Saturday, December 18, 2021

On Frida Kahlo's 'Wounded Deer' and after Rilke’s Sonnet to Orpheus 2:10

A couple of poems I wrote for my poetry students. These students are a long way from here, and we are a long way from them — a dynamic of the times. I am always wary of the 'ambient intimacy' of the internet, but I share these in the spirit of community. All poetry is a series of departures as well as arrivals, suggesting movement — flow.  The conversations that develop between 'artworks' are inevitably political and ethical ones, and if we write out of colonial spaces (regretfully, disturbingly, and in grim reality), a series of responsibilities arise that are often in tension with the 'aesthetics' of a piece. I refuse 'aesthetics' as a basis of anything generative, but contend with it every time I write a letter, a word, a line... and every time I use any of the senses available to me. This is an act of dissension whose irony is made even more emphatic through the use of this technology (computer, internet etc) to access 'art' and to comment and respond to it.

See Kahlo's painting here. And here's an anti-ekphrastic act, maybe:

Not On Frida Kahlo’s ‘Wounded Deer’, Not Really?


When the bow hunters sported the deer out of the woods near Gambier

I was not thinking of Frida Kahlo’s ‘Wounded Deer’, which I do now.

This is not appropriate in so many ways, but maybe it is in others.


When the pick-up truck with the stag in the back secured so the antlers

were safe — wall trophy, obviously — but the hindquarters flopping

and bouncing on the open tail-gate, hooves kicking off the road’s asphalt


(and I imagine sparks but it was flecks of staling blood), roared

past me on the road through the village, I was not thinking of Frida

Kahlo’s ‘Wounded Deer’, which I do now. Maybe I should have back then?


But now I am thinking it through, in another hemisphere, over fifteen years

later. I am trying to be the deer and the stag but not be Frida Kahlo —

I would never try to do that. Which makes me wonder as I unloose


arrows out of my skin — nine times I quiver, nine times I transfer

my essence to a tree, nine times I shape the memory into something visceral —

if I am really seeing the past now? There are no deer here, but there are


kangaroos and they suffer similar fates. I cannot see Frida Kahlo’s

head on a kangaroo, I cannot build the symbolism, archetypes and set

of personal references. I won’t mystify. If the sea at the end of a wooded path


is forced into the sky, so too are the hills of the valley into a different

but intimately connected sky. Wrong images. I wonder about translations of ‘karma’,

and reach for my feet to see if they are secure on an earth that turns fast —


or maybe it’s just turning at the necessary speed. Neither fast nor slow.  Maybe

that speed will stay the same no matter what the miners, industrialists and adventurers

do to it in all our names. It frightens me (and honestly, I don’t frighten easily —


well, not in a personal sense, anyway) that I have nothing to do with Frida

Kahlo or her deer-stag or her injury or bare forest or fetish for arrays of nine.

But then, why would I use a word like ‘fetish’? What am I painting here?



            John Kinsella

Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus: version  after 2:10 — a mimesis


How we machine machines

might be at the root of the problem,

a root system of fibre-optics

and nanoparticles, the equilateral


disjunctions in application

of field-work. We have made it part

of our avatars not only via imposition

but by unnatural selection:


each lyrical strain we tune

into our ‘feelings’, remade as satisfaction

and compliance of mystery.


Speech to text slips past the inexpressible.

Expansion of services is not the music

we associate with ‘ecology’ — house of the word.



            John Kinsella

Monday, November 15, 2021

Was out at Julimar Conservation Park on Sunday with Tracy. A few photos and a poem in support of the mixed woodlands/forest (below). This article from Landscope is useful regarding some of the colonial incursion/history of the place and its importance in the now. I don't agree with some of the approaches in the article (especially regarding four-wheel driving), but the piece does highlight the importance of the 'park'. It is vital we keep focus on the forest and the threat it is under from Chalice Mining. Also see this article at Hike West regarding the threat to environment from Chalice.

Investor Notes for Chalice Mining’s Persecution of Land at Julimar

‘sombre woods’
The Argonautica

With settler familiarity the forest is brow-beaten
by four-wheel drives and pig hunters. Pigs are the lament-
excuse-justification for blood-letting, a way around
circumventions. And then there’s the farm turned
into a minefield — a mine in a field, or rather
the exploratory drills for a mine in a field
that will dilate into the forest if the company
has its way with relevant government agencies —
the lamenting and unravelling of ‘green tape’. In case
you shoulder wonder about deployments of language
for investors, try ‘Gonneville Intrusion’ as the name
for these activities. Or, ‘strategic deposit’ of ‘critical
minerals.’ Intrusion strategic critical deposit. And
‘expand footprint’. Definition. Seven rigs — diamond
and reverse circulation. Farmland entrée. And then...
and then the full run of revelation with missionary zeal.

And this poem-addendum to petition that lives in the mind
of the forest and its readers — the wandoo and jarrah
and marri trees in full awareness of what lies
beneath in the ‘complex’, speaking with words
that will be extinguished before they can find
a way past investor vocabularies, before they
can upset degrees of separation, the consequences
of portfolios. Oh, blue leschenaultia
and kangaroo paws were still flowering
and a light breeze was a sombre ocean
in the mixed woodland when we visited
over on Sunday — as the company’s advance 
gathers pace, as the ‘maiden resource’
PRs its heroics, buys into community,
spreads news of inevitability, of success.

John Kinsella

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Save 'Julimar State Forest'/Julimar Conservation Park from Chalice Mining!

I have just put this petition up at Change.Org for any of you willing to sign (see below plus link). Addressing governments, especially when they are so embedded with the mining industry, is a forlorn and fraught process, but every peaceful method must be tried:

Chalice Mining is attempting to develop a nickel, copper, cobalt and PGE mine at the 'Gonneville deposit' near the 'Julimar State Forest'/Julimar Conservation Park, Western Australia. Their end of 2020 statement claims — 'Julimar PGE-Ni-Cu-Co-Au discovery' [is] 'advancing rapidly to maiden resource'. The company is targeting the 28 000-hectare Julimar Conservation Park as part of their 'exploration' and potential exploitation of the 'deposit'. As cited in the Financial Review (November 9th, 2021) regarding exploratory drilling in the forest, 'Mr Dorsch said he was expecting approval to drill soon and the company was “raring to go”.'

Despite claiming it's all for the well-being of the world (minerals useful for carbon-reducing technology — 'green technology'), the destruction of the ecologically vital and unique Julimar forest will be a crime against the environment and the biosphere. The forest must be protected against such a flagrant rapacity that is ultimately based on nothing more than profiteering and indifference to environmental world-health.

The forests and bushland of Western Australia are already under great pressure from mining, and we plead with you to prevent this activity. We have an obligation to all life on this planet to prevent the damage and destruction of remaining habitats.

Link to Protect Julimar Forest petition. [Note the anti-tree propaganda in the Financial Review article, aligning the area with middle-class wealth (which is untrue), attempting to divide and conquer via mining labour demographics when it's the mega-wealthy who most benefit from such mining.]

Also, I beg you all to consider the threat to the Manning Ridge from mountain-biking proponents. See and look at 'concerns'. And here is a poem in support of that campaign:

Manning Ridge, Beeliar Regional Park, Whadjuk Noongar Boodja

Parrot bush is a flowering of white-tailed
black cockatoos is a flowering of limestone 

is a flowering of the essence of terrain. 
Mountain bikes are not biodiverse, 

mountain bike trails are not circulatory 
systems, mountain bikes and the trails 

made for them to traverse bring no rare species 
back from the brink, bring no warmth 

or comfort to country. Mountain bikes
compress the ridge, break the back

of habitat. When riders ride into their future
they delete the future for so much else.

Bandicoots and lined skinks know I visited
as a child, trying to hear what they had to say —

their memories are passed on through
limestone, through woodlands

and shrublands. I won’t forget
their gifts. Now I speak out.

Parrot bush is a flowering of white-tailed
black cockatoos is a flowering of limestone 

is a flowering of a future.
Remember. Act. Remember.

John Kinsella

Graphology Lambent 28: for the protesters against the Garzweiler lignite mine

False light false warmth the pit dilating
to consume trees and villages, filling

atmosphere with false signs false breath —
that dirty heat that warms only death.

But those of you sitting to block ‘progress’
will bring life with every delay — you redress

our failure as the cranes migrate.

John Kinsella

The destruction of habitat and contamination of the biosphere are such a multiplex concurrence of 'events' that unless we resist all of these assaults at once, and say enough to all such behaviour and activity, they will overwhelm the planet.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Poem in Support of the Sacred Bushland of Walwalinj ('Mount Bakewell') and the Ballardong People's Relationship to Their Country

The Euphemisms of Trails: Save Walwalinj from the Mountain Bike Trails Proposed by the York Shire and the Western Trails Alliance



It all falls by waysides

in naming ‘prosperity’ —

whose is rarely in question

because it’s a state of being

we can’t afford to question?


Thunderbird reacts!


Wheatbelt ‘alpine’ seems

contradictory in the scouring,
but all definitions up for grabs

as vested parties push bikes

hard up the mountain:


parodying watershed,

parodying ley-lines,

parodying ecotones,

parodying lines of naming

parodying duration.


Thunderbird reacts!


Adrenaline’s fallout

over orchids so rare...

last refuge, plethora, haven.

Life out of reach



those who claim

what’s not theirs to claim,

but they know the ins

and outs of colonial law.

Read the fine detail —


the letter, the clause... see

point... sub-sectioned.

Behind closed doors

it may seem to some

that Ballardong people


are a ‘hurdle to clear’ — a jump

on the path to stimulus. Protocols

written by... see government

guidelines. See trails carved

out of a purple mountain.


Thunderbird reacts!



            John Kinsella


Friday, August 6, 2021

Save Walwalinj ('Mt Bakewell') from Further Exploitation and the Destruction of Rare Habitat

 Dear Shire President (of York, Western Australia)

I wish to vigorously protest the plans to exploit the sacred and exceedingly rare and fragile environment of Walwalinj ('Mt Bakewell') as indicated by your declarations to the ABC. The mountain has already been placed under stress by clearing for 'recreational' as well as agricultural purposes, and the habitat will not cope with more stress. There are orchids so rare up there they exist nowhere else. The environment should be protected and not exploited, and its sacred essence respected. 

I have spent my entire life writing the region and known the environment of the 'Dyott Range' (another inappropriate renaming) and surroundings intimately. This is a 'greenwash' act that claims 'nature tourism', which would simply mean further degradation of a fragile and unique ecosystem. 

Cautious walking and care are one thing, but to 'open up' to mountain biking is to consign the bush to destruction. Recently talking on the email with an environmental officer regarding degradation of Perth Hills forests, they noted that the greatest damage came from mountain biking. This opens the door to so many abuses of the habitat. Walwalinj isn't a 'resource' to be 'capitalised' on. In a world suffering under the weight of such exploitation, surely an effort can be made to conserve rather than exploit?

I ask you to reconsider and take this informed protest on board. I will certainly use all my energy, contacts and writing ability to protest this constantly. It is a wrong thing you are aiming to do.

I will speak about this at every public opportunity I get in the wheatbelt, and that will be sooner than later — that is my responsibility, and I take it seriously.


John Kinsella

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Supervivid Depastoralism

 A new book for those interested — Supervivid Depastoralism.

Cover Painting by Stephen Kinsella

Book description: I don't sleep much or very well (I have a recent book of poetry entitled Insomnia!), but, when I do, I often have supervivid dreams. It is said that in the time of Covid-19, many people are speaking of having more vivid dreams than usual, and though the poems in this manuscript are not-specifically 'Covid-19 poems', at certain points of the manuscript they certainly make contact with this overwhelming reality and condition of crisis. But this is essentially a book in a lifecycle of trying to confront and consider the impacts of colonial agribusiness mono agricultural practices on Australia, and how it is or isn't possible to write about these issues within the conventions of the pastoral tradition of literature. Can 'pastoralism' and environmentalism intersect in meaningful ways or is it all a colonial ruse? As a committed environmentalist and human rights landrights justice campaigner, my poetry necessarily considers the place I work out of (largely wheatbelt Western Australia), and the problems of writing poetry 'about' rurality and ecology, as well as addressing the ongoing colonialism. This new book is an attempt to push my anti, post, counter, and radical pastoral to the point where it also becomes a means of considering where agricultural culpabilities intersect with personal histories and behaviours, where creativity that comes out of a critique of invasive and damaging wrongs is in itself up for question. So this is a work of self-critique, questioning, and also aspiration to vividly confront and find ways through this crisis of presence. The 'Australian Pastoral' is a construct, a propaganda device that suits all sorts of oppressive modes, and is easily a place to retreat into even when it is being questioned: I am trying to bring all this into eclogic discussion, to contest it further as part of a long and linguistically diverse process of contestation. This book 'connects' with other books on 'pastoral' I have written over the decades, including other recent work (in progress) on odes and eclogues (longer pieces largely) - but this is a collection of shorter poems. The book could be subtitled: Eclogix.

    John Kinsella

Friday, June 18, 2021

Ecological Benefits Propositions

1. People are ecologically minded to serve their own ends

2. People believe that they have an intrinsic right over an ecology whether or not they have a totemic relationship with that ecology

3. People will damage an ecology to improve their own ecology or the ecology of their perceived community

4. People will address a social injustice that does not directly concern themselves through aligning it with protection of ecology but not if that ecology serves their own powerbase, even indirectly

5. People separate social injustice from justice to ecologies

6. Oppressive power structures will ‘trickle down’ benefits from the exploitation of ecologies while receiving minimum side-effects for themselves while maximising proximity-damage to those who are oppressed

7. Ecological activism will benefit the activist directly or indirectly, even when it benefits us all: this paradox is the empathetically just position designed to be incontestable

8. Ecologies rarely get to speak for ecologies and only do where their direct Indigenous or traditional interlocutors are given a voice over their protection and well-being

9. All being of ecologies give us all equal part and concern in their fate and yet the benefits from damage are lopsided and based on a series of oppressions worked through ‘race’, ‘class’, ‘gender’, and control

10. Ecology is aligned with dwelling and habitation and yet the houses of non-human species are undone or transposed to transfer power from ecology to certain humans or groups of humans

11. Human social structures make control of ecology more effective in order to control subordinate or peripheral parts of those social structures themselves

12. To claim authority and construct laws that have a central alignment with power will undo any ‘rights’ they legislate through controlling the nature of those rights (and the provenance of their being ‘granted’) — and this applies to the ‘protection’ of ecologies that then become reliant on the power demographics in the systems ‘offering’ that protection. Rights are inherent and beyond legislation which consumes those rights in underlying agendas

13. The elevating of human over animals in a conceptual sense will always mean animals will suffer not because humans should be respected less but because animals aren’t respected more — in the same way, ecologies being respected more can’t mean humans are respected less

14. The exploitation of individuals and groups of humans by other individuals and groups of humans (especially through institutions, state apparatuses, and larger social mechanism) relies on control and manipulation of ecologies — removing control over ecologies and allowing them to regain aspects of their autonomy lessens the ability of humans to create structures to systematically control, oppress and impose their ‘law’ on other humans.

John Kinsella

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Review of Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear

    by John Kinsella


Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear contains what I consider one of the best stanzas in ‘Australian poetry’:


Because to hold him is to hold the tree

  that holds these birds I cannot name,

                          and a word spoken here

           might almost sound like home


This is from ‘Learning Bundjalung on Tharawal’, and Araluen is a descendant of the Bundjalung Nation. What makes this stanza so potent is the language-searching of the poem that holds it — learning names, knowing words that come out of a totemic relationship with country means knowing bird or plant in essential and consequential ways. Earlier in the poem we read:


It is hard to unlearn a language:

             to unspeak the empire,

             to teach my voice to rise and fall like landscape,

a topographic intonation


Dropbear is a book-work of incredible depth and complexity — complex in its structure, and also, as Derrida thought things need to be when under pressure, complex in its thinking. It meticulously excoriates colonial storytelling in which allegory is trauma operating insensitively and with disturbed and cruel irony. A poem such as ‘Mrs Kookaburra Addresses the Natives’ satirises such story-making while gaining intensity through modulating tone from adult telling to children’s reception, and exposing many levels of patronising crypto-mythmaking. We read later in ‘Appendix Australis’ of ‘atavistically charged Banksia Men with their skinny black legs and wide black mouths’. Araluen’s poetry ridicules and exposes the Gibbs story’s inversion of who the threat to children’s lives actually was (official white government policy). Dropbear is a book of agency and recuperation.


The ash of fire is a reality on so many levels; the spectre of death is traumatically visceral and also an elusive but familial presence. Ghosts are throughout this collection, but we are not all capable of perceiving them. There is no simple formula to unravel this book. Fire, so imbued in the language and function of country, becomes disorientating across the colonialism of climate change (and geographical displacement), and the poet suffers across the distance — visiting England, then Ireland, disturbed by the pains of being at colonial centring.


In a deeply affecting and quite revealing prose-poem ‘essay’ piece, ‘To the Parents’, we read, apropos of the undoing of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in ‘Mrs Kookaburra Addresses the Natives’: ‘My siblings and I consumed those stories, we were/ never taught to settle for them. My parents never pretended/ these books could truly know country or culture or/ me — but they had both come from circumstances in which/ literacy and the access it affords was never a given. They just/ wanted me to be able to read.’ And so effective was the mediation between the coloniality of available reading, and its recontextualising in how and why it was read, that their daughter has created a language of lyrical-critical skill that might be part of the new language of redress.


The beautiful poem of familiarity, ‘See You Tonight’, presents what is possibly, in the light of the book, a resolvable paradox: ‘You play bunyip, I’ll be dropbear’. The cryptomyth of the killer carnivorous koala — the dropbear — becomes the vector for the misrepresentations and lies about Aboriginality in colonialist historicising, society and narrative.


Araluen’s language-flow is even mesmeric when it is most confronting, and trauma is almost lulled into consciousness, making a shock of realisation (‘Inland sea’ is an example of this). This is a work of such ‘lyrical’ intensity that it undoes the colonial lyric by showing what song can be. Araluen works in a language that is its own and of its own cultural belongings — not English as it would appear, but a shifting language that tells more truths of history than the erasures official English has built into it, whether we know it or not.


Brilliant Indigenous writers have excoriated the colonial nature of literary text-making in Australia so that the white gatekeeping of Australian literature has been shown up for what it is. Books of poetry such as Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear enact remembrance and confrontation with methodical purpose. A new poetics is revealed in a poetry that contests the shape of received form come about through colonial imposition, but is also delivered through the commitment to learning, reading, and comprehending what empowers colonial story-telling to impose in obvious and subtle ways. Araluen plays back these conventional devices and tropes, and undoes them so effectively that no colonial shibboleth is left unchallenged or undecoded.


This book of resistance won’t allow for the specious arguments about ‘some versions of pastoral’ being more sensitised to the theft of country, dispossession and  destruction of families and communities. It calls out literature, especially poets and poetry, for culpability. As Araluen writes pointedly and loudly at the end of ‘Fern Up Your Own Gully: ‘RIGHT   WHERE   YOU   WROTE   US’.


Araluen’s Dropbear is a deeply nuanced, sophisticated and self-aware book of poetry that in challenging colonial persistence also provides an array of entry points into understanding and perception for non-Aboriginal as well as Aboriginal readers. The use of the prose-poem essay as exemplar of not only ‘telling’, but also hearing oneself speak, is remarkable, and such works act as interludes for pause and reflection within the poem and protagonist, and within the book’s arguments.


In poem after poem, literary manners are undone and hypocrisy confronted — ‘The Last Endeavour’ (the first thing I thought of was Kenneth Slessor’s ‘Five Visions of Captain Cook’, and checking the thorough back notes, we indeed find it is one of the intertexts as well as anti-models for this remarkable undoing of voyages of exploration and invasion). ‘Acknowledgement to Cuntery’, ‘The Trope Speaks’ and ‘Appendix Australis’ with its anti-axioms of enquiry (‘23. no permissions were granted by community for this usage’) are examples.


It is easy to say an activist book is full of ‘fury’ or ‘anger’, but to my mind, that is too easy and even reductive. This book is intense in many different ways. It’s also a book of love and respect — of ancestors, family, community, a partner, and the power of language and country. But love and respect are contingent on mutuality, and understanding the reality of ongoing wrongs. ‘To the Poets’ finishes: ‘But no-one’s ever asked how we are both colonised by and inheritors of these words. J asks — what is a world, and what does it mean to end it? I want to know what it means to lose the world you’re still standing in?’ And this from a poet who takes nothing for granted, but knows what should be able to be taken for granted.


Dropbear can teach us all if we are willing to learn how to read, to listen, to comprehend.

[Note: this is a longer version of a review that appeared on 1/5/2021 in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers]

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Remembering Mhairi


We met as Sparks — Diverging Flints

Sent various — scattered ways —

We parted as the Central Flint

Were cloven with an Adze —

Subsisting on the Light We bore

Before We felt the Dark —

A Flint unto this Day — perhaps —

But for that single Spark.

                                                        (Emily Dickinson, from Wikisource, public domain)

That's a poem for her, my long-ago friend. And now, bells for her...

Long ago, Mhairi gave me Tori Amos's To Venus and Back, and today, a year on from her passing, I listen to "Bells for Her", the live version from that album. There's also a beautiful original studio version of this song on Under the Pink.

As I've mentioned before, Mhairi played the piano (beautifully), and often played Tori's music on it, as well as more classical and experimental work.

One year today she has been gone.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

On Karl Wiebke’s Art (2021): the interior and exterior spatiality of work and making

by John Kinsella

I have known Karl Wiebke since the mid 1980s, after he migrated to Australia in 1981. Karl was born in Germany, where he held his first exhibition of painting (at Die Malwand, Rotenburg) and studied fine art from 1972-76 at the Hochschule für bildende Kunst in Hamburg, with further exhibitions at Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst (1977/1980). 

I first came across Karl in Fremantle where I frequently visited (and later lived for while) on bouts of protest and dissipation. As a poet who at that time was focussed on writing (or thinking) poems out of what I experienced in accordance with what I read, visualised and heard, I was excited to come across Karl’s work of commitment and daily application, something I was very much unable to sustain at the time. 

But I was also interested in Karl’s open but very specific view of art in the world, and heard him jamming on a guitar with other artist-musician-practitioners (whom I knew in differing degrees) on various occasions (and am pretty sure I was at his last public gig with ‘Paint Kaput’ at the Cave Bar in Fremantle — one of my haunts of the time — in 1991, but I could be misremembering the occasion), and very early on spent some hours here and there zoned out on the studio floor where he made art and played with others, being politely coaxed out after I had crashed out. During that period, I lived for a couple of months in a shallow cave behind a screen of bushes facing Bather’s Beach under the Fremantle Roundhouse Gaol (with its horrendous history). 

Karl was always kind and generous, willing to talk about art and tolerant of my misdemeanours of behaviour and creative distractibility. At times, I would come across him after he had returned from visits to India or elsewhere, and he would be particularly open and brimming with creativity — once he specifically invited me to see his work-in-progress (rather than my just turning up with someone else or somehow). 

I came across Karl’s work before I met him —it was the 1983 exhibition at Praxis in Fremantle (an array of his painted sticks leaning against the wall: I was overwhelmed and thought of it as an installation poem). Yes, I certainly remember seeing his work first at Praxis (Fremantle, not the earlier Murray Street gallery in Perth). He seemed to be part of the new Perth-Fremantle modernism, but also outside it. Internal and external, and this really interested me. 

I think I probably met Karl socially (at a friend’s house or at a glass-maker’s factory or at the Stoned Crow... I can’t recall) before meeting him in situ, painting. I later saw him at work at Bannister Street Studios, and also in the back garden of his home (if I recall correctly— I was there with another friend), and then more committedly at his studio in the old Fremantle Fire Station, where on a few occasions I saw different drip layers of his pedestal of paint as it was being built-up over the years (Monochrome painting 1984-1991), as well as his many-layered sculpted paintings/gougings, revealed the very essence of what it is to make a painting. 

Karl’s painting is about practical work and also about the work of thinking. What is unseen in the painting, what is underneath, has visceral meaning to the ‘appearance’ of what is seeable. The long-term engagement (almost a painterly contract) to making an artwork, and being able to commit to such making for all the flux and changes of time — a duration that realigns the temporal — fascinated me. In the same way as the bands of paint on sticks struck me as being like narrow vertical poems of different length stanzas with different intensities, bringing to mind distended and extended colours as vowel sonneteering à la Rimbaud, I always left his studio with answers to formal problems in shaping, lineating and making poems. 

I feel I write poems of the external world — the natural environment — with an internality, and I think Karl paints to make painting both internal and external as per his ‘following’ of Theo van Doesburg’s annihilation and renewal of art, and the notion that concrete art speaks to the individual (the old) and the universal (the new). One thing I feel is sometimes missed by critics when considering the universalism of Karl’s art is the intense localism that comes with where and how a piece of art is created over time. If the De Stijl manifesto speaks of sympathising ‘with all who work for the formation of an international unity in Life, Art, Culture, either intellectually or materially', then the practice Karl developed in Germany necessarily alters in experential dynamics when made in Fremantle, Perth, or Melbourne, because the conditions of making shift. 

These shifts are noticeable in the way paint applies to a prepared (or not) surface, the rapidity with which it drips and dries, how it mixes or doesn’t mix (more ‘time’ of setting between layers means resistance... and I often think of electronic resistance colour codes and ‘ohm values’ as a kind of code for control of creativity... brown red orange yellow as markers of tolerance) in different atmospheric conditions (working close to the sea is different from working away from it). Also, the social-demographic conditions of materiality shift between localities, as well as across time, and, in doing so, change perception and process. 

If in eschewing symbolism, the artist changes the terms of referentiality in a painting, they doesn’t necessarily change the way a viewer (or experiencer’s — touch, smell, even the sound of a painting being made) searches for symbolic meaning, even when they are directed not to by descriptions of intent (a critic’s imposition more than the artist’s). Karl is aware that his purpose is his purpose as artist, and that the viewer will make their own purpose. That is not a problem, and is in fact an energiser of a commitment to paint across a lifetime with a purpose to make and build on that making. 

I admired (and admire) Karl for his work ethic, and I was also mindful of how such a personal commitment did not prevent him from communal and social generosity. Many people knew Karl ‘back in the day’, and his respect for many different kinds of making — making outside an aesthetic hierarchy, but with a commitment to work and building — seemed socially as well as materially just to me. 

Again, we might think of Theo van Doesburg and his ‘The End of Art’ — ‘Aestheticism has infected and diseased us all. (Yes, us.)’. Modernity is always about negotiating internal spatiality with the pressures of external mass-producing, and the artisan aspect of Karl’s work-habits are, it seems to me, very much connected with meditative repetition that is a ritual to allow spiritual questioning — in other words, the work-ritual prevents internal existence falling into repetition and anodyne ritualistic responses which prevent contact with creativity. So work and repetition are not habit, but absolute necessity. 

External process brings internal freedoms. And always that complexity of texture: smooth drips of paint that look/feel like rivers, bridges, valleys, hills, roads and even like the body... And the codings of colour that are concrete, plastic, and realisable in the world. None of this is ‘symbolic’ by design, and it is always new.

Over the years I have written many poems (and articles... and also an exhibition opening speech) out of experiencing and thinking about Karl’s work in terms of the making of poetry, including writing poems inside the catalogue reproductions of his painting hoops/rings/circles. There is an interesting ‘bio’ page on Karl at his regular gallery Liverpool Street Gallery extracted from an article by Margaret Moore (published in Australian Art Collector, Issue 46, October-December 2008), and recently I have written a series of poems on his 2020 exhibition, ‘Seven Paintings’ :

Graphology Ratio 39: On Karl Wiebke’s Seven Paintings 2020

G7 Orange, 2020

Across the decades of work, Karl,
apotheosis is in the wrist and eye, a pattern 
of days and aqueous humour floaters
fielding vision to remake inversions,
a microscopy of lucid orange to trail 
flagella on their paths across the slide 
of purple-mauve pooled echoes.

G7 Grey, 2020

Immediacy is grey in the compressed
vessel where spectral suppresses
to highlight, burst into pre-cursive
search for vowels and immense
looping eruptives, qua rewriting
storage to allow more uptake, out-
flow, time to reconcile dusk as dawn.

G7 Muted White, 2020

House of cells is engram of mosaic
to address figure to figure in the colour
chart test to lift out numbers and letters,
to go against marbled waters
still on surface but a micron beneath 
shifting curves to hexagonals — what
pushed into field of muting so vigorously?

G7 Red

Masks of paint-theatre fall-and-rise
and fall risen to make happy sad, sad happy;
in alert mode we sit on tipped seat-edges 
waiting for upraising curtain point
of attack but peace reigns in draft 
redraft final moment closing lines curtailing 
perpetual wonder of endless drama.

G7 Blue, 2020

Resolved a long time ago now active
as irresolute so decided upon, so back
& forth to cover ground with swirl
and shimmy in sky-water interface
ingredients of equilateral and isoleles
letter-curves to lift blue shadows 
to sink and float and sign-out vapour.

G7 Dark Blue

Bluefire jellyfish signatures epochs.
Stingers wave tentacles and are tentacles.
Folders merge chirography — systems
ail and effuse to rise an oxygen-surface dichotomy.
We swim lexically and are stung. We stroke. Submerge.
Following to surface is more than gill, more than gasp,
and not those bends in a doctrine of signatures.

G7 Pink, 2020

Touch washed blood picture report as bubbles
pop and flatten to trail back a scene of mixing 
or even source of pigments; gentle surge regular-irregular
to answer exquisite critic’s conundrum of pulse,
that quixotic histology of pink promising to flush
buddings out; but intense to examine each variation, 
each exception, those myriad conversations, our moods.

Also recently, a family member ‘unearthed’ the painting below made sometime during the early 90s, I think. Karl and I did two of these — Karl did the ‘base’, and I painted lines from my poems over the top. One I returned to Karl for him to add layers over, and one I kept and lost (now found!). I have no idea what became of the other one, but below is a photo of the one I held onto — the words are from my poem ‘Helen Frankenthaler’s Interior Landscape, 1964’ along with ‘stimuli’ additional words that were intended to open the interior of the painting and the text. I have also written many poems on Frankenthaler's work, and it seemed interesting to me at the time to create a conversation via physically applied text between the different spatialities of these painters. I think poetry can facilitate such conversations without imposing or co-opting. I have always been interested in the physical act of writing, which in some ways I equate to painting (in other ways, not), and to graphologically bring the two modes of making and cause-response together was quite exciting. I wish the project had gone further!

Karl Wiebke and John Kinsella — 'No Graffito' Painting/Poem

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

In Memoriam Urs Jaeggi (1931-2021)

by John Kinsella

Urs Jaeggi has recently passed in Germany at the age of 89. As followers of this blog will know, we saw him in Zurich as recently as January 2020, just as and before the world fragmented and writhed with the Covid crisis. It was an incredible interaction — bringing with it an entire notebook of collaborative fusings and dialogue, for which I will always be grateful. And Urs finally got to meet Tracy and Tim in person, though he had spoken with Tracy on the phone from Berlin to Paris decades earlier. 

A remarkable person in all ways, Urs challenged and changed discourse as an academic, and as an artist pushed his practice into completely original and absolutely committed modes of articulation. In all his creative work he was able to converse between interior and exterior worlds — within himself to test the boundaries of what arts practice might be, committed to enacting his work honestly, and uninterested in the ‘fashionable’. He was a practitioner of great integrity. Writer, sculptor, painter, drawer, poet, performer, creator of texts, he was one of the most widely informed, read and sensitive people I have ever known. His imagination merged with knowledge, and both were remade.

Urs was born in Solothurn, Switzerland, and though spending much of his life in Berlin and later Mexico City, he made frequent journeys back to Switzerland, often to see his very long-lived mother. I remember Urs saying that the journey on the train was useful to him for his work, allowing him to focus; I have often wondered if that was because he was so interested in the tension between ‘permanence’ (unattainable) and flux (what we live in). He seemed fascinated by the in-betweenness of things. 

I first met Urs at the 1995, 62nd World Congress of PEN, and we immediately sparked. He was moving between zones in a physical sense, and he was also deep in a change in his practice: from more conventional narrative to a highly disrupting alterity of expression — one that energised language/s, offering an alternative fluidity of philosophical encounter with ‘being’ and materiality. 

We both discovered we had a strong interest in Deleuze and Guattari, and agreed we could write a cross-language textual work that operated as a body without organs we would reterritorialise and also deterritorialise. We promised each other to keep in contact and work together. 

It happened sooner than I expected, because within months we were swapping constructed typography-orientated texts via fax, and this continued when Tracy and I took up a residency at Varuna writers’ house not long after (Blue Mountains, New South Wales, far from Western Australia... and these ‘shifts’ would be part of the dynamic of our interaction from then on). 

Faxes would come into the communal fax at Varuna overnight, and I’d collect them in the morning and send off as soon as I’d configured my D & G response. This continued when Tracy and I moved to Cambridge. Eventually, the book was finished — or had completed being ‘compiled’ — and I photocopied half-a-dozen sets and sent them to various people, none of whom have any idea what became of them now. Long time ago. Urs had a set in his art studio, and I am hoping it remains among his papers.

Urs and I went on to read/perform together (Hamburg, East Berlin, etc), and to conduct a variety of collaborative textual experimentations. We fell in and out of contact over the decades, depending on the run of our lives. At times our exchanges were intense and all-consuming. Each of us took work done with each other into our way of seeing, into our wider ‘practice’.

Looking back to the first time I published Urs — Salt Number 8, 1996, I remember the excitement and dynamism of our earliest encounters. He was an enthusiast for challenging textual and knowledge conventions within Euro-paradigms, and dismantling narratives to investigate what informed them. An investigation that always had purpose: to find ways of liberating text that convention might force upon us. Urs provided the cover image of that issue, and a couple of pieces that are below:

Over time, I will try and place some of our other collaborative work on the blog (there were about half-a-dozen extended ‘projects’), but for now I will sign off with a poem I wrote after hearing of Urs’s passing, and also one (accompanied by a note of thanks and greeting) I wrote a decade ago as part of a celebration of Urs’s life.

Villanelle In Memoriam Urs Jaeggi

You’d have broken the form down into fragments
of speech, questioned the mechanism, undone the quotes
that bind the philosopher to a position, a circumstance.

I will remember for us the interplay of documents
and voice in the East Berlin literature house, the notes
of breaking the form down into fragments.

I will remember for us the non-alignments
of syntax and image, freeing picture house endnotes
that bind the philosopher to a position, a circumstance.

I will remember Deleuze and Guattari enjambments,
the wolf in a shadow of the tower — unlearning rote,
as we broke up the form and followed the fragments.

I will remember the depth of ink and the dénouement
of a rocking horse in your Berlin flat, later of Zurich and litotes,
refusing to bind the philosopher to a position, a circumstance.

For more than a quarter-century we worked by increments —
our ‘Tractortatus’ trying to respell propositions and essences — afloat
on your sculptures of consequence, lines worked into fragments
freeing the philosopher from a position, all circumstance.


           for Urs’s 80th birthday:

Happy birthday, Urs. I thank you for your friendship and for sharing your work with me over the years. Working with you on various collaborations, including D & G and most recently the Tractortatus texts, has been an ongoing revelation about the possibilities of art and language. You are the embodiment of the Renaissance artist and thinker — all is in your ken — but in a truly contemporary way. 

Here is a poem based on a few factors: visiting your apartment in Berlin in the mid-90s; the painting used as the cover image for Salt magazine number 8 (1996); and very distantly, your wonderful poem-text ‘Miles’, published in the same issue of Salt

I often think of our performances together in Berlin and Hamburg. You are the liberator of the word! 

for Urs Jaeggi’s 80th Birthday

In the room the room
you offered the staying 
place the rocking-horse
room where night-fright
made no horror and no
shadows just the zoo-light
carried in from wanderings
about the wall machine
down ergo silence of cabinet
of sketches expressing
shudders and stillness
an ergonomics of presence
where comfort allies
with friendship and intensity
with sincerity and circles
wavering circles and souls
stepping down and out
through window and image-bank
in book-frame and covering
voices with plausible trance
or entrance — thankyou
for the cover the glint
and gleaning of salt
and movie-time rescue
like risk like announcement
overtalking to echo
through theatre and audience,
failsafe nor forget-me-not rhizomes
tunnelling streetworks
cloistered or blossoming in window
of multilingual fruitfulness,
no imprisonment in artifice
or maybe freedom in artifice
but not ‘officialese’ (you made
your escape! you sculpted
plastic form office throne
choke of narrative, storyline
fame left on the altar),
degrees of ranks blown
in by Peter the Great
and no notice taken
or left freehold resurrection
poem of provinces — dead 
souls — no, no estates
made from transfer or silence:
third persons telling their tales,
folk tales and heritages,
red and blue witches,
sagas   epics   prophecies
I heard Khlebnikov asleep
reciting asleep I was awake
asleep near the rocking-horse
childhood recognition of apocrypha
I was part of we all were you’d think
or you were too and I detailed
the twists and scrunches
of paper that made up
your eternal poem your
challenge to rock the horse
to rock the boat
to rock the monastery
of learning and blight,
chronicle   recital   ode
paint hunger form
of inner-city apartment
as generous as caverns
and sky, ‘(dritte Lektion)’
in the mineshafts of wonder,
investigation, breakthroughs,
loyalty of palette is body
of palette is opening colour 
outside its spectrum
without the inducements
of colour, refraction, spectra,
prism analogies, dispersion,
diffractions the clamour
for laws we never want,
we pass without pause:
sharing is silence and noise
and the joy of knowing.
Bonding and making,
rooms to fill and empty,
all made in the shades
of living contrapposto.

with very best wishes, 
from John Kinsella

Friday, February 5, 2021

Poem (in memoriam Sean, d. 1981)


I have to imagine your grave today
since there's no visiting —
& there is fire, as well as distance
& decades between.

It might be dulled or overgrown,
inscription chipped off or greying —
every sibling's name & He is Risen
no longer legible, meaningful, like those

you & I would try to decipher as children
walking around churchyards, certain
such mute & sunken slabs had nothing
to do with us, just sweetly sad,

fearsome if stepped on. Your vases dry,
there won't be flowers now, though early
on I'd arrive to find someone else had
tended you, & spend the day wondering:

places you marked in other lives.
On the long road for years there was
a van that sold bouquets, opportune
as mushroom after death-rain,

servicing that end of things. Gone, gone.
After these forty years I scarcely know
what to say to you — my living on
has said everything for me.

                                  Tracy Ryan