Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fleeting: a poem by John Kinsella

It’s a three-boat fleet moored at the pier.
Won’t be there long, then off, out to sea, plundering.
The hawsers around capstans with easy knots
are expected to hold, though a wind is rising;
sailors, arms crossed and huddled together, mutter
into each other’s faces. Birds are nowhere,
unlike when smaller boats sail slowly in.

My walk takes me down Ardmanagh Road,
left onto Main Street, then right onto Pier Road
down past Pier Cottages and onto the pier itself.
There’s smashed ice on the ground in front of The Works,
and a pair of freezer trucks wait blankly. Drivers
sit in cars, eating and staring into the harbour,
translating scenery through anxieties.

Or, for the first time today, they are thinking
of nothing. Overlaying thoughts, fusing to zero.
I walk up hacked-out streets to Colla Road
and turn right. Holiday houses. Cottages
with names of birds: swallow, wren, kingfisher...
could be back ‘home’, where in supreme heat
birds with those names gasp along drying rivers.

Winter is coming on and the air is dead fish
and coal smoke. Houses: freshly painted. A tractor
driven by an old man sheds mud and cowshit
as if it’s a reclaiming of something he might
have possessed if his fields had been given room
to spread. Shy locals enfolded in wraps follow
small, brisk dogs. I walk off what I am not;

with no rights of soil, lost rights of parentage,
no rights of nature. I won’t go out on boats that kill fish,
out beyond territorial waters of all countries. Bashed
as a child for being ‘a poof’, bashed as an adult
for being ‘queer’, I am remade in somebody’s image,
remade in my configurings of ‘here’. The ships
sail off the edge of the world, coal smoke

blocks our way to the light. A few twists and turns
and I arrive back home, transcoded. The ‘who’ and ‘what’
are imprinted all over. I wear a thin shirt in coldest
weather — my body has closed off from extremes.
I don’t feel. It will be so cold or so hot I will die before
realising. Rooks are sitting atop chimneys and I know
before I open a door that Tracy will have heard their talk.

John Kinsella

Thursday, November 14, 2013


As Australia is eaten alive by the monsters of industry and their government stooges, we sit back and take it. Many think it’s a good thing, sucking their drops from a planet they’re helping kill. It’s got to be said: it’s brutal and remorseless. Australia worships the God of Sport and the God of mining, and denies consequences (and climate change). Barrow Island and the so-called Gorgon Project (go where you will with the name), are one of many marriages made in Hell. Dante, the world has need of thee. It’s all there. And yet another bite wanted out of an A Class nature reserve. And they’ll get it. Poets and writers in Australia should be spending their time tackling this — it’s a death, the death of language and of the biosphere. No one will be marching in the street over this one. Greed is a relative term.

John Kinsella

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts Regarding Prosody and other Matters

By John, posted by Tracy

I am often trying to reach a prosodic equilibrium between lyric and rhetoric, or, if one prefers, between a gesture to ‘things’ and their quiddity, and a ‘polemic’ or political utterance. I don't want to operate in the ‘passive’ mode in which a lot of ‘nature poetry’ operates — agency is the definitive double-edged ploughshare, it brings humans spiritual and material awareness, but/and it costs everything else. That’s what I am investigating. The question becomes which side of tolerable (for a given reader, I guess), this lyrical-rhetorical weighting falls. Which is not to say I don’t see the ‘pure lyric’ as relevant — in fact, I often dwell, lurk and retreat there — but it is not the only place.

I wrote this manifesto against rapacity early in 2012. Thought it worth posting the link here.

Some time or other I will ask Tracy if she can post the document itself on this blog (thanks, Tracy).

And here’s a translation from French of a great poet from La Réunion. The notes that follow are cribbed from an email I sent to someone when I was translating the poet (I’ve done a bunch of poems) — sourcing/adapting bio information from French sources. I believe this is one of the rare times Auguste Lacaussade — the mid-nineteenth century French poet from La Réunion — has been translated into English. He is an incredible poet and deserves to be read (still). He wrote his poems from afar — schooling in France and looking back to his childhood home on Bourbon, as La Réunion was then known. Later, he returned, but found the racism so hard to deal with that he went back to France (says something). He eventually became quite bitter, and this is reflected in his late poetry. Of both African and French heritage (son of a freed slave woman and a lawyer from a Bordeaux family), Lacaussade resisted slavery on the island and went on to become a very significant French literary figure, though he faded from the limelight and was always (unjustly) in Leconte de Lisle’s shadow. Never made a member of the French Academy, he felt this was due to his ‘mixed-race’ background — no doubt he was right, given the times. A translator of the English Romantics, he has a street and a few schools named after him on the island of La Réunion. Lacaussade is a major poet of place: there’s an intimacy and reflective distance (sure, nostalgia is in there in the configurings or remembered experience as if they are plein-air compositions, but much more... he has his own kind of ‘sublime’ at work).

Auguste Lacaussade’s Le Papillon (The Butterfly)

Your gilded wings, young and stylish butterfly,
Reflect the azured colours of the sky,
You who compete with the breeze’s kiss for flowers
As you pass through the air like a sparkling
Breath, and when dying day’s light is fading,
Sleep upon their fragrant calyxes.

If you see my love, don’t pay tribute to her
Rosy lips as you might the open flower;
Your infatuated eye is permitted this fault;
But I shall be jealous of your supreme happiness:
I alone want to draw from the mouth I idolize
The scents of sensual delight.

translated by John Kinsella

As a postscript, my novel Morpheus is finally out: originally written when I was a 18/19, it’s taken over thirty years to appear. For any of you wanting to join in with the goings-on of Thomas Icarus Napoleon, it’s here.

John Kinsella

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In support of refugees

Poem by John, posted by Tracy

Graphology Heuristics 87: the breakdown of empathy — non sequiturs

The machine smooths the surface
of the gravel road so altered by the blast
of rain: the ‘hill-effect’ in a district
where refugees are damned
in town halls and on t-shirts.

As government and opposition vie
for more dehumanising ways
to treat ‘boat people’; the ground
beneath privileged feet, their islands
in the sky, their moon’s surveillance

drops its cloak-and-dagger motto —
‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ —
since that’s too risky to let in through
the dust left from holes in the ground,
the ore ships passing hulks and wrecks,

sticking to trade routes, buoyant on
Plimsoll’s blood, drops in the ocean.

John Kinsella

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Graphology Heuristics 83: death by identification

Poem by John, posted by Tracy

Graphology Heuristics 83: death by identification

Night parrots worked hard not to be found
by the invasive, the protective and the exploitative.
‘Found’, they know for certain they are extinct.

John Kinsella

[Read here about the night parrot]

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New book of poems out this month

By Tracy

My new book of poems, Unearthed, is out this month with Fremantle Press.

You can read more about it here...

Monday, June 17, 2013

About The Forest Tattoo: Radio Verse Play

Posted by Tracy

Faith Lawrence, producer of BBC 3's The Verb, asks John Kinsella about The Forest Tattoo, the second play of his radio verse-play forest trilogy

(Print version of the play available in The Ballad of Moondyne Joe, by John Kinsella and Niall Lucy, Fremantle Press, 2012)

You can listen to extracts on The Verb here.

FL: We'll need to set up the personal background to the play briefly - how would you do that in about four sentences?

JK: It is the second play in a trilogy of historic plays based in the south-west forests of australia. On my father's side, my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother were Irish settlers/colonists who basically left British persecution in Ireland in the early 1850s. The first play in the trilogy - 'Signature at Ludlow' (a version of which was performed on The Verb a few years ago, and a full version of which was performed on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Radio National last year) considers the irony of them leaving this persecution and in turn becoming complicit in the persecution of Aborigines in the region. Ned in 'The Forest Tattoo' makes reference to his father in the first play, by saying 'my father signed a paper once'... that first play moves between the 1850s and the 2000s, looking at dispossession and also destruction of the environment. The second play - 'The Forest Tattoo' - moves between the 1890s and 2000s and looks at the next generation of Kinsellas through the character of Ned Kinsella, the son of Edward Patrick Kinsella and Ann (Cavenagh) Kinsella in the first play. In this play there's tension between destruction of forests and a growing understanding of dispossession of indigenous peoples and the beauty/intensity of the natural environment, and that loss - deaths in family - your family buried in the very soil - changes your relationship to place. The third play - 'The Tower' - looks at my grandfather's life in the great jarrah forest, as a forester...

FL: What's the single most important thing you hope you communicate in the writing?

JK: The restoration of aboriginal land rights, and to prevent more damage being done to the natural environment, but also to explore the psychology of colonisation and its consequences, and the nature of inherited memory and its effect on who you are now and how you make decisions.

FL: Why did you choose this form in particular to write about the forest?

JK: Poetry for me is a political act. My mother was a poet. I grew up with poetry. For me it's the only way of expressing complex thoughts that reach deep into human emotions.

FL: Why did you include a prelude - what does a prelude allow you to access, tonally, content-wise etc, that you couldn't do through a character?

JK: It sets up tones and the arguments. Poetry that 'tells' is rarely effective - readers/listeners need to work it out for themselves and come to their own conclusions. But such a prelude suggests possibilities and gives context - historic and physical - without the characters having to do that filling in and really wasting time with awkward scene-setting which often dilutes the 'drama'...

FL: We're going to hear the Prelude from the line 'You can't transfer the mood of the forest' - you're really pushing at the boundaries of language there - what drew you to use repetition i.e. 'light'- what do you think the effect is?

JK: Poetry is about language in its most essential way. Sometimes if I can't get the words that we have to do the work, I create new ones! The relationship between sound and sight, between the visual and the aural, is the key to poetry. Repetition/refrain and the play of sound help elicit the picture, help us see by working across the senses.

FL: I'm fascinated by the phrases that follow - i.e.'multi-dimensional single organism, or utopian communalism' - such a contrast to the previous few lines. They are very complex terms, do you see it as risky to use them? What do you hope is the effect of the complexity, and the juxtaposition with the previous lines?

JK: The politics of place is complex. Party politics often reduces things to get the sound-bite. As an anarchist, I believe in consensus, and respect the intellectual abilities of all my fellow human beings. I do not wish to patronise them. If something isn't understood, then talk with others about it or look it up, work it out. It's healthy to think about language and its implications. I always mix registers - it creates 'the rub' in the poem, and the rub is what makes people question. Because I don't want to 'tell' (well, I do occasionally!), I want to suggest and bring response.

FL: Tell me about that great phrase 'beauty is inadequate' - what does it mean in the context of the play?

JK: I stand by this in all things. Aesthetics are largely irrelevant to me (explored in my poetry book, Shades of the Sublime & Beautiful). Beauty in itself, apart from being in the eye of the beholder, so often becomes an excuse for dismissing 'the ugly'. A forest is a beautiful thing, but not to all people. I know of people visiting Australian forests and lamenting that they're not, say, European forests. Beauty is in how you look. But whether or not you think it beautiful, it has surely a right to exist, to nurture many different forms of life (and 'beauty')... If it doesn't look good on the tourist's snap to some (how you see is everything), that is irrelevant to its truth and importance.

FL: You've talked about this idea that we don't experience the landscape as it is - our identity and experience affects how we perceive it - so it exists in our heads often in a distorted way - you have a dialogue between Ned and Sam in the play - who are they, and how do they see the landscape?

JK: Ned is a second-generation irish-australian. He leads a team of horses into the forests to drag out felled trees that are then milled and exported to Europe, especially to London. Sam is indigenous, and his tribal associations are in the region - it is their land. Sam was named after Sam Isaacs, who was a hero to whites (as well as to indigenous people) for working with Grace Bussell to save victims of the wreck of the Georgette which sank off the south-west coast near present-day Busselton (it was, ironically, carrying timber - jarrah - from Fremantle to the eastern states of Australia). My character Sam has been brought up in a European-settler context, though we are not sure how. But he is closely connected to his people and is an advocate for them. His connection to place is deeply felt, and spiritually and factually registered by Ned. Sam, much younger than Ned, becomes his liberator in 'ways of seeing'.

FL: How do you hope the reader see or interprets the landscape they're standing in as they talk, with the benefit of being able to hear them in dialogue?

JK: A great forest of karri trees - some of the largest trees in the world. Sadly, with massive felled trees scattered around. A ferny, wet forest. Ned has a team of horses he uses to drag logs out of the forest.

FL: Tell me about the importance of Ned's name, and Sam's name - why do you link Ned's remembering of his name to remembering the forest?

JK: Ned's name was tattooed on his arm so he could be identified if he died out there (not uncommon). This tattoo becomes symbolic of the incursion into a world that is not his, that has been stolen from others, and that colonists did not (largely) respect. It also connects with the dead of his family - his past and present and the future. But Ned is second-generation and is starting to feel a sense of discomfort - ironically by getting closer to the world he is exploiting. He is becoming part of the forest he is destroying. His identity is tied into his acquisition of the English language - ironic given his father would have arrived speaking Gaelic but ended up teaching English. Sam being named after a hero - in a world where Aborigines were generally disrespected, had their land stolen, and were frequently murdered - makes him a figure of transference between 'white' and 'black'. His heroism is in who he is, rather than what's accorded to him by whites. Which is not to devalue what his earlier namesake Sam Isaacs did - not at all. Just to say there are many indigenous 'heroes' in this.

FL: Why have Sam and Ned discuss the difference between story and myth?

JK: Ned needs to account for his epiphany. He says 'the forest was strange today' and he wants to understand why. Nothing seems the same as it was. This plays on the nineteenth-century idea of alienation called 'weird melancholy' - that the unfamiliar environment/forests were 'other'. In these extracts, something different is happening. It is weird because the other is becoming the familiar and there's no language to talk about it. 'Myth' too easily becomes (for the coloniser) what the indigenous believe, and not 'real' or 'true'. Ned's epiphany is that he now sees that the 'myths' are spiritually and factually accurate. They are their own writing. Sam has been telling him about his people's relationship to the place in the form of stories - but they are also historical accounts, witnessings, and descriptions of real experience. They are stories relevant to that place.

FL: That bit of writing towards the end of scene 4 is fantastic ' the language my horses hear' - I feel like I'm on the edge of understanding it - could you explain what you mean by this 'language my horses hear'?

JK: The animals are necessarily closer to the world around them because they are only allowed their physical relationship with place. As an ethical vegan and animal rights person, I believe strongly in the sentient integrity of all living things. Ned's team serve him - are in fact close to his speech (he was actually - in real life - renowned as a kind of horse-whisperer) - but their real relationship is with the forest they have to negotiate. Ned is becoming like them. He has to hear the language of the forest before it is entirely destroyed by logging.

FL: How do you hope the language you use in this play will engage the reader?

JK: We all have heritages. We all have things in our families' pasts that don't accord with how we see the world - whatever our politics. By bringing our past into play with our present - e.g. the 'John' and 'Tracy' in the play/s have the views that I and my poet-wife have - one can juxtapose difference. The epiphanies of the past are of course constructs, but ones based on historical data. The 'literature' comes in when creating the scenario for dramatic effect. Not big drama, but little glimpses into possibilities. After all, different as I might be politically from my foresting predecessors (and this extends to my distant ancestors who were apparently foresters in the Wicklow Mountains), they helped make me what I am. I protest to protect forests now; they worked the forests and grew close to them. Also, as the character 'John' says in another scene: 'The sense of what is meant/ is more substantial than language.' Language is vital, but what it needs to communicate is more vital.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Shed: a poem by Tracy

By Tracy


Sharpness is in there
and no mother.

Scarier than
her kitchen drawer.

A long dark door
I mustn’t enter

unless Dad takes me.
I like it better,

paint-tray bigger
than dustpan, plane-

blade brighter
than any grater.

He tells my brother
Don’t touch that

it’s hot mate.

White paint is peeling.

He uses the hotmate
to blow off paint

teaches me

explains the layers,
mixes colours.

I sit in the dirt,
don’t need to be told

Don’t touch
adoring the bubble

that can’t get out,
the block he uses

to make things straight
that he calls spirit

. Shows me plumb
and lets me play

with sandpaper like
a face unshaven

unfolded from pouch
of oily apron

loaded with nails
like the million pins

in Mum’s sewing box
but nails are serious:

I know from threats
of rust-and-tetanus,

they melt and sink
under his claw hammer

which can also yank
them back, can make

your thumbnail
turn black: get back.

Smitten, I weigh
smooth wood

of hammer
and axe-handle

when he’s not looking,
hold my breath at

loud axe-head
biting the red

stump of wood get back
get back
as the chips

sting my bare legs
because I love

the smell of sap
the same way

clippings fly
damp and rich

hitting and nipping me
as he mows the lawn.

We follow on
when he sits down

for a drink
after a hard day’s work

one on each knee:
my brother and me

until he begins to smoke
and sets us at his feet

for fear of ash
for safety’s sake,

brown bottles poke
from a paper bag

soggy at edges,
he sings of a clock

that stopped short never
to go again

Tracy Ryan

Monday, June 10, 2013

Resurfacing with a poem from John

By Tracy; poem that follows is by John

It's been a long time since we posted here; what better way to restart regular blogging than with a poem?

Catamaran Works to Round
Pointe des Aigrettes

Foundational rocks darkly foment,
jutting out to break a wider sea,
reef close and lagoon closed out,
sea urchins shucked by last night’s
heavy swell, ruined by this paretic calm;
purple eviscerate quality of death,
black spines still potent on bleached
coral debris, chilling as joggers crush
shells to tidemarks, and all the while
a limp catamaran works to leave open sea,
overloaded with sunset passengers
drinking a dying sun, even the gentle
breeze fading away to leave them all
becalmed out from Pointe des Aigrettes.
Bristling sea urchins prowl deep beneath
the sailors’ dangling feet, the sea dyed
bloody-black with the ink of force majeure,
all that was written out of their bodies;
darkness offering little buoyancy.

John Kinsella