leaves and bark


Afloat in heat. Further into the valley,

River redgums might suggest

An elsewhere but are more here


Than anywhere, though

Settler surveys diffuse

To serve their own purposes.


In the clefts where water runs

At downpour, there are other names

For erosion. A mistletoe bird's


Red is a different red

And the mistletoe differs

As well. From denomination


To denomination the stone

Is drawn from roughly

A similar source. The wind


Rips the high temps

But not all the way to the core

Of piles of grass clippings (dumped


Whether it be a wet year or drought year)

Which heat in and of themselves, interiorly

And dangerously, like more bad news


From the fourth estate, while, in addition,

Museum-loads of colonial rubbish

Trouble the roadside ecotones. Not-


withstanding, a view to the green-reefed ocean

Is a reflection (if at impossible angles)

Of all that might come again on land.



            John Kinsella

Saturday, December 18, 2021

On Frida Kahlo's 'Wounded Deer' and after Rilke’s Sonnet to Orpheus 2:10

A couple of poems I wrote for my poetry students. These students are a long way from here, and we are a long way from them — a dynamic of the times. I am always wary of the 'ambient intimacy' of the internet, but I share these in the spirit of community. All poetry is a series of departures as well as arrivals, suggesting movement — flow.  The conversations that develop between 'artworks' are inevitably political and ethical ones, and if we write out of colonial spaces (regretfully, disturbingly, and in grim reality), a series of responsibilities arise that are often in tension with the 'aesthetics' of a piece. I refuse 'aesthetics' as a basis of anything generative, but contend with it every time I write a letter, a word, a line... and every time I use any of the senses available to me. This is an act of dissension whose irony is made even more emphatic through the use of this technology (computer, internet etc) to access 'art' and to comment and respond to it.

See Kahlo's painting here. And here's an anti-ekphrastic act, maybe:

Not On Frida Kahlo’s ‘Wounded Deer’, Not Really?


When the bow hunters sported the deer out of the woods near Gambier

I was not thinking of Frida Kahlo’s ‘Wounded Deer’, which I do now.

This is not appropriate in so many ways, but maybe it is in others.


When the pick-up truck with the stag in the back secured so the antlers

were safe — wall trophy, obviously — but the hindquarters flopping

and bouncing on the open tail-gate, hooves kicking off the road’s asphalt


(and I imagine sparks but it was flecks of staling blood), roared

past me on the road through the village, I was not thinking of Frida

Kahlo’s ‘Wounded Deer’, which I do now. Maybe I should have back then?


But now I am thinking it through, in another hemisphere, over fifteen years

later. I am trying to be the deer and the stag but not be Frida Kahlo —

I would never try to do that. Which makes me wonder as I unloose


arrows out of my skin — nine times I quiver, nine times I transfer

my essence to a tree, nine times I shape the memory into something visceral —

if I am really seeing the past now? There are no deer here, but there are


kangaroos and they suffer similar fates. I cannot see Frida Kahlo’s

head on a kangaroo, I cannot build the symbolism, archetypes and set

of personal references. I won’t mystify. If the sea at the end of a wooded path


is forced into the sky, so too are the hills of the valley into a different

but intimately connected sky. Wrong images. I wonder about translations of ‘karma’,

and reach for my feet to see if they are secure on an earth that turns fast —


or maybe it’s just turning at the necessary speed. Neither fast nor slow.  Maybe

that speed will stay the same no matter what the miners, industrialists and adventurers

do to it in all our names. It frightens me (and honestly, I don’t frighten easily —


well, not in a personal sense, anyway) that I have nothing to do with Frida

Kahlo or her deer-stag or her injury or bare forest or fetish for arrays of nine.

But then, why would I use a word like ‘fetish’? What am I painting here?



            John Kinsella

Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus: version  after 2:10 — a mimesis


How we machine machines

might be at the root of the problem,

a root system of fibre-optics

and nanoparticles, the equilateral


disjunctions in application

of field-work. We have made it part

of our avatars not only via imposition

but by unnatural selection:


each lyrical strain we tune

into our ‘feelings’, remade as satisfaction

and compliance of mystery.


Speech to text slips past the inexpressible.

Expansion of services is not the music

we associate with ‘ecology’ — house of the word.



            John Kinsella

Monday, November 15, 2021

Was out at Julimar Conservation Park on Sunday with Tracy. A few photos and a poem in support of the mixed woodlands/forest (below). This article from Landscope is useful regarding some of the colonial incursion/history of the place and its importance in the now. I don't agree with some of the approaches in the article (especially regarding four-wheel driving), but the piece does highlight the importance of the 'park'. It is vital we keep focus on the forest and the threat it is under from Chalice Mining. Also see this article at Hike West regarding the threat to environment from Chalice.

Investor Notes for Chalice Mining’s Persecution of Land at Julimar

‘sombre woods’
The Argonautica

With settler familiarity the forest is brow-beaten
by four-wheel drives and pig hunters. Pigs are the lament-
excuse-justification for blood-letting, a way around
circumventions. And then there’s the farm turned
into a minefield — a mine in a field, or rather
the exploratory drills for a mine in a field
that will dilate into the forest if the company
has its way with relevant government agencies —
the lamenting and unravelling of ‘green tape’. In case
you shoulder wonder about deployments of language
for investors, try ‘Gonneville Intrusion’ as the name
for these activities. Or, ‘strategic deposit’ of ‘critical
minerals.’ Intrusion strategic critical deposit. And
‘expand footprint’. Definition. Seven rigs — diamond
and reverse circulation. Farmland entrée. And then...
and then the full run of revelation with missionary zeal.

And this poem-addendum to petition that lives in the mind
of the forest and its readers — the wandoo and jarrah
and marri trees in full awareness of what lies
beneath in the ‘complex’, speaking with words
that will be extinguished before they can find
a way past investor vocabularies, before they
can upset degrees of separation, the consequences
of portfolios. Oh, blue leschenaultia
and kangaroo paws were still flowering
and a light breeze was a sombre ocean
in the mixed woodland when we visited
over on Sunday — as the company’s advance 
gathers pace, as the ‘maiden resource’
PRs its heroics, buys into community,
spreads news of inevitability, of success.

John Kinsella

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Save 'Julimar State Forest'/Julimar Conservation Park from Chalice Mining!

I have just put this petition up at Change.Org for any of you willing to sign (see below plus link). Addressing governments, especially when they are so embedded with the mining industry, is a forlorn and fraught process, but every peaceful method must be tried:

Chalice Mining is attempting to develop a nickel, copper, cobalt and PGE mine at the 'Gonneville deposit' near the 'Julimar State Forest'/Julimar Conservation Park, Western Australia. Their end of 2020 statement claims — 'Julimar PGE-Ni-Cu-Co-Au discovery' [is] 'advancing rapidly to maiden resource'. The company is targeting the 28 000-hectare Julimar Conservation Park as part of their 'exploration' and potential exploitation of the 'deposit'. As cited in the Financial Review (November 9th, 2021) regarding exploratory drilling in the forest, 'Mr Dorsch said he was expecting approval to drill soon and the company was “raring to go”.'

Despite claiming it's all for the well-being of the world (minerals useful for carbon-reducing technology — 'green technology'), the destruction of the ecologically vital and unique Julimar forest will be a crime against the environment and the biosphere. The forest must be protected against such a flagrant rapacity that is ultimately based on nothing more than profiteering and indifference to environmental world-health.

The forests and bushland of Western Australia are already under great pressure from mining, and we plead with you to prevent this activity. We have an obligation to all life on this planet to prevent the damage and destruction of remaining habitats.

Link to Protect Julimar Forest petition. [Note the anti-tree propaganda in the Financial Review article, aligning the area with middle-class wealth (which is untrue), attempting to divide and conquer via mining labour demographics when it's the mega-wealthy who most benefit from such mining.]

Also, I beg you all to consider the threat to the Manning Ridge from mountain-biking proponents. See and look at 'concerns'. And here is a poem in support of that campaign:

Manning Ridge, Beeliar Regional Park, Whadjuk Noongar Boodja

Parrot bush is a flowering of white-tailed
black cockatoos is a flowering of limestone 

is a flowering of the essence of terrain. 
Mountain bikes are not biodiverse, 

mountain bike trails are not circulatory 
systems, mountain bikes and the trails 

made for them to traverse bring no rare species 
back from the brink, bring no warmth 

or comfort to country. Mountain bikes
compress the ridge, break the back

of habitat. When riders ride into their future
they delete the future for so much else.

Bandicoots and lined skinks know I visited
as a child, trying to hear what they had to say —

their memories are passed on through
limestone, through woodlands

and shrublands. I won’t forget
their gifts. Now I speak out.

Parrot bush is a flowering of white-tailed
black cockatoos is a flowering of limestone 

is a flowering of a future.
Remember. Act. Remember.

John Kinsella

Graphology Lambent 28: for the protesters against the Garzweiler lignite mine

False light false warmth the pit dilating
to consume trees and villages, filling

atmosphere with false signs false breath —
that dirty heat that warms only death.

But those of you sitting to block ‘progress’
will bring life with every delay — you redress

our failure as the cranes migrate.

John Kinsella

The destruction of habitat and contamination of the biosphere are such a multiplex concurrence of 'events' that unless we resist all of these assaults at once, and say enough to all such behaviour and activity, they will overwhelm the planet.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Poem in Support of the Sacred Bushland of Walwalinj ('Mount Bakewell') and the Ballardong People's Relationship to Their Country

The Euphemisms of Trails: Save Walwalinj from the Mountain Bike Trails Proposed by the York Shire and the Western Trails Alliance



It all falls by waysides

in naming ‘prosperity’ —

whose is rarely in question

because it’s a state of being

we can’t afford to question?


Thunderbird reacts!


Wheatbelt ‘alpine’ seems

contradictory in the scouring,
but all definitions up for grabs

as vested parties push bikes

hard up the mountain:


parodying watershed,

parodying ley-lines,

parodying ecotones,

parodying lines of naming

parodying duration.


Thunderbird reacts!


Adrenaline’s fallout

over orchids so rare...

last refuge, plethora, haven.

Life out of reach



those who claim

what’s not theirs to claim,

but they know the ins

and outs of colonial law.

Read the fine detail —


the letter, the clause... see

point... sub-sectioned.

Behind closed doors

it may seem to some

that Ballardong people


are a ‘hurdle to clear’ — a jump

on the path to stimulus. Protocols

written by... see government

guidelines. See trails carved

out of a purple mountain.


Thunderbird reacts!



            John Kinsella