poem-texts by John Kinsella, photos by Tracy Ryan
CASE 1: These
concretions were prepared in late spring and displayed in early autumn. The gap
was part of the process between text as conceptual and text as installation. In
situ, they become integral parts of place, if temporary ones. After the fact,
they are representational: of that moment, of the history of Oak Park. Between
preparing text and displaying it came the devastating summer. There are no more
edges, no more ecotones — the blurring is not liminal, but sharp lines of
demolition. No benefits and richness and plethoras where habitats contact and
overlap, but the scribble of damage. What is given way to is the reality of the
vestigial or the remnant. Not a condition of healthy and unhealthy, but of
different states of decay. It’s a brutal reality — the land set aside is dying,
and rehabilitation is a gesture. The farmed land feeds the nature-reserve land
with its residues. Does that mean one should resign oneself to this? Of course
not. But the edges need to be unmapped, need to be denied, to grow over into an
ambiguity, which is what the romantic ecologists wish as edge and liminality.
‘Habitat’ is extinct as useful terminology — its colonial residues are toxic.
CASE 2: In
photographing the words, one had to be careful to avoid the couple who were
come across on a bench installed near the saline (dry) lake, caught in flagrante; one turns away. Nature
walking. Nothing of Manet’s Le déjeuner
sur l'herbe, though you might think the couple thrill to the idea, nature
in decay around them. But there is life: swamp sheoaks, bobtails, bush flies,
mosquitoes, rabbits, roos, willy wagtails playing the trickster in acacias
nearby: all the transliterations of their name (djitty djitty, jiddy jiddy...).
All the perching birds watch on suspiciously, as we won’t watch, as we avoid
and scuttle away, giving the realm of place to the love-makers.
CASE 3: To
mention an edge doesn’t give us an edge. To note the gnamma hole worked over
centuries to make deep water-storage now full of beer cans and cigarette
packets, the granite a radon machine, is not to participate in custodial
presence. It is not scenic, and visiting is not participatory. The machine of
the water place is altered with the ticking-off of points on the walk. Journey
to the centre of the earth. Discovery wearing down to bare bones.
CASE 4: This
spiral of husbandry taking us far away from a source point at any given moment.
The wild-oats scenario: chokes out native grasses, and then the poisons used to
eliminate it alter the bio-chemistry of the soil, the place as a whole.
Metaphor and data overlap, compete, leave blank dead areas and the sand in a
state of unrest, vulnerability, as unstable as the texts printed with
industrial ink on recycled commercial paper with the costs imposed on
environment far away. The slippage of textual activism, the polyfilla that is
poetry. Yet this is not a denial of the living world but rather an affirmation.
As Shelley writes in Prometheus Unbound
(IV, Ione): ‘How every pause is filled with undernotes,/Clear, silver, icy,
keen, awakening tones/Which pierce the sense and live within the soul’... We
might have an inversion of seasons and basic climatics, but the same resolution
life has to find a way is what drives this act of witness, presence and
CASE 5: For
some, and maybe for many of those whose land this is and will eternally be
(going forward, going back, in the depth and dimensions of here and now), place
is a location (technically, a set of co-ordinates, a specifically quantifiable
and locatable set of points using the planets, the stars... a wider sense of
time and place) that cannot be erased by the destruction wrought through
colonial invasiveness. The texts are not sonorous, but they might be words
plucked from a song, or sounds from those words might form harmonics with words
from the song of place. That’s wishful supposition, but it’s also aspiration.
It seeks to appropriate nothing, and will leave no discernible physical mark.
The desire behind these concretions is to leave little signature, to do little
or no damage, to acknowledge and maybe vicariously participate in a health of
locality, place, timelessness. But a conceptual imprint is left and is
magnified by the images being blogged or published or displayed, even if they
are ignored. And that is an imposition the poet and the reader/viewer must
process and be accountable for.