Sunday, November 18, 2018

Perth Bushland Being Assaulted from Many Directions

     by John

The destruction of native bushland around Western Australia is taking place on a vast scale.

This post carries a series of poems written across a number of different sites, and regarding a number of different bush areas across the Perth coastal plain area.

It's the same up in the wheatbelt. These poems are expressions of support for those resisting the destruction by an array of vested interests. Sometimes a city is resisting the damage (e.g. Kwinana with the Wellard sand mine issue — opposing the destruction of banksia woodlands); at other times local government is pushing the damage (Gosnells with the Kenwick wetlands and the destruction of the Edward Street cockatoo roost by Linc developers).  This is what's just happened at Edward Street in Kenwick:

The Lemnos Street bushland in Shenton Park is being eroded and at risk of falling to/via the state government's 'sign off'. And now the Beeliar wetlands are under assault again from Main Roads on Bibra Drive — trees and wetlands to be deleted and replaced by roads/a roundabout.

But those who care about what's left are mobilised and peacefully resisting. This is a support for Paddy, Heidi and James and Nev and Nev's mum and dad, and the many others who are standing there, protecting the trees, the bush, life itself.

We need to think about this concerted, greedy, selfish effort to destroy what's left by the exploiters in government and business. Witness the length of Great Eastern Highway from Kalgoorlie all the way to Greenmount... the shaving off of thousands of hectares of vegetation (when it's all added up).

And roadside after roadside throughout the state, especially the wheatbelt, is falling like this.

But for every abuse of rare bushland, there are people standing up and saying NO MORE. We're down to the bare bones of earth now — NO MORE. Not a single tree needs to fall.

We ALL need to resist this destruction; we all need to acknowledge this assault on country. Listen to the Elders — they know, they have the knowledge.

Villanelle of Hell Down on the Plain: the McGowan Government are As Efficient Destroyers of the Environment as the Barnett Government Was!

Not that long ago we felt the reassurance of a marri tree’s
bark as a jiddy jiddy retuned the air around its ambience — alive!
Now images of tree slaughter are reaching us in the Valley.

The Edward Street Kenwick cockatoo roost has been consigned
to nothingness by Linc developers and the EPA, and its spirit struggles above —
not that long ago we felt the reassurance of a marri tree.

Such betrayal of growth undoes us all, and the patterns of canopy
and feathers are more than flights of fancy — far far more than aggressive
acts of tree slaughter that are now reaching us in the Valley.

So when we come down to the once-roost, come down to the remnants of city-
held bush, we will see the legacy of greed and profiteering — a grave
where not long ago we felt the reassurance of a marri tree.

Each subterfuge back-slapped into being, each epiphany
of outflanking the destroyers whipped-up around the table... to connive
now images of tree slaughter are reaching us in the Valley.

A line in the sand they expose to the air — its veinwork of roots torn away —
a line in the sand garlanded with decortication. Enough! No deals! Don’t believe!
Not that long ago we felt the reassurance of a marri tree —
though images of tree slaughter are reaching us in the Valley.

Nev’s Tree is Now a Bloody Stump

No form can contain the grief of this poem
this elegy which is residue of a shattered tree,

a marri, brought down with cuts and bruises,
dismembered. Sounds gory, doesn’t it? — it bloody

well is, people! It is a slaughter, it is disrespect
of ontogenesis on a massive scale — small, big,

an eternity to construct. Battered in a moment.
Not treated with the pride bestowed on the big steel

sheds and concrete aprons, the sump to catch
the creek that still flows out of the wastes,

forlorn and sclerotherapised, so beloved
and then forgotten by the planners

and their mates in cahoots with the profiteers’
endgame. Nev’s mum said she put her hand

on the dying stump and it bled an imprint,
her hand lifted to show the blood of world.

Her pain is all our pain — she has the pattern
of the shattered tree inside her now

and carries it around so we can remember.
How many other lives will we let down?

Jiddy jiddy flies manic, wondering where
it is now, where what was has gone, where

it will land to contemplate its moods.
It catches a fly, and lets it go. Lost.

Villanelle of Planning

I tried to give a copy of your poem about Lemnos St Bush to the Minister for Planning earlier this year but one of her close officers wouldn’t take it to her saying she would not appreciate it. That is what we are up against!’

                                    personal message from a committed environmentalist

We hear the fences have been reinforced ahead of a planning decision
regarding the Lemnos Street bushland — the minister remaking habitat in her own image —
the soothing nature of concrete, the security of windowbox planters a mission!

If the puzzle can’t be solved you can switch the stickers around to feign
a solution — make it add up? Brick tones are the new bark, Colorbond is plumage —
we hear the fences have been reinforced ahead of a planning decision.

Each patch of bush they write out of existence, each job creation
that decreates in the long run — we are expected to bow down before the signage —
the soothing nature of concrete, the security of windowbox planters a mission!

Maybe someone half-hears the singing honeyeater, catches a strain
of cockatoo call? Maybe they remember a banksia-lantern from an earlier age?
We hear the fences have been reinforced ahead of a planning decision.

The traffic pushes to ‘flow’ past as fast as it can — wary of inconvenience and the span
of a city that fits a future planned for heat and smog and redeveloped language —
the soothing nature of concrete, the security of windowbox planters a mission!

So the minister wouldn’t appreciate a poem calling for restraint, for a plan
to conserve the bushland and give breath and nurture rather than tracts of spoilage?
We hear the fences have been reinforced ahead of a planning decision —
the soothing nature of concrete, the security of windowbox planters a mission!

The tree offers to look over us

The tree offers to look over us
and we cut off its hands, its arms —
down to its life before it was born.
Right back to the start, back
to when energy became sap,
and sap fed the zodiac.
That's what gives us sleep,
then wakes us, arms outstretched.

The Trees Alongside Bibra Drive

The tangle of branches
is the zest of conversation
over-arching the wetlands —

if we study the leaves, the branches,
the ravens interpreting the stories,
we will be able to say: Yes, this planet

is inhabited — we will set our lexicons
to synch with the many voices
that emanate from its green echoes.

But as for the aperçus
of the illuminati
of the Main Roads,

well, read them with caution:
they are dust rings, debris
orbiting the planet.

Sweeney Wonders Why Government Says You Can Have This Bit and We'll Have the Rest?

            for the gathering protesters at Bibra Drive

The ring-necked parrots carry messages from red-capped parrots
(who are on site) all the way up to Sweeney's mast in the smoky haze... word travels
fast in birdworld! Sweeney is perched on an NBN tower because all the roosts
he's been welcomed to over the past year or so have been chopped down,

and the cockatoos have told him to find whatever 'branch' he can to rest on. They add: There
are some people down there who want us deleted, once and for all. But Sweeney says to them —
return to Beeliar and find refuge in what's left, a great reprieve without bloodshed
was offered there and that's our hope. The red-tails say back to him, deeply sad: Plenty

of redgum was spilt and saturated and glued the sandy plain, and surviving bits not written
into the buy-off plan are being plucked at again — you know, a copse of trees here,
a stand of trees there... the soul of the place eviscerated through a rolling back
of wetland grasses, replacing with road and roundabouts that gloat like compasses.

No way! Sweeney insists. No way, surely! But parrots and cockatoos
don't lie — not like humans anyway — so I am leaving this tower! he says, no longer
huddled in fear and anxiety... I am going to swoop down and call the protesters back
to the zone, to work with us, to grow back into the land, deny the tree wreckers any feathers.

Sweeney Asks: What Am I Worth if I Don't Fly Again When All Wings are Needed?

What the tree-killers fear most is the merging of flesh with cellulose —
they ask: Does it mean that a tree sitter literally merges with a tree? Does
it mean that chopping it down might result in a charge of ... what... manslaughter?

But they need not worry — the state and its machinery, the terror
of private property, doesn't recognise such a condition. Up a tree?
Then remove them and that'll be that — tree and human separated.

But Sweeney knows better, flying past, heart swelling with pride
at seeing the human climb and meld into the tree's canopy. That's
how feathers are made, that's what keeps the world exhaling

and inhaling. Sweeney had always been confused by the separation
of symbol from fact, trilling, The tree of life is precisely that, the tree
of life. All life. Hovering above the tree with wattle birds and magpies,

with ravens and honeyeaters, Sweeney calls down to the wetlands — sweating
and alive in the caul it has spun against the spikes of development:
What am I worth if I don't fly again when all wings are needed,

when each sweep of a wing might combine lift and drag to drive off
the machines with their steel teeth, the engines that batter
the talk between trees and the life they are, they watch over.

            John Kinsella

 And if you want to see some footage of poems being read at the slaughter sites, try these (a few of me reading and one of J.P. Quinton reading):

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Anti-war song by Barbara: The Orchard in Lorraine

By Tracy Ryan

This translation takes liberties in order to give the "feel" of the tightly rhymed and very moving original. (The original rhymes ABAB virtually all the way through and has one extended line, beyond the normal bars of music: Which was denied them/ For the sake of an old refrain).

On my CD, it says words by Barbara, music by Jean Poissonnier; other sources indicate vice versa. In either case, it's a powerful song.

I translated it a few days ago, on the 40th anniversary of my grandmother's death; she was in her late teens during WWI, and she and her sister both lost boyfriends to the war.

The Orchard in Lorraine

All the blood that was shed
By men upon the plain 
And all who passed away 
From causes unexplained 
Have led to this orchard 
Where crowding each lane 
Roses and apple trees
And marjoram reign

All those who have cried 
That their death was in vain 
All those who have wept 
Face down in the vervain 
All those who drew here 
Their last breath in pain 
Have made of this orchard 
On a bank in Lorraine
A soft space for lovers
As seasons come again.

All those overthrown 
Where no time remains 
To say, What I love
Is your eyes
, amazed. 
All those fiancées
Who waited in vain
Those men torn away 

Before vows were obtained 
Smile now to see
The lovers who came
To lie on the grass here 

With their lips aflame

All those who left love 
However mundane
With limbs that were shattered 

No blood in their veins,
All those we have wept
In former wars slain
Those we’ve forgotten,
The nameless, the plain,
Rise now to sing
When the lovers attain 

Carefree and peaceful
The gentle exchange
Which was denied them
For the sake of an old refrain.

All the blood that was shed 
By men upon the plain
And all who passed away 
From causes unexplained 
Have led to this orchard 
Where crowding each lane 
Roses and apple trees
And marjoram reign
Have made of this orchard 

On a bank in Lorraine
A soft space for lovers
As seasons come again 


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Siobhan Hodge and Justice for Romeo

This is a launch speech I did a few months ago for Siobhan's Hodge's new poetry book, Justice for Romeo. Though as a vegan activist I don't ride horses now (not since my late teens), I respect and acknowledge that Siobhan (like others) has committed her life to the betterment and well-being of horses, and is more activist on their behalf than anyone I've ever met. I consider this to be one of the poetry books of the year, so I list it here by name (I get asked to do these lists and this is where I'll mention this fine work).

­Sinews — On Siobhan Hodge’s Justice for Romeo 

Advocacy, elegy, and a deep respect for horses are the sinews running through this book of poetry. And ‘love’ — by which I don’t mean the false love that Siobhan Hodge notes in her preface as being extended to horses as a kind of ‘well-meaning’ though mistaken fetishisation and objectification, but rather as a genuine affection for the uniqueness and difference/s of horses. This is no book of anthropomorphic projection, but of seeing and hearing, of sharing life with horses. Though horse life is not contingent on humans, there’s been a timeless interaction between horses and humans, sadly, mainly with humans exploiting horses. In her remarkable work, Justice for Romeo, Siobhan Hodge considers the complex nature of human-horse interactions, and especially her own interactions with horses since childhood. It is not about objectification, but self-scrutiny and self-searching as to how Siobhan has situated herself in these interactions. In essence, these are dialogues of trust, of call and response, of elation and disappointment, of miscommunications. And further, it is not a romanticised version of human-horse relationships, but a complex and often troubled one.

Through reflections on the distance between depicting the horse in art and the ‘inspiration’ in quotidian matter-of-factness, the utility of the horse in — say — the world of the ancient Greeks, or of the 18th-century English painter of horses, George Stubbs, there is an overwhelming sense of slippage in the poems between the real lives of horses and how we use and see them. Some artists are sensitive to it, giving horses different expressions for different moods; others are so distracted by aesthetics that they move through the horror of corpses, through the anatomies, with a ‘scientific eye’, and an eye to their art. So, Siobhan’s poem ‘Stubbs’ is a powerful challenge to placing aesthetics over life and marks the distance between seeing and compassion. I admire the empathy of this book, but also its hard-nosed critique of human abuse of horses, its confronting the disturbances.

The use of horses for sport, or in war, or as transport, and in so many other ways, leads to an expression of not only guilt in this book, but a furious sense of advocacy. Nothing is whispered in speaking back to other humans about the wrongs of exploitation. But there’s also the respect and the out-and-out understanding that can be expressed by horse and human. Siobhan is able to express this redemptive and enriching spirituality in ways I have encountered in no other poetry.

Throughout the various short, swift, and concise sections of the book, there is an intense physicality. Relationship between rider and horse is necessarily physical, and often risky. There are accidents in here — to rider and horse. They are lamented, critiqued, recorded. But what comes of it is the equality between embodiments — the horse’s body and the human body are deserving of equal respect, and equal marvel. If the rider goes with the horse, and does not bully and cajole, there is the chance of communication that is respectfully and non-invasively physical, as well, as yes, spiritual. What I so respect about Hodge’s ‘spirituality’ as expressed in this work is that it is universal, not constrained by a machine of belief. Hodge has a purpose here ­— to translate the conditions under which horses, individually and collectively, live when in contact with humans.

One of the most remarkable poems in the collection is ‘Przewalski’s Pelts’ in which we consider — no, more than consider... we engage with the fate of the Mongolian horse as ‘breed’, but also as individuals, as bodies and souls. So under threat, with their ‘rebirth’ measured in terms of a couple of remaining horses, they have strangely and somewhat disturbingly thrived in the fallout zone around Chernobyl, which has been designated a nature reserve only because it can’t be used for anything else. In recent years, the herd had reached two hundred individuals, but poachers have much diminished the herd. This entry into the fallout zone to profit, to ‘murder’, reflects on the human condition in dreadful, catastrophic ways. In these horses is hope, as well as agency.

Siobhan Hodge doesn’t see herself as holier than thou, though she speaks from great empathy and authority. She also sees herself as complicit — complicit in not being able to stop the slaughter, the use and abuse of ‘horse flesh’, its consignment to the glue factory when past its profitable days. I say ‘its’, because its personhood has been denied it — from being seen as living organism to an almost worthless commodity that needs changing into something useful. In a superb trilogy of prose poems, ‘Zebra’, Hodge takes us on a picture-shooting safari through encounters with zebras: her admiration, her awe, her point of contact, her epiphanies, her distress, our shame. As in so many of the poems, ‘skin’ and ‘hair’ are so important — they are the points of contact for horses and people — and it’s as skin and hair in the airport when departing that the persona becomes closest to the zebra:

‘...zebras aren’t big sellers alive, after all. Guide has better targets to net. A clearer shot will come later, from the airport. I found you, by Departures, crisp bodies flat and shining under lights between the gates. Tufts and bristles.’

The body reduced to ‘signage’ for tourists — the most brutal of hollow signifiers. I am disturbed by the inherent threat in the ‘seeing’ (hunting is never far away from ‘watching’ in the world of trophyism) and Siobhan configures this tension perfectly (in terms of the workings of the poem).

One of the remarkable things about Siobhan Hodge’s advocacy of horses, uncompromising and partisan as it is, is that she also manages great cultural respect and sensitivity towards human communities. Hers is not an obvious poetry — its pared back, impacted style is so strongly drawn from the fragmentary remains of Sappho’s poetry, and a scholarship that has fully comprehended the value of space around a poem — that even ‘missing’ bits of a poem, the lacunae, are essential to our reading of the world of the past, and in the here and now.

In communicating and communing with horses (as far as a horse will allow!), there are necessarily gaps and spaces, and it’s in these than the figurative generativeness of Siobhan’s verse might be found. Also, her use of the short impacted line allows a riding poem like ‘In the Pines’, where rider and horse are ‘we’, to find a way through an often inclement environment, following the path, the journey, acquiring knowledge and dealing together with threat, stating and contemplating both beauty and trauma, involved in a call and response relationship between each other, the place, and us, the readers. And the whole time, the intensity and precision of the language draw us into the place, the scenario, the relationship, compelled under and between the pines:

Collective space in shadow,
your black coat nips
encroaching sunset,
throw the lens astray
at lines we do not own
in fallen trees. Soaked
needles, lost maps and each
breath shared...

and we feel the heartbeat under the ribs, the closeness.

I’m frequently fascinated by the shift between (displaced) ‘point of view’ of horse and human in the interaction. There are times in some of the ‘riding’ poems, where the horse is being made to perform and we slip into the horse’s sense of things, that the work opens genuinely new ways of insight into humans per humans. Yet the horse is always allowed to be itself, not co-opted; the book explores issues of appropriation in so many ways. It’s also about the uses of history and the occlusion of humans by other (predatory) humans’ activities; it is also the horse-realm as well. Parallel and intersecting worlds. I am still pondering the ‘whip’ and its tyranny of control, and there seems to be confessions of culpability and guilt as well as accusation in there. The book is a confession and an analysis, a prayer and a recounting.

I — we — might also admire that the work analyses a different quality of ‘love’ and affection and ‘sharing’ outside the human-to-human, without appropriating the animal into an exploitative situation. To have familial warmth is not to use or abuse or to be entertained, but to be gratified by the existence of the horse. Those people who use animals for financial or physical or whatever benefit, will never see this unless works like this one are written and said. It’s a love of familiarity and sharing and respect, of difference and similarity. It’s the genuine empathy, compassion, respect, admiration of horses that make this a creative, artistic and moral triumph.

It’s also a very clever book, and it needs to be, to articulate the all-too-often unspoken reality of human usage of horses. It’s clever in its language-usage, its pinpoint allusions that make us reflect on the language we use around all non-human life, and about what our art actually means when it comes to the living world. It uses rhetoric to upset our/the persona’s familiarities and sureties, to contest our safe positions, such as in the poem ‘You know’, the brilliant and distressing conceit of Romeo and Juliet and the fate of the horse, Romeo, and the failure to appreciate that language is non-human as well; all this emanates from this collection in ways that will, I hope, change the way we talk about human-animal interactions in general, and, indeed, human-human interactions. Justice can be done, and achieved.

And, as I launch this book, I want to say how ably served the work is by Dennis Haskell’s astute and beautifully ‘condensed’ introduction — a piece of poetry in itself. One great poet introducing the first full-length book of another, who will also bring a change to how we discuss and perceive what language can do.

          John Kinsella