Found this site today – books on the blockchain. Before you roll your eyes, this blockchain payment system is applicable to established ‘traditional’ publishers too.
Click the picture to find out more.
Is that the bird? Yes that’s the bird who calls.
Who knows your face, and shoots the kid,
her parents behind the speared, dumbfounded and bleating
who never answered the mimicry, wonder why?
And now, childless, were saving up stories
or calls in fifths, or 2:45 am trills, or, or, or
the ladies’ polished bow and arrow, crossbow —
at one with her weapon, poised for fireside footage.
Or the foot verruca that crush ant abdomens;
an accident the journo missed, but a smugness
she hammed up, made much of their nomadism
and whose Guardian editor spoke obliquely of directness.
She, knowing archery, kissed the pulled string
And nearly cried when what she planned transpired.
On page 63 of The Wound we read: “A language as inarticulate as struggle for voice in the poem.” This is an unexpected line from the greatest poet ‘Australia’ has germinated. My biased opinion of course, but an opinion I’ve held for a few decades, and an opinion that has galvanised year on year. Kinsella is ‘Australia’s greatest poet’, not because Kinsella doesn’t just write great poetry, he lives poetically. By that I mean he is as thirsty to understand the universe as he is to fight for universal struggles. He does more for poetry than he writes poetry, and he is more prolific at publishing than Peter Dutton is a racist fascist.
In this context I’m left to ask myself if the line about finding voice is perhaps false modesty? Well, who hasn’t sat on the freezing cold porcelain after forgetting to lower the toilet seat in the middle of the night? Yes, even the greatest have false starts, hiccups and doubt. These days Kinsella is as comfortable with his dickheadness as he is with his apparent self-righteousness.
In the introduction (yes there is an introduction, thank fuck) to The Wound, Kinsella highlights two kinds of wounds that drive the collection. The literal wound, which is the violence inflicted by humans on other humans, animals, and the environment. And the ‘conversational’ Wound that is a response to the literal wound. Kinsella believes that poetry is a pacifist solution to the injustices that he sees going on in the world. The Wound is post-attack, pre-rehab and pre-scar, if you will, and the poems seek to explore that specific time period.
He uses the works of Build Suibhne and Friedrich Holderlin to facilitate his “pacifist response to conflict”. I must admit that I have not consulted those works for this initial review. I’m sure scholars and fans of Kinsella will find the cross-referencing fruitful. His open relationship to past poets reveals an intense desire to make make poetry relevant, to show that if he can be moved by poetry then you might be too.
Kinsella is fond of writing poems and collections after other writers, and especially poets. This strategy provides a sense of tradition and history to his works, but it also enables a lens from which we can survey the past through the perspective of a living poet. The appeal to, and translation of older works sparks an interest in those works, and the context in which those works were created.
Kinsella stresses that “I am not Sweeney … he is a bestiary.”(pg10) This is true, as throughout the first book the poet does refer to Sweeney in the third person. Compounding this idea, the titles are action descriptors of the poems, not semantic abstractions of the feel of the poem. Nevertheless, the Sweeney trope does provide the poet with a kind of freedom, an alternate-eye-perspective on the events that are witnessed, so he can test his ideas against a Middle Irish Romance and use that as a sounding board for his morality and art. The Sweeney conceit provides a fluidity, and lightness and airiness to the narratological aspect of the poems. The ornithological alter-ego can fly across the landscape and survey The Wound. In this sense the ‘I’ of the poems co-habitates the bestiary. Check out ‘Sweeney the Vegan’ for a fine example.
The events and their places are multivariate. Having read through the book a few times, I think it’s safe to say the first book is preoccupied with activism, and the second book entertains a metaphysical detachment to place, bordering on spiritualism. Given the two books are in conversation, we can then also assume a dialogue between the activist first book and the cosmological second. We can then assume that they inform one another. For to share in a certain cosmology implies a shared view of the world, and hence, a shared form of activism even in the most subtle behaviour. Be it the products we buy, the jobs we refuse, how we choose to live and so on. You don’t have to be on the barricades to be active.
Having had some exposure to the period in which some of these poems were written – particularly the Roe8 protest poems, I have experienced the way in which Kinsella builds his poetics: a belief that the small gesture of the gift of poetry, if given the space to gestate, can and will connect the past and the future in important, significant, ways. Ways that cannot be usurped by any outside influence:
Claim the glory of a grey wagtail – yellow bird –
So rare in winter even twitchers
Will say ‘mis-sighting’, ‘missattribution’,
When you know you’re right.
Accept the wisdom of the two-pot
Screamers, welcome the blowback,
‘Or worse’, a foreigner – accept ex-
Communication from entire townlands.
The poems speak from the outside, trying to find a centre. The centre is facilitated in the freedom found in playing with imagery. Freedom in creating for yourself. The concerns are repeated and emerge in different contexts from different events. The patterns are evident, yet resist systemisation, though they do not shun the possibility of systemisation. The key is to preserve the poetic voice as an act of resistance, to hell with concealing process:
Refuge is the key. Refuge is where
no creature will be killed by us for flesh
but will make its own way – fences down
and passages no rite de passage condescended by us.
Almost three decades have passed.
I have learnt not to proselytise, and this
song is not a commandment. My song
is still a lament, and I perch high
on the old York gum that lost a limb
in the last storm – I hear the owl
homing in on its prey, and have nothing
to say against its way, knowing it’s not my way.
You will not feel ripped off or jaded by any of these poems, they all stand on their own, and the Arc Publication editors fine tune Kinsella’s mastery of language. Every poem has taken time and wisdom to reach an apex, to consolidate a passage – and I challenge all those who winge that Kinsella haphazardly publishes everything he writes to prove there’s a dud in this collection. When you read a lot of Kinsella’s reviewers, you get the sense that publishing too much poetry was a bad thing in the first place. As if drawing attention to injustice through art was and/or is a bigger deal than actively working to stop those injustices in the first place.
Arguments about aesthetics are a waste of effort if you agree we as a species are headed down the wrong path, that we are creating a worse world for future generations. The Wound, in any case, is a triumph of both aesthetics and proclamation, and if I sound like I am defending Kinsella for his approach, I am. If you’re more worried about the sustainability of your literary journal than you are about the sustainability of anthropogenic pressure on the environment, your wires are crossed. We can do both, I hear you respond. Are you doing both? I must ask. The Wound asks:
Listen, says the hermit, Hear the vanishing call of the vanishing
Quail-thrush, hear the dogger’s vehicle come back from his killings,
Hear the deceased dingos calling the moon down to the treeless
Horizon. You are haunted, the hermit says, You are haunted
By the toxins falling from the mouths of demagogues – angry
Whites who cherish the idea of DNA, swilling from chalices
Of pure hate, rallying around their flags gifted to them by the warfare
Of their ancestors. You are haunted by the chiasmus of the pass rising and falling – plain to plain – at sunset, the Major Mitchells
Coming in to find a stand of trees on the burning edge, bound down
By the renaming they’ve had imposed on their own language,
and on the language of those they’ve coexisted with for so very long.
As you read these poems, and if you get into them, you might feel a call to arms, a shared sense of released frustration. Yet you might not know what to do with that frustration. You might not feel that the injustices that Kinsella sees are the same injustices that you see. The thing with Kinsella’s art is, he doesn’t let you off the hook. This is not a Roger Waters’ concert. You don’t get to go home having felt like you’ve done your bit.
I was reading the collection on the train from Perth to Fremantle, stopping between each poem to look out the window, at people, and to check my phone. When I got off the train there were about ten cops with a search dog looking for people with drugs, I’m assuming. Their presence at the station was enough to make me uneasy. A cynic, I was questioning their strategy: at 10am who were they going to catch? I recognised one of the cops from the Roe8 protests. And I was quickly reminded of that ordeal. Everyday citizens at loggerheads with the executive because of a bloodyminded and vengeful legislature:
Sweeney Contemplates a Display of Force by the Police State
Distant now, and working out how to make a return, how
the wetlands and detrack the machines, Sweeney flew low
through the rain
of grasshoppers rising up from the denuded plains, late crops
their seed onto the scorched earth. I will return to the coastal plain,
said Sweeney loud to the parrots, loud to the crows, loud to
snakes, loud to the grasshoppers. I will stand with the
the troops of the dictator, against the builder of stadia and
uncouth mates. I will stand against their class pretensions,
sporting codes which read a little like the bishop leading an army
against the heathen. I am a heathen, Sweeney told the blue sky
stretched to breaking point; I am old as the earth but can’t
on the outstretched branch of a York gum without feeling
guilt. But I will fly
down to the marri, to the blackbutt, to the banksia, to the
zamias and grass
trees and ask if I might perch temporarily, temporarily to
the souls of those who dwell there, who know the stories,
constellations with earth itself, who can unpick the codes,
of growth, schematics of belonging. Red-tailed black cockatoo
will guide me in, give me strength. I will ask to join the lines,
my ancient tongue of respect. I will tell the police they must
to the ground through their feet, must listen to the whispering
coming out of the bush where there are as many worlds
as night reveals, spreading its sheet, a future unfurled.
If I were to make one criticism it would be that some of the endings, for me, are ambiguous and therefore detract from the viscerality (is that a word? Let’s make it a word) that makes the poems hypnotic and powerful. But I’m just being picky to pretend to be balanced. This is a serious review after all, and my ‘career’ as a poet depends on my reviews.
I’ve always liked the poems of Kinsella’s where he’s up to something, where the poetic ‘I’ is acting in the world, be it building rock cairns or throwing a rock to decide where to plant saplings. They make me feel like I’m there:
The woods are closed
till February the eighteenth,
being private woods.
With too much in me,
I want to get between
even the bare trees,
even where there are ixodidae
that spread Lyme disease.
I will be wary, and bare
little skin. I do not want
to attract or disturb ticks.
And it is not ’tick fever season’.
I will have a better chance
in this demi-cold. I’ll be out
of the cycle. Freelance.
We know we are not in Australia. Australia doesn’t have woods, and they don’t get ‘closed’. “With too much”, he goes for a walk to try to shake out whatever is overfilling him; to walk out his worries through the ground. But he’s drawn to the closed woods, to where the blood suckers seek to spread disease. He is caught between his desire to be away and being aware of the ticks. The danger of the ticks is overblown. No doubt Kinsella has been bitten by many a tick. It’s the danger of nature he wants to draw our attention to. By covering his skin he creates a scenario where he can do both, to find an accepting middle ground between his desires and present dangers.
‘A Celebration of Peace’ and ‘If From the Distance’ book-end the second book. Perhaps the two most metaphysical poems in the collection:
But I have my eyes and ears peeled,
listening beyond the deathsounds, waiting
to catch the late-early calls of the riverbird.
It sticks around through winter, making
the best of what’s on offer. Generations
of conflict along these narrow banks,
the poisoned grasses, the long gone
common reeds. But I am standing
in for you in this celebration of peace
talks – the conniving of Munich
to let death stop in Syria, a bit.
God has decided on unity.
A shell burst antiphony.
While reading The Wound, I kept checking my phone for social media updates, and other messages. Every time I read another poem I felt more attuned, somehow. More where I should be, doing what I should do. I became more aware of my habits. Kinsella’s work is primarily preoccupied with observing habit, both in language and body. Habit is what makes character. Habit also underlines hypocrisy, and where consciousness of our impact on nature (human and non-human) is contradicted by our actions. Kinsella suggests this is where we should be headed, could be directing our investigations, not cowering from our foolishness. The entrance to art is through our hypocrisy:
The afternoon stuck at its centre, unable to dilate,
Retract into the island sea of desire. Accept, take
Her happiness into your hours, drink in the sun
And deny melanomas usurping its generosity,
Lifting truths out of us to grasp hands with grain
In the silos, to promise season after season of growth,
Only to be overcome by the fumes of pickling,
The distance growing between us and the dirt.
And so my absence is an enunciation
Of your isolation in the world! I love you,
But can’t know all there is left,
A line missing from the final poem? What does that mean? The book finishes on a comma. A playful comma after the weighty previous lines, designed to disorientated the reader.
Some final thoughts. Poo and shit. It’s great to see Kinsella finally embrace a relish for poo and shit. I’ve been writing about poo and shit since the mid-90’s and was starting to feel isolated among the literary glitterati. Kinsella, like many great poo and shit masters, can go from poo and shit to complex abstractions without skipping a beat:
Fist shakings are salutes? It was like the 1936
Berlin Olympics. Or the Nuremberg Rallies. If Sweeney
Was crass for saying it – out of touch with the zeitgeist –
Then he would likely be damned for mentioning the New Guard
or the Fascist Legion or the ribbon cutting on Sydney
Harbour Bridge. It wasn’t a big shit he’d dropped,
But it was obviously pungent – Aussie flag bandannas
Were now covering eyes as well as noses and mouths.
They are veiling themselves, said Sweeney, wistfully
As his shit incited the patriots to fight among themselves.
Better to submit to various journals/poetry houses in the hope of being published, but you can have it free instead:
John Kinsella and I have written some poems in support of the men wrongfully detained on Manus Island, by the Australian government. Please have a read by clicking on the picture below, and share if you feel inclined. Thank you for your interest.
On the day of Dave’s funeral I was the sole passenger
on the bus from Fremantle via Coogee and Henderson
to Rockingham. A shotgun splatter of grey-white clouds
floated inland from snake infested Garden Island
And, being a Saturday, not a single engine revved
inside the engineering sheds, or even at the Coastal
MotorCross Club. Smoke pulled upwards and outwards
from the tall stacks which were the only signs of movement.
Having a look around Rockingham? yelled the driver,
looking around the corner in the mirror, through steel mesh.
No, I’m going to Dave’s funeral, I said.
The driver then turned his two-way off.
There must be funerals everyday, I thought, as we crossed
a railway and passed the place that collects grass trees
before they’re demolished for another suburb, they grow
a centimetre a year and some are three metres tall
and have more than four heads forking skyward. I had
taken the wrong address and missed the service,
but I remembered Dave pulling an all-nighter at the Nannup
Rec. centre, chatting away sombrely, always wearing shorts,
as dozens of bikes needed fixing in one way or another.
At the corner of Read and Leghorn I used the toilet
in Hungry Jacks, chatted to Tony on the phone,
then walked across the road to sit in shade and wait
for Alison and Wayne to arrive, so we could go to the wake.
While some people were smoking cigarettes
before going inside for a Whopper, seagulls stalked the huge
cars idling in the drive-thru. To my surprise, on the concrete footpath
between on my feet, a half melted ice block sank
into its own puddle, and was catching broken yellow flowers
from the overhanging gum tree; seed pods shook side-to-side in the breeze.
This interview is the most comprehensive I have been part of to date; discussing walking, poetry, environment, music, ecology and death.
*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.
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.
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.
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?