Tuesday, August 22, 2023

In Support of the African Communities in Tübingen

We wish to express our absolute support for the African community/communities of Tübingen in the face of the racism it has to endure, especially at times of distress and tragedy. Being 'green' (which Tübingen prides itself on being) is meaningless if human rights and respect for humanity aren't part of the equation. For context, see this article in The African Courier.



Lightning touched a clinic

near where the medical helicopter

lands and then it touched the old botanical gardens.


When a young African man was murdered

in the botanical gardens some months ago,

the mayor aligned cause with refugee status.


The dead man was blamed for his own death.

The man stabbed beneath the trees was said

to have been part of a drug syndicate.


The dead man under the trees which in March

were starting to reach towards their summer leaves

wasn’t numbered as a specimen in the arboretum.


In this ‘green city’ there is a failure of alignment

between cause and effect, and the behaviour

of the storm is placed on the behaviour


of others — behaviour, behaviouralism,

meteorology, shifting blame, enclave — a ginkgo

tree was planted for the 200th of the university hospital.



            John Kinsella

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Working with Russell-West-Pavlov

John Kinsella

The collaboration between Russell West-Pavlov and myself has relied on two material actualities: proximity and interstices. These can be geographical — being in Tübingen — or they can be conceptual, an overlapping of ideas and interests. But they are both material in the sense that we configure them as ‘real’ and expect ‘real-time' occurrences. We might occasionally work with abstraction, and I certainly do in making poems, but ultimately our making relies on pragmatic and temporal actuality. 

Proximity might seem to speak for itself, but it doesn’t. Our first shared qualification of ‘proximity’, as opposed to our own individuated notions, came about across the distance — on a link-up between Schull, West Cork and Tübingen Germany. There was a virtual proximity, and also the proximity of thinking and what we hoped might be achieved by sharing ideas and making discrete writings out of this. 

So, collaboration was very much grounded in the dichotomy and paradox of distance and closeness. Apropos of this, when I have been in Tübingen, we find occasions and to meet and talk and walk and ‘congeal’ our ideas. Sometimes this has taken the form of notes, most often of conversation that shares ideals. When our working together was first mooted in 2016, we discussed the possibility of ‘mini essays’, and how they might form interludes to more explorative and discursive making in the greater context. And that’s what happened, I think.

Interstices are where we overlap in thinking, while sometimes holding quite different ways of seeing and interpreting. That necessarily comes through our different life experiences, our different ‘positions’ qua how we do and don’t interface with the world, in conjunction with our strong overlaps in political, ethical and social views. We also share certain experiences in a proximate ways (complex relationships with ‘Australia’, ‘authority’ etc, the rejection of values that inform our gender-ethnic-class statuses and so on), and this combination of difference and similarity creates those interstices from which we write. Our differences are as strong an informant of our sharing textuality as our similarities.

Though we have written at many tangents to our core ‘themes’, the focal points of our work till now have very much been orientated around time and place — both fundamental themes in both our work across the decades. In part, I am sure these interests are what drew us together. Further, a deep respect and interest around issues of the Global South, and resisting the abuses of capital, wealth and privilege, solidified our approach and ‘content’. And a major overlap on the Venn diagram of concerns is the environment in its spatial-temporal vulnerabilities around intactness.

Very often, in writing poems that relate to the foci of our book, I work in the overtly figurative and allusive. So, a poem that seems to be about, say, seeing or hearing a bird, or observing a tree, is also about the issues we tend to talk about between ourselves (via email, video link or in person). Sometimes I focalise a mutual concern/interest in a different way, and reflect over the independent threads that lead us to shared processing or a commonality that also emphasises difference:

Proximity Reciprocities and Contraindications
for RW-P 
This is return. Used so much, by us. Too much?
The meat ants have new volcanoes on their old range
and, to mirror, sugar ants have raised funnels. Click?
That’s taking liberties. Collecting wood, I hear machinery
of hunting, of tree clearing, of breaking up. But weirdly
there’s a certain intactness, even if a bullet pierces.
Membrane. The stench of herbicide on the air. And from
the hefty paddocks of Victoria Plains, the defcon smell
of pesticide. Early stages of crops. Protection. And NuSeed
signs proliferating in contrariness — their barren seed.
In return we measure change: storm damage, erosion — dry 
more than wet. What’s left behind. Inside the house,
compacted but at different points, new and overlapping
and reconvened narratives. Those who’d have us gone
before arriving again, though ‘before’ is as relevant
as the self-seeded rare tree — where did the seed 
come from? Dormant so long? Blow-in? Birdshit, claw, beak? 
Tail of kangaroo. Signs still here — tracks, scats. And ours.

Another type of poem is a response poem to an idea, text or situation that I send to Russell in the hope that it might prompt something back from him. And yet another is in response to something Russel has said or written, or that has arisen from a shared experience. Often those experiences have been based on walks or journeys around Tübingen in which Russell has imparted a piece of knowledge that has fascinated me, and created a potential for proximities and interstices for future response. 

In the case of the following poem, Russell did (I think) include it in something he was working on — a tangent, but also a shared temporality and a placing it in a zone of mutuality. So, separate and overlapping. Ourselves, and a common body of idea-making and intertextuality. Both of us emphatically believe that no one owns ideas, and that ideas proliferate and overlap and are part of a greater body of thought and works that share a concern for ‘rights’, so having these ‘whispers’ of connection are every bit as important as the more overt textual blocks with our name below:

Failed Narratives of Extinct Volcanoes


On the ledge
of the extinct volcano
facing another extinct volcano —
Georgenberg — sore thumb —
alp-life with villages
and factories, small or large
as families: castle keep,
bare-limbed forest
tries to hold its own
in cold rain, not sleet,
as lookout comes home
to roost, real city
below. Rain eases
into mistranslation,
generative phonology
of migration.
Whose ‘spanner
on the works’
makes production
skilled, well-engineered?
Winding down the cone —
Achalm, yes — lathed
mountains higher
or high enough, 
down into
past oaks, word 

And maybe the most common mode for me is when I am working in my own mental space, and observing things far removed from Russell’s physical location and life, and link some thought in the poem with something he has said or we have discussed. So, the poem is about completely different things — e.g. seeing an echidna and watching the films of Stan Brakhage (Russell and I have never discussed cinema, which makes the ‘linkage’ even more interesting to me... and as the poem below is also part of a completely separate series of poems it creates silent links for me that I find generative and hopefully ‘opening out’ for future discussions and interactions):

Liquid Flow of Echidna from Gravel to Grass Bank — Reflecting Stan Brakhage’s The Dante Quartet (1987) While Painting Eye-Images


To roll and sway and merge
is to paint the path and deny
the tracks of pursuit, to crack
paint of script and rise and part,
push aside marbling and viscosity
of dry and wet, to roll uphill
to sway an orthography a writing 
of blur and merge: qualities
of sky and mouse-excavated 
tailings to nose into sense for
termites deeper than old tunnels
the awakening season for flame
to a-priori its ways into traces
of aquifer-augmentation — yes, beneath
hillside eroded; what reptiles
crossed in ascent or insects
with pre-fossil wings, pause
and sample, test and surge
a quartet out of crescent
of declining sun dazzle
in shadow of spines or spikes
or inverted feathers — inside to fly
bodily further in from the body
of valley while remaining so grounded, levitating
despite ‘poor eyesight’ — such misnomers of biology,
such occlusions of echidna-speak 
as close to ground they absorb and muffle 
our vibrations of passing or breathing hard:
shock-absorber psyches framed by
frames of universalised structures of art-speak,
skincells, hair follicles, applique and palette frescoes
of crossing over, of circumventing a branch,
of refreshing trails laid over a range
of terrains so specific you read
‘only’ into the allegories
the metaphors of consequence
for life overlaying their space — add quick light,
add flicker or flash, texture
to hair root and shadow enfilade
cosmos singing interior 
breaking of forms and refolding
to draw into a surface a logography
of constituents for all-time,
shared prognosis, differing
signatures and tellings, 
ends of lines.

And a new one for Russell to respond to, re-process, depart from (‘riff off’), or to leave floating in its own terms of reference... he hasn’t seen this one yet! When we were walking with our sons (Russell sorted the walk), I noticed a log covered in moss that looked animal-like... maybe a massive dog emerging from the side of a ravine. I took photos and pointed it out to Russell, describing what it looked like to me. I said, I will be writing stories about this, and asked him to take a look. As soon as I saw the strange shape, it sparked with ideas and scenarios I have been working with in my recent poetry: the politics of metamorphosis, transition, shifts, mergings... along with my usual concerns for protecting habitats. 

The place was the Seven Mills Forest near Stuttgart, and there is actually a working wood mill near where we entered, and near where I came across this was a hunter’s shooting platform, and that all bothers me. In a way, the animal-plant imagery is a kind of resistance, something beyond the human controls of the area. I did a series of poems and illustrations around the image, but when I got back to where we are staying in Tübingen I immediately wrote what follows. It's not dedicated, and I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of our collaboration when I wrote it, but we were there together, and sometimes such moments can become something else. And in the spirit of metamorphosis, it’s over to you, Russell:

Animal Log Is Cautious But Determined 
These are not qualities of lurk
or weirdness, not cryptic
beyond cryptic colouration,
but its emergence is cautious
and its transition remains
private though it reveals
itself from the bank — moss
hair, wood trunk torso,
branch legs. Hear it speak
over murmur of stream,
hear it deny the hunter
a mortal point of aim.
(April, 2023)

And maybe in writing we might think back to our 2019 walk in the Black Forest and our discussion over its fate... different places, if places in relatively close proximity (especially when compared with my writing of forests near where we live in the Western Australia wheatbelt), across time — one pre-pandemic, one post- (or still during, depending on definitions). One on a short visit from me, and the second at the start of a long stay. Both walks were with Russell as ‘guide’ and facilitator.

With Russ in Neckar Valley: mountain forest walk


The fork feeds back
Up the hill to take
River away from
Its restrictions
Raptor whistle black
Woodpecker call
But without the tap tap
To decode, without
The ratcheting up
To grub the leafless
Beech which holds
Designs on a tolerable
Summer to come,
Of tolerance, specs
Of walkers’ passing
Interest, collective
Breath, body heat
Of Kant’s working out.
(December, 2019)

Or if that doesn’t spark, maybe we can reach back to our conversation around the horror of hunting towers on the edge of fields and forests, and deep in among the trees along the lines of traversal by pigs and deer. I have written many poems around these travesties and manipulations of desire lines, and they have become a focal point for an animal rights campaign involving German forests. What hope do I have? As Russell said on our recent walk, at least you are personally less likely to be shot than in a French forest, to which I glibly and lamentingly asked/replied: Ordnung? 

Here’s one from a walk I just completed... and accompanying the poem is a series of photos taken from deep within the woods which will find their place in the resistance to violence against animals as well as humans, too. This poem refers to an exhibition of Daniel Richter’s paintings I saw the other day: barriers, ‘silent’ guard towers, open and closed zones, and deep ontological and physical threat.



Daniel Richter’s painted towers
survey human lines
of oppression: the watch,
the fence, the zone
of destruction.
The forest is an edge
to escape to or through,
and the forest myths
entangle fate.
The hunting towers
of the forest are not
those towers, and yet
they perform a similar
and equally deadly function.
How you rate an animal
in the schema of persecution,
how qualify rights and history,
will determine your perception,
The lack of critique
resounds with the movements
of swine and deer in the crepuscular
valley. In the folkish fantasy 
of woodsman architecture.
Daniel Richter’s towers
seem to be human lines
of oppression: the watch,
the fence, the zone
of destruction.
(May, 2023)

Now it’s over to Russell, and I am looking forward to where he does and doesn’t go with this, and to what further conversations ensue. And whatever happens, he will take things through proximities and interstices that I will inevitably find surprising and generative! Here's a manifesto of a particular approach to collaborative poetics in medias res.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Ceasefire Poem


For all those suffering from the effects of war. And in solidarity with pacifists/conscientious objectors/anti-war activists so often working under pressure from all 'sides'. It seems almost impossible for those involved in war to see that to oppose war is not to condone the wrongs and tyrannies of an invader or attacker. To hold a position of peace is to oppose all war. To be a pacifist is to believe there is no just position in using violence against violence, and that we need to work at every turn to bring dialogue and ultimately peace. Ceasefire is the only way. The dead are never victors. Freedom of speech is freedom to oppose war. To persecute peace activists is to make war on the very essence of justice itself. The lines above are simple and to the point. I hope they say something of what needs to be said. It seems obvious, but it's clearly not. 

    John Kinsella