Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Poems Against War: A 'Journal' from Childhood and Teenage Years

War Games

1. Fort — Da!

The two ‘nature-loving’ boys set up fort
by laying branches across the apertures
between old wandoos — a clump
of trees on the middle of the paddock.

We — the ‘war boys’ — didn’t
expect it, trekking across open territory,
heading for the cover of the Top Bush:
the wandoos a safe place to munch

biscuits we’d packed before
leaving the farmhouse. It was
a strategic position because contours
and firebreaks took you right

past it — the paddock a killing
zone, all lines of sight and minefields,
thin green crop only up a month...
walk through there and there’d

be hell to pay. Looks are deceptive.
We’d let down our guard, coming
up to our ‘safe place’, but truth is
it’d long been a contested space:

the others liked to listen to the parrots
cavorting overhead. There’d once been
an echidna working termites in a hollowed
log. Large insects worked shadowy bark.

And so when we fell to the hail
of clods — boondies
mud peppered with gravel,
the upturnings of the plough

where wheat hadn’t set at the edges —
maybe we shouldn’t have been startled.
This was an aggressive environmentalism
we’d guessed might be possible, but

had rejected as being out of all
proportion. Brother to brother,
cousin to cousin, the hail
came from the peace-lovers,

while it was we, in our fatigues,
who yelled louder than the tractor
straining through boggy ground:
Not fair not fair! This is all wrong.


A statement I am still
trying to work out
over forty years
later as I pass
another sign
pointing to the remnants
of an ancient Celtic hill fort,
so attractive to the invaders
long after.
                   And on Wheatlands farm,
it was alliances between Celt and Saxon
and Celt on restless, hyperventilating land.
Alliances against the ‘wild Aborigines’
who we knew must come with spears
and vengeance. Why wouldn’t they?

Ambush: Latin to French to English.
I don’t know the Noongar word.

What right do I have to the devices
of language, the codes
of resistance?

What right to remember
what I remember.
The era, childhood,
the legacies,

2.  Scale Models

Airfix. Miniature. To scale.
Bedroom festooned
with armour, bristling
with tanks and anti-tank
guns — terrain & camouflage.

Leopard tanks, Shermans,
Centurions. Catalogue.
Library. Firepower.

Amassing strength.
Deflecting shells.
Blitzkrieg a-political
masculine word choice.

I’d tried everything else
I could think of. I didn’t
believe in destiny
though I feared fate.

3. ‘I don’t want to play wars.’

Said my younger brother
as I flung Cape lilac berries
at his head. Me, kitted
out in constructor’s safety
helmet, home-made ‘rifle’,
backpack and ammo pouches.
I had fought many enemies
and triumphed but there
was no body count
outside my head.
I needed independent
verification of casualties:
at least one ‘severely wounded’
who might be treated: I carried
a genuine first aid kit.
This was the path to being a general.
My father had nothing to do with it,
being ‘Up North’ and having
done his time in Nashos —
served with Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer,
missed Korea and Vietnam
as the timeline unwound.

4. Movies

Primed in black & white, Saturday arvo
war movies on wet winter days — quagmire,
trenches, bogged down in Audie Murphy.

So obsessive, I spent the time spotting
inconsistencies in weaponry, uniforms,
ordnance — historical anomalies,
being in possession of the facts,
the truth, as I was.

                                  Don’t argue
with me — do your research, mate.
I saw the colour of the battlefield,
never the colour of the blood.

5. Purnell’s History of the Second World War

Purnell’s every Saturday morning for a year
ordered through the local newsagency.
And more. All going smoothly in the fields
of death, campaigns across the steppes,
Battle of the Coral Sea, Fortress Europe.
Then the Holocaust Issue. Then silence.
No wars for the week. No recreating
battlefields in bedrooms. No self-control
to make general staff material.
And I was too young to read Celan
and find a way through poetry.
I was too old to want to die
in the trenches.

6. War Games

Strategy games. Too old to kill each other in the backyard,
the mind wants more — campaigns, scenarios, turning
the tides of history. The SS Death’s Head Division
a black counter on the hexagon of country, terrain.
Attack strength, defence strength, capacity
for movement even when supplies
are in short supply on the front elsewhere.
Clinical as reading Wilfred Owen at school
and perfectly understanding the poetic effect
of horror. The slips between writing and reading,
taking orders and giving orders. Who said,
‘Different wars...’ or ‘Every war is different...’
No one, I hope, no one. Though I imagine
it’s likely, and I thought it back then.

7. Debate

Reading Clausewitz On War and Guderian’s Achtung! — Panzer
(the allies didn’t charge him after the war and he was valorised

as an acceptable incarnation of the elite soldier... something
for those who love war as a human quality — deep in their souls —

to cling to) and Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico
and Sun Tzu ur-text The Art of War, I was a full bottle

on why wars are: inevitable, necessary, desirable.
I am — point blank — too humiliated to recount

the details of my argument, and unwilling to hide
behind the smokescreen: ‘I was given that side

of the debate... the rules, the art-form, the discipline...’
qualities I have no belief in now, and probably not then.

And the Head Girl, taking the side for peace,
argued with as much passion against war

as I did for. A professional cool, a studied vehemence
was my guiding light.  And the war-loving boys

who made my life hell — physical and sexual
and psychological abuse — looking on

to see their future commander in action!
I could tell them that Master Sun said...

‘Exploit the enemy’s dispositions
     To attain victory’

But the spies among my own team
sold me out — a pathetic specimen

to lead the assault,
conduct their war.

     John Kinsella

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Book That Would Have Been: On Scott-Patrick Mitchell's Unpublished Manuscript Vade Mecum

Introduction to SPM’s Vade Mecum

            by John Kinsella

We have: eros, psyche, ‘the mountain, the valley, the river, the tree’. We have self, we have process and other selves, we have nature. We have language, loss, and intense desire to heal. ‘Desire’ is a word in the dictionary we’ve missed really coming to grips with. It’s so much more expansive than definition allows — SPM expands our understanding, the possibilities. So much of this is shadowed in this text we perform in our own ways, spaces.

Moisture, stars, The Lord’s Prayer rewired and defused, a guide to ways of expressing love and the right to speak it. Healing, the medicinal, reassurance, affirmation in the face of a tense world and its ironies, bodily alchemy, the human as the cat’s familiar, the beauty of abjection, fluidity, and the friendly face of (nonetheless) sharp satire. SPM delights in recontextualising language, taking a nineteenth-century cliché as an erotic and semantic ploy — ‘dew’ is the pun par excellence, sincere and disarming.

‘a salem love poem’ interplays convention and filmic representations of ‘American’ self-originating stories that base themselves on the anxiety of displacing the native American belongings with new world ghostings, of witches escaped from the old world to destabilise the colonial presence. In such slippages are SPM’s voicings — his bricolage of presence, made up of all he watches and experiences, those semiotic feedings of a wired-in life that is cybernetic, and feeling the angst and pain of love’s pleasures and failings. Burnt offerings, swords to ploughshares, witches as victimised, the colonial imposition — at stake, the self-given in a risky world of no clear meanings, where text is the pattern we make for ourselves to state innocence and culpability woven together. How can a love poem declare itself in the contradictions?

SPM is not going to play ball with a dick pic. He might not send it to the mother of the offender (fair move after warnings have been issued and little choice is left!), but he’s going to tackle any imposition with what it deserves. He is conscious of boundaries, and he is going to differentiate between the rights of text to go where it will, and the rights of the self to declare what is appropriate or not. What goes, and what doesn’t, is in flux, but ‘no’ means no, as it always should. There’s a highly attuned sensibility when personal and political rights are contesting for space in a consuming, capitalised world. The right of presence, to share without constraint, doesn’t mean the right to objectify and to take away from intactness. Desire and imposition are not yoked in sexual discourse:

words like stretch & choke
spill freely from this bloke
as he objectifies me into the
object i will never be

Love and desire, lust and consummation, are not about imposition. Again and again, these are poems of rights, poems of language’s possibility to extend outside the status quo, to particularise and universalise at once, over and over, but to know respect and intactness of self and community. Complex conversations that need to be had through puns, play, and concise expression. This is a poetry that knows — that is unrestrained in the references it feeds on and feeds out, will revalue ‘tired terms’, and invigorate the unexpected as well — a vibrant even playing-field of wit. We are we, and us is I, and yet unappreciated as a self the pursuer wants us to perform, to role-play for them, but forgetting we too have roles and subjectivity. Now, there’s a generous willingness to play along, as desire says so, and love definitely insists, but not at the loss of self-respect or rights to be loved as well. It’s not simple, ever, but it can be rendered in the beautiful, in the gesture of the love poem. A dawn moment, an aubade that is love of the world as well. Again, mutual and proliferating respect.

Such a desire for living, to be alive, and to share that. In the containment of the poem is the proliferating largesse, the welcoming on the journey — intimate companionship. Polysemous love and desire out of a invigorating view of body and spirit, in which the trans is the normative and a worldview grows and expands as inclusive is what is and what has been hidden by the repressive control mechanisms of states, and their tooled-up iron maidens of gender, sexuality identity control. This is a book of liberty and freedom with awareness running in-sync with a desire of just outcomes.

Elegy — the loss of a sister anchors us to the narrative of life as performance, as crisis, as vulnerability. What is left after loss? It’s powerful because it isn’t easy, none of it.

Celebrity is local, not mass, poetry is the breath, as Yoko says to SPM in the twittersphere, but even more than the unspeakable, it’s the unbreathable which in pain but a desire for what’s best and loving and durable is the poem’s compactness and levers of pleasure and intense sadness working herein. We are loved by SPM in this, and we need to love him back. We can, you know. And in such respectful and varied and varying ways. So many degrees of encounter and so many words we still need to conjure, just to make do. The wet of death, the wet of love, the saline solution that conducts the currents across states of being. We share in our differences; we make the larger thought patterns in speaking, in breathing others’ breath.

Our chant communication, our ‘post-verbal’ poetry is also a delving into the choate, the inchoate, the pre-speech. Not post-structuralist only, but a conversation across the linguistic tree, its branchings. And so what do we give and receive outside prosody, outside the organisation of a poem? The mouth moves, and the eyes see inwards — there are no physical or psychic ‘impairments’. All differences are gains. The lexical is just one path. Other paths, so many others, are vibrant within these containment fields of language that let go, let go, let us in. Share. Osmotic. Where Kurt Schwitters saw his vowels go outwards and echo, a resonance that might have to come, that has happened, is doing. Beyond. Deep pragmatics of needing a poetics of inclusive beyond. These are our poems, too. In the teaching and receiving, receiving and teaching, the mentoring and being mentored, in the open collaboration. In the cipher, the shaman, the medium. We are here, too.

And in the fake-news world, the Lincoln residues. But this is non-violence, only the violence refracted through the performative act of power. The tyranny that wills its violence. The theatre is not real, though Lincoln fell. The metaphor for violence is horrifying enough. Peace. Pacifist language must step in, calm the choir, the hecklers, the hawkers of hate speech. But the terrible possibility of violence is there — violence making violence. And that’s terrifying.

But the poem enacting is costly and difficult, and people don’t always get it, even close people. Yet people need poems for them, and poems must be written for them — it’s compulsion, need, and much more... ineffable:

being a poet is like being an addict
because your sister will send you
text messages that read you fucking
junkie poet cunt, why don’t you go
& get a real job & she doesn’t know
that you do indeed have one: your
job being to open the souls of every
person you meet to the mightiness
of the unknown, a thing you can
achieve if you have that singular
right perfect poem

Being an unromantic romantic can be devastating, and shares qualities of and with addiction/s.

Orthography is survival in a violent world, not only a mirror. Loan poem, learning to read, rehabilitation of definitions, the list and its echoes.

This book is to the memory, to the body, to the being of sister. Sister lost cannot be rebuilt but the breath is present and moving and still there. Elegy is conceptual sprung rhythm. We have, in ‘the white lilly’, the matter-of-factness of it, the loss... the need to write the poem, to write the poem for them, those who have lost life, for life itself. The poem resonating for her — recuperative in some ways, in ways:

when you lose a sister
to cancer, you sometimes
wish you could remove a rib
rebuild her into being, but ya
bloodwork don’t match, even
though, when you use that
face app, to find out what
you would look like as a
woman, her face pouts back

There is disturbance out of loss — desire becomes distressing and its path to redemption is troubled, self-punishing. The sense of self collapsing is thwarted by redefining the self in the world outside the body, the flesh, the psyche. An anxiety over death is a search for reason, a need for ‘elegance’, as if form has some way of holding back loss, emptiness. A process of rebuilding, of manoeuvring out of the way of the ‘fuck off we’re full’ horror of right-wing bigots.

There is nature, and it is outside the self, though to merge with it is redemption, too. Yes, yes... Lake Monger, the moorhens, the swans, what the line actually takes us to. Cough of an ibis, secular resurrection of suburban — the ‘bird poem’ as encounter with so many threads of enculturation, and of bird itself. Yes, nature is rising in the breath as it was always there and always will be, and we need to stand against the exploiters and protect the spaces where the bulldozers go. Yes, you and I and we and he sang to the bulldozers — we were there, all of us. I know the mantra, so do you, and so does SPM. Concern is part of it, being active and out there and speaking our breath is essential. Self is nature, too. We owe it. We owe culture. We need to listen and touch and see and sense and make poems as we can, any way we can. And wet is water and it has a structure and ecology, and makes. This is city speaking. This is city more than buildings. This is city community people nature and buildings. This is Perth, this poem book. This making. This respect. Listen. Breathe.

*Note: Due to the closing down of the original publisher, the work in the manuscript discussed above will eventually appear in a different form/arrangement with another publisher. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Poets and Climate Change

Graphology Kaleidoscope 31: ‘poets’ & climate change 

Poets have mined the seasons through core-samples — their own cores,
            of course, and the seasons’ drills, performances
Poets from some places have imposed their models of seasons on other places
            they visit — dragging six seasons into four, four seasons into two
Poets so easily iron out the specificity of rainfall, temperature, duration, into
            metaphor, that great equaliser of creative manifest destiny
Poets monitor the weather because it is as reliable and unreliable as well, metaphor
Poets fixate on extreme weather events and also the predictability of the cyclical
            nature of seasons, though practice increasingly wavers with meltdown
Poets preserve the status quo using the machinery of communication
Poets take the poetry of community and make it their own, catching call & response
            in their nets of self-affirmation
Poets reduce the particularities of tree — the truth of its growth rings, the habitat
            it has sustained, it is — to ‘tree’, the symbolic extension of themselves
Poets watch the rain gauge, caught up in the effect of light through meniscus, and
            fail to note down the declining average — a dry rain-gauge is of limited appeal
Poets broadcast the word, which is their word even when smoke-screened behind
            collaborative gestures, spoken out of community, embedded in rituals,
            any way they can — they believe it is best to be heard
Poets believe they are heard by silence and time, a commodity
Poets blur their denials and are, taken en masse, not deniers (with stunning
            exceptions) but rely on prosody to scaffold their preference
            for playing with words rather than getting outside and protesting
Poets have LOVED the worldwide web and computers — in the end,
            even the deniers (of a certain ilk) come across to word processors
Poets make carbon dioxide, methane, and some glow with their exchanges
            fed by a grid underwritten by the nuclear industry and/or coal
Poets love writing about birds as extensions of the(ir) psyche while noting
            behaviours and habits — generic and in aberration — to say something
            about the human world to say something about birds to say something
            about aspiration to say something about language to say something
            about culture/s to say something about personal subjectivity
            and community to say something about history to say something
            about time to say something about space to say something
            about migratory patterns to say something about locality
            to say something about a vagrant blown off-course a rare
            sighting to say something about feathers to say something
            about hollow bones to say something about pollution (oil
            on the albatross’s wings) to say something about presence
            to say something about loss to say something about trees of life
            to say something about insects to say something about being
            on the hindquarters of mammals to say something about heat
            and shifts in frequency to say something to say something to say
Poets write about (being) human
Poets write about inducing
Poets write about climate
Poets write about change
Poets are wary of over-writing
Poets are wary about being filed into a category
Poets are cautious to keep a wide range of experience on tap
Poets are quick to avoid fads like the dissolution of the biosphere
Poets are there for one protest and not there for another, having filled their quotas
Poets selectively listen to the music of the spheres, especially the sphere that’s
            underwriting their imagery
Poets envision the landscape of their denials as the denial of others — being
            so attuned to the nuances of dirt, and stone, and air, and flesh, and cellulose
Poets are scientists in their own way though they privilege language over data which
            has advantages and disadvantages though they generally cope well with
            contradictions maybe gloating over this a little too much but even
            when writing in air-conditioned rooms know it’s bloody hot outside
            and hotter than the childhoods they reconstruct in lines rhythmic
            with heat waves and mirages and humidity and freak snow events
            making the weird out of the wonderful and cranking language
            into an event — scientists in their own way or maybe scientists per se
Poets are architects designing poems to be read under the new conditions
            accepted as default adjusting to suit their audience’s compliance
            to the changed conditions; architectural elegists celebrating   
            adaptability of and to the human condition — lament lament
Poets write relationships — between themselves and what’s outside
            their ideas of poets and poems and the word (written/spoken),
            so you’d think human-induced (they are often but not exclusively
            human, they are often though not exclusively ‘alive’ — haunting
            and haunted is the shadow of the poet) climate change would be
            the pivotal array of relationship/s they’d write out of, to, too
Poets acquire and reprocess and even neologise words, so here are a few
            for the condition we’ve made figuratively and literally and in thought
            and voice and all shades of a colouring grey — seeraturate, oilboil,
            dessicane — compounds, exploitation of suffixes and prefixes,
            locked into the colonial Latinate, conquest lexicons, culpabilities
Poets will also perish, illuminating their last breath, and ours, all of ours, too.
            Don’t hand it to them on a plate, stop feeding the loose change
            to the meter. Give language a cooling-off period. Unmake
            linguistic economics. Don’t sing a song of sixpence. See
            the bird without capturing it. Don’t play while determiners
            and pronouns burn together.

            John Kinsella