Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Against War and War Propaganda in its Myriad Forms


Euphoric Hero Dysphoria

 

Each hero latched onto

in order to manufacture

more heroes, to pick up

more arms supplied by

‘allies’ whose industries

of arms and related items

(‘supplies ‘) make a killing

justified by the economic

trickle-down effect so bills

can be paid and consumer

items purchased as if good

conscience had anything

to do with that euphoric

hero dysphoria a president

or high command would urge

on would embody as bodies

on streets in trenches by churches

and where trees or even fields

of wheat grew as the seasons

still managed to function

until recently, until metaphors

once again fell into line,

rushed to serve death.

 

            John Kinsella

 


Monday, May 9, 2022

Another Poem In The Effort to Protect Julimar Forest From Mining

 

Silently Into the Sea of the Forest: Chalice’s Plans for Julimar Forest

 

‘And silently they crossed the threshold. And close by garden vines covered with green foliage were in full bloom, lifted high in air.’ 

            Argonautica (Book II)

 

 

Silently into the sea of the forest

 ‘soft’-tracked vehicles will creep,

no wheels to crush undergrowth

they hope in future to delete.

 

Silently into the sea of the forest,

gently gently off-track — no tyres

pressing their case, just metal expecting

what’s flattened to shoot back into place.

 

Silently into the sea of the forest

those drilling rigs are determined to go —

to reach down further than roots

and mirror the hollow of sky.

 

 

            John Kinsella

Monday, May 2, 2022

Anti-War Poem — Second Ode to Disarmament


Second Ode to Disarmament


Each order each line of command

each siege-besiege counterpoint,

a percussion of shelling and wounding.

 

Till the last body the last round,

the mincemeat slurry of nation and body,

of flesh and ideology, bird memory in a bunker.

 

To be unlived to invest in a living future

relegated when the time comes: the way

we talk in D minor at ease or under pressure.

 

Each order each line of command

each siege-besiege counterpoint,

a percussion of shelling and wounding.

 

War loves its clichés, its brutal

realities. ‘According to some sources’.

Doctors without borders sewing limbs together.

 

Till the last body the last round,

the mincemeat slurry of nation and body,

of flesh and ideology, bird memory in a bunker.

 

Where to gather seed in a resplendent season

of memory, where to look when the season is harsh.

Under the barrage the dawn chorus loses its way.

 

 

            John Kinsella

 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Campaign to Save Trees on the Northam-Pithara Road

Tracy (not in the pictures, of course, but as committed as any of us!) and I are not long back from time spent out at the site of Mains Roads' destruction of salmon gums and other trees on the Northam-Pithara Road about 10-12ks outside Northam heading north, on Ballardong Noongar boodja. Tracy took photos and videoed me speaking against the damage and reading my 'Sammies' poem originally written to help support efforts by many to stop Main Roads' destruction of ancient trees (we're talking up to 400 years old) along the York-Quairading Road a few years back (gathered in the collection I co-wrote with Yamaji poet Charmaine Papertalk Green, False Claims of Colonial Thieves). You can see that poem here.

Main Roads have an ongoing campaign of roadside (and beyond roadside) habitat destruction that is remorseless and gathering pace. Road widening, road realignment, remaking to suit increasing truck traffic and exploitation of country... with only the bare minimum effort applied to ecological concerns. Good people are out there campaigning constantly to stop this catastrophe, and sometimes they have small successes, but it's hard to be everywhere. The philosophy of utility and development needs shifting on a fundamental level. The destruction of these trees is the destruction of heritage and history, it is the deletion of vital elements of the sacred. It's an ongoing disaster on a massive scale (consider the fate of bush along the Toodyay-Perth road, along the Great Eastern Highway near Wooroloo etc). It's a deeply ingrained systemic problem. 

I am delighted that campaigners who spent time on site through the week succeeded in saving trees — or at least to have them tagged as being saved (in my experience, sadly, this doesn't necessarily mean they will be saved in the long run, so extra vigilance is required and the road design plan has to change). I fear, looking at the markings and pattern of road-widening (and sadly from much experience), that whatever they have tagged in the short term as to be left will in fact be removed unless it's changed at the planning level. I celebrate the communal work of the on-site protesters who at least had the workers listening to them. Good on them all — it's how and where change is really made. At the face of things. I arrived days after this, but documented nonetheless and worked on site on a new poem of peaceful but determined resistance.

I stood between two sammies (salmon gums) close to the road and the poem located itself. 




As it also located itself in the chopped down two/three-hundred-year-old trees further down the road... one with the word 'owl' painted on its corpse. 




Here is the on-site poem:

Sammies Sammies — Ancient Trees on Northam-Pithara Road

 

 

sammies sammies,

deep reach, earth to sky,

and location location

for so many birds,

written into their DNA.

 

sammies sammies

deep reach, earth to sky,

part of the elemental sacred,

essential to health of country,

cut to the quick, deleted.

 

sammies sammies

deep reach, earth to sky;

owl markers, cockatoo compass,

honeyeater spires, insect plumage —

hold out against the onslaught.

 

sammies sammies

deep reach, earth to sky;

sammies sammies

deep reach earth to sky,

deep reach earth to sky.

 

 

            John Kinsella





Wednesday, April 6, 2022

New Poetry Books from Tracy Ryan and John Kinsella

Tracy and I both have new poetry books out. Tracy's Rose Interior is out with Giramondo and the first volume of my collected poems, The Ascension of Sheep: Poems 1980-2005, is out with UWAP

As Tracy says of Rose Interior, 'Interiors suggest exteriors', and the poems seem to me to pulse with inner and outer perception, creating a flow between states of being. It's fascinating for me to have experienced the 'externals' of many of the poems, but to have processed them internally in very different ways. No matter how well you know each other, and despite such close proximity a lot of the time, poems come from very different places, and the figurative is the result of such interior processing. It's quite exciting for me to encounter things I think I 'know' in such different configurations, events that seem quantifiable in time and space, in such different narratives. And this isn't just to do with 'place' or even 'experience', but also how we read the world around us and why we read it in such ways. I love the dialogues with language that are such a part of Tracy's work — how a misheard 'sound' can bring a cascade of alternative meanings, how a hedgerow in West Cork is like a text in itself, how a moment of encounter in nature can evoke an array of discordant memories making things uncanny. And there is a fascinating 'sequence' of homeschooling poems that speak before and during the pandemic, that both disorientate and reify.

My Collected Poems is coming out over three years in three volumes with University of Western Australia Press. I am grateful to Tony Hughes-D'Aeth for his generous, intense and contextualising introduction to the first volume, The Ascension of Sheep. This volume includes my (anti-)pastoral trilogy, The Silo, The Hunt and The New Arcadia, along with my other collections, chapbooks, pamphlets, unpublished collections (that were intended for publication but, say, a publisher closed down etc.), and some material retrieved from archives, covering the period 1980-2005. I am particularly pleased to be able to include poems that were intended as part of The Silo but were cut at the last moment. I discuss some of this briefly here.

Oh, a word on covers... Tracy's was done/designed by Jenny Grigg and is part of her excellent general redesign of covers for the latest Giramondo poetry series. There are some stunning abstract covers and the promise of fascinating collections (it is such a consistently strong poetry list) by poets such as Adam Aitken, Claire Potter, a forthcoming Lionel Fogarty entitled Harvest Lingo (I am really excited about this), Andy Jackson, and Eunice Andrada.  Find them here. And here's Tracy's cover:


My cover is part of a series in which the frame will change colour for each volume. The image is of 'Painting' by brilliant Karl Wiebke  — see my piece on Karl here. I have written many poems on Karl's work over the decades, and have known him a long time, so I was excited to have this cover which includes words I painted over Karl's painting (as part of a collaboration we were planning over a quarter of a century ago... Karl has the second painting with my words, I think) from my poem 'Helen Frankenthaler's Interior Landscape, 1964' (p.135, Volume One) plus a couple of extra words for the occasion!


Anyway, I hope people find things in these books that interest them. 

    John Kinsella




Thursday, March 17, 2022

All Refugees Are Refugees

 

Rifuĝinto

 

A child in front of a tank

is a child in front of a tank;

a parent between a soldier

and a child is a parent

between a soldier

and a child;

a frightened, hungry

and at-risk person

is a frightened, hungry

and at-risk person;

weather against the skin

is weather against the skin;

bullets, shrapnel and flame

will burn any victim the same;

seeing the sky filled with drones

rather than birds is seeing

the sky filled with drones

rather than birds; the loss

of shelter and no longer

knowing what you’re

likely doing tomorrow

is disarray regardless

of where birth papers

were signed; a student

who studies for tomorrow

knows when tomorrow

has been taken away —

it is more than a learning curve;

the sun on the snow

the rain on the earth

the missiles and bombs,

the recoil of collapsing buildings;

a child in front of a tank

is a child in front of a tank.

 

 

            John Kinsella

Monday, March 7, 2022

Memories of Bill Grono (1934-2022)

Tracy Ryan: Bill was a great encourager of other writers, while shy of admitting that he himself could turn a very fine poem when he chose to. I owe more than one of my first publications, and my first job as an editor back in my 20s, to Bill. Even before that, like others of my age, I learned in school English classes from anthologies he had edited. His influence on readers and writers has been immense. I loved how when the pandemic began he started a kind of email circle for sharing favourite poems, with his usual tongue-in-cheek tone. I think of Bill as always warm, wryly laughing, always ready to share a witty story or an irony, but also as a serious storehouse of information about Western Australian literature and its history. Our family will miss him very much.


John Kinsella: I first met Bill in a non-literary setting, though he wouldn’t have remembered that. But from the time I started publishing, I ran into Bill constantly. Not so much in recent years after he moved to Margaret River, though I did see him at a couple of events down there. Bill was a generous but blunt critic. If he thought something was good, he said so; if not, well he said so as well, but always with a laugh attached that made you feel as if everything was okay really. And it usually was — he would never abandon a poet. He and I had many conversations about Dorothy Hewett and Mick (Randolph) Stow, two brilliant stars in his firmament of friends. He cared deeply about them both, and about their work, and gave much of himself to affirm their work.

 

I dedicated the online anthology of Western Australian writing I did for UWA library to him, and Tracy and I owed him a great debt of thanks for his ground-breaking anthology work when we came to edit the Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry a few years ago. I remember a day seventeen years ago, Bill dropped off a sea-chest (no less) full of copies of old Swan River Colony newspaper poetry at York for me to use in any way that suited. He went out of his way to help if he could.

 

I have numerous personal stories of drinking with Bill back in my bad old days, but maybe I would retell them differently in my sober life. They weren’t just snappy stories full of literary-referenced self-irony; they were often empathetic and sometimes deeply personal. One very kind thing... one day, when I was at the bottom of my addiction barrel and living on my own in a flat near UWA in the early 90s, Bill turned up (having heard rumours I was in a bad way) and spent the day with me (drinking, but that was the way it was back then) just to see I got through... and an act made a difference to survival. I am sure I was one of many. Bill and Janet came around to celebrate after Tracy and I got married, bringing a couple of bottles of wine, only to discover I was trying to stay on the wagon, and with the skill of one in tune with the ups and downs of life, Bill said something like, Well, I’ll take care of them!

 

I spent decades trying to get Bill to write more poems, but he said he’d done with that. I believed Bill about everything else, but not that. Even if he wasn’t writing them down, I am sure he was thinking them. Poetry was part of him and he was part of Western Australian poetry’s essence.


 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Role Models and Veganism

        by John Kinsella

 

I have been thinking a lot about possible correlatives between becoming a vegan in the mid-1980s and the difficulty for woman artists to find creative role models in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But further, I am thinking of how any oppressive system determines the manner in which information is passed on, how it’s taught. Reading the Roxana Robertson biography of Georgia O’Keeffe (Georgia O’Keeffe: A life, Bloomsbury, London, 2020) brings this particularly to mind, especially her citing of Gilbert and Gubar:

 

‘It was difficult for a woman at that time to become a painter: there was little precedent. In examining the difficulties women had in becoming writers, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have pointed out the importance of the role of the predecessor. ‘That writers assimilate then consciously or unconsciously affirm or deny the achievements of the predecessors is, of course, a central fact of literary history.’ The same can be said of painters.’ (p78)

 

So, I am interested in how one makes a radical departure from within the power structures one is embedded in and controlled by (especially schooling) when there are few precedents and predecessors for such a decision in one’s social milieu. This is an issue of role models (and Tracy has pointed me towards Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, which I will start working with, and also Dale Spender on foremothers). Feminist identifying and dismantling of patriarchal controls seem deeply relevant and generative to me; as diverse as feminism necessarily is, this basic drive to act outside the oppression, to act with personal and collective volition, is a vital model. Where and where I can’t intersect with that with regard to veganism is something I will consider further, always acknowledging the work of Carol J. Adams.

 

In my case, being an ‘outsider’ from much culture when I was young predisposed me towards different thinking and different behaviour, as it does for anyone alienated by mainstream acculturation. But though I rejected many of the social models around me, I was necessarily influenced by them and had to interact and respond to them in everything I did. Even being alone had consequences for re-interfacing with what one had stepped out of. This predisposition to act differently from social norms is one of necessity and choice, but choice is very limited when there’s no one to talk with about what you’re feeling and thinking.

 

Yes, there were vegetarians, and they encouraged me to become a vegetarian in the first place, especially given my political beliefs around patriarchy and oppressive systems of control. Choose to be different and to be ethical, was the argument. A further predisposition was enhanced by having been in India and come across Jains, and having been impressed with their dignity and commitment of belief. But I wasn’t ‘even’ vegetarian then. I didn’t know any Jain personally, and had no model to base my actions on.

 

In some ways, back in Australia, being around vegetarians in the communal situation I lived in was very antithetical to veganism, because they saw no reason for veganism. Their attitude to veganism was not intended as an oppression, but as a role model their lacto-ovo vegetarianism was limiting for me. Yet that was mild compared to the abreaction of the rest of the community! Six months after becoming vegetarian I became vegan (along with two others who did not remain so) while living in a house on a dairy farm. Understanding more than I had the anti-life cycle of a dairy cow (despite life-long connections with farms), really led to a sudden and abrupt change, one made without models or precedents in any real sense, just from shock and being affronted. Maybe the ability to continue being a committed vegan in the early days was reinforced by having two others who were also vegan around me, but I am sure it ultimately made no difference — it was a decision made because I felt no choice.

 

But what I am interested in is how, with very little if any ‘guidance’, one is empowered to break away from social norms. Yes, being alienated on many levels before such a decision will make such a decision ‘easier’, but that’s not it, really. And though we act alone, it’s not just a decision of the self because if you commit your life to a difference stance, it’s going to be noticed in many obvious and also subtle ways. Your decision is going to affect others, even by implication, and they are going to react in many ways. In 80s and 90s the reactions were frequently oppressive and sometimes threatening. Now, less so; much less so. In fact, there are so many models that veganism is familiarised even in wheat and sheep farming areas of Western Australia. It may be considered inimical, but it’s an accepted reality. It may be mocked, but it is acknowledged.

 

When I became vegan, I found the meat-eating norm highly oppressive. I found it difficult to understand why people harassed me for being vegan when I was not making incursions into their lives, their eating, their customs. Why was my stance a threat to them? It’s difficult to express the extent of the passive and overt aggression that I (and we) experienced in those ‘early days’. It made one search for precedents and models where there had been none. And that’s how I came across the history of The Vegan Society and its co-founder Donald Watson... founded in 1944 in Britain... in wartime Britain, which made me think a lot about animals and war, and then about pacifism in general.

 

The Vegan Society had nothing directly to do with my pacifism, but the fact that the society arose during the Second World War brought things into alignment for me. Veganism and pacifism seemed intrinsic to each other. Watson was a conscientious objector, though I didn’t know that when I first came across The Vegan Society. And though this was no role model, it was a comfort. Not discovering this ‘Western’ precedent within a colonial-capitalist matrix — from within the core of the colonial horror — would have made no difference to my continuing to be vegan, but it brought that sense of connectedness that helps sustain inner wellbeing: not reassurance, but less aloneness. And in this I have been very lucky with Tracy as a partner for twenty-eight years, and a family deeply understanding and connected with veganism. We are ongoing models to each other.

 

Anyway, these are incipient thoughts... notes towards a longer essay about systems of oppression and how we break out of them, with or without models. And if we lack overt models, how do we find traces of earlier resistance we might connect to, so as to sustain our mental wellbeing in a life of committed difference for an ethics we believe in?

 

 

Saturday, March 5, 2022

In Memory of Poet Jordie Albiston

 Graphology Lambent 62: in memory of Jordie Albiston

 

You

would have got

any triangular

number sequence, and any polygon

for that matter. You are neither inside nor outside this one,

but I send it to you letter by letter line by line, counting each symbol, each sign

as a step within the equilateral, a step towards knowing why it is you wrote as     

    you wrote, why this counts.

 

 

            John Kinsella

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Another Pacifist Poem

 Battle is Not Spectacle It’s a Catastrophe

 

‘Nor did anyone note with care that it was the same island; nor in the night did the Doliones clearly perceive that the heroes were returning; but they deemed that Pelasgian war-men of the Macrians had landed. Therefore they donned their armour and raised their hands against them. And with clashing of ashen spears and shields they fell on each other, like the swift rush of fire which falls on dry brushwood and rears its crest; and the din of battle, terrible and furious, fell upon the people of the Doliones.’

            (from The Argonautica Book 1, trans R. C. Seaton, 1912)

 

 

Blown back by the winds of our making,

they clash with enemies conjured

 

from darkness. Dawn will show bloody

truisms — neighbour slaying neighbour,

 

or people who might have been friends

slaughtering under orders. On the beaches

 

of their imaginations, the dead drift

through the tyrant’s dream — part smog,

 

part oil, part bloody earth, and the strange

intangible nature of torn flesh. War

 

laps at the cold waters of the summer

resorts. Weapons are made to be used.

 

The dying are heard in and around

the cities and people can only lament

 

while still living, streaming away or sheltering

in underground rail stations, masked

 

against the pandemic. The clash — rigor

mortis of empire-craving, and the media’s

 

feeding frenzy, networks embedding

to bring more than images to screens,

 

to frenzy around violence then regret

the cascading losses. And the news

 

that no epic poet could contrive to embellish

the story — the invading army has taken

 

Chernobyl, concrete cradle of unbirth,

monument to spectres that fall across borders,

 

called with impunity and reassurance,

summoned from its eternal sleeplessness,

 

full of self-praise as the reactor core

maintains its rage. And now its makers

 

have it back in their care. Sarcophagus.

Strategies of the exclusion zone. A tree

 

shivers, a bird is dead before it can land,

barely symbolic among seemingly

 

familiar terrain. Terrible. Fell. Furious.

 

 

            John Kinsella

 

 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

In Full Support of Ukraine and Against Violence On EVERY Level

I condemn the invasion of Ukraine by the military forces of the Kremlin and the tyrant Putin. This horrendous abuse of human rights and human dignity is deplorable on every level. As a committed pacifist, I firmly believe that non-violent resistance and protest are the most effective way of countering this abuse of life. Meeting violence with violence will mean more violence, more suffering. Total and utter refusal to do what the militarists demand is, to my mind, the only effective answer. 

I send my support and solidarity to all those in Ukraine who are under attack or under threat. I also send my support to those peace protesters in Russia who face arrest with their every objection and refusal to be part of a tyrant-driven Kremlin agenda of extending power and occupying country in order to enhance imperial obsessions. To the people peacefully resisting this, you are not and never will be forgotten. We are with you.

Taking up arms only means more death and increases the wealth of military profiteers. I am disgusted by Germany breaking its own 'restraints' to supply weapons to the conflict (though this is unsurprising, given Germany is an exporter of arms), and also by Australia for doing the same (also unsurprising, given it's a nation working hard to increase its role and influence in the world armaments trade). This is, of course, part of the increasingly right-wing urges of a right-wing Federal government that aims to project itself into global politics as a 'middle ranking power'. The disgraceful AUKUS pact, the drive for nuclear-powered submarines, the push to make the Australian military 'less woke', and the increasing push for military-related activities in Australian universities, are all part of this. 

The decision to send 'lethal aid' (an oxymoron if ever there was one) to Ukraine is part of the death cultism of right-wingism. The Russian power-elite shares a similar worldview, but with a 'stronger' military behind it. Violence leads to more violence. Send humanitarian aid in every way possible; aid should be life-affirming and not death-making in nature and intent. Peaceful aid will mean the preservation of life. 


Lethal Aid

 

There’s no point even placing

scare quotes around this.

In the frenzy for death to show

resolve where death is,

 

the Australian government

will send its devices of death

into the killzones, will feed

death so when death

 

comes to its end, a supplied

by Australia logo will light

up the graves, a small

if not discreet claim,

 

a reminder of assistance

rendered, of death’s compassion

for death. The invaders

will recognise it as kin

 

to their own way of thinking.

An aid to memory, of aid rendered.

 

 

            John Kinsella

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Forest Raves Are a Severe Threat to Ecologies

Forest Raves Fuck Up The Forest

Forest raves fuck up the forest —

the doof doof annihilation

of the birds barely registered,

 

the minuscule syrinxes, the costumed

feathers, the hyperstimulated skin,

the padded nests you can collapse

 

into exhausted but still willing

to party on, tossing the fledglings

out on the forest floor to be stomped,

 

hands reaching to the canopy

& twilight’s nimbus — a false

friend of freedom, a flattering

 

admirer of the rubbished moon. And

the spreading of cinnamon fungus as you rave

to avoid limitations on venue numbers

 

due to Covid, the imitation of animals

that has no respect or understanding

for the animals imitated, a cultural

 

mocking, the melding with an ecology

which you destroy as effectively as farmers

& mountain bikers. You can doof to this doof.

 

You can crank up the energy consumption.

You can max out on the tools of capitalism.

You can carbonate in full immersion.

 

And so the fire twirlers in dry & heat-stricken

woodlands, & so the off-your-face open air

self-discovery & bonding rituals,

 

& so the mockery of all ancient knowledges,

& so the colonial paradoxes seem to be reset

with every alternative setting, each contra-

 

indication... & so the party at the end of the world

which is dance beats as utility as centres

in which you are the anonymous sole attraction,

 

the contradiction of liberation,

the raving exploitation of nature,

as your forest rave fucks up the forest

 

as you do the work for mining companies,

land developers, dispossessors and pastoralists,

as your forest rave fucks up the forest.

 

 

            John Kinsella

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Counterintuitive Ghazal, 26th January, 2022

If I’ve learnt things askew, it feel it’s not because of bad intentions —

rather, I laud the form and am sad if spirit shifts when I make use of it.

 

On a day of trauma for many, a day of mourning a day of anger

at ill-gotten gains, when there are no platitudes, only pain, I call on it.

 

I call on a form of desire with all ‘erotics’ stripped away because

of the greed of one body over others, because of the chasmic longing in it.

 

Third person singular, I locate those items of ongoing occupation,

and they are all around me and I make use of them as I make recourse to it.

 

I don’t for a moment believe that life can be renewed for the oppressed

from the ‘rotting corpse of the settler’ as violent Frantz Fanon would have it.

 

In fact, I see the artists and poets and singers redressing the wrongs

and bringing repair, knowing the gun was the end of justice and not start of it.

 

But Fanon was right about loss of dignity and hope and ongoing mental illness

wrought by the settlers who played their part and excluded or validated it.

 

I laud this form because of its moments linking to moments, its building

out of longing and despair — in the interconnectedness, each couplet unique in it.

 

I feel the trauma of Karla Dickens’s artwork that antiflags and is forever

more than object — January 26, Day of Mourning — and acknowledge it.

 

I am a flagless person but that doesn’t exonerate me. I feel my bare feet burn

on the ground and know it’s more than a reminder. In my weakness I call on it.

 

 

            John Kinsella


Note: for more on Karla Dickens see this article.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Un-mapping and De-exploration

I have been thinking about Kenneth Slessor's 'Five Visions of Captain Cook' and Philip Mead's 1997 call for a postcolonial reading ('as yet unwritten') of the poem (especially in the context of 'voyager narratives'), and my irregular but committed long-term anti-colonial reading-writing process of trying to un-map and de-explore... to refute colonial narratives in all their forms. This personal undertaking really began with my 'Zimmermann poems' (collected in Poems 1980-1994 — a selection of which are included in the first volume of my Collected Poems due out shortly with UWAP) written in the late 1980s, but which really found its fullest expression in the final version of The Benefaction (1997... and also in the first volume of my Collected Poems), a long poem attempting to undo the deeply disturbing and almost blithe colonial-explorer conquest journals of George Grey. 

In collating some texts in preparation for the next stage of this ongoing task of 'undoing' and 'rereading', I came across this 2017 'poem-text' of mine on William Dampier — an attempt at 'un-mapping' and 'de-exploring'. I will just let it speak for itself (or not... maybe other than noting that the 'a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse' saying is taken from Joseph Ritson, 1793, in primetime English colonialism), but it is another point of reference in a lifelong attempt to challenge and abandon the 'statue' myths of colonialism that still dominate official Australian narratives of 'national identity'... that still inform the 'literary canon', and that are the 'textual' basis for trade, pastoralism, mining, international relations, and the other underpinnings of the business of being 'Australia'....



Un-map De-explore




























'Five Visions of Captain Cook' is not an elegy but a monument in poetry to acts of history that are tapped and re-tapped to validate nation, even where the 'explorations' are tangential or geographically distant (all are focussed through the poet's 'settler' entrenchment), whereas Slessor's great poem of time, 'Five Bells', is an elegy in cascading ways — as 'Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells' is caught in the harbour that serves nation (though the ferries ply back and forth and do not join the trade-routing, they are part of the matrix of colonial presence), he is eternally becoming life-death-memory in the flows of the harbour, and, as such, is incorporated into symbol and functionality of colonial argosy... So do we measure between events as the definition of our being 'part' of history even when we are invisible (or erased). The sense of loss is personal, but also a distress in the act of articulation, of making aesthetic the irony of presence (without ever saying so). So, colonial time (and White Australia Policy time... unsaid but never unwritten in any Australian text of the time) vs. modernist shifts in perceptions of time (alienation of auto-biography etc) —there's an incipience in Slessor, but he's still caught in the voyage and its memorialising. His 'absence' is never as clinical as it might seem, as 'Five Bells' always reminds us. 

Though often interpreted otherwise, I think that the 'chronometer' section of 'Five Visions of Captain Cook' is in fact Slessor's most viable challenge to voyager heroism (which is certainly caught up in), if there is any ‘challenge’ being made at all (ultimately, there probably isn’t). The conflation of irony with 'time' interrupts the inevitability of spatialisation of the poem and of the 'enlightenment' narrative itself (which is, ironically, a conservative affirmation of imperial science consuming/conquest motifs), and consequently the visions collapse. Cook’s demeanour and behaviour (‘snored loudest’) reassures his crew/followers/apologists, but his ‘skill’ and bravado also show the limits of irony (Slessor’s... which is mostly affectionate, if wry) — none of those who suffer from Cook’s legacy will ever feel reassured. Of course, Cook is seen through exteriors in an almost comic way at times, but it's more affection than mockery in its ironising of the 'romantic' pseudo-swashbuckling pop-lit escapades of 'seafaring captains' of 'the period'. The emphasis on the superstitious and magical as opposed to Enlightenment science (exemplified by Joseph Banks) is given Eliot-esque play, but nonetheless reinforces the colonial play (almost hi-jinks). Nature (the sea, the 'kraken', the weather) is the force to be reckoned with and maybe ultimately wins out, but this strains against the modernist urges (and urban organisation) of the poem itself as it shifts modes of telling/imparting 'views' of Cook. This seems to me to be at the core of the modernist crisis of cause and effect, of never being able to escape the politics that informs it, however much misdirected or denied.

Apropos of all the above, I doubt there's a more terrifying piece of glib imperial 'disposability' than Slessor's self-reflective (and reflexive):

'So Cook made choice, so Cook sailed westabout,
So men write poems in Australia.'

80 000 plus years' worth?

    John Kinsella