Friday, December 23, 2022

In Memory of Wendy Jenkins

We are very sorry to have to note the passing of poet, editor and writer, Wendy Jenkins. Wendy was a friend with whom we both went way back — she edited our early Fremantle Press books, and was deeply loved and respected by many poets and writers. Wendy was also a remarkable poet of great poise and imagistic intensity. She spent much time perfecting the balance of her poems, and shaped lines down to the very morphemes and phonemes of words. She was an immensely generous and committed editor. There is so much to say about her, but for now, here is an elegy I have written for her:


Equilibrium

 

            IM Wendy Jenkins

 

 

Rivers brought balance

between sea and The Hills —

 

filaments, fibres, arteries.

And wetlands were at your

 

feet so you dipped your toe

and said the machines

 

of destruction can go

no further. We remember.

 

For us, it’s burnt orange sunsets

and quail through the stubble.

 

And though it’s up & over

from your milieu, we know

 

where you stand, where

you walk past limestone,

 

water moving through,

the heat arraigned.

 

 

            John Kinsella

 

 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Free Climate Activist Immediately!

I write in support of the climate activist who has been jailed in New South Wales for blocking a lane of traffic on Sydney Harbour Bridge. Such sentencing is the sign of an authoritarian regime using all the tools of oppression it has to hand to enforce its will. 

The very fact that the legal system is being used to target those who 'incite' or cause 'economic disruption' says it all — this is purely and utterly a protection racket for industry, mining, exploiters of the environment, and the wealthy. To jail a non-violent activist because they 'disrupt' is another deeply disturbing sign that the unrestrained destruction of the planet is going to continue apace, no matter how many people oppose it and try to both articulate their opposition and bring the rapacity to a halt. 

This jailing is a crime of the state, and an abuse of basic humanitarian and civil rights. 

This individual has acted unselfishly on behalf of a deeply wounded biosphere. We must stand with them. They must be freed immediately.

Non-violence is non-violence, and this is someone at least trying to stand up against the 'economic' juggernaut, the consumerism and polluting behaviours that will leave the planet a barren wasteland if it is not halted. Many of us demand the immediate liberation of this climate activist, and further demand that such draconian 'sentencing' never be allowed to happen again. 

In solidarity with the activist!

Note: On a micro level, and as a complete aside, I remain opposed to the use of 'devices' such as flares and glue because of the environmental damage that arises from their manufacture, and further, they readily operate as symbols of the state in themselves; even the reverse irony of a 'flare' being a call for help under great duress fails because of the materials that go into making it. However, this concern regarding activist modes and approaches has nothing to do with the justice (and injustice) in this case. The wrong is entirely the state's and its proxies'.

    John Kinsella

Friday, October 28, 2022

Statement Against Racism in Western Australia

 Racism in Western Australia

 

The murder of a Noongar teenager by an assailant said to have been uttering racial abuse as he attacked is horrifically and sadly part of a broader issue of racism in Western Australia that needs addressing on every level until it stops. This is an overt example of hate and its consequences, but for many Aboriginal people, and a significant number of non-white Western Australians, the spectre of racism is evident in many said and unsaid ways.

 

My entire life has been witness to racism perpetrated by smug, self-satisfied bigots who declare they are not racist when they are, and particularly when I was in my youth, by overt racists. For many years my associates and I spent our time removing racist posters and protesting against organisations such as the ANM white supremacists which had such a foothold in Perth and WA in general.

 

But it was really the school ground where I first saw racism towards Aboriginal kids first-hand. A lot of it was driven by ignorance and regurgitation of parental attitudes, for sure, but there was also a gross materialism underpinning much of it — a fear that these kids might actually have a connection to land beyond their own connection. There was an anxiety and doubt that led to abuse and put-downs.

 

Another tragic thing about such 'certainty' of colonial 'belonging' centred around migrant kids who had just arrived, who also copped bigotry because they ‘didn’t belong’. So there were those who weren’t allowed to belong, and those whose belonging stretched back tens of thousands of years were considered to belong too much.

 

The root causes of these issues are varied, but one in particular is the core narrative of colonialism itself. Colonialism isn’t migration. Colonialism is a system of violent occupation, theft and exclusion, and systematising of this occupation through generations and into any imagined future. Colonialism is what we live under in Australian still — the ‘state’ itself, but also private companies that replicate exploitative ‘trickle/flow up’ models of wealth.

 

How can Aboriginal people in Western Australia feel safe and secure in love of their land, in their deep connections, with mining companies and government agencies over-riding their belonging? It’s their country. Hate projected by ‘whites’ (or those who proudly identify as such — why anyone would, other than to own up to a sad truth, is beyond me) is very much tied up with control of property, goods and ‘ownership’. Even those ‘whites’ who are impoverished still function within a discourse that places their colonial ‘rights’ above all others. It’s a false idea of ‘first’ and ‘entitlement’ that often brings disturbing anger and resentment. The system makes racists. The colonial subtext is violence. This is not to exonerate individuals, but to say there is a broader responsibility in this.

 

I can scarcely begin to comprehend the pain that the family and community affected by such an act of brutality can be experiencing. I can only extend my condolences and love and support and best wishes, and hope that speaking out by many can bring change. This is a racist place and the racism/hate needs to stop. It can be stopped by ALL implicated in colonial society standing up and being held accountable. I honour the memory of the deceased and extend my hand to all those who suffer racism in any form.

 

            John Kinsella

Thursday, October 27, 2022

On Scott-Patrick Mitchell's Poetry Collection Clean

 Launch Speech for Scott-Patrick Mitchell’s Clean

 

            by John Kinsella

 

I first met Scott-Patrick during a workshop I was giving in 2006. Well, that’s true and not true. I had read their work as part of the pre-entry submissions and had been astounded at the freshness and verve of the work — that its language seemed so alive and yet had something haunting about it as well. But I had encountered their work prior to this as part of the ‘world-building’ Interactive Geographies project for Poetryetc listserv back in the late 90s. As that project was made of so many voices, I hadn’t separated any one voice off in particular. Texts were offered and absorbed into a kind of polyvalent rhizome and the whole work pulsated with many lives, many places.

 

At a tangent to this, one of the many interesting and even exciting things that came with a first reading of Scott-Patrick’s book Clean was to encounter who they’d been in the sharing of their voice with the many, and to see it reworked into the language of the city it geographised. In Clean (Upswell, 2022), Scott-Patrick’s ‘interactive geography’ moment becomes part of a personal synthesis, part of the thesis/anti-thesis sub-structure of this remarkable work of addiction and recovery. Boorloo/Perth in the context of an ongoing journey that came close to consuming and even destroying the poet.

 

So, in a vicarious kind of way, I realised that I had in fact ‘known’ them for much longer than I’d been fully aware, and apropos of this, that I needed to question what it is that suggests we might know someone in the first place. We can never know anyone completely, and Scott-Patrick’s poems also show us that we spend our lives trying to know ourselves.

 

These reflections came from a first encounter with Clean and intensified as I reread the three sections of a book that gathers into a life. The many levels of affect the poet engages us through are compelling, troubling, addictive and in the end, liberating — personally, and also collectively as people implicated both in the very place of writing, the city it is being launched in, and in our embodiment of the poems as readers. We, the readers and hearers of this remarkable collection, are constantly asking ourselves what we should and shouldn’t do, where we might and might not appear, and where we should or shouldn’t fuse our own experiences through what is mapped and unmapped. This is an act of immersing ourselves in a life, and in a city — an act that carries responsibilities.

 

I want to say something about the nature of addiction which, I feel, my twenty-seven years of sobriety, of being ‘clean’, have suggested to me — that an addict never stops being an addict, and that if we are able to channel our addictions into generative and healing actions, that mark(er) of our lives can improve rather than destroy them. Further, it means we can hopefully bring joy and support to other people’s lives rather than damage or even destroy them, too.

 

In the poem ‘Reworking slurs I was called from when I was using’,  Scott-Patrick makes use of expressions of contempt meted out by non-addicts towards addicts which I could strongly identify with — they flip them linguistically of course, and there’s a harsh reflection to be cast back on the social condition delivering them, but ultimately the responsibility comes back to the addict, and the poet — “DO US ALL A FAVOUR AND (graft saplings/to rock face/at the edges/of the compass)’. This is a tough equation that doesn’t map onto any other personal-social dynamic. It’s also a brilliant fusing of rhetoric in the form of insult, and figurative slippage into a layered perception of being, of quiddity.

 

Society’s bigotry is never acceptable, and normative ways of controlling difference are always damaging, always, to my mind, wrong. Witness Scott-Patrick’s superb ‘This Is Not a Manifesto’ in which they begin: ‘Because I am still manifesting. At the age of/ 42, my gender identity is more fluid than ever’ Inside, I am aqueous...’, which many of us in different ways will either identify with or understand. The ultimate beauty and generosity of this poem is exemplified by these words near the end: ‘Until then, weep at the bravery of/ those who are younger, so much more certain/ of how to speak uncertain’.

 

I’d like to riff off the issue of ‘beauty’ in Scott-Patrick’s work. Beauty is lost in the grimmest and sludgiest moments of the early section of the book, ‘Dirty’, and this lack of beauty creates a ghostly residue, a haunting that grows with sobriety. The haunting is complex — it is both the loss of self that comes with addiction, but it’s also the loss of the world addiction brings. It’s the grimness of scraping up stuff to feed addiction and it’s the anti-performance of getting through the day and the night and the day. Being clean is remembering what it was like not being clean. But beauty is always somewhere to be found, and as the book ‘journeys’, the nature of this potential beauty shifts focus.

 

Inhabiting a city empirically and also inhabiting it conceptually as Scott-Patrick does, doesn’t conceptually (and maybe even physically) mean the same city. The city seen through the heightened, expectant or dulled senses of the addict is very different from the city seen while ‘clean’, and, even more so, through the stages of getting clean. It’s hard to shake the residues of the addict city, and they have to be reinvented, rewritten as a part of seeing it fresh.

 

It took me years to return to inner-city ‘Perth’/Boorloo... I could not walk past certain hotels, nightclubs and doors that went up to Northbridge rooms without feeling ill. Scott-Patrick has remained in the city, and has rewritten their relationship to it, adding to their world and all our worlds. Consider the poem in ‘Dirty’, ‘This Town’, that goes: ‘Funny how this drug is anything but chill. A storm rolls into curtains, threatening to arrive. It never does. At least, not in the sky.’’ The travel through to ‘Ghost City’ of the ‘Clean’ section near the end of the book: ‘Bird song fills the void/ where once fumes coiled: each squall and call/ amplified off these walls.’ Bird song is beauty.

 

Now, the irony remains, as does the ‘street-smart’ locution that is steeply immersed in figurative perception, but there’s a shift in register. The ghost city is the city of addiction, and it haunts, but it is something distinctly different. It is better than the fumes of the pipe, even if the city throws up other pollutions. And the growing urge across the collection towards environmental positions takes up this haunting: an addict pollutes their own body, and society pollutes the planet. What is the difference? We can hopefully cure our addictions; we can hopefully cure pollution.

 

It’s a simple equation on one level, and the most profoundly difficult on another. Oh, it’s not coincidental that I have quoted from prose poems — these are magnificent and tonally inventive examples of the form, and tell stories as well as create intense lyrical and anti-lyrical contestations as ‘poems’. Scott-Patrick has always been a unique wielder and breaker of the line in poetry, and compacts a mythology and satire into a love poem, into a poem of connecting and disconnecting with others, in profound love poems, but their prose poems complement those dynamically lineated poems, and work as a major counterpoint in this book. The middle section’s ‘The Sleep Deprivation Diaries’ sequence shows the prose line at work (day by day) with electric poetic sensibility, and the erasures and breakdowns of lines contest sentences which only healthy sleep can bring — which the addict never really attains, and the recovering addict struggles after.

 

This book is full of confronting images and situations, and also full of hope. It has to be. There’s an essential dialogue that goes on with the mother, that has its inevitable pain and grief, especially come out of loving an addict, and the earth’s pain is elided with her own because of her generosity of spirit. It’s an interaction of sublimated wit — linguistically generative, compassionate, sharing, knowing, respectful, sensitive, tolerant and sometimes difficult. It’s one of the book’s complex beauties.

 

As is the increasing presence and engagement with the natural world, even if it’s as harried rural foxes or crows picking a living in city streets. Flowers appear and have quiddityIn the end, the book has a positive ectoplasm in the haunting that the poet carries with them through the many-layered city.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

How Not To Be An Activist

I am appalled at this effort to bring attention to the horror of the oil industry, a truly worthy focus of activism. But violating the artwork of Van Gogh who suffered to much in his life and received little financial 'benefit' from his visionary art is a contradiction in terms. 

That capitalism's art marketeering has made a mockery of his vision(s) is a terrible fact, but a work on public display that brings the hope of consideration and contemplation is worth more than a can of soup thrown over it. To say that the 'activists' and their campaign choose 'life over art' is fatuous — art is part of life, unless they are denying all culture and disrespecting all that this might entail. To say: 'Human creativity and brilliance is on show in this gallery, yet our heritage is being destroyed by our Government’s failure to act on the climate and cost of living crisis.' I might add that painting in truth has nothing to do with their government (beyond 'ownership' which is a meaningless 'quality).

'Heritage' is misused in their statement, or there is little understanding of its myriad complexities, and the photo op speaks significantly of advertising a 'moment' in itself. This 'spectacle' is not détournement but an act of hype-group speak that does little to serve any cause. The t-shirts (provenance?), the posing (consider the implications of the phone and its support systems and the fossil fuels it consumes.... and the nuclear fuel!), the choice of soup (additives... did it contain any animal by-products... ? all relevant considerations), the demeaning of one of the purposes of 'human endeavour' — creativity — make this 'life' a very lopsided thing. 

Whose life? I guess their life. In all these things cause and effect have to be weighed up and the potential for hypocrisy considered. Sometimes there's no avoiding a certain amount of contradiction 'in order' to make a major and urgently necessary point, but it always needs minimising. Reduce, not maximise the hypocrisy. 

These 'activists' have 'targeted' their protest at such a tangent, the act becomes, indeed, that very spectacle without emotional or ethical resonance — it is about them, and about their campaign, and about their collective 'thinking' made into the moment. To have done the same thing against a piece of imperial propaganda, or a work celebrating capitalism and environmental destruction, would have been a very different act (at least... though, in reality, it would also be an act of violence), but instead they chose an image that represents the complexity of hope under duress, of the paradox of joy in life when the flowers are in essence dying in the vase. It's a popular and very famous image, so they went for it — buying into the capitalist promo handbook and fetishising it as product.

But in 'targeting' (a military act) one of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' paintings, they demeaned the hope and also 'distress' the image purveys, and also the depth of its insight re the condition of human celebration and admiration of beauty: it's a picture with more questioning than is often realised. 

Activists should surely always be asking how best to reduce MY/OUR impact on the planet. In the same way that to stop the sale of a luxury car is different from stopping an ambulance, both fed with oil products (as fuel and in plastics etc.), so is being activist in the street to stop the tyranny of oil as opposed to wrecking an 'oil' painting that was not created to fuel the capitalist state and its warlike appendages. Art is part of life in all cultures, across many heritages. Social media is exhausting the world — energy that runs it comes from somewhere, people, and the hardware relies on the destruction of much of the world. Is this blog entry worth it? Maybe. Maybe not.


    John Kinsella

Monday, September 26, 2022

Two Poets Paint: John Kinsella & Glen Phillips art exhibition at Sandalwood Yards Gallery, York

 By Tracy

Saturday 24th September saw the opening by Will Yeoman of an exhibition that will run for 2 weeks (till 8th October) containing works by John Kinsella & Glen Phillips, as part of the York Festival. This exhibition is located on Ballardong Noongar Boodja.


Glen's works feature wheatbelt landscapes; John's are interpretations of scenes from Dante's Divine Comedy.

Entry to the exhibition is free, and the artists' works are for sale.

Sat 24 Sep – Sat 8 Oct (Wed – Sun, 10am-4pm)

Sandalwood Yards Gallery, 179 Avon Terrace, York

You can watch & hear John reading a poem from his Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography at the launch here

Some photos from the gallery:


Glen Phillips & Rita Tognini in front of some of Glen's works


John Kinsella & Tracy Ryan with some of John's works

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Blank Signs

Russian anti-war protesters were arrested for displaying blank signs. A British lawyer displayed a blank sign yesterday and a police officer threatened arrest should he write 'not my King' on it. Fascism has various faces, but always the same rule book. Monarchism is a particularly honed form and tool of fascism. Many media outlets in Australia are directing and controlling what is essential a colonial reassertion via the death of one monarch and the raising of the next. Those who do not communally participate are judged, and those who fail to participate in the public eulogies are frequently excoriated. The state is the state is the state, and an absent 'head of state' who functions through a proxy suits a colonial realm that purports not to be colonial, but is as much now as it ever was. It just has more effective propaganda and often unwitting propagandists to call on.


A Most Gracious Speech to Demi-text in the Fallout of Lèse-majesté


Blank signs are deadly signs

and any failure to switch the porch light on

is marked down as a location

of those refusing to mourn

the postage stamp of empire.

 

And wide-angle lens crowds

assisting police

to impose the new order

which is the old order,

as we know, as the apophthegm

goes and goes in whoever’s

English.

 

But this is protocol.

The face on currency

will face the other way.

It’s like a nuclear submarine deal.

 

In the colonies the delusion

is an amusement park ride.

Coconut shies at the fair,

a monopoly on copra.

Cheap labour.

 

Blank signs are deadly signs

as phantom limbs threaten arrest

before a protest, before the letters

take shape. Monarchies love mobs

that dance in their favour,

especially when the extras

are voluntary. Those

they touched and put to heal.

 

A failure to put the porch light on

leaves a myth of origin in the dark.

All those reigning memories.

All those entertaining scandals.

All those sporting occasions.

All those Royal Command Performances.

All those Victoria Crosses.

All those struggles for Independence.

The science of cortèges.

 

Commander-in-chief. Regalia.

All those deaths.  All those.

 

And porch lights on down in Australia

with eyes out for dissenters:

‘those grubs’,  those anarchists.

A Funeral for the earth

whose rain we celebrate.

 

Mourning glory in the republic

of conscience. I was bullied

under the monarch’s portrait.

 

Blank signs are deadly signs

and any failure to switch the porch light on

is marked down as a location

of those refusing to mourn

the postage stamp of empire.

 

 

 

            John Kinsella