Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wanton destruction of native forests

Said by John, typed up by Tracy

The whole Avon Valley is blanketed in smoke at the moment as a result of bushfires in the south.

The most disgraceful aspect of the 10,000 ha of old-growth & other native forest that are being destroyed around the Walpole area is that they are the result of "controlled burns" that have got out of hand.

Government authorities are often responsible for these devastating fires, it seems -- in so many cases, the so-called "prescribed burns" are destructive and senseless, and this is another example of the broader consequences that can come of such actions. Even though it was obviously not part of the intention, surely those carrying out the burns are aware of the possibility that the fire may "escape" their control. Some kind of accountability must be had here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remembering Merton

By Tracy

Today is the anniversary of Thomas Merton's death (coincidentally too, the anniversary of the day he entered the Trappist order many years earlier).

Merton's writing has been immensely important to both of us at different stages in our lives.

Here's an extract from one of his poems, "The Fall":

They fall, they fall into apartments and are securely established!

They find themselves in streets. They are licensed
To proceed from place to place
They now know their own names
They can name several friends and know
Their own telephones must some time ring.

If all telephones ring at once, if all names are shouted at once and all cars crash at one crossing:
If all cities explode and fly away in dust
Yet identities refuse to be lost. There is a name and a number for everyone.

There is a definite place for bodies, there are pigeon holes for ashes:
Such security can business buy!

Who would dare to go nameless in so secure a universe?
Yet, to tell the truth, only the nameless are at home in it.

They bear with them in the center of nowhere the unborn flower of nothing:
This is the paradise tree. It must remain unseen until words end and arguments are silent.

[From The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, New Directions, 1977)

Reading Reading

By Tracy

John tells me he's just re-read Peter Reading's Work in Regress, which he reckons is one of the best books of poetry to have been published in Britain in the last 20 years (it was published in Britain in 1997, by Bloodaxe).

He says: it's a very slim book with a kind of rhetorical, fragmentary lyricism, with all ebullience sucked out of it -- it's possibly one of the darkest & grimmest books he has ever read. The use of Latin, Greek and medieval & Renaissance references and stylistic subtexts inflects a rotting modernity that makes for an implosion of imperialist aesthetics ("Ovidian"; "Theocritan"; "Propertian...", etc).

And he adds: But Reading is never this unnecessarily wordy! -- spitting out words and phrases so sharp and so honed that they are frightening.

The individual title is out of print, according to the Bloodaxe Books website, but can be found in the third volume of Reading's collected poems.

You can listen to recordings of Reading reading his work at Lannan Foundation's website.

The Latest Westerly

By Tracy

The newest issue of Westerly, guest-edited by Sally Morgan and Blaze Kwaymullina, is entirely focussed on "Indigenous writing and art", with a great variety of articles, stories, poems and images from Aboriginal contributors.

It has a striking cover ("Paradox of Inequality 2007") by Bronwyn Bancroft, who also writes in this issue of her background and context as an artist, accompanied by further colour reproductions of some of her works. (Tim, aged 6, has long been a fan of her children's-book illustrations, and though this Westerly material is not in that mode, when it arrived, he said immediately, "Is that art by Bronwyn Bancroft?", before I'd even told him anything about the journal...!)

Another great highlight for me is the piece that opens the issue: Nyungar yarns about specific birds, contributed by Leonard M. Collard ("Djidi djidi, Wardong, Kulbardi, Walitj and Weitj: Nyungar Dream Time Messengers").

I also learned a lot from the inspiring family history-writing by Pat Dudgeon and Sabrina Dudgeon, about their mother and grandmother's life.

But there's much more in this current journal issue than I can cover in a blog entry. You can check out the details here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stendhal online

By Tracy

The Guardian reports that Grenoble's Stendhal University and public library have created a website that carries Stendhal's original manuscripts (500 pages up so far!), which you can inspect alongside transcripts (also annotated for clarity and background).

It's an amazing experience, and it's at http://www.manuscrits-de-stendhal.org/

Saturday, November 21, 2009

All-vegan shop in Western Australia

By Tracy

Cruelty Free WA opened in Fremantle in late October.

They have all sorts of items, and everything is vegan.

Of course, you don't have to be vegan to shop there -- anyone looking for "humane" mousetraps (ones that enable you to move the mice without hurting them), or alternatives to leather, or toiletries and makeup that are not tested on animals and contain no animal products -- will find what they need here.

There's also a great range of chocolate, soy cheeses, sandwich slices, nutritional yeast (the best one, Engevita) and non-dairy cream too.

The shop is at 28A Queen Street, opposite the side of Myer that runs down to the multistorey car park (near where Queen Street meets High Street).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Destruction of roadside vegetation

By Tracy

Recently, local press featured objections to the destructive slashing (rather than pruning) of roadside vegetation, which we had also noticed on the way to Toodyay.

John's just been up in the Central West & I thought I'd transcribe here some observations from his journal that show this problem is not simply confined to the Avon Valley...

Coming down from Geraldton today I was deeply disturbed to find that a slashing machine had removed most of the vegetation on both sides of the road from about 30ks out of Mingenew through to Coorow. Irony of all ironies: it roughly starts at the sign that says "You are entering wildflower country" (or something along those lines). There are no wildflowers, because there is no vegetation! A quarter of a century ago, I worked on the wheatbins at Mingenew for one and a bit seasons, and when I left (or escaped) there after that "bit" of a second season, I hid in vegetation to elude my persecutors. Couldn't have done so these days -- that area of roadside bush has been reduced to small piles of wood-fibre!

There has been controversy recently in this area (around the Avon Valley), due to the Northam shire using a slashing/mulching machine on a local road, ruthlessly destroying trees and scrub. But as others have said, various shires have been doing so all through the wheatbelt and for a few years. It is brutal and horrific. I wrote a poem about this, about 16 months ago -- it was published in a lit. journal somewhere but I don't recall where. It's entitled "Hyperbole".

I (Tracy) will add in the poem below for those who might be interested.


Patois of the shredder,
shoddy skinner, demi-
pruner of roadside vegetation.
Poète engagé, ha! I pursue data,
inform my protest,
wrest lyrics from the brutal,
but the name of this rotator,
psychopathic cutter,
is hidden, encoded.

Travelling, I have caught
its progress, high-pitched
whirring, nerve destroyer,
too often — a seasonal
assignation, slasher
moment from which
the ghost-self emerges
tattered as living
and dead flesh mixed.

Truth is, I know
the operators, know
the work they crave: a call,
a few hours, a shire
pay-cheque. Just enough.
'Today we flayed the garden.
At smoko we ribbed and jibed,
exaggerated the assets
of celebrities.

Mostly, that cutting whirr.
Mostly, the screeching banshee.
Mostly, the screaming ab-dabs
this machine induces.
with the kids.' I hear
this — it is said among friends.
For their sakes, also,
I protest, poète engagé, ha!

John Kinsella

Close encounter

By Tracy

No photo this time, because I was taken unawares:

I just now walked out to put some material in the recycling bin, and two feet in front of me, on our verandah, was a huge gwardar (western brown snake).

My heart is still thumping. It was beautiful, but the size of it was overwhelming, and the fact that it was just outside the front door. If you've never met one, you can read about this lovely but dangerous creature here.

It swished along the line where the wall meets the floor and disappeared behind the recycling bin.

(W. said when she opened the front door this morning, a big bungarra was sitting there! Two close encounters in one morning. The bungarra, however, is not venomous.)

It reminds me how visibly cyclical our life is here -- last November we had similar encounters.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vegan sushi

By Tracy

The centre filling in this case is avocado and carrot, for colour as well as taste.

I didn't have a sushi mat for rolling, so these are a little looser than they should be, but they still held together, and still tasted good.

Two views from the Shriver universe...

By Tracy

Lionel Shriver's Game Control was a birthday present for me this year. It's a distressing and difficult novel to read -- not difficult in language or plot, more because she treads (as always) fine lines in what she depicts -- the reader continually winces.

This is (according to her afterword) the book that lost Shriver her American publisher. (It was subsequently taken up in Britain and then saw US publication after the big success of Kevin.)

I can see why. I'm very ambivalent toward her work -- but then Shriver is a master (mistress doesn't sound quite right!) of ambivalence herself. No novel more built from dialogue, in terms of competing voices and viewpoints, and here frustratingly so, because so polarised. You want to scream at the book that ways of seeing don't have to come in those specific, watertight packages (to mix metaphors somewhat).

It's a book I'm forcing myself to continue reading, rather than one I'm drawn into.

As always, Shriver writes with such pervasive irony that you will rarely if ever pin any particular character's view on the author. But I thought this pair of quotes quite telling. It's a "talky" novel, rather than a "happening" one, which gets annoying after a while...

From the character Threadgill, to another character, Piper:

"...for some reason everything we have and everything we make is gradually taken away from us. Your life is a leaky vessel; no matter how much you pour, your cup will never overflow, because there is a hole in it. The universe has a hole in it.  Your lovers die or betray you; your professional successes are diluted by failure or by simply being past; the summer homes where you spent the idyllic holidays of your childhood are bought by strangers and painted a garish green. So you can never stop making; maybe that's the reason for the hole. I don't know where these things go; I don't believe they vanish. I wonder if there isn't a magnificent junkheap in the next dimension of favourite train sets before they were broken and golden afternoons before the last terrible thing was said that parted two friends for ever. Whyever, the hole is there. It will suck from you everything you love." (pp. 168-9)

And a few pages later, from the viewpoint of Eleanor, if not in her direct speech:

"Cynics are spoiled romantics. They are always the ones who had the highest expectations at the start. They were once so naive themselves that they despise naivety more than any other quality. Alchemists, they turn grief to gold. They take quinine in their tonic, Campari with their soda -- bitterness is an acquired taste. Cynics have learned to drink poison and like it. They are resourceful people, though the sad thing is, they know what's happened to them. They remember what they wanted to be when they grew up, and not a single one of them dreamt of becoming a cynic." (pp. 172-3)

Food for thought, if a little trite -- but it's the constant clash of these (among other) viewpoints -- especially those of the two main characters, whom Shriver calls "vengeful misanthrope Calvin Piper and... guilty do-gooder Eleanor Merritt" that drives the novel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Post-net for John

By Tracy

Today I've switched the blog posting over to my own management, as John is stepping offline... (see earlier entry here.)

(He's still here in spirit, though -- and in person nearby, of course!)

In fact he has a new book out -- a novel or rather récit -- entitled Post-colonial, which you can read about (and buy, if you like) from Papertiger.

The latest Wuthering Heights

By Tracy

ITV’s new two-part television adaptation of Wuthering Heights finished screening here last night, and was worth a look, if inevitably disappointing in some aspects.

I wonder how it would have been understood by anyone who (a) hadn’t read the novel, and (b) hadn’t seen the first half, the previous week, because toward the end, the second episode jumped suddenly back to the “present” frame of the narration, without warning or explanation, using merely the churchyard scene we connect with the first Cathy’s death, to leap to the second Cathy’s marriage to Linton Heathcliff.

But technicalities like that aside (the novel is complex in terms of narrative framing and temporal shifts; so was this adaptation, though differently) what struck me most was the reinterpretation of Heathcliff in this production.

Tom Hardy was superb in the role, midway between the overly pretty Heathcliffs we’ve seen in the past and the grotesquely thuggish ones – he has perfected the kind of glazed stare that conveys barely controlled violence in a character, or intense emotion; there was no question of his believability in the role, as there has been for me with other actors attempting Heathcliff.

But the character seemed to me greatly softened by the script – perhaps in the belief that modern viewers could not tolerate the Brontë original. This Heathcliff, for instance, does not dispose brutally of Isabella Linton’s little dog upon eloping with her; he even tells Isabella he has “tried” to love her but could not, as if their elopement were not all along part of his plan for revenge.

We also lose Cathy’s full and astonishing speech about him not being a “rough diamond” (though many of the other striking speeches from the original text found their way in, even if necessarily recast in other dramatic moments).

Isabella herself was not shown to be the utter ninny of Brontë’s text but perhaps merely an overly romantic silly girl who pays the price of her infatuation (some of this has to happen; she becomes more dispensable, more background, without the contribution of her letter-narration, and understandably so given the time-constraints of television).

But Heathcliff softer? (More like Gordon Brown?!?) More believable this way, that Cathy (or anyone) would love him? Maybe it had to be so; yet it was apparently acceptable to show him near-strangling Hindley Earnshaw, with the clear suggestion of loss of control through grief, rather than from any vengeful wickedness.

A whole generation (if any bothered to watch it to avoid reading the novel, a common-enough student ploy!) will now perhaps make the mistake on their exams or essays of laying a gun beside Heathcliff’s head on his blood-smeared deathbed. I suppose the sound of gunshot was an effective dramatic device to bring the other characters running to discover H’s death – as well as according him a more active, decisive and “masculine” role in his own death (as opposed to seeming purely to will himself to death, as in the novel).

No adaptation completely satisfies everyone – and of course narratives must alter in the transition from page to screen, or into any other medium, for that matter. But it’s still interesting to ponder the “other” changes that slip in at the same time, that are less to do with medium than with contemporary attitudes, moral and otherwise, and criteria for credibility.

[For more detail on the changes made between the novel and this version, there's a good blog entry on it here]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Music with Madjitil Moorna

By Tracy

We called in at the Zig Zag Festival in Kalamunda last weekend and were privileged to be able to listen to the wonderful choir Madjitil Moorna, whose performance was one of the headlining events.

This is an all-ages choir with indigenous and non-indigenous members, a creative and hugely positive step in the process of reconciliation.

They sing indigenous songs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, as well as in English, and their aims include generating healing and promoting reconciliation in the community.

You can read a much better description of what they are about here.

During the performance, members of the audience were even invited to get up on stage and sing with them, after flyers were handed out giving the bilingual version lyrics. (Little Tim & I were thrilled to do this: his first time ever on a stage, and what a way to start.)

Songs like "I Am Australian" take on a new and more important meaning beyond their potentially nationalistic/patriotic limitations, when reinterpreted through indigenous language and in a context like this, opening a space for envisaging real community.

There were also original compositions from George Walley, who played guitar and sang, and a highlight in the form of a violin solo from one of the young women members.

The choir rehearses on Monday nights in Forrestfield and "all voices, all ages" are welcome.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Quairading walk

By Tracy

Because today was a beautiful, sunny spring day, and we knew the wildflowers would be out in greater numbers than last time, and because it was my birthday, we went for a long walk in the Quairading Nature Reserve.

We've visited there before, but today was the first time we walked all the way to Nookaminnie Rock, which has breathtaking views and is well worth the extra distance.

The woodland walk...

Everlastings in their millions -- the photo shows only a small section and can't do it justice. Eventually you walk a path through acres of them to your left and right.

Resting mid-journey on Nookaminnie Rock.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wildflower time in the wheatbelt

By Tracy

Orchids (and one isolated everlasting -- soon they will be out in their thousands)...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Water, water, every where...

By Tracy

At the Gwambygine reserve today, we were going to go for a walk down to the river-- but instead, the river came up to us:

It's not just the pool across the track I mean, either; the river itself is far further forward, though hard to see in the photo, than it usually is -- and rushing. Even where clear, the ground felt like wet beach sand.

The big pool in front of John and Tim, however temporary it might prove, was already home to gambusia. Amazing how quickly life establishes itself.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jam Tree Gully in Winter

By Tracy

Recent rains have transformed the outlook at Jam Tree Gully

-- moss and green grass everywhere, and the rainwater tank overflowing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Phèdre on film

By Tracy

Yesterday I went with a friend to see the broadcast of Racine's Phèdre (staged at the English National Theatre in London) at Luna Cinema in Leederville. It wasn't the original French text, which is in rhyming alexandrines, but the modern free-verse translation by Ted Hughes.

It was a strange experience because, as the director pointed out in an introductory filmed segment, it was really an experiment -- elsewhere in the world, beamed live as it was performed (Australia had the delayed version) -- all the high-definition detail of film, using multiple cameras, that you wouldn't get if you were in the actual theatre, but essentially a stage performance (actors were encouraged to play to the immediate audience, not the larger, unseen one...).

Despite some of the negative reviews I'd seen on the net beforehand, the cast were very good. I'm not a fan of Helen Mirren, but she suited this Phèdre right down to the ground -- perhaps those critics who squirmed didn't fully realise that was what they were meant to do. (Of course, they may have been reviewing other performances of the same show.)

I had not read the Hughes translation before seeing the play/film. His text seemed to match the power of Racine's, though often so apparently "natural" as to sound like normal speech. The high points and moments of crisis that are so memorable in the original were not lost here. The whole thing was what (post-Greek, neo-classical, reinterpreted) tragedy should be -- compelling and yet unbearable to watch. It took a while to come back to earth afterwards.

My only complaint was that the Luna people so strangely kept the long preamble, which in the live broadcasts would have filled in the real-time before the curtain went up. Since ours was delayed, there was no need for all those repeating still slides and indeed, it's the only time I've heard a cinema audience do the slow-clap with impatience! It meant the actual film started a long time after the stated 1pm.

The second showing of this performance was today (Sunday), but there is a whole series of plays to come in similar fashion, which you can read about here. Next up is All's Well that Ends Well, in October.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Double at the Dolphin

By Tracy

Last night we saw the double bill at the Dolphin Theatre -- a very short piece by Chekhov, The Proposal, and a play by Peter Shaffer, Black Comedy.

The first is a three-hander and seemed to last for only about fifteen minutes (though it was said to be thirty, it seemed to race), after which, surprisingly, there was an interval. We both felt we would have preferred to run straight on. The brevity of the piece was actually what made it so forcefully and bleakly funny. Director Jo Williams had deliberately chosen a "pre-revolutionary translation" of Chekhov's text; ironically, it seemed less dated than the 1960s' play that followed. Actor Cameron Clark, who played Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov, seemed made of rubber and perfectly spineless, tackling the slapstick with relish.

Neither of us is a great fan of theatrical comedy, but if it's dry and intelligent enough, it's bearable.

The second piece, Black Comedy, was directed by Meredith Daniel. The three actors from the Chekhov were also in this one, backed by a further five cast members who were all good in their roles. The play was pretty ordinary farce, with a "clever" device (the action takes place in the dark when a fuse has blown, which means that light and dark are reversed throughout the play in order for the audience to be able to watch the action. This leads to a lot of deliberate stumbling and error that makes great demands on the actors -- how to look as if you can't see anything when of course you can).

The piece itself, apart from this device, has nothing surprising to offer, and the daft gay stereotype à la John Inman/Mr Humphries is very dated, as are many of the targeted topics, but then this is farce, and you don't expect it to be anything else.

The performance runs again next week from 8-11 July, and is a reasonably entertaining night out from a capable cast.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Vegan chocolate cream tart

By Tracy

Today seems to be vegan cooking day. Every day (for us) is vegan cooking day -- but this one more than usual.

You need:

Vegan shortcrust pastry base* -- prebake at approx 180 deg C until golden, pricking with fork and flattening as needed if it puffs up or bubbles (takes about 10 min). Let it cool.

When the base is cool, make up the following to pour into it and chill:

5 dessertspoons cornflour (sifted!)
5-6 dessertspoons sugar
3-4 dessertspoons cocoa (sifted!)
2.5 cups soy milk

You proceed as if making custard -- that is, take two small-to-medium saucepans, and in one, mix the dry ingredients with a little of the soy milk. In the other, heat the soy milk with the vanilla essence till it nearly boils, then take it off the hotplate and pour it into the dry-mix saucepan, stirring the whole time. Put this now-full saucepan onto the hotplate and, still stirring to prevent lumps forming, bring it up to the boil. Remove from heat when it has thickened like any custard. Pour immediately into the pastry shell.

(If you don't stir evenly and continuously, it will burn or form lumps, or both! But it's actually very easy.)

Leave the whole tart to cool, first outside the fridge and then inside if it needs longer. If you put it in the fridge too soon, condensation can make it a little soggy and water droplets spoil the top (but it still tastes good).

When it's completely cool, make a mock cream as follows: whip four dessertspoons of Nuttelex (vegan margarine) with four dessertspoons of sifted icing sugar, and pipe around the inside rim of the pastry shell.

Let the cream piping set in the fridge, and then it's ready to eat.

It tastes luxurious but is very inexpensive, and easy to make from ingredients you could already have in the cupboard, etc. -- needs nothing fancy.

My pictured effort is a little rough because the pastry was slightly too small for the pie dish, and I made it very fast while preparing dinner! -- but even a ragged-edge tart tastes okay...

All recipes detailed in this blog are my own; when I use someone else's, for copyright reasons, I indicate the books where you can find them.

*Borg's and most varieties of Pampas frozen pastry sheets are vegan: see the Vegan Network of Victoria. They also list many other ready-made products that are suitable for vegans, and they carefully update their pages. You can also make shortcrust pastry from scratch, using Nuttelex and flour. Anchor Lion Pastry Mix (dry, in a box -- you add water) contains no animal fat and they confirm it is vegan too. So there are many easy options for vegan pastry.

Vegan "cheese" scones

By Tracy

Here's the recipe, adapted from ordinary scone-making:

2 cups SR flour
2 tsp vegan margarine (Nuttelex in this case)
3 quarters of a cup of soy milk
approx half cup grated Cheezly*

Rub margarine into flour until mix resembles breadcrumbs, then add half the grated vegan cheese and stir through. Mix in the soy milk, reserving a tiny amount for glazing if you want browned tops. Halfway through baking, use the remaining grated vegan cheese to top the scones**. Bake about ten to fifteen minutes at 190 deg C.

*I used Edam-style Cheezly; there are other vegan cheeses. Not all of them melt. If you can't get a commercially made vegan cheese, you can give food a similar flavour by using nutritional yeast (Engevita, for example, or Healtheries Savoury Yeast), though this won't melt on top and can't be grated; it's a flaky or powdery substance, depending which sort you use).

**Cheezly melts fast, so I add it as topping halfway through -- same when making pizzas.

Olive update

By Tracy

Here are the olives from our tree, just over a month after picking. (See this earlier entry...)

They've been in brine which is changed daily, and they're almost ready for transferring to jars and eating.

The length of time you have to do this seems to vary depending on the olives, but there's no mistaking the change in taste. If it's too early, you can't wait to get the aftertaste out of your mouth!

If it's just right, or nearly, you can't resist the temptation to try another one before you put them back in the brine.

Only a few more days, by my reckoning.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Forest Sculpture Walk Seems Anti-Forest to Me, Sorry...

By John

Just saw a short on SBS featuring the Northcliffe ‘Understory’ forest project. I was the initially successful applicant for the position of poet-writing-the-forest and pulled out due to my distress at the mistreatment of the forest involved. Bulldozing a chunk to make an arts centre, hacking a path through dieback sections of the forest. I went down for a meeting with the Northcliffe organisers and though some considered my concerns, they rejected my requests for dieback treatment areas and so on.

While in the town collating material for my poems to feature in the forest, I interviewed some more radical members of the community and heard of their concerns regarding the forest being used for an arts exercise with the forest coming second and the ‘artsy’ stuff coming first. Various ecological concerns were voiced, and I realised that to contribute to the forest project would be to violate everything I believe in. Rare parrots would be disturbed, banksia dieback (banksia is a sentinel species for dieback) would spread in the making of the path (or boardwalk as it turned out to be), and the intactness of this small piece of forest would be disturbed — carved up by the walk and the movement of people.

The best kind of sculpture in the forest environment/ecology is surely ‘created’/’evolved’ without human intervention and is chanced upon (if ‘discovered’ at all) and left alone: not constructed and revisited treating the forest as if it’s a ‘creation’ for humans to use as an art gallery (basically acts of mimesis, anyway). This is the triumph of aesthetics over nature, and the ecology that is appended to make for good consciences is a lie. The primary local argument for this was that it was better than logging it — this is true, but it should be added that the piece of forest concerned was a gift to the town and basically outside logging jurisdiction. To leave it intact and to keep invasive ‘artsy’ hands off it would seem altogether the right thing to do.

Anyway, my withdrawal meant other writers filled the space and provided poems anyway. There are many who would disagree with my post here, pointing out that at least some kind of preservation and understanding of the forest is being expressed. Maybe, but I feel that when the ‘arts’ are served first, the forest will always come second. I don’t doubt at all the good intent of the participants, but I do doubt the efficacy of the endeavour with regard to the ultimate health of the forest and the creatures that inhabit it. It’s a question all arts practitioners have to ask themselves: I guess many would see my view as both self-defeating and unrealistic.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Random Access Clarifications

By John

One hundred and sixty years ago today (i.e. on May 23, 1849), Thoreau, according to Raymond R. Borst’s essential The Thoreau Log: A Documentary Life of Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862, ‘Surveys land in Lincoln near Sandy Pond Road which he wishes Emerson to buy because of its beauty (Moss, 7).’ Although he probably means ‘surveys’ in a more general sense, the subtext is still of division and possession. This issue of surveying has always bothered me, and I tried to critique it in my poem ‘Figures in A Paddock’ back in the late ’90s. I bring it up now because of the matter of removing fences and opening boundaries for the movement of wildlife (and, for that matter, people — but the caveat on that is if they’re moving through to interact with place without damaging: that’s where questions of preservation become complex: caveats make for contradictions).

Yesterday, BHP announced the first uranium mine in Western Australia. This is the beginning of another end. I want to declare loud and clear, that not only will I protest this in my poems, but I will be seated where they are going to mine, speaking my poems as they cart me off. Land and rights, and permissions and access, are matters not only of consensus (of which there can be none), but of the long-term rights of all traditional peoples/custodians. Because the corporate state has constructed a set of conditions by which people have to rely on its largesse for basic human requirements, the need to profit from such mining activities becomes normative and seemingly necessary. If the land wasn’t under pressure in that way, and community choices could be made without the imposition of a ‘you will do this or lose’ (at best) scenario, the state/corporate conditions/equation would be less likely to succeed in its tyranny.

Let’s not for a moment believe mining companies and their government apologists are operating for the wellbeing of communities (local or otherwise). The entire dynamic of money, employment, security, rights, and wellbeing is a ploy to control: create the necessity in order to offer ways of fulfilling it.

As for ‘progress’, when we have another benchmark for this in whichever field — tomorrow, next year, a decade from now — few would envisage turning back the clock to today. It’s circular logic, that will be deployed against the Neo-luddites whenever the opportunity arises.

At this moment I am watching a female western spinebill doing somersaults outside the window. Its curved beak is an entirely adequate and all-encompassing technology. The irony of typing on this laptop as I prepare to go offline and off-computer: well, it’s a log-book of a planned and permanent movement to find better ‘technologies’ (by which I mean less sophisticated and less reliant on industry: in other words, ‘simple living’ alternatives). They are ‘pre’, they are outside the notion of ‘progress’, and their usage is part of a desire to ‘de-technologise’, but yes, essentially they are technologies in themselves. Yet that’s semantic, because what I am clearly trying to do is step away from material ‘progress’ and to say one reaches a point materially that is more than adequate; that in fact the damage done far outweighs the ‘human application’ regarding the ecological. A manual typewriter rather than a computer (a technology that doesn’t need to ‘develop’ to achieve the same end results), a pen or pencil more often than not. Paper made from non-tree sources. And so on...

The ‘planning’: I make a living from writing, and have become computer-reliant in meeting my deadlines/obligations/expectations of how text is presented. I need to change the culture of production and how my publishers and others are willing to accept material from me. It can be done, but it has to be carefully planned and discussed. October is my deadline-aim in terms of ‘home’ stuff, with my university communications following at some point when I’ve been able to lobby effectively for some changes regarding my communication with students and so on. That can be realised, I am sure.

Actually, it’s more than this: I believe that we have to rethink social notions of what is adequate and what pleasure and leisure are. But this is not ‘primitivist’ thinking: it’s poetic thinking. Poems, to my mind, are about repair, analysis, fruition, and not destruction. And ‘destructive’ poems consciously deployed bring attention, in the cases I respect, to the failure of acts of repair. I write a lot about death and destruction, but I hope this allows a reader to refocus on their role (and the poet’s role and the poem’s role) in making such things allowable.

I had an interesting exchange with a fellow poet (and one I admire) the other day, about the blurring of lines between activism and poetry. He felt they were separate acts and used Judith Wright as an example. I maintained that Wright was an activist in her poetry as much as in her general life, especially towards the later years of her poetry writing (clearly in her prose, she was). This poet-friend was talking over his reactions to my Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography, which I consider my main work of poetry, a work that is in the realm of the ‘parafigurative’, where activism and poetry go hand-in-hand. Not to be didactic, but to be suggestive, and prompt ‘action’. My fellow poet felt that one should choose either a life of activism or a life of poetry. My reply was:

"mum was a poet and i’ve been writing it since i was six. for me it was a poet becoming an activist and making the two talk with each other. i have a book on ‘activism and the poet’ out with liverpool uni press next year. i’d like to think my poems do something other than ‘tell’ - i try to create many levels of approach in every poem i write, and for every poem to be reinvented with every reader and every reading. i am writing a new intro for j. wright’s selected at the moment and think she was an activist-poet in whose work (later work especially) these elements were in synch and didn’t counter each other. poetry has a long history of activism. on our blog (mutually said) i use a coinage i came up with re metaphor and activism — the ‘parafigurative’. this is what i am trying to do — articulate a poetry of action but also ambiguity."

My poet-friend also went on to discuss the structure of my Divine Comedy, and as this is relevant to the reading of the poem in terms of local and regional activism, I’ll include my reply:

"i think there are four narrative threads in the book:

1. the template of dante
2. the movement around the block approached from different angles (per the different canticles)
3. a topology and taxonomy of place that builds and ‘collapses’ to rebuild which is intertwined with a literal history of the place – including the building of a portrait of a surrounding community (yes, williams is the right parallel in this sense, and even more so olson’s maximus re location and illustration by example and observation and snippets of history etc).
4. the interactions of the ‘characters’ involved re their epiphanies and ‘elegies’"

Now, it’s back to my Thoreau book. Have just completed two new poems. Am now in the process of developing a ‘narrative’ framework for the book as a whole. It’s a matter of reconciling surveyed areas of poems and the points of access that surround them. I guess this will make sense (I hope) when the book appears. At the moment, I am considering ‘random access’ versus a set of semantic points of entry.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ghent goes veg... once a week

By Tracy

The UK's Guardian reported last week ("Day of the Lentil Burghers") that the Belgian city of Ghent (Gent/Gand), as part of its contribution to fighting global warming and to improving human health, is going vegetarian one day a week. They began last Thursday.

According to the report:

"The city council says it is the first town in Europe and probably the western world to try to make the entire place vegetarian for a day every week. Tom Balthazar, the Labour party councillor pushing the scheme, said: 'There's nothing compulsory. We just want to be a city that promotes sustainable and healthy living.'

Every restaurant in the city is to guarantee a vegetarian dish on the menu, with some going fully vegetarian every Thursday. From September, the city's schools are to make a meat-free meal the 'default' option every Thursday, although parents can insist on meat for their children. At least one hospital wants to join in."

This is a great step in the right direction. And as one who's always believed that one of the best ways to encourage people in our spoiled, well-fed countries to try going vegan is to make them great vegan food, I was interested to read how it started:

"The Lib-Lab coalition running the city was persuaded to back the idea when Philippe van den Bulck, an outstanding culinary talent, served up a veggie gastronomic tour de force at the town hall. He is one of Flanders's top chefs and food writers, doing time at El Bulli in Spain, to many the best restaurant in the world. He is also a vegetarian."

There's a vegan quoted in the article too, and as the emphasis is on "tapping into a zeitgeist awareness of the cost to human health and the environment of intensive meat and dairy farming", and the sample food mentioned in the article includes egg-free mayonnaise, there's evidence of a vegan consciousness in the exercise too.

Monday, May 18, 2009


By Tracy

Yesterday, we picked a tree's worth of olives -- the first time I have done this. Then in the evening I began the process of pickling them (salt, water, bucket, plate) which will take two weeks.

We plan to put in a large number of olive trees at Jam Tree Gully, in an area which was cleared by previous occupants. So I hope to be picking and pickling many more such olives in time...

[Olives, before cleaning]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Poems and their possible sources

By John

Some years ago, I edited a selection of poetry by the great Australian poet Michael Dransfield.

One of my favourite poems of his, and also one of Tracy's favourites, is a short piece entitled "Hole in the Forest". Tracy and I have had many discussions about the immensity of this little poem, in terms of both the spiritual and the ecological. For me it's the ideal activist poem, because it is entirely resistant to environmental damage like logging, and yet makes an ontological point about how loss from nature is a loss for all nature, including us.

Recently, Tracy found a copy of her old school anthology of French poetry (An Anthology of French Poetry, ed. J. R. Lawler) that was used for TAE (TEE) French in Years 11 and 12 back in the 70s and probably earlier (it dates originally from 1960, after which were many reprints).

While browsing through it, she noticed a poem by one of my favourite French-language poets -- he was born in Uruguay -- Jules Supervielle, that brought to mind Dransfield's poem because of some common elements. The poem was called "Dans la foret sans heures". She seemed to remember so, from reading Patricia Dobrez's biography of him, and I said yes it was the case -- checking Dobrez confirmed that he took French to Year 12 (scoring a B as his final grade).

It seems likely there's a connection between the Dransfield and the Supervielle poems -- different as they are -- I will leave it up to others to decide!

But this is very interesting from my point of view, as I would suppose that this anthology, if it was indeed studied at his school, would have had a profound effect on Dransfield -- not only on individual poems he wrote (maybe there are all sorts of points of contact to be traced, not just with Supervielle), but also on his poetics, which have long been known to be influenced by European poets in translation.

The argument here is that Dransfield might have been influenced also, and more directly, out of the poets he studied in another language at school, and not just in translation.

(As an aside, I also feel disgusted -- as does Tracy -- with an addition to the Wikipedia entry on Dransfield, that (uncredited) cites supposed contempt for Dransfield's work, in a very non-neutral manner. Though a later editor has put "who?" in brackets after the vague attribution, the casting of this slur as coming from "Others" means it has stayed up there and sits there largely unchallenged, which seems to us a cowardly way of posting an insult in what is meant to be an encyclopedia.

Also, the idea expressed there that Dransfield by being published prevented others having their opportunity, strikes us as ludicrous, and characteristics of the kinds of petty jealousy that seem to attend literary life for some reason.)

Anyway, back to the two poems in question.

Dransfield's is different from Supervielle's in the sense that it relies on metonymy, and his message is ultimately ecological in the 1960s "protest" sense. It is talking about human usages of the environment as symbolised by a tree and the wood that is extracted from that, as vehicle to human creativity and functionality. And though nature tries to repair the damage of human pragmatism through the ferns covering up the hole, etc., humans can't disguise, artistically or otherwise, the fact that this loss is their gain.

Supervielle is talking entirely about an ontology of nature, and though the human presence in this description of a fallen tree is merely generic ("On", or the general "they"), as it is in the Dransfield too, human values are instilled in the sense of an absence which is rendered spiritual.

The two poems resemble each other in some aspects of this ontological spatiality -- the gap in the forest, and whether it will or won't remain, can or can't be filled. Both poems are short and apparently simple, and both are about forms of loss as imaged through the felling of a tree. Both imply a kind of "protest", too.

Below is my effort at translating the Supervielle piece.

Jules Supervielle (1884-1960)

In the forest without time

In the forest without time
They are felling a great tree.
A vertical emptiness
In the form of a pillar
Quivers near the fallen trunk.

Seek, seek, you birds,
The place for your nests
In this lofty memory
While it still whispers.

(translated by John Kinsella)

Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of Supervielle's death 49 years ago.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Demythologising "Diggers"

By Tracy

Further to John’s comments on Anzac Day... I’ve been reading a memoir by the late A. D. Hope (b. 1907), in which he recounts the following story:

“One day I was sitting on a bench in Machattie Park in Bathurst when a man sat down beside me and got into conversation mainly about the war in the desert. His unit was moving north towards Damascus in the final stages of the campaign, he said, and had camped in the sand not far from a small village where there was water. In the morning it was found that a very popular officer had been robbed in the night and was lying in his tent with his throat cut. Sentries had been posted but had not noticed the intruder whose trail in the sand clearly led from the tent and back towards the village. ‘When the body was brought out,’ he said, ‘we all stopped work. Nobody said a word but we all armed ourselves and went in a body to the village, surrounded it, set fire to the houses and shot everybody who came out of the flames.’ ‘Women and children too?’ I asked. He nodded. ‘Weren’t you punished for it?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘That was the kind of war it was. Anyway a few days later we joined the main army and not long after we were in Damascus.’ ‘I can hardly believe that Australian soldiers would do such a thing,’ I said. ‘Well it happened,’ he said...”

The sad thing is that people think any side, on any war, is any different. That’s what war is.

(Quote is taken from A. D. Hope, Chance Encounters, Melbourne University Press, 1992, pp. 38-39.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Julienne van Loon's Beneath the Bloodwood Tree

By Tracy

I read this book over the Christmas holidays (it came out in 2008, from Allen & Unwin) and have been meaning to blog a short review of it ever since.

This extraordinary novel stands apart from so much current writing for its unsentimental representation of contemporary Australian life.

Pia Ricci, a kind of antiheroine in all her real human imperfection, has built a life for herself on returning to the mining town of Port Hedland, where she grew up before her parents’ separation. A life of sorts, running smoothly and efficiently, it appears at first, if repellently detached and self-enclosed.

What Pia unearths beneath the bloodwood tree of the book’s title is both real and symbolic, linking her (outside her conscious knowledge) to the novel’s two other main characters, the dying woman Maureen Barnes, and the Dutch nurse Joachim Kalma, in Australia on a temporary working visa.

The story alternates deftly between their viewpoints in the third person, in language that begins baldly, almost too sparsely, as if in broad, bright brushstrokes, before growing more specific and complex, yet remaining always highly readable.

Understatement is what helps build the novel’s tensions. If in some ways it might seem the book is crowded with topical “issues” (ranging from domestic violence through stalking through euthanasia to immigration, mining industry etc), each of these, whether foregrounded or left as troubling backdrop, is handled with a subtlety that means the book is not overloaded.

You won’t find an overt critique of, say, the greed that drives Australia’s primary industries, but its outline or shadow is arguably there not only in the portraits — for instance, of the repulsive Dick Barnes — but in the intimations of moral decay creeping up on all the book’s cast. It’s a compelling and very disturbing read that leaves you turning over notions of morality and ethics in the way you might after reading Camus or Highsmith. Both literary and accessible in the best senses of each term.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My first-ever vegan sponge cake

By Tracy


Rose Elliott is a vegan-recipe genius.

I've never tried making a vegan sponge cake before, and many people think it can't be done, because traditional non-vegan sponges are so egg-reliant.

But since Rose Elliot's Vegan Feasts, as I mentioned before, was so good for the vegan cream recipe, I decided to try out her formula for this too. (My first impression of her book, years ago, was that it was a bit simple and obvious -- but I had overlooked her gift for "veganizing" traditional items. A friend of ours in England used to make a really popular chocolate cake that she had adapted from a Rose Elliot book by doubling the cocoa!)

The trick is in using a small amount of soy flour mixed in with the ordinary wheat flour. The cake also contains orange juice, not enough to give it an orange flavour but enough to add colour.

I overfilled the cake (not that anyone complained) with strawberry jam and vegan cream, so it's a bit messy, but the taste and texture met with all-round approval.

<-- AFTER (& there is even less of it now...)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

ANZAC Day and Pacifism

Written by John, to express sentiments held by both John and Tracy

Stated straight out, we believe ANZAC Day is an extension of the State’s desire to keep the population militarised.

From school classrooms where it is the prime focus of nationalist propaganda through to the television screens across different stations — interdenominationally, if you like — through their trans-vector fronts such as religious organisations (which have vested interest in the militarisation of the State to protect themselves and to use as a vehicle or vector for their own imperialisms), ANZAC Day focuses aggression.

We have no problem with acknowledging the horror of war, the brutal loss of ‘civilians’ and ‘soldiers’, and lamenting of humanity’s folly in allowing war to happen in the first place.

The inculcation of State values is, of course, desired by much of the population — though if such people were aware of having been propagandised, no doubt many would still choose the path of glorification rather than lament.

When the dawn services call to memory men and women who died in war, they cast it as sacrifice for the nation, for the country. This may or may not be true in individual cases, but it certainly can’t be made as a generalisation.

My Auntie Dulce is one of the last still-living wives of a Gallipoli veteran, Harold - a soldier of the 10th Light Horse, who came to believe in peace and never war. Uncle Harold, who would never march on ANZAC Day, never trade in what one might call the ‘currency of medals’, used to say, ‘Don’t let them glorify it – it’s not glorious, it’s brutal.’ And he felt that if talking about it would help people understand it was brutal, then that was worthwhile – but not if it was intended to glorify.

So we don’t object to the conversations that come out of ANZAC Day, but we do object to the militarisation of our children at school, our ‘selves’ as part of the country.

To give a sad intensity to this lament, we are disgusted to see that the Australian Defence Minister used this day to announce in Afghanistan that ‘diggers’ had ‘killed’ a hundred Taliban. Crowing over their skill in killing, the hierarchy cast it against the background of personal and collective sacrifice for the nation. Disgusting.

Did they mention the Afghan children killed by Australian troops in ‘crossfire’ during a military activity a couple of months back? We doubt it.

ANZAC Day is not about the people killed by ‘our’ soldiers, but about affirmations of the State as a military entity. Military entities require selective memories as much as they require poetry and art to feed their myths of glory. Every poem we write should be an anti-war poem. Every poem should be an affirmation of non-violence. Violence begets violence — and you don’t need to be part of a religious hierarchy to make this call. Pity religions didn’t abide by this observation.

ANZAC gatherings without uniforms, without weapons, without the military at all, would be an alternative — if people must gather for such things. By all means, lament the loss of humans, the death, the maiming, the damage to the environment, animals, plants. Lament the damage to the spirit of all. Not a gun in sight. Never. Read Wilfred Owen, read Leon Gellert or any of the many women poets of the First and Second World Wars (for example) who wrote against war and if not combatants experienced the horror in equivalent (or greater) measure. Poetry as activism.

Friday, April 24, 2009

More on a Poetics of Gradients

by John

I find this blog space useful (at the moment) for ‘thinking aloud’. I have been filling my journal — my hand-written journal! — with notes about writing poetry and living on a steep hillside block. The physical effort to move around the block is rewarding but exacting, even if one is reasonably fit and healthy. The string of poems arising out of this experience, this interaction (how could there not be poems? — angles are what we deal with every day...) is becoming central to the manuscript I am working on. Not all would enjoy walking ‘our’ place — some would come and look and leave before they had to negotiate the steepness, even with the many trees and rocks to assist in their movements. The landscape I am writing is in counterpoint to the landscape of Thoreau’s Walden.

So, I have already written and published a number of poems about this, but I have also been keeping an ear and eye open for poems about climbing hills. For hill, valley, and high places, early (in particular) R. S. Thomas is superb. I am deeply attracted to his negative affirmations, his ‘grim’ negotiations with loss, and his beyond-irony observations of the imposition and liberations of patterning, mapping, demarcations (of nation, myth, labour, failures of belief and refusals to conform to imposed ‘belief’):

There’s a man still farming at Ty’n-y-Fawnog,
Contributing grimly to the accepted pattern.
The embryo music dead in his throat.

(R. S. Thomas, ‘The Welsh Hill Country’)

The Reverend Thomas’s centralising of the human within ‘creation’ is always displaced (certainly in the earlier verse) by a discomfort with the relationship between human, nature, and creator, and often a questioning of what divisions exist between these. The hills themselves are an interesting case in point, almost existing outside the triangle, operating at a tangent (and gradients) to the will of things.

This morning I came across another poem that seemed apt in many ways. It’s from a book I just received for review from the Sydney Morning HeraldThe Other Way Out: New Poems by Bronwyn Lea (Giramondo, 2008). The poem entitled ‘Red Hill’ combines a clarity of affirmation offset by a haunting sense of threat that comes no matter the familiarity of climbing the same hill over a long period of time. It’s a poem that has the language of gradient (though it doesn’t specifically use that more mathematical descriptor/definition), poised to a point of absolute concision:

— the acute
angle of the world
to my cheek
rising as if to slap or kiss me
even to lie
down I am near
vertical & filled with steep
inclination —

(Bronwyn Lea)

The physicality of both body and spirit and the intellectual processing of the co-ordinates are deftly handled.

The hill we live on would not ‘slap or kiss me’ — it is too stony and too ‘defiant’ to register me/us in that way. Strangely, I know no matter how long I walk its slopes, it will resist me, but do so with indifference.

Gradient poems will always deploy words like ‘steep’, ‘incline’, and terms related to angles (‘acute’, ‘obtuse’, ‘right’...), but the point is how these terms relate to the emotional, social, political, and ethical space of the poem. The specificity matters and brings different impressions. An acute angle makes for a very different tension to an obtuse angle: not only in the different description of place, but also, obviously, in the effect the angle has on how the reader ‘feels’ the description. You can climb a steep angle but you have to scale a right angle, so to speak. I am interested in the inside of an angle as much as in the outside. The radian of an angle is part of the world I am examining: part of the sphere, part of the 360 degrees of a conceptual (and a literal) ‘planet’ I am trying to create around the specific place, around Jam Tree Gully, around this de-mapped ‘Walden’ (or not Walden).

What I am getting at, under the weirdness and irrelevancies, is that when we paint poetic portraits of place, we in fact create a very real mathematics of that space. In so many fantasy novels, writers include maps — and indeed it was the maps that originally attracted me so strongly to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when I was at high school (I went on to read the book twenty-six times and to write my final Year Eleven school paper in literature for my teacher Bill Green about it) — as a validation of the ‘fantasy’ (and/or speculative fiction) writer’s imagined world, of its ‘real spatiality’, as if the map makes concrete the projected imagined.

But I want to do the opposite — in my maths I want to de-map, to undo the recording of topographical features and the routes between them by allowing those features and routes to appear as they ‘naturally’ do on any given occasion: to alter and morph with erosion, changing movements of animals, new growth and death of old trees, and so on.

I have mentioned my problem with people disturbing the bush by using GPSs to go off-track, to make new routes between points. I am not advocating the arbitrary making of paths through spaces, but rather the following of paths as they grow and change. A lot of what I walk along are kangaroo paths. No map can be ‘real’ outside the moment of its making. It needs constant adjustment. Google Earth is an imperialism of mapping, not a liberation from its strictures, in the same way as GPS denies what’s there to follow points given without subjectivity via a satellite. How the satellite looks is relevant: whether it’s speaking electronically to a GPS or we’re examining pictures taken. The use of angles, the use of circles, the use of poems written out of the line (out of Eudumus), out of rays, is an alternative to merely creating a ‘map’. It is active and changing. Adjustments can be made.

Maybe pertinently, a couple of days ago we took young Tim to the Maritime Museum at Fremantle. Actually, we took him to see the Bon Scott statue, but after that had some spare time so thought we’d take him to see the harbour. One of the exhibitions was based on French exploration of Australia, and the display of early maps was fascinating. Curatorial paraphernalia confirming the drives of ‘exploration’ rang loud, and the stuffed animals spoke their own refutations, but the early maps of the southern land with their mix of hypothesis, guesswork, and solid charting, affirmed for me that the Idea (Platonic Forms, in some ways) of place is more accurate than the material. The maps, the more confirmed they are, become imitations of the land itself, and through imitation become separated from cause and effect. In other words, the map, though made through the senses, actually desensitises response to place.

Over the last week the locality around Jam Tree Gully has been assaulted by scramble and quad bikes hacking up the reserve firebreaks and along the boundaries of where we live. In swathes of ecological destructiveness, these violent pleasurists (along with the shooters around the place), use intimidation and aggression to impose their sense of control and mapping on animals, plants and humans of the place. I am told that many of them are city blokes come up during holidays to stay with other motorbike enthusiasts, getting overexcited at the ‘space’ and consequently ‘cutting sick’. I understand their compulsions, and would be a hypocrite if I didn’t acknowledge that as a kid around the farm I did similarly, but by the time I was in my mid teens I’d come to the conclusion that the destruction and violence of the activity cancelled the thrill and the pleasure.

Okay, that’s my learning curve and why should it be anyone else’s? Because there’s a growing awareness that such destructions have consequences far outside their locality and that it affects the riders as much as anything and anyone else...?

Is there an activist position to be had here? What do I do? Confronting them and declaring the wrongs of it likely means being targeted — I am told this has been happening lately. You’re selected (I use the word specifically) for special treatment. Okay, so I will try and dialogue with them. Will the riders listen? Who knows. But that’s the first activist step: dialogue.

Second and concurrent step: I will write poems, and maybe even read one to them. Seriously... sometimes it works. Poetry can really matter. Many bike riders of whatever modus operandi are operating as ‘outsiders’. I’ve known a few patch-wearing bikies in my time with whom I’ve had some excellent conversations about music and lyrics. In a territorial organisation, aesthetics and decodings are vital. I will certainly read poems to others around the place who are concerned about this damage (soil diseases/pathogens are also easily and readily spread via motorbike wheels). The terror and trauma being inflicted on the kangaroos and birds in the reserve, along with every other living thing, must be extreme, and needs to be countered. From the ‘official’ point of view, the riding of two-strokes through long grass is a fire risk, and this is another concern to all who live there.

But I mention this for another reason. One of the things that attracts riders to this place is the topography: the firebreaks cut through rocky ground, through treed slopes that become incredibly steep in places. It’s a rough and no doubt exhilarating ride. The riders charge down one valley wall and loop up another. The roar of their bikes shatters the valley air with a ringing that is beyond any ‘for whom the bell tolls’. The riders communicate with revs from one point to another. Triangles bend in 3D space. The rush down to the base of the valley (which is not broad) and the massive impetus downwards, then pulling up and slowing before impelling the machines with more revs to charge up the other side, is like a random and cut-loose amusement park ride. The down-up-down thrill. The bike does the work, but the rider’s excitement and consequent bodily activity work in parallel, or in unison.

In the act of thrill, the riders’ is a poetics of gradients as well. Not about conservation (as I hope mine is), but about concentration, focus, and separation from real-time, from the apparent limitations of ordinary movement (without the aid of a motorbike or other machinery). A kind of simulacrum of natural movement (the riding of a motorbike more in contact with the elements than the driving of a car) that multiples the adrenaline outcomes with less of the physical exhaustion.

The experience is repeated over and over until it sends those experiencing its side-effects around the twist (sorry, but it does). A machine poetics of gradients. If a bike travels up a hill at x speed and the hill has a gradient of...? It’s their outlaw poetry, but what I want to tell them is that it’s actually conservative and predictable: the outlaw act is, rather, to try to protect the ecology and to resist the urge of adrenaline, endorphins, and ‘pleasurism’ and ‘leisurism’, no matter how dark its origins, no matter how angry its rationalisations, or, conversely, how much ‘fun’ it might be.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You never know who's reading poetry...

By Tracy

The UK’s Guardian has a long interview this weekend with the actor Viggo Mortensen, probably best-known as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. The article only caught my eye because the caption mentioned poetry.

So I browsed through to see what Viggo recommends (he also writes his own), and the interviewer tells us:

“He’s suddenly concerned that I don’t have reading material, so he dashes up to his hotel room to get me a book of poems, El Dorado, by Dorothy Porter. ‘I think you will like this. She’s a woman poet from Australia.’”

(May her poems continue to be read and shared...)

Lightning Place -- Jam Tree Gully (and assorted photographs)

By John

Took a series of high-resolution photographs of some of wildlife on the block. See smaller versions of photos below. The kangaroos are in the reserve beyond our place, and despite the fence, have free access to our place, as does all the wildlife.

The movement of birds, insects, and reptiles, across their territories is unhindered by fences in the area, and it’s our desire for this to be the case with mammals as well.

So, below we have a thornbill looking out from its roosting-place after feeding and territorial movements with other thornbills and also other species of feeding birds around the block.

There are photos of a golden whistler,

mistletoe birds,

grey shrike-thrush, magpies, an eagle,

and white-chinned honey-eaters gathered around a hairline fracture on the twenty-thousand-gallon rainwater tank, gripping the oxidation and lime extrusion to drink, in the hot, dry atmosphere of the place.

Also, an orb weaver spider, bull ants and Papilionidae butterfly.

Yesterday was a stormy day throughout the district. When we arrived back at Jam Tree Gully, Tracy flicked the power on (we keep it off whenever possible and by October, as we’ve noted before, plan to be entirely without electricity other than some solar cells to use only when absolutely necessary), and found that no water was coming out of the taps.

This meant the pump had gone — we are not on mains water supply but rather have a massive concrete rainwater tank plus two air-pumped bores as back-up. I went out to check the pump, and found the housing around the power outlet that drives the electric pump entirely shattered.

A storm was in progress so I couldn’t look closely but we discovered today via Mum and J. (who went out for a visit) that it had been lightning-struck — with a six-inch-long and one-inch-deep scar in the concrete wall of the tank, the electrics burnt out, and concrete shrapnel everywhere.

The lightning strike had followed one of the oxidised hairline cracks through the thick concrete (reinforced with steel mesh inside) — a thin line of moisture that completed the circuit so to speak, allowed the arc across the gap, to discharge.

I’d been working out in the storm, and given I’ve been struck by lightning in the past, and been in planes and houses struck by lightning on more than a few occasions, as J. said, another chapter has been added to my memoir of ‘lightning and me: a relationship’!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a poem about being on the top of the hill (which is really the north-easternmost edge of the Darling Range, looking out into the wheatbelt), and watching a storm brewing, so powerful that it looked like a storm within a storm. That poem will appear in a special issue of TriQuarterly edited by Ed Hirsch and due out next year, I think. It is certainly a poem that is central to my gradually-taking-shape Jam Tree Gully/Walden manuscript of poems.

Speaking of which, on the WW Norton Poems Out Loud website, a related piece of mine entitled ‘Visitors’ has just appeared. It looks at the relationship between what I am doing and Thoreau’s Walden, and includes another poem from the manuscript.

No doubt I will have more to say down the track on the lightning incident. It will obsess me. One thing that has come out of it, or, rather, something Tracy and I had been thinking of doing anyway, that is now confirmed, is to place another water-tank further up the hill on the block so as to entirely gravity-feed the house. When we are off-grid, a water pump won’t work anyway (though we will retain it with a solar cell for back-up); anything that relies on gravity is altogether more reliable and more sensible. The hill is very steep, and the storm forces that gather overhead concentrate on this high-point of stone and trees, so why not make use of it?