Monday, November 29, 2010

Ludwig Steinherr

By Tracy

I've just been reading a striking and unforgettable collection of poetry by Ludwig Steinherr. It's a bilingual (German/English) edition selected from ten of his books, and it's published by Arc under the title Before the Invention of Paradise. Translations, deft, apparently simple (though much work has gone into them) and impressive, are by Richard Dove.

The poems are mostly sparse and short and take my breath away. They remind me just how powerful and productive the tension between statement and understatement can be. Steinherr knows exactly when to say, and when to say no more. He really does work in the

... language-quarries
where silence
blasted open with explosive
hits us with the full force
of its very first

("To the Sculptor Josef. A Henselmann")

[... Sprachbrüche
wo das aufgesprengte
Schweigen uns trifft
mit der ganzen Wucht
seiner allerersten

I meant only to dip in and read the odd poem, having other tasks to do tonight, but I haven't been able to stop.

The book, part of the Arc Visible Poets series, has an introduction by the series editor Jean Boase-Beier as well as a translator's preface, so there is plenty of context and background on the process of the book's emergence.

(Now I want to go back and get the individual titles from which these poems were selected...)

More about Facebook et al.

By Tracy

Further to my blog post of the other day, The West Australian today reports that social media like Facebook are "causing people to become increasingly anxious as users feel pressured to be constantly connected", according to an Australian survey.

I find it interesting to note that the student cited in the article (Nikkita Venville) had fought her "addiction" (my term, not hers) to the point of getting someone to change her password (then hacking back in to access it!) and even more, that she felt she was being left out by her "friends" when she wasn't on Facebook, which is exactly the phenomenon I mentioned in my post.

"I did feel like a bit of my social life had (gone) because I couldn't keep in contact with the people I usually kept in contact with - and I didn't know what was going on," she said.

"People were saying haven't you got my Facebook message instead of calling me up to invite me (to parties)..."

Well, I'm not worried about the "parties" -- but the cutting-off from non-users is a sad reality.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


By Tracy

I am working on translating a very long Rilke poem -- it will be ages before it's finished.

In the meantime I did some little short poems -- this is just a quick draft, which I may not go back to for a while now that I'm entrenched in the longer one. It's not even re-checked, so this is "in process"!

(There seems to be a general view just now that Rilke is too-translated into English... too bad.)

Rainer Maria Rilke

[I am, you anxious one. Don’t you hear me]

I am, you anxious one. Don’t you hear me
breaking against you with all my senses?
My feelings, which found wings,
circle your face whitely.
Don’t you see my soul, how it stands
close before you in a coat of silence?
Doesn’t my May-like prayer ripen
at your glances as upon a tree?

If you are the dreamer, I am your dream.
But if you desire to wake, I’m your desire
growing powerful in all splendour
rounding out like the silence of a star
over the strange city of time.


I love Jo Shapcott's book of versions in dialogue with Rilke (actually with his French poems) -- it's called Tender Taxes. The French poems are in a very different mode from the German ones but (I think) equally amazing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We don't want Facebook

By Tracy

I came across a page on Facebook (no, I don't use Facebook, it was something I stumbled across via a search engine) that reproduces a Wikipedia entry (full of inaccuracies anyway) on John, and thereby bears his name.

John loathes Facebook for what it does (me too -- can't stand the utter breakdown of privacy it involves -- not to mention the fact [this bit is me, Tracy, not John] that Facebook addicts cut you off in real life if you're not in their Facebookworld! -- I am excommunicated by those for whom it's too much effort to step outside Facebook for a moment!) and is surprised and irritated that this Facebook page bearing his name should exist. (It reminds me of the line from John Forbes -- "even if we don't choose to join you, we do". Well, we don't.)

John also loathes mobile phones. Are we the only people who don't have them? I hope not. They too are an addiction, and they are environmentally damaging as well as a risk to health.

Some Facebook and mobile phone addicts think it's about snobbery, not deigning to be part of something because it's perceived as "too popular" and therefore uncool. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of mobile phones (and other wireless equipment) it's about being conscious of EMR. In the case of Facebook, it's because we don't need it, and because we have a stronger sense of privacy than it allows.

By the way, we managed to keep in touch with others, not get lost, and know where our children were, long before these things became the "norm".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

For Vek and Timo

Poem written by John, posted by Tracy

This is to celebrate and mark the recent marriage of my (Tracy's) brother Vek and his partner Timo. They were married in Mexico City; Australia does not yet recognise or perform same-sex marriages, and Timo is from Mexico.

Vek points out that there are dimensions to this issue often not discussed, particularly pertaining to immigration rights, which he might like to pick up on in our comments section...?

We support Vek and Timo in every step of the struggle they are facing, and in all their happiness too.

So here's John's poem in celebration of their marriage.

Graphology 3725: an epi-epithalamium for Vek and Timo

May your marriage anneal plains and mountains and high air,
heal populations, open doors where all might locate, declare

grit and sinew and energise words: love is where
we might locate despair, and where despair

might lose its grip within us: it’s a turning
inside out, melodic shout of a burning,

spectral bird. The day of marriage
makes its own rituals against prisons, cage

opening, not closing: the liberation of bee
worlds and ant worlds and those models we

worship, follow, indict; no, no, you’ll translate
until ‘translation’ is forgotten, a liberation: rate

the vow your home, your celebration.
See, I will listen. See, I will be there. No ocean

cleaves intuition, no valleys or plateaus divide you.
Myth speaks a common language, and the body

shares consonants: let light link a communication
outside electronics: its own satellite, its own creation.

John Kinsella

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From this dry place...

A poem by John Kinsella, posted here by Tracy


a rebuke for Julia Gillard, Piers Akerman, Peter Coleman et al.

‘Look, cranes still know their path through empty air;
For them their world is neither soon nor late;
But ours is eaten hollow with despair.’

James McAuley, ‘The Tomb of Heracles’

Restart of the fire season:
a mushroom cloud on the first
horizon — the penultimate —
an edge not far enough for
comfort. From his fire-tower

my great-grandfather scanned
the sea of trees for that wisp:
that leader, sign you can never
over-read. I went to that tower
as a child and did the same.

I barely remember. Maybe
he was already dead. I’ve been
talking fire all day long: poets
writing it, neighbours discussing
the risks, all our preparedness.

The firebreaks are done.
Scraped and scraped again,
looking for that second layer,
that second safer layer.
It never reveals itself.

Mostly, it’s the smell: weird
sign of noses cocked to the air,
like some unwholesome fetish.
It’s so dry that ‘dust to dust’
would seem our mantra.

But it’s not. ‘Fire to fire’,
‘fire to fire’ is all we utter
when the water-tanks are low
and flood (should we be smitten)
could only fill the valley

enough to lap at the foot
of this block. But here they
reference conflagration
by stating war is necessary
in another place (we’re not far

from an army camp), to make
our place. There’s not a drop
of water left on the block
but still a white-faced heron
loops in, surveys, lifting

back to reconnaissance.
Maybe I’d be excused
thinking it a profit, sign
in a secular world, expression
of divine intervention and polity?

We cover ourselves from head
to toe — Tracy’s dad is being
eaten by melanomas. To sing
the ‘sunburnt country’
doesn’t really work for him.

In the death of adrenaline,
a vacuum makes its own contexts:
the stony ground, a harsh wind
that cuts hot and cold. Who quotes
and speaks our heroisms:

our world is theirs, bird
or human, and each year
fewer trees make it through, more
of us die at the edges, the centres.
‘Fire-fight’ the default setting.

John Kinsella

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rain: need I say more?

By Tracy

It's raining at Jam Tree Gully. Cause for celebration. Let's hope it lasts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Play against racism

Posted by Tracy

This is a little play John wrote for a group of us (i.e. writers) who meet every so often -- expressing his anger and bemusement at the racism focussed in Northam at the moment.

If anyone ever wants to use it, they are welcome.

The Gathering: a half-act play for six players

by John Kinsella

Players 1-6 are seated in something approximating a circle. A small room. Maybe an office, but could be a work crib room, a shed, or any other confined space. The players are without identifying characteristics. The allotment of player identities among the group of actors is ascertained in as arbitrary a way as possible. They stand when they speak, otherwise remain seated. In the background, Dvorák’s New World Symphony is playing quietly.

Player 1

Sine qua non.

Player 2

Veni, vidi, vici.

Player 1

Bellum omnium contra omnes.

Player 3

Alea iacta est.

Player 2

E Pluribus Unum.

Player 3

O di immortales!

Player 5

And so say all of us.

Player 6

Not quite. Shelley quotes the correspondence of Voltaire at the beginning of Queen Mab: ‘Ecrasez l’infame!’

Player 1

And Lucretius.

Player 4

What about Lucretius? By whose authority?

Player 1

Six lines. Too many for me to recite. My Latin is shaky.

Player 2

I love that line from Mab: ‘The chains of earth’s immurement...’

Player 6

You need to be wary of propaganda in an environment of privilege and learning.

Player 4

Too true, brother [or sister], too true.

Player 5

I made a rhyme today:

They place refugees in hot places.
Hot places cast faces on 'races'.

Player 2

Not much of a rhyme, that. All the same, disturbing.

Player 5

Then how about:

Inland they make a stand.

That’s a single line with an internal rhyme.

Player 2

Who makes the stand?

Player 5

I am not much of a critic.

Player 1

Power to the people...

Player 4

That’s copyright. Do you have any idea of the cost behind a cliché? The legal ramifications of specifics.

Player 3

Surely it’s just populism. No price on that!

Player 2

Too right there is. I’ve worked hard.

Player 3

For whom? For us?

Player 2

Too right. I’ve worked hard.

Player 1

Some bloke is cruising around town calling the old army camp a sacred site. A couple of sporty-looking women have ‘bomb the boats and ‘sink the boats’ on their bright red t-shirts.

Player 4

And the wheat is about to be harvested.

Player 2

And the wheat is about to be harvested. I’ve worked hard.

Player 1

What would Cicero have said on the floor of...

Player 3


Player 5

or some other player. Not just Cicero? How about one of his cronies? A fly-in fly-out rouser of rights? Pick a name, any name.

Player 1

Quid pro quo.

Player 4

Primus inter pares.

Player 3

Goodnight. Sleep tight. New world orders have to be processed.

Player 2

Not in my backyard. I’ve worked hard, hard, hard!

Player 1

Acte est fabula, plaudite.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Northam and refugees

Typed in by Tracy, as stated by John

We were in Northam today, our regional centre, where we do most of our shopping, other than what we are able to do in our immediate, much smaller town. One of our kids went to high school there, because it's the only Senior High in the region. Northam is the centre of the Avon Valley wheatbelt region in which we live.

It was disgusting to see a bloke arrive in town with his tray-top bedecked with large painted panels carrying maps of Australia with diatribes of racial vilification. Without going into the details, suffice it to say that there was a representation of a figure in a hijab with a line drawn through it, bearing the word "parasite", and referring to the Northam Army Base, intended site of a refugee detention centre, as "our sacred site" (meaning of the military). The ironies and insensitivities behind the use of this phrase are obvious.

I managed to control myself and not call out, "You racist bastard". But I feel it essential I articulate my opposition to the mass racism taking place in Northam and surrounding region at the moment. It was doubly disturbing to see bigots drive past this bloke in their utes, giving him the thumbs-up.

On top of this is the irony that Northam has a long history as a migration centre. But the racists are busy differentiating between the European migrants after the Second World War and the Afghan refugees who have left the country which those very same bigots are more than happy to insist needs the Australian military to be waging war against oppressive political elements.

My concern is with the fact that these refugees have to be kept in detention at all. It would seem a far more humane approach to treat them as migrants awaiting confirmation of their status, rather than as prisoners in a concentration camp.

In country that was stolen from the Nyungar people, it is bizarre that the non-indigenous residents feel they have a claim to this land through eternity.

During the 1890s, my great-grandfather, who was foreman of the South Champion mine at Kookynie, was dying of thirst in the desert when he was saved by an Afghan camel driver. Anyone with any knowledge of Western Australian history will know that Afghan people have had a long and important relationship with this place. But even if that were not the case, we are all humans, and all humans should be treated with dignity and respect.

It is many years since I and my fellow activists were involved in resisting the anti-Asian racism campaigns of Jack Van Tongeren and his ultra-nationalist cronies. But today, seeing those signs in Northam made me feel as if we have not progressed, not gone any further forward at all. Western Australia still reeks of racism.

John Kinsella