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Poetics, Writing, Thought: Martin Harrison in Conversation

by Deborah Bird Rose

Martin excelled in the arts of collegiality. Along with being a great poet, mentor, friend, and thinker, he brought an awesome generosity to every encounter. He listened with interest and attention and encouragement. He spoke well: often clearly, sometimes wonderfully obliquely, tossing a bit of mystery into the space of conversation for others to grasp and work with. His sense of humour was always present, not necessarily on display but present in the glint of his eye or the tweak of a smile.

Many of Martin’s finest conversational moments were lures designed to attract a diversity of responses. He understood emergence, and knew how to create space for the unexpected. Martin and I were among the foundation members of the Kangaloon group of creative scholars. At the start, our group was working to refine our understandings of how the humanities, the fine arts, and science could interact to enhance and communicate the sense of urgency and clarity we all felt about the looming environmental crises. Our stated aims included a commitment to writing that owed a lot to Martin: ‘to create art, writing and scholarship from the depth of nature’. The conversations we had were so wonderfully stimulating that we decided we’d share them beyond our little group. We organised conversations that were open to the public, and poetry readings followed by discussion.

Along with these activities in Sydney, Coffs Harbour and Melbourne, we decided to guest edit an issue of the journal TEXT. Martin gave it the title: ‘‘Writing Creates Ecology / Ecology Creates Writing’, and our call for papers outlined a series of key questions: ‘How does creative writing engage with the theme of ecological catastrophe and ecological possibility? … What kinds of experiment does the ecological context encourage and indeed require of the contemporary writer?’

Once the articles were all in, Martin and I wrote a post-script together. This writing was so enjoyable I hardly wanted to bring it to a conclusion. We wrote in a dialogical form, like many of our best conversations, tossing our thoughts back and forth, building on the ideas as they appeared, putting into writing practice some of our theoretical ideas about uncertainty and elegance.

Jason Childs invited me to join Martin for an evening with the ‘Poetics, Writing, Thought’ Colloquium at UTS in September 2014. I was deeply happy to be able to present a piece I had been working on (‘Shimmer’). Martin suggested that he and I actually read our TEXT postscript for the purpose of further discussion. The audio files presented here encompass both readings and a good bit of the discussion.

Martin died shortly after this lovely evening. I kissed him goodbye, not knowing how final this would be. And yet, Martin’s on-going presence in my life, in the lives of so many of us, is proof again that death’s boundary with the living is wildly uneven. We grieve, and we remember; we hold his precious liveliness in our work and our lives, and we continue the conversations with all the art we can manage.

Published: March 2016
Deborah Bird Rose

is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and a founding co-editor of Environmental Humanities. She has worked with Aboriginal people in their claims to land and other decolonising contexts, and in both scholarly and practical arenas her work is focused on the convergence of social and ecological justice. Her most recent book is Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (University of Virginia Press, 2011). Her blog is ‘Life at the Edge of Extinction’ (

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An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.