Centre for Stories interview

Hello,

Please make yourself a cup of tea and/or coffee and listen to an interview between Robbie Wood and I at the Centre for Stories on the 11th of May 2017.

This interview is the most comprehensive I have been part of to date; discussing walking, poetry, environment, music, ecology and death.

Link here: https://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/groups/Aust-Po/Centre-for-Stories/Quinton-James_Poetry-in-Conversation_Perth_5-11-2017.mp3

Cheers

 

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Oceanman

*A poem from 2001! Not going to ‘edit’ it*

 

 

Finland’s pride: a school of fish fighting the wrath

Of a bears claw. It sat strongly above the rapid

Scooping & swallowing. Frustrated, the red bear

Got a small feed, but not enough for the winter.

 

Dragging herself through the snow, along

Rows & rows of fallen soldiers, she searched

For his hands. Tormenting every torn palm that

Would give him away. My great grandfather was never found.

***

The note with the photo reads:

Juho Aatami Alanko

Born. 24. 12. 1901. Eskola, Finland

Die. 5. 2. 1940. Russian War.

Left Wife Tyyne Lemip;

Children Pentti Ensio.

Olavi Johannes

Liamli Irene

Miala Inker

***

With a pocket of copper & a head of dreams

Olavi, 17, headed for the land of heat &

After deserting a mine, headed west to fish.

‘The Flying Fin’, a 25ft cork, bouncing around.

 

You gave yourself to the sea.

You gave your soul to the ocean &

Knew it better than English. Deep sea

Sunrise, the land calling your return.

 

Every coral lump for hundreds of miles

Hiding crays. I imagine you out there, closer to

The wind than any other human. Your legs made of salt.

Screaming and laughing at storms as if you’ve hit your funny bone.

 

You were the ropes

Foot long crays the norm

Without echo sounders

Envy of all the skippers

***

Well-off and handsome, the call of the land was too strong.

The setting sun; you headed for the pub & drank & drank.

Shouting every man there & a hit with the ladies,

You fell in love like a shot of vodka down your throat.

 

The sea meets the land. Water closing its eyes on the shore,

Tearing away at the sand, hoping to play.

***

Buying a bigger boat & naming

‘El-de’ after you daughters, Elvi and Deanne

From your Abrolhos Island humpy, the jetty stretched out

To the edge of the channel, over the sharks

 

Talk of the war, the old days meeting

The flashest cars, new TV’s; your temper

A drunken storm disgusted with the wardrobes of

Never used make-up, hand-bags & shoes

 

Engrossed by the smell of sea & bait

You became trapped in a pontoon,

The water closed its eyes on the shore for the last time

Saunas of alcohol, a washed out vagabond, laggard green.

***

As a child I remember playing snap on your back porch

Spoiling me with ice cream and soft drinks

It was the first time an adult awoke before me

You gave your self to the sea, Oceanman

 

Underneath the grapevine sitting in dawns golden light

In an air of contemplation and regret

Beside you, we ignored death & you mumbled

Something about the coming day

 

Finnish hindering your speech, my childish mind cursing our connexion

You wanted to tell me something that I wouldn’t understand

Digging up your vege-patch, you showed me the ways of carrots.

***

Coughs of blood vomited your sorrow

A heart attack, you’re pulsating flotsam.

Hundreds of people said goodbye

I didn’t know the words to the funeral prayer

 

& Mistimed the amen. I stood at the foot of your open grave missing something –

I felt that if I jumped in, you’d whisper wisdom to my heart.

 

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Ten Years Gone

10 Years Gone

The troubles began on distant shores,
before you were born, and then you stood
on the brown and cream shag pile
in the hallway of the Mosman Park apartment,
I could see you in the mirror as I brushed my teeth
you had the courage to tell me you loved me
and that was all, the world didn’t end,
cars didn’t break down, your first born son
was in the living room, barely one,
and his mother was loving him, trying to be your number two.

I’ve gone through every cupboard and drawer
tipped all the tubs and shoe boxes on the floor
certain, in some way, I’d written more,
all I found was the dirt track lined with brown-wheat-weeds,
like a bull banksia you high five
the forty-five degree Greenough trees lying down,
path, ditch, cut, path, ditch, cut
the lump in your throat, the boglands
the infinite beach filled with suburbs
your foot stuck in a rabbit warren
and your sons may have been too old
to not have been affected by your absence,
that’s the synapse that says one more drink, just one more toke, one more drag.

When I climbed Mt Ventoux, Mt Rintoul, Mt Cooke,
climbed to temple number twelve,
anywhere the body wanted discomfort to cease,
the thought of you arose,
not in a I’m doing this for you sense,
no, more of you would love this shit, you arsehole,
and I also questioned why the person who I had spent
a third of my life with still said I was a mystery to her,
why all conditions lead to cessation,
and why we need to make more of an effort to use the gifts you left;
the bees have taken over a whole room
of Gary’s house, there’s enough honey to fill a Kombi:

Do you know that tomorrow
is the ten year anniversary
of your suicide; when I wake up
I shall wish you every happiness.

Strip Mining Song

Which key should we sing in?

They’re not listening, John,

no one wants to hear us sing,

the alternative register strategy

hasn’t worked, has fallen on deaf ears,

swooned as the wandoos timbered

and the stage lights were flicked off.

 

By headtorch I sing to you, John

pushing thighs and knees

through xanthorea and zamia leaves,

they’re groping, ears pricked

this pragmatism those billions seem to have,

but not us, no one is listening

the low rumble above the echoing frogs

that’s the tune the piper plays,

the reversing excavator tooting

in the glow of ALCOA’s Huntly operation,

snotty-gobble and dryandra

glow white in the headlamp halation

as I make out, barely, a trail,

a darkened, flattened track

in the controlled burn forest

where no animals live anymore

and I can sing as-out-of-key-as-I-wish

and no one is there to ask:

which register are you coming from?

 

Pellucid stars, please, please

chart some kind of direction,

Canning Hut to White Horse Hills Hut,

walking seventy six k’s, sixteen hours

for John, whose soul is lashing out,

the feet discoloured, bleed:

nature is a language can’t you read?

 

 

 

Clearing Occasions the Fox

The quick brown fox kicks the keyboard,
assesses the noon-tide of rampant roadside clearing,
in the glare, sunglasses-less we stare at one another,
diphthongs pondering the great CAT,
the grader and the excavator, half cut off by topography,
just the cabin visible, driver-less, full of fox fear
as she assesses me, the mounds of fallen trees,
in no-man’s-land, singed by the sun, on the way to Wandering,
counter-to-my-understanding-of-how-foxes-act,
a typo, she shouldn’t be this exposed
as she stands still, searches my soul for a weapon,
as a father commiserates having another fuckin daughter,
the charred fields crenelate in the background,
the gum trees populated with children’s fantasies
and the entire landscape disturbed by thought-foxes,
the transfiguration of culls, those damn trees killing car drivers.

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The One

I was on Queen Street, Walyalup, eavesdropping philosophers

with their gyrating index fingers, their circle of life gestures

when the time had come, was as overdue as I was hesitant,

to witness the damage, to see what The One had done.

 

All my friends remained, protecting Beeliar wetlands

while I took my backpack and vanished, cross-crossing

Te Araroa rivers and mountains, as The One tore Tuarts into tiny pieces,

and ‘the other one’ fell to the ballot box.

 

From overseas, I knew the areas being bulldozed,

I’d seen the footage, the photos, and I read the reports

of southern bandicoots skulls being crushed

beyond the vets skill; I knew polysituated distress.

 

My friends were being pepper sprayed, pinned down and cuffed,

threatened with tasers, arms twisted behind their backs

laughed at for their views, subjected to background checks,

while the police took glee in their repression.

 

Ropable, strapped to a mind mast, violent fantasies

played out through my feet, and streams teased out my rancour,

as I was traumatised by my own indignation; the violence

kept cropping up, kept pace with The Ones deathly indifference:

 

The One comes, as two tawny frogmouths take to the air.

In all cases The One and I face off, in a clearing

the bucket’s jagged bottom lip thuds into my chest

then drags my bloodied body in the dust.

 

I ignore the hits and pretend they do not hurt. I smile even.

When The One tries to attack again— I stand my ground

and give The One an ultimatum, I say: you have two choices,

you either doze off, and we move on, forgiven,

 

or you try to rip out that casuarina and you will burn

from the inside, sweet sugar in your tank as the green rises

like a rash on your yellow paint. You, The One, hear me,

you have no idea of my rage, of my burning flesh about to explode.

 

 

As I walked on Stock Road I was thinking of still borns

and saw the footbridge where banners were dropped

the odd seven hundred year old balga shaking the breeze

near the temporary fences orange ballasts, nuytsia floribunda-flower coloured

 

Their plastic presence a different kind of parasite

sucking the emptiness into the whirlpool, dotting the boundary

like medical sensors, this land, comatose,

on life support, defying the philosophers gestures.

 

Do you really think she’ll pull through? I hear the singer ask.

The repairs appear plausible

where you can rationalise, where a linearity exists; topographic

as piles of pulp snake up the aperture

 

burning the grey sand, our leached soil

where Mainroads contractors do donuts

across The Ones ribbed prints

where I wish the finger deep chevrons to pointed to a conclusion

 

and the baby cycads unfurling like hand puppets

represent actors in a non-apocalyptic script—

where there are no borders,

where there’s interconnectedness, where the water runs clear.

 

Beside Forrest Road, tribute to our Premier’s legacy,

What’s left are the remnants of that planners doodle

road after road, doubling up traffic hallways

the duplicates, as if building roads was like stamp collecting,

 

Triples, quadruples, off-ramps, cars and trucks

Bumper to bumper to bumper to bumper

Taking us to witness the natural disaster we’ve created

To see the snow before our fumes melt our brains.

 

I was walking on the footpath that leads to Provincial Mews

Where there’s a sign that says keep fence up to protect regrowth,

when something metaphysical, an in my bones feeling

cropped up, a thought from ‘who knows where’:

 

This is where they were really tested,

where the kings men had their doubts, this place marks a time

when they knew they had lost, that The One,

had become self-referential, powerless and obsolete.

 

Then I saw the raven’s ice age eyes, the sky is not as blue,

and a hair comb lying in the dirt, and I expected to be yelled at

I expected the police state, with their uniforms

to be here, protecting the The One from the protectors,

 

I expected to see Uncle Ben giving a hoi to supportive drivers,

fist pumping the air, I expected the intolerable heat burning

our disillusioned faces, I expected tears, but not that many,

as the force of the struggle started to drift, departed without saying goodbye.

 

On the western end of Malvolio where so many were arrested

And the poems were read to the police, and the guards shat in the bush

where Neville and I handed out the asbestos fliers, I ran into Colin,

who’s court trial is coming up, going for a spin on his pushy,

 

‘MainRoads have been in there today’, he said, ‘doing burn-outs’,

Bogged, no traction, the contours now exposed,

the tyres half submerged, and the gum nuts

bitten by parrots, and the banksia husks sucked dry by bull ants.

 

This is where?—what? What? Where is this?

This craziness summarised in adjectives—

after seeing the blue tarp over the lame horse

someone says it’s not that bad, the native wisteria lurching mulch-pile-ward

 

Bungle Bungle-like, the brown cones hang from invisible wires

This is where we had to deceive the guards,

and run through to assess the damage

This is where the fence is tessellated with cotton string,

 

the paper love hearts long gone.

This is where the woody pears flowered for their last time,

As if they knew it was their last time.

This is where we used to walk freely, before the fences went up

 

and now, after The One smote the thin wedge of bush, smote us,

we can walk freely once more and find the place unrecognisable,

alien, like someone who went missing, and returned decades later

and only someone like Sally had never forgotten.

 

This is where eleven hundred of us smashed down the fence

and took the power back for an hour— Yes, we were a headache.

Yes. And then the peons marched single file up the runway

to listen to Jesse and Ewan sing Ro-oe Eight, Whi-ite El-le-phant.

 

This is where the attack dogs forced us back, while Jacinta

climbed a giant marginata, and I wish we carried the dying trees

to the perimeter, where the contractors felt the fallen

had no use, and the mulcher could not reach their bark.

 

This is where Shona got too big for her own boots

and they arrested her by deception, and she learnt the art of deception.

This is where John read The Bulldozer Poem

and Piers made videos and dust entered their lungs, and they lost their voices.

 

This is where Liz came to see what the fuss was about,

to be puzzled by Steve, and Doug and my apparent emotionlessness,

at our drought stricken tear ducts, as The One

gasped when in reverse then ripped out banksia after banksia.

 

This is where the razor wire and generators were set up

and the floodlights were pointed at Diedre and she told

everyone enough was enough, for the tenth time.

This is where Kate and Kim chatted while Ted was up a tree.

 

This is where the wattle birds’ chook-like guffaw rattles

and MainRoads were a presumptuous—

laying a limestone driveway so The One could enter and exit

where a magpie squadron, untouchable now, pick at the track.

 

This is where Wazza was given a move on notice,

After he asserted his right to protect his culture

With the spirit of his ancestors Wazza spoke from his heart

And with the spirit of his ancestors Wazza spoke from his heart.

 

This is where The One smote the feet of Emma’s friend,

before she striped and held them off with her nakedness.

This is where Chris was carted off horizontal

His arms gripped by the cops, his resolve never tested.

 

This is where the Police State threatened to knee cap me

and now my revenge phantoms return, and The One

and I face off once more, but the skirmish is interrupted

by half a dozen red tail black cockatoos taken on the breeze.

 

This is where black hessian used to trap animals flaps freely

and the balga rise rhizomatic—

their resilience tested again, as if this were just another day,

just another mimicry for us to take cues from.

 

This is where Pheobe, the candlestick banksia carrier,

held the torch, clipboard under her arm, gave me her number,

and told me to call her if The One arrived, and as

as she paced up the rust-red pathway, I lost that number.

 

This where Dodgy Steve was arrested as I hugged Caroline,

in the high yellow weeds, and said goodbye, and she yelled

over my shoulder at The One, at the uniforms: we don’t own this land,

we’re looking after it until the real owners return.

 

I run into Colin again, he says three days after the election

there were people wandering around everywhere, now there’s hardly a soul.

Yet when I close my eyes, I can see the footprints,

the cautious steps of those readjusting,

 

letting the monitors and snakes slither across their feet,

letting the sub-soil pulse up through their ankles,

mycelium shapes throbbing in their skin. I cannot see The One.

I once thought I was attracted to nature because it had no opinion of me,

 

Yet this is the place, this is where I was on trial, and the land spoke.

I do not belong here, I will never be able to call this country home.

But I do have the authority to stop those who seek to destroy.

This is where The One’s finger deep chevrons direct me now.

 

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Featured image and above image by Colin Leonhardt: http://www.BirdseyeViewPhotography.com.au

The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry

Was lucky enough to have two poems (Little River, and Ode to C.Y. O’Connor) included in The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry.

The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry is a comprehensive survey of the state’s poets from the 19th century to today.

Featuring work from 134 poets, and including the work of many WA Indigenous poets, this watershed anthology brings together the poems that have contributed to and defined the ways that Western Australians see themselves.

 

 

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring

A pearl has no meaning to the pig, says South Korean director and writer Kim Ki Duk. His 2002 film Spring Summer Autumn Winter …and Spring is an anecdotal portrayal of time. Phrases, movements, events and conflicts circle back on themselves. People are shown as unwitting participants in a world with its own logic. Buddhist and mystic symbolism underpin and overlay the action. We learn about the characters through their actions, not what they say. The film requires little dialogue to convey its meaning.

In the opening sequence a young boy teases a frog, a snake and fish by tying a rock to them. The little creatures struggle. His grandfather – we can only assume they’re related – watches the kid torture the animals. That night while the kid is asleep the grandfather ties a rock to the boy. When he wakes up he’s distressed and is told the rock can be removed once he has seen to it that the rock is removed from the frog, snake and fish. If, by this time, any of the creatures have died then the boy will live with this burden. The boy drags the rock around the great lagoon where they live. The frog is alive. The Fish is alive. The snake has died overnight. The boy is distraught. The boy has a heavy heart.

If the grandfather had not disciplined the boy then we can assume he would have continued on in life thinking torturing animals was okay. We have seen already that it is in the boys nature to be cruel. Discipline is a way of altering that nature.

Later on in the film, the grandfather paints the heart sutra on the deck of the house that floats on the lagoon. The young boy, now a man, has returned, a fugitive after having fled the home with a girl who was visiting. Viewers do not witness this, but the young man murdered the woman one night when she sleeps with another man. The boy returns home and when detectives find him the grandfather requests that before he leaves the boy carve out the heart sutra with a knife.

The rationale of the film dictates the Buddhists wishes are respected and the detectives wait all day until the boy has finished carving. Only then can the boy begin healing his heavy heart, that began with the murder of the snake, some fifteen years before the murder of the woman. The return of the heart motif shows that the master played a small part in the boys downfall. As Phillip Larkin wrote: Your parents, they fuck you up, even if they don’t mean to, they do.