Thursday, March 17, 2022

All Refugees Are Refugees




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



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