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

infuriates

 

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

 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Save Walwalinj ('Mt Bakewell') from Further Exploitation and the Destruction of Rare Habitat

 Dear Shire President (of York, Western Australia)

I wish to vigorously protest the plans to exploit the sacred and exceedingly rare and fragile environment of Walwalinj ('Mt Bakewell') as indicated by your declarations to the ABC. The mountain has already been placed under stress by clearing for 'recreational' as well as agricultural purposes, and the habitat will not cope with more stress. There are orchids so rare up there they exist nowhere else. The environment should be protected and not exploited, and its sacred essence respected. 

I have spent my entire life writing the region and known the environment of the 'Dyott Range' (another inappropriate renaming) and surroundings intimately. This is a 'greenwash' act that claims 'nature tourism', which would simply mean further degradation of a fragile and unique ecosystem. 

Cautious walking and care are one thing, but to 'open up' to mountain biking is to consign the bush to destruction. Recently talking on the email with an environmental officer regarding degradation of Perth Hills forests, they noted that the greatest damage came from mountain biking. This opens the door to so many abuses of the habitat. Walwalinj isn't a 'resource' to be 'capitalised' on. In a world suffering under the weight of such exploitation, surely an effort can be made to conserve rather than exploit?

I ask you to reconsider and take this informed protest on board. I will certainly use all my energy, contacts and writing ability to protest this constantly. It is a wrong thing you are aiming to do.

I will speak about this at every public opportunity I get in the wheatbelt, and that will be sooner than later — that is my responsibility, and I take it seriously.

Sincerely,


John Kinsella

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Supervivid Depastoralism

 A new book for those interested — Supervivid Depastoralism.


Cover Painting by Stephen Kinsella


Book description: I don't sleep much or very well (I have a recent book of poetry entitled Insomnia!), but, when I do, I often have supervivid dreams. It is said that in the time of Covid-19, many people are speaking of having more vivid dreams than usual, and though the poems in this manuscript are not-specifically 'Covid-19 poems', at certain points of the manuscript they certainly make contact with this overwhelming reality and condition of crisis. But this is essentially a book in a lifecycle of trying to confront and consider the impacts of colonial agribusiness mono agricultural practices on Australia, and how it is or isn't possible to write about these issues within the conventions of the pastoral tradition of literature. Can 'pastoralism' and environmentalism intersect in meaningful ways or is it all a colonial ruse? As a committed environmentalist and human rights landrights justice campaigner, my poetry necessarily considers the place I work out of (largely wheatbelt Western Australia), and the problems of writing poetry 'about' rurality and ecology, as well as addressing the ongoing colonialism. This new book is an attempt to push my anti, post, counter, and radical pastoral to the point where it also becomes a means of considering where agricultural culpabilities intersect with personal histories and behaviours, where creativity that comes out of a critique of invasive and damaging wrongs is in itself up for question. So this is a work of self-critique, questioning, and also aspiration to vividly confront and find ways through this crisis of presence. The 'Australian Pastoral' is a construct, a propaganda device that suits all sorts of oppressive modes, and is easily a place to retreat into even when it is being questioned: I am trying to bring all this into eclogic discussion, to contest it further as part of a long and linguistically diverse process of contestation. This book 'connects' with other books on 'pastoral' I have written over the decades, including other recent work (in progress) on odes and eclogues (longer pieces largely) - but this is a collection of shorter poems. The book could be subtitled: Eclogix.

    John Kinsella

Friday, June 18, 2021

Ecological Benefits Propositions

1. People are ecologically minded to serve their own ends

2. People believe that they have an intrinsic right over an ecology whether or not they have a totemic relationship with that ecology

3. People will damage an ecology to improve their own ecology or the ecology of their perceived community

4. People will address a social injustice that does not directly concern themselves through aligning it with protection of ecology but not if that ecology serves their own powerbase, even indirectly

5. People separate social injustice from justice to ecologies

6. Oppressive power structures will ‘trickle down’ benefits from the exploitation of ecologies while receiving minimum side-effects for themselves while maximising proximity-damage to those who are oppressed

7. Ecological activism will benefit the activist directly or indirectly, even when it benefits us all: this paradox is the empathetically just position designed to be incontestable

8. Ecologies rarely get to speak for ecologies and only do where their direct Indigenous or traditional interlocutors are given a voice over their protection and well-being

9. All being of ecologies give us all equal part and concern in their fate and yet the benefits from damage are lopsided and based on a series of oppressions worked through ‘race’, ‘class’, ‘gender’, and control

10. Ecology is aligned with dwelling and habitation and yet the houses of non-human species are undone or transposed to transfer power from ecology to certain humans or groups of humans

11. Human social structures make control of ecology more effective in order to control subordinate or peripheral parts of those social structures themselves

12. To claim authority and construct laws that have a central alignment with power will undo any ‘rights’ they legislate through controlling the nature of those rights (and the provenance of their being ‘granted’) — and this applies to the ‘protection’ of ecologies that then become reliant on the power demographics in the systems ‘offering’ that protection. Rights are inherent and beyond legislation which consumes those rights in underlying agendas

13. The elevating of human over animals in a conceptual sense will always mean animals will suffer not because humans should be respected less but because animals aren’t respected more — in the same way, ecologies being respected more can’t mean humans are respected less

14. The exploitation of individuals and groups of humans by other individuals and groups of humans (especially through institutions, state apparatuses, and larger social mechanism) relies on control and manipulation of ecologies — removing control over ecologies and allowing them to regain aspects of their autonomy lessens the ability of humans to create structures to systematically control, oppress and impose their ‘law’ on other humans.


John Kinsella


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Review of Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear

    by John Kinsella

 

Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear contains what I consider one of the best stanzas in ‘Australian poetry’:

 

Because to hold him is to hold the tree

  that holds these birds I cannot name,

                          and a word spoken here

           might almost sound like home

 

This is from ‘Learning Bundjalung on Tharawal’, and Araluen is a descendant of the Bundjalung Nation. What makes this stanza so potent is the language-searching of the poem that holds it — learning names, knowing words that come out of a totemic relationship with country means knowing bird or plant in essential and consequential ways. Earlier in the poem we read:

 

It is hard to unlearn a language:

             to unspeak the empire,

             to teach my voice to rise and fall like landscape,

a topographic intonation

 

Dropbear is a book-work of incredible depth and complexity — complex in its structure, and also, as Derrida thought things need to be when under pressure, complex in its thinking. It meticulously excoriates colonial storytelling in which allegory is trauma operating insensitively and with disturbed and cruel irony. A poem such as ‘Mrs Kookaburra Addresses the Natives’ satirises such story-making while gaining intensity through modulating tone from adult telling to children’s reception, and exposing many levels of patronising crypto-mythmaking. We read later in ‘Appendix Australis’ of ‘atavistically charged Banksia Men with their skinny black legs and wide black mouths’. Araluen’s poetry ridicules and exposes the Gibbs story’s inversion of who the threat to children’s lives actually was (official white government policy). Dropbear is a book of agency and recuperation.

 

The ash of fire is a reality on so many levels; the spectre of death is traumatically visceral and also an elusive but familial presence. Ghosts are throughout this collection, but we are not all capable of perceiving them. There is no simple formula to unravel this book. Fire, so imbued in the language and function of country, becomes disorientating across the colonialism of climate change (and geographical displacement), and the poet suffers across the distance — visiting England, then Ireland, disturbed by the pains of being at colonial centring.

 

In a deeply affecting and quite revealing prose-poem ‘essay’ piece, ‘To the Parents’, we read, apropos of the undoing of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in ‘Mrs Kookaburra Addresses the Natives’: ‘My siblings and I consumed those stories, we were/ never taught to settle for them. My parents never pretended/ these books could truly know country or culture or/ me — but they had both come from circumstances in which/ literacy and the access it affords was never a given. They just/ wanted me to be able to read.’ And so effective was the mediation between the coloniality of available reading, and its recontextualising in how and why it was read, that their daughter has created a language of lyrical-critical skill that might be part of the new language of redress.

 

The beautiful poem of familiarity, ‘See You Tonight’, presents what is possibly, in the light of the book, a resolvable paradox: ‘You play bunyip, I’ll be dropbear’. The cryptomyth of the killer carnivorous koala — the dropbear — becomes the vector for the misrepresentations and lies about Aboriginality in colonialist historicising, society and narrative.

 

Araluen’s language-flow is even mesmeric when it is most confronting, and trauma is almost lulled into consciousness, making a shock of realisation (‘Inland sea’ is an example of this). This is a work of such ‘lyrical’ intensity that it undoes the colonial lyric by showing what song can be. Araluen works in a language that is its own and of its own cultural belongings — not English as it would appear, but a shifting language that tells more truths of history than the erasures official English has built into it, whether we know it or not.

 

Brilliant Indigenous writers have excoriated the colonial nature of literary text-making in Australia so that the white gatekeeping of Australian literature has been shown up for what it is. Books of poetry such as Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear enact remembrance and confrontation with methodical purpose. A new poetics is revealed in a poetry that contests the shape of received form come about through colonial imposition, but is also delivered through the commitment to learning, reading, and comprehending what empowers colonial story-telling to impose in obvious and subtle ways. Araluen plays back these conventional devices and tropes, and undoes them so effectively that no colonial shibboleth is left unchallenged or undecoded.

 

This book of resistance won’t allow for the specious arguments about ‘some versions of pastoral’ being more sensitised to the theft of country, dispossession and  destruction of families and communities. It calls out literature, especially poets and poetry, for culpability. As Araluen writes pointedly and loudly at the end of ‘Fern Up Your Own Gully: ‘RIGHT   WHERE   YOU   WROTE   US’.

 

Araluen’s Dropbear is a deeply nuanced, sophisticated and self-aware book of poetry that in challenging colonial persistence also provides an array of entry points into understanding and perception for non-Aboriginal as well as Aboriginal readers. The use of the prose-poem essay as exemplar of not only ‘telling’, but also hearing oneself speak, is remarkable, and such works act as interludes for pause and reflection within the poem and protagonist, and within the book’s arguments.

 

In poem after poem, literary manners are undone and hypocrisy confronted — ‘The Last Endeavour’ (the first thing I thought of was Kenneth Slessor’s ‘Five Visions of Captain Cook’, and checking the thorough back notes, we indeed find it is one of the intertexts as well as anti-models for this remarkable undoing of voyages of exploration and invasion). ‘Acknowledgement to Cuntery’, ‘The Trope Speaks’ and ‘Appendix Australis’ with its anti-axioms of enquiry (‘23. no permissions were granted by community for this usage’) are examples.

 

It is easy to say an activist book is full of ‘fury’ or ‘anger’, but to my mind, that is too easy and even reductive. This book is intense in many different ways. It’s also a book of love and respect — of ancestors, family, community, a partner, and the power of language and country. But love and respect are contingent on mutuality, and understanding the reality of ongoing wrongs. ‘To the Poets’ finishes: ‘But no-one’s ever asked how we are both colonised by and inheritors of these words. J asks — what is a world, and what does it mean to end it? I want to know what it means to lose the world you’re still standing in?’ And this from a poet who takes nothing for granted, but knows what should be able to be taken for granted.

 

Dropbear can teach us all if we are willing to learn how to read, to listen, to comprehend.


[Note: this is a longer version of a review that appeared on 1/5/2021 in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers]

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Remembering Mhairi

 

We met as Sparks — Diverging Flints

Sent various — scattered ways —

We parted as the Central Flint

Were cloven with an Adze —

Subsisting on the Light We bore

Before We felt the Dark —

A Flint unto this Day — perhaps —

But for that single Spark.

                                                        (Emily Dickinson, from Wikisource, public domain)


That's a poem for her, my long-ago friend. And now, bells for her...

Long ago, Mhairi gave me Tori Amos's To Venus and Back, and today, a year on from her passing, I listen to "Bells for Her", the live version from that album. There's also a beautiful original studio version of this song on Under the Pink.

As I've mentioned before, Mhairi played the piano (beautifully), and often played Tori's music on it, as well as more classical and experimental work.

One year today she has been gone.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

On Karl Wiebke’s Art (2021): the interior and exterior spatiality of work and making

by John Kinsella

I have known Karl Wiebke since the mid 1980s, after he migrated to Australia in 1981. Karl was born in Germany, where he held his first exhibition of painting (at Die Malwand, Rotenburg) and studied fine art from 1972-76 at the Hochschule für bildende Kunst in Hamburg, with further exhibitions at Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst (1977/1980). 

I first came across Karl in Fremantle where I frequently visited (and later lived for while) on bouts of protest and dissipation. As a poet who at that time was focussed on writing (or thinking) poems out of what I experienced in accordance with what I read, visualised and heard, I was excited to come across Karl’s work of commitment and daily application, something I was very much unable to sustain at the time. 

But I was also interested in Karl’s open but very specific view of art in the world, and heard him jamming on a guitar with other artist-musician-practitioners (whom I knew in differing degrees) on various occasions (and am pretty sure I was at his last public gig with ‘Paint Kaput’ at the Cave Bar in Fremantle — one of my haunts of the time — in 1991, but I could be misremembering the occasion), and very early on spent some hours here and there zoned out on the studio floor where he made art and played with others, being politely coaxed out after I had crashed out. During that period, I lived for a couple of months in a shallow cave behind a screen of bushes facing Bather’s Beach under the Fremantle Roundhouse Gaol (with its horrendous history). 

Karl was always kind and generous, willing to talk about art and tolerant of my misdemeanours of behaviour and creative distractibility. At times, I would come across him after he had returned from visits to India or elsewhere, and he would be particularly open and brimming with creativity — once he specifically invited me to see his work-in-progress (rather than my just turning up with someone else or somehow). 

I came across Karl’s work before I met him —it was the 1983 exhibition at Praxis in Fremantle (an array of his painted sticks leaning against the wall: I was overwhelmed and thought of it as an installation poem). Yes, I certainly remember seeing his work first at Praxis (Fremantle, not the earlier Murray Street gallery in Perth). He seemed to be part of the new Perth-Fremantle modernism, but also outside it. Internal and external, and this really interested me. 

I think I probably met Karl socially (at a friend’s house or at a glass-maker’s factory or at the Stoned Crow... I can’t recall) before meeting him in situ, painting. I later saw him at work at Bannister Street Studios, and also in the back garden of his home (if I recall correctly— I was there with another friend), and then more committedly at his studio in the old Fremantle Fire Station, where on a few occasions I saw different drip layers of his pedestal of paint as it was being built-up over the years (Monochrome painting 1984-1991), as well as his many-layered sculpted paintings/gougings, revealed the very essence of what it is to make a painting. 

Karl’s painting is about practical work and also about the work of thinking. What is unseen in the painting, what is underneath, has visceral meaning to the ‘appearance’ of what is seeable. The long-term engagement (almost a painterly contract) to making an artwork, and being able to commit to such making for all the flux and changes of time — a duration that realigns the temporal — fascinated me. In the same way as the bands of paint on sticks struck me as being like narrow vertical poems of different length stanzas with different intensities, bringing to mind distended and extended colours as vowel sonneteering à la Rimbaud, I always left his studio with answers to formal problems in shaping, lineating and making poems. 

I feel I write poems of the external world — the natural environment — with an internality, and I think Karl paints to make painting both internal and external as per his ‘following’ of Theo van Doesburg’s annihilation and renewal of art, and the notion that concrete art speaks to the individual (the old) and the universal (the new). One thing I feel is sometimes missed by critics when considering the universalism of Karl’s art is the intense localism that comes with where and how a piece of art is created over time. If the De Stijl manifesto speaks of sympathising ‘with all who work for the formation of an international unity in Life, Art, Culture, either intellectually or materially', then the practice Karl developed in Germany necessarily alters in experential dynamics when made in Fremantle, Perth, or Melbourne, because the conditions of making shift. 

These shifts are noticeable in the way paint applies to a prepared (or not) surface, the rapidity with which it drips and dries, how it mixes or doesn’t mix (more ‘time’ of setting between layers means resistance... and I often think of electronic resistance colour codes and ‘ohm values’ as a kind of code for control of creativity... brown red orange yellow as markers of tolerance) in different atmospheric conditions (working close to the sea is different from working away from it). Also, the social-demographic conditions of materiality shift between localities, as well as across time, and, in doing so, change perception and process. 

If in eschewing symbolism, the artist changes the terms of referentiality in a painting, they doesn’t necessarily change the way a viewer (or experiencer’s — touch, smell, even the sound of a painting being made) searches for symbolic meaning, even when they are directed not to by descriptions of intent (a critic’s imposition more than the artist’s). Karl is aware that his purpose is his purpose as artist, and that the viewer will make their own purpose. That is not a problem, and is in fact an energiser of a commitment to paint across a lifetime with a purpose to make and build on that making. 

I admired (and admire) Karl for his work ethic, and I was also mindful of how such a personal commitment did not prevent him from communal and social generosity. Many people knew Karl ‘back in the day’, and his respect for many different kinds of making — making outside an aesthetic hierarchy, but with a commitment to work and building — seemed socially as well as materially just to me. 

Again, we might think of Theo van Doesburg and his ‘The End of Art’ — ‘Aestheticism has infected and diseased us all. (Yes, us.)’. Modernity is always about negotiating internal spatiality with the pressures of external mass-producing, and the artisan aspect of Karl’s work-habits are, it seems to me, very much connected with meditative repetition that is a ritual to allow spiritual questioning — in other words, the work-ritual prevents internal existence falling into repetition and anodyne ritualistic responses which prevent contact with creativity. So work and repetition are not habit, but absolute necessity. 

External process brings internal freedoms. And always that complexity of texture: smooth drips of paint that look/feel like rivers, bridges, valleys, hills, roads and even like the body... And the codings of colour that are concrete, plastic, and realisable in the world. None of this is ‘symbolic’ by design, and it is always new.

Over the years I have written many poems (and articles... and also an exhibition opening speech) out of experiencing and thinking about Karl’s work in terms of the making of poetry, including writing poems inside the catalogue reproductions of his painting hoops/rings/circles. There is an interesting ‘bio’ page on Karl at his regular gallery Liverpool Street Gallery extracted from an article by Margaret Moore (published in Australian Art Collector, Issue 46, October-December 2008), and recently I have written a series of poems on his 2020 exhibition, ‘Seven Paintings’ :

Graphology Ratio 39: On Karl Wiebke’s Seven Paintings 2020

G7 Orange, 2020

Across the decades of work, Karl,
apotheosis is in the wrist and eye, a pattern 
of days and aqueous humour floaters
fielding vision to remake inversions,
a microscopy of lucid orange to trail 
flagella on their paths across the slide 
of purple-mauve pooled echoes.

G7 Grey, 2020

Immediacy is grey in the compressed
vessel where spectral suppresses
to highlight, burst into pre-cursive
search for vowels and immense
looping eruptives, qua rewriting
storage to allow more uptake, out-
flow, time to reconcile dusk as dawn.

G7 Muted White, 2020

House of cells is engram of mosaic
to address figure to figure in the colour
chart test to lift out numbers and letters,
to go against marbled waters
still on surface but a micron beneath 
shifting curves to hexagonals — what
pushed into field of muting so vigorously?

G7 Red

Masks of paint-theatre fall-and-rise
and fall risen to make happy sad, sad happy;
in alert mode we sit on tipped seat-edges 
waiting for upraising curtain point
of attack but peace reigns in draft 
redraft final moment closing lines curtailing 
perpetual wonder of endless drama.

G7 Blue, 2020

Resolved a long time ago now active
as irresolute so decided upon, so back
& forth to cover ground with swirl
and shimmy in sky-water interface
ingredients of equilateral and isoleles
letter-curves to lift blue shadows 
to sink and float and sign-out vapour.

G7 Dark Blue

Bluefire jellyfish signatures epochs.
Stingers wave tentacles and are tentacles.
Folders merge chirography — systems
ail and effuse to rise an oxygen-surface dichotomy.
We swim lexically and are stung. We stroke. Submerge.
Following to surface is more than gill, more than gasp,
and not those bends in a doctrine of signatures.

G7 Pink, 2020

Touch washed blood picture report as bubbles
pop and flatten to trail back a scene of mixing 
or even source of pigments; gentle surge regular-irregular
to answer exquisite critic’s conundrum of pulse,
that quixotic histology of pink promising to flush
buddings out; but intense to examine each variation, 
each exception, those myriad conversations, our moods.

Also recently, a family member ‘unearthed’ the painting below made sometime during the early 90s, I think. Karl and I did two of these — Karl did the ‘base’, and I painted lines from my poems over the top. One I returned to Karl for him to add layers over, and one I kept and lost (now found!). I have no idea what became of the other one, but below is a photo of the one I held onto — the words are from my poem ‘Helen Frankenthaler’s Interior Landscape, 1964’ along with ‘stimuli’ additional words that were intended to open the interior of the painting and the text. I have also written many poems on Frankenthaler's work, and it seemed interesting to me at the time to create a conversation via physically applied text between the different spatialities of these painters. I think poetry can facilitate such conversations without imposing or co-opting. I have always been interested in the physical act of writing, which in some ways I equate to painting (in other ways, not), and to graphologically bring the two modes of making and cause-response together was quite exciting. I wish the project had gone further!


Karl Wiebke and John Kinsella — 'No Graffito' Painting/Poem