Friday, October 28, 2022

Statement Against Racism in Western Australia

 Racism in Western Australia

 

The murder of a Noongar teenager by an assailant said to have been uttering racial abuse as he attacked is horrifically and sadly part of a broader issue of racism in Western Australia that needs addressing on every level until it stops. This is an overt example of hate and its consequences, but for many Aboriginal people, and a significant number of non-white Western Australians, the spectre of racism is evident in many said and unsaid ways.

 

My entire life has been witness to racism perpetrated by smug, self-satisfied bigots who declare they are not racist when they are, and particularly when I was in my youth, by overt racists. For many years my associates and I spent our time removing racist posters and protesting against organisations such as the ANM white supremacists which had such a foothold in Perth and WA in general.

 

But it was really the school ground where I first saw racism towards Aboriginal kids first-hand. A lot of it was driven by ignorance and regurgitation of parental attitudes, for sure, but there was also a gross materialism underpinning much of it — a fear that these kids might actually have a connection to land beyond their own connection. There was an anxiety and doubt that led to abuse and put-downs.

 

Another tragic thing about such 'certainty' of colonial 'belonging' centred around migrant kids who had just arrived, who also copped bigotry because they ‘didn’t belong’. So there were those who weren’t allowed to belong, and those whose belonging stretched back tens of thousands of years were considered to belong too much.

 

The root causes of these issues are varied, but one in particular is the core narrative of colonialism itself. Colonialism isn’t migration. Colonialism is a system of violent occupation, theft and exclusion, and systematising of this occupation through generations and into any imagined future. Colonialism is what we live under in Australian still — the ‘state’ itself, but also private companies that replicate exploitative ‘trickle/flow up’ models of wealth.

 

How can Aboriginal people in Western Australia feel safe and secure in love of their land, in their deep connections, with mining companies and government agencies over-riding their belonging? It’s their country. Hate projected by ‘whites’ (or those who proudly identify as such — why anyone would, other than to own up to a sad truth, is beyond me) is very much tied up with control of property, goods and ‘ownership’. Even those ‘whites’ who are impoverished still function within a discourse that places their colonial ‘rights’ above all others. It’s a false idea of ‘first’ and ‘entitlement’ that often brings disturbing anger and resentment. The system makes racists. The colonial subtext is violence. This is not to exonerate individuals, but to say there is a broader responsibility in this.

 

I can scarcely begin to comprehend the pain that the family and community affected by such an act of brutality can be experiencing. I can only extend my condolences and love and support and best wishes, and hope that speaking out by many can bring change. This is a racist place and the racism/hate needs to stop. It can be stopped by ALL implicated in colonial society standing up and being held accountable. I honour the memory of the deceased and extend my hand to all those who suffer racism in any form.

 

            John Kinsella

Thursday, October 27, 2022

On Scott-Patrick Mitchell's Poetry Collection Clean

 Launch Speech for Scott-Patrick Mitchell’s Clean

 

            by John Kinsella

 

I first met Scott-Patrick during a workshop I was giving in 2006. Well, that’s true and not true. I had read their work as part of the pre-entry submissions and had been astounded at the freshness and verve of the work — that its language seemed so alive and yet had something haunting about it as well. But I had encountered their work prior to this as part of the ‘world-building’ Interactive Geographies project for Poetryetc listserv back in the late 90s. As that project was made of so many voices, I hadn’t separated any one voice off in particular. Texts were offered and absorbed into a kind of polyvalent rhizome and the whole work pulsated with many lives, many places.

 

At a tangent to this, one of the many interesting and even exciting things that came with a first reading of Scott-Patrick’s book Clean was to encounter who they’d been in the sharing of their voice with the many, and to see it reworked into the language of the city it geographised. In Clean (Upswell, 2022), Scott-Patrick’s ‘interactive geography’ moment becomes part of a personal synthesis, part of the thesis/anti-thesis sub-structure of this remarkable work of addiction and recovery. Boorloo/Perth in the context of an ongoing journey that came close to consuming and even destroying the poet.

 

So, in a vicarious kind of way, I realised that I had in fact ‘known’ them for much longer than I’d been fully aware, and apropos of this, that I needed to question what it is that suggests we might know someone in the first place. We can never know anyone completely, and Scott-Patrick’s poems also show us that we spend our lives trying to know ourselves.

 

These reflections came from a first encounter with Clean and intensified as I reread the three sections of a book that gathers into a life. The many levels of affect the poet engages us through are compelling, troubling, addictive and in the end, liberating — personally, and also collectively as people implicated both in the very place of writing, the city it is being launched in, and in our embodiment of the poems as readers. We, the readers and hearers of this remarkable collection, are constantly asking ourselves what we should and shouldn’t do, where we might and might not appear, and where we should or shouldn’t fuse our own experiences through what is mapped and unmapped. This is an act of immersing ourselves in a life, and in a city — an act that carries responsibilities.

 

I want to say something about the nature of addiction which, I feel, my twenty-seven years of sobriety, of being ‘clean’, have suggested to me — that an addict never stops being an addict, and that if we are able to channel our addictions into generative and healing actions, that mark(er) of our lives can improve rather than destroy them. Further, it means we can hopefully bring joy and support to other people’s lives rather than damage or even destroy them, too.

 

In the poem ‘Reworking slurs I was called from when I was using’,  Scott-Patrick makes use of expressions of contempt meted out by non-addicts towards addicts which I could strongly identify with — they flip them linguistically of course, and there’s a harsh reflection to be cast back on the social condition delivering them, but ultimately the responsibility comes back to the addict, and the poet — “DO US ALL A FAVOUR AND (graft saplings/to rock face/at the edges/of the compass)’. This is a tough equation that doesn’t map onto any other personal-social dynamic. It’s also a brilliant fusing of rhetoric in the form of insult, and figurative slippage into a layered perception of being, of quiddity.

 

Society’s bigotry is never acceptable, and normative ways of controlling difference are always damaging, always, to my mind, wrong. Witness Scott-Patrick’s superb ‘This Is Not a Manifesto’ in which they begin: ‘Because I am still manifesting. At the age of/ 42, my gender identity is more fluid than ever’ Inside, I am aqueous...’, which many of us in different ways will either identify with or understand. The ultimate beauty and generosity of this poem is exemplified by these words near the end: ‘Until then, weep at the bravery of/ those who are younger, so much more certain/ of how to speak uncertain’.

 

I’d like to riff off the issue of ‘beauty’ in Scott-Patrick’s work. Beauty is lost in the grimmest and sludgiest moments of the early section of the book, ‘Dirty’, and this lack of beauty creates a ghostly residue, a haunting that grows with sobriety. The haunting is complex — it is both the loss of self that comes with addiction, but it’s also the loss of the world addiction brings. It’s the grimness of scraping up stuff to feed addiction and it’s the anti-performance of getting through the day and the night and the day. Being clean is remembering what it was like not being clean. But beauty is always somewhere to be found, and as the book ‘journeys’, the nature of this potential beauty shifts focus.

 

Inhabiting a city empirically and also inhabiting it conceptually as Scott-Patrick does, doesn’t conceptually (and maybe even physically) mean the same city. The city seen through the heightened, expectant or dulled senses of the addict is very different from the city seen while ‘clean’, and, even more so, through the stages of getting clean. It’s hard to shake the residues of the addict city, and they have to be reinvented, rewritten as a part of seeing it fresh.

 

It took me years to return to inner-city ‘Perth’/Boorloo... I could not walk past certain hotels, nightclubs and doors that went up to Northbridge rooms without feeling ill. Scott-Patrick has remained in the city, and has rewritten their relationship to it, adding to their world and all our worlds. Consider the poem in ‘Dirty’, ‘This Town’, that goes: ‘Funny how this drug is anything but chill. A storm rolls into curtains, threatening to arrive. It never does. At least, not in the sky.’’ The travel through to ‘Ghost City’ of the ‘Clean’ section near the end of the book: ‘Bird song fills the void/ where once fumes coiled: each squall and call/ amplified off these walls.’ Bird song is beauty.

 

Now, the irony remains, as does the ‘street-smart’ locution that is steeply immersed in figurative perception, but there’s a shift in register. The ghost city is the city of addiction, and it haunts, but it is something distinctly different. It is better than the fumes of the pipe, even if the city throws up other pollutions. And the growing urge across the collection towards environmental positions takes up this haunting: an addict pollutes their own body, and society pollutes the planet. What is the difference? We can hopefully cure our addictions; we can hopefully cure pollution.

 

It’s a simple equation on one level, and the most profoundly difficult on another. Oh, it’s not coincidental that I have quoted from prose poems — these are magnificent and tonally inventive examples of the form, and tell stories as well as create intense lyrical and anti-lyrical contestations as ‘poems’. Scott-Patrick has always been a unique wielder and breaker of the line in poetry, and compacts a mythology and satire into a love poem, into a poem of connecting and disconnecting with others, in profound love poems, but their prose poems complement those dynamically lineated poems, and work as a major counterpoint in this book. The middle section’s ‘The Sleep Deprivation Diaries’ sequence shows the prose line at work (day by day) with electric poetic sensibility, and the erasures and breakdowns of lines contest sentences which only healthy sleep can bring — which the addict never really attains, and the recovering addict struggles after.

 

This book is full of confronting images and situations, and also full of hope. It has to be. There’s an essential dialogue that goes on with the mother, that has its inevitable pain and grief, especially come out of loving an addict, and the earth’s pain is elided with her own because of her generosity of spirit. It’s an interaction of sublimated wit — linguistically generative, compassionate, sharing, knowing, respectful, sensitive, tolerant and sometimes difficult. It’s one of the book’s complex beauties.

 

As is the increasing presence and engagement with the natural world, even if it’s as harried rural foxes or crows picking a living in city streets. Flowers appear and have quiddityIn the end, the book has a positive ectoplasm in the haunting that the poet carries with them through the many-layered city.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

How Not To Be An Activist

I am appalled at this effort to bring attention to the horror of the oil industry, a truly worthy focus of activism. But violating the artwork of Van Gogh who suffered to much in his life and received little financial 'benefit' from his visionary art is a contradiction in terms. 

That capitalism's art marketeering has made a mockery of his vision(s) is a terrible fact, but a work on public display that brings the hope of consideration and contemplation is worth more than a can of soup thrown over it. To say that the 'activists' and their campaign choose 'life over art' is fatuous — art is part of life, unless they are denying all culture and disrespecting all that this might entail. To say: 'Human creativity and brilliance is on show in this gallery, yet our heritage is being destroyed by our Government’s failure to act on the climate and cost of living crisis.' I might add that painting in truth has nothing to do with their government (beyond 'ownership' which is a meaningless 'quality).

'Heritage' is misused in their statement, or there is little understanding of its myriad complexities, and the photo op speaks significantly of advertising a 'moment' in itself. This 'spectacle' is not d├ętournement but an act of hype-group speak that does little to serve any cause. The t-shirts (provenance?), the posing (consider the implications of the phone and its support systems and the fossil fuels it consumes.... and the nuclear fuel!), the choice of soup (additives... did it contain any animal by-products... ? all relevant considerations), the demeaning of one of the purposes of 'human endeavour' — creativity — make this 'life' a very lopsided thing. 

Whose life? I guess their life. In all these things cause and effect have to be weighed up and the potential for hypocrisy considered. Sometimes there's no avoiding a certain amount of contradiction 'in order' to make a major and urgently necessary point, but it always needs minimising. Reduce, not maximise the hypocrisy. 

These 'activists' have 'targeted' their protest at such a tangent, the act becomes, indeed, that very spectacle without emotional or ethical resonance — it is about them, and about their campaign, and about their collective 'thinking' made into the moment. To have done the same thing against a piece of imperial propaganda, or a work celebrating capitalism and environmental destruction, would have been a very different act (at least... though, in reality, it would also be an act of violence), but instead they chose an image that represents the complexity of hope under duress, of the paradox of joy in life when the flowers are in essence dying in the vase. It's a popular and very famous image, so they went for it — buying into the capitalist promo handbook and fetishising it as product.

But in 'targeting' (a military act) one of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' paintings, they demeaned the hope and also 'distress' the image purveys, and also the depth of its insight re the condition of human celebration and admiration of beauty: it's a picture with more questioning than is often realised. 

Activists should surely always be asking how best to reduce MY/OUR impact on the planet. In the same way that to stop the sale of a luxury car is different from stopping an ambulance, both fed with oil products (as fuel and in plastics etc.), so is being activist in the street to stop the tyranny of oil as opposed to wrecking an 'oil' painting that was not created to fuel the capitalist state and its warlike appendages. Art is part of life in all cultures, across many heritages. Social media is exhausting the world — energy that runs it comes from somewhere, people, and the hardware relies on the destruction of much of the world. Is this blog entry worth it? Maybe. Maybe not.


    John Kinsella