Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Keeping Poetry Outside the Comfort Zone

Posted by Tracy

An article by John Kinsella, published in the New Statesman, can be read here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poem extract

By Tracy

From "Cowslip Orchids: for David E. Musselwhite", published in Hothouse (Fremantle Press/Arc 2002/2006) pp. 97-98.

Which of us is gone
which away from

this is a third space
word-made uninhabited

the flowers are asterisks
contested passages

if flags then yellow alert

nothing less certain
than what the world gives

a waxen solidity
that passes

grass that receives
our tread and erases
all flesh is

yet how we grasp.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


By John, posted by Tracy

Yet again, the "Department", in their infinite wisdom, have destroyed vast areas of native bushland in Western Australia, killing animals and plants, and putting people's lives at risk. This is a yearly ritual, and the fires induced by so-called prescribed burnings done irresponsibly and without sufficient thought, result in catastrophic outcomes.

See this story.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concrete: a no-act play

By John, posted by Tracy

This is a pro-Occupy, anti-violence, anti-capitalist play written in support of the St Paul's occupation in London, and can be used for performance as presented here if desired.


A No-act Play by John Kinsella

For as many actors as there are ‘voices’, or fewer. Plus a group of masked figures.

St Paul’s Cathedral. The steps. The tents. The dome. The actors ‘shape’ themselves as they talk. A chorus in the background of Schwitters’ Ursonate-like sounds. Building building building. Scattered around the location are ‘masked-up’ figures who shout the odd aggressive word of protest; as the play goes on, especially where the black-bloc are mentioned. They begin to unmask, still uttering the odd word of protest towards capitalism and the oppressions of the state and corporations, but in an insistent rather than aggressive manner. Unmasked, their protests clearly become more effective (this can be displayed in their faces and in those of the ‘voices’).

Voice: The dome holds prayers warm. They ascend in clouds when the dome is full.

Voice: They fall back into the cathedral and melt over the pews, the stone. They wash away or crumble into dust. They cover hymnals. They are breathed in and out and lost.

Voice: They go neither up nor down, but out. They rustle among the tents at night. The doors shut, they linger. They have a long half-life. They don’t burn like radiation but they change us. Even if we don’t believe.

Voice: Believe what?

Voice: Look over there, The young men in suits photographing each other in front of the tents. Group shots. They laugh. They are full of joy. They’ll facebook the images. They seem especially pleased if they get dreadlocks or piercings.

Voice: There’s the Apocalypse man. He says the signs are here, among us.

Voices: We says yes, they are. The stock exchange, the financial district.

Voice: He says we are wrong, and doesn’t approve.

Voice: Why?

Voice: I lost his voice in the traffic sounds, the machinery.

Voice: How many words are written by the shapes of bodies on the cathedral steps? The enriching crosstalk and overtalk and undertalk of different languages. Their shapes, their words, the new words are more concrete than the buildings. The old buildings, the new.

Voice: History intervenes.

Voice: The local matters. What did the Blitz say about orders to move on? Who listened out? Who sheltered? Who sanctioned living? Under what conditions? Shape up or ship out? Consensus? Occupation?

Voice: I saw black-bloc-ers gathering on the outskirts. They had the wind up. In twos and threes, masks half-cocked, working up a steam of affront. Looking for a phalanx.

Voice: Parachute.

Voices: Parachute?

Voice: Yes, yes, I get you. Materials. Tents, the dome, the sweat-shop labour that went into making the clothing of...

Voice: Phantoms of the operas.

Voice: Monumental.

Voices: MO-NU-MENT-AL!

Voice: Or the Letters of St Paul. Somebody has brought that up. Many people...

Voice: But this is against the master, against slavery.

Voice: It is.

Voice: It is.

Voice: It is.

Voice: But if you take one word out of George Herbert’s concrete poem, ‘Easter Wings’, the poem falls to the ground. Say, the word... ‘harmoniously’...

Voice: But is it any worse for being on the ground?

Voice: Is it unmasked?

Voice: Standing up. Being counted.

Voice: Lying down. One of the Fleet-Streeters came last night and invaded our sleeping places with infra-red. Their x-ray specs...

Voice: And I wondered if I heard the clergy praying against us.

Voice: No, no... they were praying for the poor and the wealthy. They were giving their blessing to tourism, the machine of the cathedral kept running.

Voice: But they are not blind to symbolisms.

Voice: Nor symbols.

Voice: Nor icons.

Voices: Nor masks. They are as one. Christ’s...


Voice: But they’re just...

Voices: People.

Voice: Yes, and are all victims of corporate...

Voices: Armies.

Voice: Inside the tent of learning I felt I was inside Gomringer’s silence poem. His ‘Schweigen’.

Voice: What does translation mean?

The cathedral bells start to ring out the hour. All stay silent while they ring.

Voice: Indeed. Inside the reactor. Inside the control of money. Inside money. Inside history. Outside the dome. Over the concrete.

Voices: Who is that speaking in the background? What is that voice?

Voices (to each other, speaking slightly out of time with each other, so cross-talk results): Have you noticed the noisier it gets, the more silence floods into our oneness? Faces show. Mouths moving. Eyes blinking. The painted faces of the crowd. Each and every one. Pictograms. I can make out the script but they seem to be suffering the same.

Voice: Pain. It’s just pain, but the gadgets hide it. They are pain-obscuring gadgets, not pain-ending gadgets.

Voice: Obscurantism.

Voice: Corporate rationalism.

Voice: And the ennui of cyberspatiality — the need to convince themselves... ourselves?... they... we... exist.

Voice: We are all culpable.

Voice: All.

Voices: One and all!

Voice: Some of those masks remind me of the Three Musketeers.

Voices: ME too!

Voices: Wait. Time for a chat. Good to chat. Share the news. The Bobbies are checking up on us. Hi, we don’t want violence. Thanks. The same food is out there to share. Yes, yes — crimes of the state. But they placate with television series. Just say no. No. No.

Voice: No. You can hear the shutters of the record-keepers. Their vigil.

Voices: Vigil.

Voices: Watching over each other. Putting a fire beneath us. Purification of customers.

Voice: What’s the use of a person if they’re not a consumer?

Voice: What’s the use of a cupola on the dome?

Voice: And concrete. Concrete everywhere. Listen, listen to the abstract nouns gathering force.

Voices: Listen, listen... the passion. The consuming passion.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Moers on Dreiser

By Tracy

Ellen Moers in 1970 describes Dreiser as

a writer of massive stature, fierce, unpredictable, eccentric, with the disagreeable habits that have always afflicted major novelists... He was a great novelist, perhaps the greatest of the Americans, and left a reputation for not knowing how to use words... Unusually cerebral in his approach to fiction, he spent most of his time informing himself about everything that science and philosophy could teach the novelist about the act and the will; but he left a reputation for being stupid, unlettered, a 'primitive'.

Of course he's not stupid or any of that -- and Moers is on his side, having "discovered" his fiction "with astonishment" not long before she began writing her very solid book, Two Dreisers, from which this description is taken.

It's the self-taught, wide-ranging aspect of Dreiser I most admire: there are some great advantages to a writer in not being thoroughly steeped in institutional education. Dreiser had limited schooling and in his early days it was in a German-language Catholic school (he had the strange circumstances of being born into mixed Catholic and Mennonite parentage); later he did one year of college paid for by one of his teachers. The rest, he did himself, through library access and building up his own collection of books. You can read about his personal library -- and check out a list of titles -- here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Best seitan so far

By Tracy

I kneaded it more than usual, and let it simmer at a lower heat than before. The texture was much firmer. Sliced and crumbed, then crisped very fast in the pan. The flavourings this time (just a pinch of each) were dried sage and thyme.

See this earlier post for how to make seitan.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Corporate education in schools

By John, posted by Tracy

One should never expect anything from such a corrupt entity as a nation-state or its subsets. We might at the very least hope for separation of church and state, though "the church" constantly creeps into schools through the many back doors proffered. And now it beggars belief that the Western Australian government has been quietly fostering the fusing of private corporations -- in particular the global Pacman, BHP -- and state schools.

See this article for explanation of what's happening in the so-called state education system...

This is the very kind of corporate sway that the Occupy movements have sprung up to contest.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Re-reading Dreiser

By Tracy

I'm most of the way through a re-read of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (see earlier post) and have to say that it benefits from the better format of the Library of America edition -- good font, good layout and spacing, restful shade of paper... a much less arduous read than the copy I read earlier, underlining for me how much those physical factors can affect my response to a book.

Dreiser's style hasn't changed, objectively, yet I like it better. This is partly a case of getting used to it, too -- the typos or possibly misspelled words (even in this better edition), the odd word-choice on occasion -- and the incessant use of "And... And" with present participles -- are sometimes beyond belief.

The critic Lee Clark Mitchell, back in 1985, actually saw that last stylistic feature as a positive, or at least as belonging in a pattern of repetition counted as part of Dreiser's art:

"Just as characters, events and descriptions overlap, so the prose itself divides and doubles, saved from utter fragmentation by participial clauses and frequent conjunctions that link phrases into parallel structure..."

[Novel: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 19, no.1]

In any case, whether intrinsically flawed or following a pattern many of us have failed to recognise and appreciate, Dreiser's style bothers me much less than it did on first reading, and though undeniably a "big book" (934 pages in this edition), it doesn't seem to drag this time around.

Besides, even if you don't like his style, the vision and expansive grasp of the novel have plenty to offer. Alfred Kazin once wrote:

"With his proverbial slovenliness, the barbarisms and incongruities whose notoriety has preceded him into history, the bad grammar, the breathless and painful clutching at words... he has seemed the unique example of a writer who remains great malgré lui. It is by now an established part of our folklore that Theodore Dreiser lacks everything except genius."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Racism in Australia

By John, posted by Tracy

Once again, the ‘outside’ world has paid more attention than Australia does to the abysmal conditions many indigenous Australians live in and under. Australia is a racist country, make no mistake. And racist in so many complex and overlapping ways. It’s not just a case of ‘white’ and ‘black’ politics, but an amalgam of complex and also very subtle personal, religious, social and institutional prejudices. Whether it’s the muttering behind closed doors about ‘their’ behaviour, or overt rudeness in public, or it’s government agencies and politicians acting as mirrors for concentrations of (voting) prejudice, the overall effect is devastating for the recipients of this racism (in the sense of racist individuals differentiating themselves from and demeaning other people on the grounds of ethnic difference)... in the end bigotry is bigotry, and it’s a simple equation.

I was involved in an Amnesty anti-slavery forum just before the Sydney Olympics, and it’s a sad thing that the same discussion needs to continue. No progress has been made in addressing the core of these issues of inequality. See:

"Amnesty slams indigenous conditions"

Remember this as you read this blog or play netgames in general. This tool of our lives is still about choices made out of privilege. Not even access is equality: how it is used and what it provides according to wealth and advantage are key factors.

John Kinsella

Saturday, October 1, 2011


By Tracy

Not even lifting a finger but with that swing
from walking, unconscious, palm open,
I catch it without volition, it catches me,
this white, minute feather, brush too aloof
to be called soft – but it did stop – weightless
as snowflake and just as blankly obvious,
the loss, the newness. Loose from a nest,
a fledgling, though there seemed
neither tree nor bird anywhere near me
to furnish it so listlessly, indifferently,
and I could not say what became of it
when it finished with me, glanced off,
as if it too might melt or dissipate, as if
without root in flesh or destination.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I am NOT a nature poet...

By John, posted by Tracy

I have recently been disturbed by pre-publication statements appearing around my book Jam Tree Gully, due out with WW Norton in the US in November. These statements describe me as a ‘nature poet’. I want to state, once again, that I am not a nature poet, nor a ‘nature writer’, in any way. As I said in a recent interview with Overland regarding this matter:

I detest ‘nature writing’. I consider myself a writer of the environment - an ethically and politically motivated writer who perceives each poem, each text I write, as part of a resistance against environmental damage. ‘Nature writing’ is a concept is too tied up with validating the relationship with the (Western!) notion of self, of egotistical sublime, of the gain the self has over the ‘nature’ s/he is relating to. This privileging is a problem. Which is not to say I have a problem with the inevitabilities of the anthropomorphic, if that necessarily brings about greater respect for ‘nature’ than would arise without it. So once again, it’s relative.

Thing is, it is out of my respect for ‘nature’ that I feel so strongly about its fetishisation in ‘nature writing’. Poetry as environmental activism, sure. Poetry that tries to respect ‘nature’, sure. Poetry that problematises the human-nature equation in terms of culture and ecology (for which there is no pat ‘solution’!), sure. But...

And here’s a poem of mine from many years back that states my position most clearly:

Graphology 300: Against “Nature Writing”

Nature writing equals the new racketeering.
Nature writers make good use of plane travel and restaurants serving up nature.
Nature writing equals recognition as gratification.
Nature writers wear tough boots and mark their trail out hiking. They need to get back. They drive cars.
Nature writing equals the house in good order for the property owner. The sub-textual paths past the native garden beds are called ecology.
Nature writers grow at least a little of their own food. Or would if they could.
Nature writing equals the woods sans Macbeth. Possibly sans witches.
Nature writers get as close as they can to the birds, soaking up their natures.
Nature writing equals a separation in order to get closer — almost everyone can do it, if they see the light.
Nature writers are those who make the choice to step out of their front doors and breathe in the fresh air, or declare that it’s time to move to where it’s fresher.
Nature writing equals — not — pastoral and needs no bucolics to play out the hierarchies — it lives outside the narrative. It favours local picnics — best if the animals don’t even know one’s there.
Nature writers who are academics get paid for the conscience — administratively, at least, it’s called eco-criticism.
Nature writing equals the recognition that poisoned flesh and cellulose are not good to eat — support your local organic market.
Nature writers have, in the very least, a hidden spirituality.
Nature writing equals market-place economies.
Nature writers know that economy and ecology share the same prefix and have thought long and hard about this.
Nature writing equals quiet time following field excursions to get it down — preferably, a hut in the forest, a writing retreat. The keeping of like-minded company, occasionally hearing the birds tweet. Seeing a kangaroo, bear, or antelope, a double treat.
Nature writers get angry with consumerism — don’t giggle.
Nature writing equals space for tokenism but makes good use of natural colouring to bury it.
Nature writers know that via the Indo-European, gwei is to live, with metathesized variant striking a colourant, an accord with the weather outside their window, concordance with weather within: birds quiet without, a blowfly annoying within. Quick, vivid, vitamin, whiskey, amphibious, microbe, and hygiene all derive from this living, this high-life we all live, though most are more interested in the suffixed zero-grade form *gwi-o-. bio-, biota, biotic; aerobe, amphibian, anabiosis, cenobite, dendrobium, microbe, rhizobium, saprobe, symbiosis, from Greek bios, life (> biot, way of life), according to American Heritage, or Variant form *gwy- (< *gwyo-). 1. azo-; diazo, hylozoism, from Greek zo, life. 2. Suffixed form *gwy-yo-. zodiac, –zoic, zoo-, zoon1, –zoon, from Greek zon, zion, living being, animal; ultimately, though, they prefer nature to say bios or gwei for it declares nation, heritage, identity, it declares a place for the righteous, the knowing, the in touch, the separate. They don’t wish to be part of any club you’re a member of.
Nature writing equals overlays and underlays, carpets the best rooms in pile soothing to the feet. It shows real pleasure is in the walking.
Nature writers know as much proper-naming as they have time to accumulate.
Nature writing equals not being read by those land-clearing, or the contrary.
Nature writers want to look wherever something has been set aside. Attrition.
Nature writing equals targeting cats, not people.
Nature writers can be hunters or animal-rights activists.
Nature writing equals landmarking and wishing on a bird during war.
Nature writers become more animal by eating animals.
Nature writing equals the separation of the grotesque from the healing.
Nature writers are inspired, searching for intactness, and patient. They have time up their sleeves.
Nature writing equals the vicarious, equals verisimilitude, equals carving out a niche in the schema, in the pleasant picture.
Nature writers aren’t saving Mount Bakewell, don’t take on farmers with shotguns, will make do at a pinch with non-organic produce, are a bunch of fucking hypocrites.
Nature writing is a departmental party trick.

John Kinsella

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Paradise Lust

By John, posted by Tracy

Here’s an extract from a long-term work-in-progress: Paradise Lust. Obviously coming out of Milton’s Paradise Lost, but also (later) Paradise Regained, this section is from 'Book One', which I have just completed. The final section of my 'Book One' is still in typewriter-script.

I’ve been writing ‘Book One’ on & off over the last nine months — as it largely reacts to local, regional and international political/ecological/social events, as well as to ecological concerns in general, it tends to be picked up when anger rouses me. I don’t intend it to be a diatribe — in fact, it’s more an engagement with Milton’s original (grabbing and reconfiguring his text, conversing with it, or just attempting to outrun its polished inevitability of form and idea).

However, I see it as a case of making a private torment public for a couple of reasons: firstly, the cathartic nature of public utterance, and secondly, in that perversely linked contradiction, the obligating nature of public utterance. A kind of desire to be held accountable for one’s mental and emotional resistance.

The stimulus to this section was the outrage I felt hearing ‘Twiggy’ Forrest speak (on a Four Corners documentary), regarding his desire to get ‘approval’ from traditional owners for yet another iron ore mine in the Pilbara. A very rich white man saying he can identify with the sufferings of local indigenous communities because of having been brought up in the same area seems to me classic colonial paternalism. Surely he does not know, because surely he can’t know.

I’ll say no more because I actually think the poem says it better. Poetry is the ultimate pacifist vehicle, I feel: its volatilities are tempered by the constraints of language and distance, which leads hopefully to more constructive outcomes.

Which is not to say I don’t think that one should stand up in person and clearly articulate an opposition — I certainly do. But reading a poem in person can often be a whole lot more effective than either speaking or yelling at the brick wall of self-interest (especially when it’s dressed up as ‘caring’: e.g. as soon as you here the words ‘training’ and ‘employment’ in the context of working in one’s own mines, you have to worry about motives, as much as the predictable questioning of the value of handing over money to ‘those’ people).

Poetry is action, and the story of Satan’s fall and battle with the legions of God, and his corruption of Adam and Eve, is the vehicle par excellence for dealing with issues of greed, exploitation and the capitalist desire for ‘choice’, and also the folly of pride, in a colonial context. For any who might think that the days of Australian colonialism have passed, think again. It happens on a private and state level most days, especially in Western Australia, a truly exploitative and paradise-lusting state.

I might add that the mining billionaires around here don’t merit Milton’s ‘glorious’ epic rendering of Satan (with his human depths and complexities!). And they are as much the ‘princes, potentates, and warriors’ of Heaven as they are of the sulphur of Hell. Whichever ‘side’ deploys military metaphors as signs of pride and worth is going to be suspect.

I am justifying the ways of no one, but I am justifying the rights of the exploited and the wronged (human and non-human) more than those who want to manufacture a ‘paradise’ in images of their own desires!

Paradise Lust 5 (Book 1)

Hesperian Celtic utmosts, island
to island I am not a person, prevalent
and prevaricating point-of-view: we are
what we watch with sore and running eyes,
get-back-together myth a rubric and flocking-
cause, damp walls I read of to go to: flight,
hypocritical hue or due: highest word orders
traipsing attention-seekers (ordnance)
reared in standard courage: clarion trumpeter
vengeance to perform, scrupulous as lustre
I cannot express my need for birds beyond
the window at dawn: sonorous and true,
‘martial sounds’ I make what I will of: damn me,
I am sure you will! Nightfright is explosives
and butane cannons a valley-fright, nightline
gone wrong at head of bed: I dreamt a cube
you looked into and there was an explanation
mark floating in analgesics — all those banners,
all those labels ‘with orient colours waving’:
hideous namesake who would locate and blame,
‘geek’ is the New Right with righteous indignation
flowing offhand, enlivened by microwaves,
phalanxes of digitisation, I escape to granite
folds where radon broods and alters ‘gift’
as much as birthrighteousness; none makes
from attack to battle traps clawing ankles
in the ‘firebugs’ storm of calling: who
are these dazzlers who surround me?
Who files and anglegrinds the view away?
Who cuts the heart out of the hill?
I place inside an empathy: I am mosquito
and gnat flayed less beautifully and with lesser
advertisement (never mind the samples, here
come the augmented profit programmes);
metaglories & heroic rage: O namesake disgrace,
race you to atomic or armoric knights, a flooding
of baptisms, a jest of clubbing: I cannot replace
the lifetime story I saw in a friend’s look,
acknowledging progress, a swirling of planet
faster than any measurement of orbit, any
counting down of days: we saw the juggler,
and the seat we sat at: a smile, a wave,
a passing over: I won’t say your name, I won’t
say it yet: names are more than I can bear: a pun
is worse than a lie to outflank the eye, resolution
of pictorials: a peerage of atoms and all their
(wasted? never) space; mortal shape immortal
or eminent, loss of tower and language
bright beneath the weighty beams of forests
turned to ships: ‘behind the moon’ in stunning
eclipse, a theft of archangel’s ruins; camera
obscura lumière of twilight sheds across the valley
which will never be tolled though thunder will
come tomorrow diastole in bloody pressure
not a sign of cheek fading to wet wood or thinking
ahead to flames. Passion in those billion spirits.
Heaven-blame is a scathing of forest and heath
and even clumps of spinifex edging rolling desert;
each battlefield mock-up to feel terrain sucked
away (a new uranium mine will open deep
in Western Australia) to little denial, little
weeping or bursting of the ranks; think:
what is work and who does work work for?
My father was a workaholic, my mother
works into her senior years, I work through
the night, and shiftworkers flying around the clock
make life about the life-altars of uranium oxide:
I was hideously exposed in my teenage years.
Myriad double-take, retaking of taken land:
firesale and compensation: digging deep to test
depth of the sign, marker of land and lines.
Lacking skin, lacking totem, lacking expressions
of light where growth begins, nothing is glorious;
those legions of state that would empty me out
into the borrow pit, so shorter days getting longer
in penumbra, exile outcast to blow channels
wide open, to excise and ‘repossess their
native seat’ — no question, just deliverance
of paternal facts (witness Four Corners forrestry);
throne; who sits where sits paternal overhang,
extended through funeral claims; who knows,
maybe pity beats deep unless profit plays havoc,
plays variations or riffs on stories: evidence
is the court’s maverick play, is the specialist’s boon,
is the shunning arriviste counterseal to have
a workforce, a New Slavery where pay is all prophecy,
is all Brave New Worlds and Nineteen-Eighty Fours
rolled over: New Slavery landless in ways
that count; repute custom consent regal concealed
billionaire monarch butterfly off course
aflame; rife rife rife rife rife rife rife rife
as sons as generations of hymns and songs
and daughters left in shade where the hills have
gone concave; onward Christian soldiers all things
bright and beautiful in your backyard you measured
out and made yourself; ‘spirits in bondage’ take your
seats at the table, this is the best offa ya gunna get: work
choices red as iron, red as the lips that tell you what’s
good for you: ‘money is not the answer’ from the obscenely
rich should shake the bones supporting such lips: Warhol’s
factory implosion: abyss war abyss: who spake?
Flaming swords — billions — are inevitable
in the swirl of being heard and lullifying:
the cherubim’s glorious cancelling out,
‘illumined hell’ and the hill hideaway
flattened out by the rolling smoke,
grisly leftovers of the hunter’s assignation
(one of the BOYS tried to run me down
but covered his action by keeping his line
and not following my steps onto the gravel).
The surveillance aircraft that grids us flies
its ‘glossy scurf’ of boundaries, and the truth
of womb envy plays out in HIS great ore
belly, his cultural involution he makes us
understand: capitalising sulphur, who could
speak more clearly of mining worship: ‘pioneers
of spade and pickaxe armed’: trenches and
all the metallic dead, all the metallic dead.

John Kinsella

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sweet Treats 2: Vegan Caramel Tart

By Tracy

This one I adapted from various internet recipes for "Banoffee Pie" -- no bananas here, but I ended up adding more strawberries than in the photo, because this is extremely sweet and needs something acidic to cut the flavour and texture.

Crumb base:
250g digestive biscuits (McVities are vegan)
100g Nuttelex (or other vegan margarine)

Caramel filling:
100g Nuttelex (or other vegan margarine)
100g dark brown sugar
1 can soy condensed milk (see here if you can't get this in shops; you can also make it yourself according to various webpages)

thick vegan cream (you can either buy it or make it: see Rose Elliot's Vegan Feasts)*
grated chocolate (dark or soy-milk chocolate)
fruit pieces

Crush the biscuits in a large bowl; melt 100g Nuttelex and stir through till well mixed. Press into the base and sides of a spring-form tin. (My mixture was a little too dry so the edges crumbled here and there; on the other hand, too much Nuttelex will make a crumb-crust greasy and too heavy.) Chill while you do the rest.

Melt Nuttelex and dark brown sugar together in a pre-greased saucepan till sugar dissolves. (I don't use Teflon, so I just greased the saucepan with Nuttelex and it worked.)

When it's melted, add the vegan condensed milk and stir while bringing to boil. Don't put it on a high heat -- you have to be patient with this bit. Now take your crumb-base out of the fridge. When the caramel mixture starts to boil, take it off the stove and pour into the base.

Chill it for at least an hour or it will be too runny.

[Left: basic tart, with slightly crumbled edges, but set firm]

When it's set, top it with the vegan cream, grated chocolate and strawberries or whatever you choose.
[Left: starting to pipe the vegan cream on]

[*The vegan cream is made by first cooking a small amount of cornflour with soy milk & a little vanilla, cooling that completely -- not in fridge -- and whipping margarine, then folding the two together, piecemeal. My Wakeman & Baskerville Vegan Cookbook -- a much-used standard -- has a similar method. If you prefer to buy vegan cream that is thick enough to use in this way, try the Cruelty Free Shop online or check in shops. There's even a spray-can vegan cream...]

Sweet Treats 1

By Tracy

Very sweet treats... and vegan, of course.

First, a cheap and easy one that Australians often call "honeycomb" (though it contains no honey), and that elsewhere is called "hokey pokey" or "cinder toffee".

I adapted the recipe from here (thanks, K at "In the Mood for Noodles") but doubled the quantities because my tray was 20cm square and I didn't want too thin a layer. (I needn't have worried!).

Note that you need a very big saucepan to make this, because once you put in the bicarb, it grows monstrously.

Next time I will use one teaspoon less of bicarb, hoping to reduce the slight aftertaste.

I also lightly scored the surface while it was still moist, so as to make breaking easier.

The other vegans mention needing dry weather to make this work; it's been raining heavily here (happily!) but since we have a fire going in the stove I thought I'd try it anyway. It's still chewy (not entirely hardened yet) but I am advised it tastes good.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What’s in a Name?

by John, posted by Tracy

In the net world, one’s name is an empty signifier. I share my name with public figures who are butchers, composers, computing experts, swimmers, hurlers, you name it. It’s an uncommon name in Australia, but a common name in Ireland. We don’t own our names, and a name is only useful in what it represents. That’s fine, though it is always distressing when one’s politics are confused with the politics of another who is signified by the same name, because of a reader associating a statement made by another with ‘you’, because they have assumed... I guess that other John Kinsellas might not like the thought of their name being associated with my politics. I don’t want their words in my mouth, so to speak, and I imagine it would be the case in reverse. But maybe that’s just another victory for the cause of western subjectivity!

So when you hear or read a piece of, say, race hatred or cultural bigotry, and it has ‘your’ name attached to it, it is particularly hard to bear. In the mass of trackable ephemera that constitutes the net, it dilutes ultimately into a meaninglessness that can suddenly be activated as a ‘truth’. Horrific events inevitably evoke insensitive and brutal responses. The uncited reference, or the reference that creates its own citation: it was said, it is findable through a search, therefore is its own truth.

For my namesake out there who is looking to blame the Islamic world for all violence and hatred, I suggest he takes a look at his own motivations in posting such rubbish. The Grand Defence of Western values, and the fear of the ‘other’, are sadly alive and well. I am appalled to see ‘my name’ attached to a right-wing race-hate rant in the context of an horrific event (whose perpetrator, ironically in this regard, looks likely to be a Christian fundamentalist... but hate knows no boundaries, and the identification of the perpetrator’s belief-system/creed is not a marker of the nature of his hate).

I guess, heritage-wise, he and I connect somewhere way back. But I believe individual choices can be made regardless of genetics, cultural heritage or social context.

I have heard of people trying to take legal action to prevent another of the same name (that is, from birth) using it in public debates where they are well-known and it might rightly be assumed that they themselves are the source of certain comments, even if the comments seem out of character. A ’defence’ of who they are, how they perceive their public quiddity? Often, a middle initial or some other marker is introduced to differentiate. Appeasement?

And so many writers work under assumed names, even while writing under their birth name as well.

So, what’s in a name? Very little. But all the same, in those liminal and threshold spaces where the name floats like a buoy in the swill of comments that tail newspaper articles, I want to say clearly that I in no way blame Muslims for the ills of the world, that I am in no way anti-Muslim, that I celebrate cultural diversity, and fully accept that one’s own cultural backyard has as many issues and complexities as anyone else’s. I shouldn’t even feel the need to make these points when my life work has so clearly been dedicated to resisting bigotry in all its forms. But someone out there who has the ‘same’ name does have these abhorrent values/views, and thus I feel the need to claim my identity ‘back’ in the light of this.

So maybe I am defending the right to difference of opinion among all John Kinsellas, whether we can separate them off and identify the component parts or not!

John Kinsella, poet of the Western Australian wheatbelt, anarchist, vegan and pacifist. He refuses to use his middle initial as differentiator.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Review of Fremantle Press New Poets We Have to Have

by John Kinsella; posted by Tracy

I was disappointed to see the latest Westerly poetry round-up summarise the 2010 Fremantle Press collection of three ‘new’ poets with the general label ‘competent’. After lamenting the lack of ‘variety’ in the Fremantle list in recent years, the review leaves us with the simple assessment that the three-in-one collection was surely done for reasons of cost.

Now, in an age of declining poetry book sales (which is, true, matched by an exponential rise in web interest and performance interest in poetry), the presentation of three full-length collections, in an attractive and intelligently edited and introduced single volume, is a gain rather than a loss.

Let me express my connection to this volume before I begin — allowing that most collections published in Australia have at most one or two degrees of separation from a reviewer. The volume was edited by Tracy Ryan, my partner. One of the poets collected, J. P. Quinton, has assisted me in various tasks, and another, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, I adjudged (anonymously) the winner of a poetry competition some years ago. I have only briefly met the third participant, Emma Rooksby.

Dismissing each of these collections as ‘competent’ reduces the possibility of newness, innovation and breadth of publishing vision, far more than binding them within one cover in what will be an ongoing series (the 2011 volume has just been published, including two poets, and next year’s volume is a collection of performance-driven poets).

Westerly has a long history of supporting Western Australian writing, rightly placing it in a broader ‘Australian’ and regional context. The latest issue includes a wide selection of Australian poetry, with Western Australians coming off particularly well. What’s more, after questioning why Fremantle has tended to publish ‘established’ poets over recent years, the poetry round-up spends all the ‘Western Australian’ time concentrating on examples of those very poets. If it’s difficult to open a gambit with new poets and there’s no discourse to slot them into, let me provide a series of possibilities which will be just as much about how not to ‘slot’ them in, as how to ‘read’ them.

The first New Poets volume was part of a process that saw the submission of many manuscripts by journal-published poets looking for the publication of their first full-length collection. The process not only fostered the three poets included in this volume, but also resulted in a master class, in which a number of other poets presented and discussed their work in a supportive context.

The fact that Rooksby, Mitchell, and Quinton are dramatically different practitioners is a double plus in terms of their being collected together. It signifies diversity and cross-talk; it is about associations and clarifications of how we might read poetic cultural subtexts by creating context.

In her collection Time Will Tell, Emma Rooksby is what I would call an ‘internalising’ poet. The title’s colloquial familiarity captures much of the subtle tension between public and private that emanates from her poems. Pithy, compacted language, with a strong sense of ‘turn’ of phrase and idea, works image and rhetoric with equal skill and determination.

The external world is often presented in vivid sketches, but always folds in on the private or even intimate moment. Often there is the sense of a private conversation going on between the ‘voice’ of the poet and one with which s/he is intimate. But it would be wrong to think that these poems are simply making private communiqués public. Rooksby is concerned with how much private knowledge becomes something else when it is painted within the public frame of shared experience and awareness.

Hers is not a poetry of the material, though she is concise and precise in her empirical observations; neither it is a poetry of metaphysical aspiration. Rather, it’s a poetry of grounding, pinioning those hermeneutic fragments and moments that compile a life. The poem becomes a record of uncertainty locked within the apparent certainties of language (but that changes too). Memory is unreliable, but that doesn’t stop us constantly trying to validate and confirm memory in thought, in speech. This is structuralist poetry, in which subjectivity is a nagging doubt.

Try, but the quality of memory
decays. Somehow each incident
that’s set aside for treasuring
gets furred with motes of dust

In short, sharp, seven-line poems such as ‘Early afternoon’, ‘Winter’, and ‘Guardians’, interspersed through the collection, we are given imagistic glimpses and moments, interludes in the repetition of days. Rooksby’s uneasy relationship with closure in form, and her persona’s relationship with those towards whom it directs its voice, are epitomised by the closing line or lines of these pieces: ‘Surfacing, you see the long path back, in fading light’ (Early Afternoon). Rooksby’s skill is in taking the quotidian and showing its necessity to a greater, almost spiritual vision. She doesn’t demean or diminish the ‘ordinary’; the reader feels privileged to be part of the ‘quiet’ accumulation of detail and observation built across poems. The process is not passive; it’s a wrestling with how and why we privilege one perception over another.

Scott-Patrick Mitchell’s {where n equals} a determinacy of poetry is a collection in which (or maybe through which) poems are part of a broader display. If Rooksby delights in bringing the details of life into focus, Mitchell delights in graffiti-ing the streets of the psyche’s inner city (I use ‘psyche’ in its analytical sense, not as a vague sense of something). This is not so much in his specific references to inner-city spaces or markers (though they are there), but in his creating a street-map of language-play and public displays of private art. Mitchell’s elliptical and paratactic plays on line and expression are as much about the ‘domestic’ moment, the private encounter with language and occasion, as Rooksby’s poetry. His work ranges from love poems with a self-ironising edge (consider his love poems and poems of desire in the light of Rooksby’s opening poem, ‘Drink’ and the aesthetics of de-romanticism: this can manifest in so many ways!) through to a struggle with the validity of the symbolic versus the representational, in poetry and artistic expression in general.

Mitchell’s syntax and grammar are about beginnings rather than ends. By no means the first poet to place his punctuation at the beginning of a line rather than at the end, he’s nonetheless one of the most able practitioners of this approach. This invites a line to begin rather than end, and asks for an inverted reading, as well as encouraging us to read against meaning that has so often already been expressed or investigated ironically. Which is not to say Mitchell takes himself less than seriously — or expects the reader to take it less than seriously — but that he is fully aware that creating poetry is a self-conscious act of display and performance the moment it is spoken or is committed to the page.

Mitchell’s constant linguistic play on subjectivity advances beyond mere questions of the lyrical self or unified self, and questions the subjectivity of the recipient subject. He takes a ‘confessional’ mode and reinstates the very doubts expressed by confessional poets themselves (e.g. Robert Lowell). Take the poem ‘dew’ — a play with a Victorian romantic cliché, a self-reflexive love poem, and the medieval traditions of aubade:

.it is morning &
you twitch at each
kiss from these lips
placed ethereal on
ridge & slope of
body i dote

The ‘landscape’ solidity of ‘ridge & slope’ in the context of the body not only maps flesh on place but also links sensibility to surroundings and occasion. The you is as implicated as the ‘i’, but is also separated off as an idea, a notion, an extension of the ‘i’. The ‘you’ only exists because of the display of the poem. This reaches a deadly self-irony that still operates in the realm of need and desire in the seemingly off-putting (though not), ‘alopecian dreams’:

I dreamt last night
I had hair
; long
, arse tickling

The play of classical literary tropes with the slightly ‘off’ familiar is at the core of Mitchell’s poetics. Its best expression is actually found in a poem of more overt ‘beauty’, the wonderful ‘heliograph’ which reminds me of Callimachus’s (ca. 305BC.-ca. 240BC) ‘Hymn to Apollo’. Mitchell’s great skill resides in his poems’ openings — like Rooksby, his frustration is with the need for poems to end at all (which is not a bad thing!). ‘heliography’ opens with:

ball me up in a ball of light so I can write
how our sight foresaw this new beginning

The Steinian repetitions, the gentle sound-play, the nursery-rhyme explosion into what amounts to ontological clarity, launch us into a tour de force of ode-making fused with the ironies of ordinariness. Performance in the light of the sun matters to Mitchell.

The colloquial gets a full workover if not makeover in J. P. Quinton’s Little River. I feel confident in saying there’s nothing quite like Quinton’s voice (including his own voice!) in Western Australian poetry, and possibly Australian poetry as a whole. If you can imagine aspects of John Forbes and Nigel Roberts coalescing with Les Murray and maybe John Tranter, you might get some way toward unravelling its studied intricacies. In terms of environmental sensitivities, you could be rewarded by looking to John Anderson and maybe even Charles Buckmaster. Which is not to say Quinton’s ‘voice’ is the result of absorbing his models, but rather that he always writes meta-textually and always with an ironic awareness of how ‘voice’ can only ever be derivative and comparative. He says it as he hears it, and as he ‘speaks’ to his mates, the bloke in the street, in the bush, on the road.

This is Quinton’s genius; this most ‘voiced’ poet really writes outside poetic voice. He writes and speaks in his poem as he sees and experiences it. It’s what we used to call, in my ‘out-of-it days’, a ‘no-bullshit voice’. You believe it, whether it’s true or not. It counts as witness. When I said ‘studied intricacies’, I meant that Quinton’s ‘talk’ in the poems is both casual and immediate, and highly studied. He is a master of open-form poetry that gives the impression of having been written in stricter forms. In his work there is a kind of formal and tonal mimesis which are not replicable. At its most blunt, you might even think Charles Bukowski or Banjo Paterson; at its most sharpened and deadly you might think John Donne.

Little River is a book of range and variation. From engagements with localised popular culture in which tropes work hand-in-hand with the blunt reality of their application (or where ideas and theories of their nature derive from), through to environmental poems, poems in which the relationship between the ‘self’ and the transcendentalised ‘natural’ world is pondered and troubled over (the Swan River in Perth is a vital focal-point for Quinton), through to elegies that overwhelm with their bluntness and clarity, their almost brutal confrontation with loss of an older brother.

To give a sense of how a Quinton poem fuses casual language usage with formal (seemingly almost accidental) constraint, the ‘throw-away’ observation with sharp, cutting insight, and a simultaneous respect and trashing of ‘art’, we might consider the devastatingly ironic ‘Art for Life’s Sake’. Quinton can be gauche, brutal, frank and razor-sharp in the same line. Once again, as characteristic of Rooksby and Mitchell, Quinton is a deft poet of beginnings:

Your brain-damaged neighbour checks the mail ten times a day
for a bill he knows is due next week. Here, the sky is forgotten.

But Quinton is a poet of endings as well, maybe because loss and death are never far behind an observation, a thought, a recording. The last three lines of ‘Art for Life’s Sake’ say it all, and more. And it’s the more that comes out of confronting loss every time you wake that does it:

Having kids means spending all your time trying not to hand down
the malignant shit your parents gave you. At least with art you’ve only got
yourself to blame and perhaps Mr Imagination will stick around.

One gets the sense there is no other way to write it. Take these lines from the elegiac ‘All the Albums We Listened to Together’:

Is it you
Your deadness
Or me
My unforgiveness.

Air-drumming along
In your kombi
With its over-adjusted headlight

The first stanza quote shows inversion and play on primary and all-encompassing ‘values’: death and forgiveness. The person addressed is dead. Forgiveness has not been forthcoming. And yet the absoluteness of the dead is questioned in the irony of the ‘ness’, and the failure of forgiveness is countered by the guilt of the ‘un’. Suffix and prefix become the values, rather than the concrete reference. In the second stanza it’s the ‘over-adjusted headlight’. The light works, but doesn’t work right. This contains condemnation and understanding without saying so: nothing is precise, there is no exact measurement of death and its causes, and of how we deal with loss.

Quinton is a landscape architect, and his poems are landscapes. The persona is out in nature to remake and qualify himself, to give purpose. But the intellect behind this subjectivity can’t give way to ‘feeling’. Feeling is brutal. Reality is all-consuming. The poem ‘The Lookout’ shows closure up for what it is, and architecture of place, emotions and ideas, cancels itself out. We survey place from our privileged position of life. We begin:

Ice melts, green belts.
Alpine cold, frozen eucalypts
mountains near and far off.

and thirteen lines later we close off with:

Not so long ago
siphoning the world
my brother broke down and gassed himself —
a total, fucking, gas.

Endgame. Quinton will be one of the most significant poets of his generation.

So, one asks how three such vital poets can be merely described as ‘competent’. These are groundbreaking poets in a groundbreaking collection. Tracy saw it when she selected their work, I saw it while she was doing so. It has to be said. These poets have to be heard.

[Fremantle Poets 1: New Poets. Emma Rooksby, Scott-Patrick Mitchell; J. P. Quinton; Edited by Tracy Ryan. Published by Fremantle Press, Fremantle, 2010]

Saturday, June 25, 2011


by John Kinsella (posted by Tracy)

I think some clarification regarding my views on a few matters might be useful for those who read this blog. A list might be the way to go — I apologise if it seems officious, as it’s not intended to be.

1. I still maintain that technology fetishism is destructive to the planet. These occasional forays into the electronic world, (kindly posted by Tracy), are not intended as some kind of personal approval of the medium. The internet and computers are, to my mind, part of the disturbing portrait of ecological destruction that is being painted across this planet. However, I do think that on occasion one must speak out through all means available, and that includes the internet. For the last two-and-a-half years I have lived in virtual isolation on a bush block, and I am proud of this, and believe that one should constantly aim to minimise impact on the ecologies of the planet. But one must also be wary of a quietism by default. Having said this, I maintain my (non-violent, pacifist) neo-luddite position that gratuitous technology is destructive in so many ways.

2. What has convinced me to go ‘out into the world’ in as low-impact a way as can be managed is the distress imposed on the place where we live by Targa West Rallying’s insistence on conducting one of their dangerous and environmentally insensitive events where we live. This is not just a case of one’s own backyard, but a microcosm of a much wider problem. I have always believed in acting locally. Use of the net to bring attention to this problem (as well as writing to local papers etc), is a judgement call: a case of two evils.

3. In going forth into the world again, I do so in the belief that one can minimise impact in so many ways. Still needing to make a living and demonstrate alternative ways of approaching one’s art and practice, I might contribute to a broader awareness. The experiences of the last few years are worth publicly articulating.

4. I recently dedicated a poem about human-induced climate change (which I believe is a fact) to Cate Blanchett. I did so because I am very sick of seeing contempt and ridicule of women who are willing to challenge the industrial and mining power complex. As someone who believes that centralised power of any sort is a denial of liberty, the controls and impositions of government in any context are anathema. However, I am also pragmatic in that I am interested in seeing ecologies protected and respected, and if taxing these industries, which I don’t think should exist at all, will in any way reduce their abusive hold on the lives of all living things, then that’s a step on the way. I place this under the rubric ‘umbrella anarchism’. In terms of the abuse I have copped for dedicating a poem to Cate Blanchett, well, so be it. I make no apologies; I stand by the poem and the dedication. At least she had the guts to stick her neck out. I have no interest in her status or her iconicity, only in her humanity and willingness to take a risk on a vital subject. The bullies have been merciless.

I have dedicated many poems in my life, to people including Yehudi Menuhin, Noam Chomsky, my partner and my own children. Every dedication has a political and ethical purpose that is also about respect of the ‘person’. Persons should be respected. The dedication is never arbitrary. The people to whom I dedicate poems don’t have to have my views; neither is my dedication necessarily a confirmation of their views. Dedications are subtle as well as loud. They do many things, and I think readers would benefit from considering the nature of their own varied interactions with others. It’s a strange imposition on what a poem is, to read a dedication as a rigid and ‘loud’ fact.

5. I have spent many years writing and campaigning around refugee rights. I believe emphatically that all people have a right to sanctuary, no matter where they come from or how they get anywhere. Australia is a racist country, and racism should be resisted in all pacifist ways possible. There should be no mandatory detention, and the so-called Malaysia solution (or that of any other place outside the ‘target’ place of the refugees) is outrageous.

6. The World Health Organisation have confirmed the high likelihood that mobile phones cause brain cancer. I don’t use a mobile phone, have never owned one, and am not about to start. They are the ‘asbestos’ of our time. It saddens me to see young people using them because of social expectation. So many people see themselves as liberated by technology when they are performing exactly as the industrial (and military) power complexes want them to.

7. Activism isn’t just fronting up at a demo. It especially isn’t damaging things or being violent. Activism is a record of how we live our lives. Twenty-five years of veganism have taught me that identifying cruelty in an abattoir (what do you expect, seriously?) is always going to be no more than ‘identification’ if one turns around and eats an animal. Don’t eat them and they won’t be slaughtered. Don’t eat them and the window for cruelty closes considerably.

8. I believe poetry can literally change things. Though it might trigger hatred, ridicule, abuse, it will inevitably create discussion. You can ask for no more, but that’s worth asking for. Often your poem won’t ‘be got’, but you have to accept that language has its own ways in different contexts. Once you take a poem outside the safety of the discourse (and that’s not really very safe), you have to expect to cop it. But it’s worth it. Allowing or offering a poem to be posted on the web, printed in a newspaper, read on the radio, etc, may contradict beliefs about the corruptions of media, etc, but pragmatically (‘umbrella anarchism’), maybe you help undo the structure itself by doing so. It’s that old pacifist Trojan Horse again. The net, for example, will consume itself in the end, if the power holds out that long.

9. I am about to write an essay on ‘greed’. I believe that greed’s many faces need identifying and I will attempt to do so. Anarchism for me is about sharing: not only of wealth, but of knowledge and experience. It’s also about being willing to receive where appropriate.

10. The small acts accumulate quickly. There is no radicalism in violence, just compliance. Violence is the illustration that future violence is based on. In perpetuity. Break the cycle. Each of us has it in us — the violence, and the ability to deny its pollution.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Farewell for Dan

           from John, your son-in-law

You were everywhere
as we crossed the Nullarbor
and everywhere as we
crossed back again: in you,
east met west, and the compass
beat like a heart. We recognised
you in outback towns, yarning
with workers in the main street,
telling the shire president
what’s what. Your name
resonated through decades:
everybody knew you,
and the stories
by and about you.
We spent nine hours
talking hind legs, and each
minute was a discovery;
places I knew well
you repainted in rich colours:
red dust, endless sunrises,
blokes who knew a bloke
who knew a bloke,
the station, the mine, the motel
you stayed in there and back,
there and back, a view
at the Bunda Cliffs you shared
with Tracy, who shared it with me
and Tim — the power of an
ocean that holds the continent
in place, accountable.
‘What’s news, Dan?
How have you been?’
Overdrive, gift of the gab,
full of spark, don’t judge
a book by its cover.
That’s poetry, Dan,
and your yarns
were the utterances
poems live through.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Duchess of Malfi at UWA

By John and Tracy

Last night we saw the closing night performance of John Webster’s darkly tragic play The Duchess of Malfi (written 1612-13), directed by Steve Chinna with a cast drawn from UWA’s English & Cultural Studies theatre students.

From the moment we sat down the show looked promising – a simple set with plain flats – and the opening dance scene was eye-catching. Other than the odd piece of furniture – and at one point a starkly menacing coffin – most of the scene changes required nothing more than the deft shifting of these flats, ably handled by the cast.

I love the kind of understated design and direction that is not so minimalist as to be pretentious, but knows how to enhance a complicated plot and set of characters by keeping it streamlined.

I agree with what Tracy says above. It’s a richly cross-genre play, ranging from wit through an almost surreal burlesque (at least to modern tastes), through horror, to a more ‘conventional’ (maybe read ‘modern’) notion of tragedy. Teasing all these elements out so effectively shows what a brilliant director Steve Chinna is.

Tracy and I have worked with Steve before, and he and I are colleagues at UWA. I have met few directors and thinkers on theatre with as much depth, creativity and versatility as Steve. All his skills were on display in this production.

It’s such an intense blast of grotesque psycho-trauma fully charged not only to entertain but to challenge us as audience. It even asks questions of the theatre itself. This play includes some of the most memorable lines in English-language theatre. Beneath its in-your-face drama is an almost surprising subtlety, so hard to weave in a world in which the “ten thousand several doors” that death has, “for men to take their exits”, are almost default settings.

This brings to mind two of this production’s great aspects: the entries and exits that were deft and often stimulating in themselves, ominous and full of suggestion; and also the skilful handling of the substitutions within the blank verse, the movements into prose speech (e.g. Antonio), and the mini-closures of rhyming couplets. Steve Chinna is a supreme interpreter of verse in drama, much like Tim Cribb of Cambridge University.

The actors handled these with varying degrees of success, but what stood out across the performance was their ease of expression: the language glowed with clarity, as if the events were taking place down the road – though it’d be a very weird place they were happening in... The music was excellent, especially the live flute and percussion, never overdone.

As for the actors, I was taken with most performances in different ways at different times. After the show, I chatted with Steve, and he noted that he had asked the performers to let their characters grow and evolve with the moment. To be ‘mercurial’, I think he said, rather than operate within the expectation or ‘stencil’ of a character. Astute advice. It’s what allowed Aisling Murray as the Duchess, who began by playing the role a little too rigidly ‘haughty’, to settle into a far more complex and wide-ranging performance, coming into her own particularly in her last scenes.

Similarly with David Roman’s Duke Ferdinand: his interpretation of the Duchess’s mad, conflicted brother, actually blossomed with the revelations of his lycanthropy — Roman’s extreme take on this actually brought pathos as well as grotesque ‘humour’ to the part. There was tragedy in his revenge lust as well.

The Duchess’s other brother, the lustful and plotting Cardinal, was played with staid poise and perverse aloofness by Patrick Whitelaw. One of the play’s star turns was by Harriet Roberts as the saucy and coquettish Julia, the Cardinal’s mistress. Her timing was excellent.

Maybe the essence of this production’s tackling of the absurd contradictions in John Webster’s tragic revenge play was embodied in Mark Tilly’s Bosolo (‘a malcontent’) and his perversities. Tilly played Bosolo as both panto-villain and traumatised wrestler of split personality — a Jekyll and Hyde act that could have fallen flat on its face, but didn’t. In fact, insofar as he is the machine driving the plot and the ephemeral nature of ‘conscience’, I think he nailed Bosolo.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reverting to the Personal Pronoun: engaging the ‘lyrical I’

By John; posted by Tracy

The reclaiming of ‘I’ isn’t a gain, but a willingness to be held accountable for the necessarily compromising effects and affect implicit in the deployment of words. The concentrations of poetry increase the impact of allusion as much as declaration, and the machinations to avoid locating culpability for the possibly deleterious effects of one's words should be held to account.

By removing the unified self in its overt guise from the picture, the poet seeks both to universalise the text and to comment on the false claims any individual has to a ‘right’ way of seeing, into any sort of unique knowledge. It’s a social ploy, and that’s useful, and it resists capitalist fetishisation of text as brand-named product, and questions the authority of any one individual.

But it’s a smokescreen because whether written individually or collaboratively or even instigated in some random way, the original impetus necessarily relies on at least the notion of personal subjectivity in terms of its reception. All readers and listeners listen and read differently — most of those who reject the ‘I’ would at least consider this likely. 

Tendentious, yes, but any claims of the best way to programme a poem are just that. And to my point: the ‘I’ is very rarely ‘honest’ anyway, and can only be a representation of the idea of self even with the most self-centred, world-seeing, self-defining authority of a poet. The I is the ultimate persona. 

However, I believe one can bolster the ‘I’ with a personal willingness to take responsibility and be held accountable for witness, observation, and the many slippages and ambiguities that make a poetic text. A super-ego I, that reflects on the conditions of not only its making, but its accountability.

This is achieved through mixing verifiable ‘fact’ with that which evades confirmation: the conversation between these qualities is at the crux of the poem, and in many ways the ‘I’ manages this conversation (its conflicts and agreements and neutralities) within the poem.

The accountable I is the mediator, not the judge of the poem. Its accountability is to do with the value of presence in the text, and in the environment observed and/or created by the text. Its position is one the reader/listener might scrutinise: its position in terms of how it conveys and manages the presentation of poetic ideas and poetic language.

What’s more, it’s not (necessarily or necessarily desirably) the job of this ‘I’ to ‘confess’ anything. To hold one’s hand up and be responsible for one's own actions is not to have to lay one’s private history on the table. But it is an offering of a form of ‘privacy’: the accepting that even in its most private moments of creation the writing of a poem for publication is an act of declaration, a surrendering of varying degrees of privacy.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mother and daughter movie

By Tracy

I don't usually get to watch films on broadcast t.v. (not enough time, too much else to do!) but last night, having sat down to watch the first episode of Chris Lilley's long-awaited new series Angry Boys (mixed feelings,  but it's only the first, so we'll have to wait and see) -- well, I got caught, because a French film came on straight after, and I stayed up too late.

The film -- Carine Tardieu's La Tête de Maman (In Mum's Head) (2007) was mixed, too: I'm not a fan of the quirky, mildly pretentious bits that French film-makers seem to feel obliged to put in as perhaps some sort of nod to their often-experimental and non-realist history -- one more sequence that might-be-happening-but-isn't, one more irruption of a fantasy-character into an otherwise smoothly plausible plot, and I switch off.

However, certain aspects were quite compelling. The teenage daughter of the film, Lulu, is a tomboy on the cusp of maturity but stuck there partly because of the grinding pressure of her mother's (Juliette's, or Juju's) permanent depression and fixation on apparently psychosomatic illness.

Lulu accidentally discovers a photo and then a home movie in which she glimpses her now-staid mother's pre-marital life, twenty years before. Juliette back then was vivacious, happy, freewheeling and open to experiment of all sorts, madly in love with Jacques... not the man she married.

The rest of the film is about what happens when Lulu digs around in that past and tries to "improve" things for her mother. Despite the sometimes-twee gestures the film makes, the central story -- how naive youth works on assumptions about its parents -- kept me watching, and was handled with appropriate ironic distance on the daughter's actions as well as compassion for her own process of growth and lesson-learning.

(I could have done without the cameo from Jane Birkin, whom I find somehow irritating. Lulu is an obsessive Birkin fan and the singer-actress appears as herself in fantasy mode, as a kind of substitute mother-figure to Lulu, materialising and vanishing after their short dialogues.)

It's fairly well-acted in the parts that count (mother and daughter -- the rest are foils, even the waspish grandmother) and kept me watching till the end, in spite of myself...

(NB On the web this movie is often named with U.S. spelling, In Mom's Head.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Graphology Postscriptum 8: Moondyne Festival, Toodyay

Poem by John, posted by Tracy

Graphology Postscriptum 8: Moondyne Festival, Toodyay


The marks a crosscut saw ‘insinuates’     (too soft, too quaint?)

Into the log’s circles of growth     (irony, parody?)

Make carnevale and genealogy     (fate of tree a footnote)


Or the shearer working hand-blades     (sheep’s relief and distress)

Or Irish dancers smacking the road with heels     (midday heat, not twilight)

And the Top Pub’s dark threshold     (stories of you told in fourth person)


Snare drum and minor keys answering back     (with a crash and a yawp)

Stand-up convict with dead-weight epilogue     (heat straightening his beard)

Cautious proselytisers offering a glimpse     (free games — prizes for the kids)


Moon-aspiring Plymouth and wavy white Corvettes    (MGs delicately bright)

Classic and vintage prompts to touring     (weekend outings fuel the town)

Old petrol-guzzlers cataclysms of clean air     (drought hills, stark blue sky)


Carnevale on May Day where locals aspire ‘down’     (each a rebel, ipso facto)

Carnevale on May Day where Moondyne Joe rides again     (here, onset of 


Carnevale on May Day where Joe melds bikies and establishment    (which is 



And so the orange metal of the mobile forge     (beaten flat)

And so the whores with hearts of gold     (only the well-off could afford the 

                                                                           blousy historic costumes)

And so the coconut shies to raise funds for a swimming pool     (the river run dry,



Each recognition a brief encounter     (acts of mutual tolerance)

Each official doing-the-head-count     (religion is truly the weather)

Each sale a contract     (with the devil of Settlement)


We weave our way through with Sunday shopping   (‘into town’ doubles as 


We hear the town singers singing     (against the jam session’s rousing)

We learn this ‘carnivalesque’ is post-Lent     (masks on and off with curiosity)



            John Kinsella