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.
As a visual artist I agree with you - art shouldn't be separate from life. If that means being an 'activist-poet' well so be it. For me the essential key is in the 'telling', we are all saying something, or should care enough to do so. 'Telling' through images and poems with a view to an aesthetic can be more oblique and hopefully engage the 'hearer' - so that these things become their responsibility as well.
Aside from the obvious issues with Uranium mining is BHP going to leave Yeelirrie high and dry like they have Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun, in the name of the almighty dollar.
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