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Crossing borders: Caitlin Maling in conversation with Amy Lin

by Caitlin Maling and Amy Lin

A relatively new voice, Caitlin Maling’s work explores ecopoetics and the environment in both America and Australia, and the experience of living both at home and overseas. In this interview, Amy Lin talks to Caitlin about her interest in Criminology, science poetry, mythical figures, pop culture, and blurred binary distinctions between self and other, nature and culture, and the universal and the human. Caitlin Maling’s second book Border Crossing was released in 2017 by Fremantle Press.

AL: The poems from Border Crossing were written in America, when you were living in Houston and travelling across the country. Where were they edited and compiled into this collection? Did the actual act of crossing borders influence the way the book was put together?

CM: The poems were edited in a lot of different places. A lot of them were edited as I was writing them, and then didn’t really change much from there. So they were edited all over America, but the ones that were individually published were published in Australia and then I’d get editorial feedback from Australian journals. But the bulk of the editing was done here in WA, so I came back and Wendy Jenkins, who’s the poetry editor at Fremantle Press, likes to work in person with the poems so I came back last summer for an extended period of time and met with her on a regular basis. She’d give me handwritten notes on the poems that I’d take home and compile. So they were edited here, up at Cervantes, at my husband’s parents’ place at the Grey Shack Settlement, so it was in my different Western Australian landscape places as I tend to just take my manuscript with me. I think it helped me think about the arc better. There was an extra sense of distance; a lot of the poems are about Australia while I’m in America, but then I was editing America while I was back in Australia. So I was again refracting that American experience back. Even though it’s not as autobiographical as Conversations I’ve Never Had, knowing where I’d ended up at the end of the book—that I had returned Australia, that shaped how I saw the overall journey of the book. Towards the end, ‘Road Runner’ has Bicton in it, which was the most recent poem I wrote that’s in there, so the return to Australia did end up structuring the book.

AL: You have a background in Criminology, and some of your poems from both Conversations I’ve Never Had and Border Crossing reflect this interest. For instance, in CINH there was the poem addressed to child murderer Robert Thompson, and in BC you write of ‘the man who drove his sons into the dam’. How have you found the process of weaving public news with personal memories?

CM: In both of those poems it’s not necessarily crimes that I’m addressing from a criminological perspective because when I worked on criminology it was much more macro, rather than forensic psychology or anything. I guess I was really morbid as a kid, so there were crimes that for whatever reason I felt like I’d personally processed or which shaped my understanding of the world as I was growing up. Especially with Robert Thompson—hearing about that as a kid, and then always wanting to read and understand it made me very aware of what people are capable of. I remember when Conversations got reviewed someone said that ‘it’s very good on violence’. And there is that sense of roughness and violence that does go through perhaps too much in my work. I guess it is criminological in the way that I was always interested in exploring the potential for those things in society and in the individual, and it does come through, and those poems are a way of empathising with those things.

AL: Popular culture seems to find its way into Border Crossing, with allusions to Bridezillas, The Bachelor, a singing show, and the ‘sad teen cancer movie’. These snippets seemed to be tinged with a sense of irony, and form fresh subject matter for the collection. How do you see the role of mainstream culture in contemporary poetry?

CM: I guess it depends what you want to do. You do have to have that balance between: ‘Is this poem going to stand up in ten, fifteen years time or is it just a poem for now and reflecting back immediately on what I’m seeing around me?’ And I think poetry can do both. So I’m always really interested in poetry that speaks back to what’s happening in this instant, potentially more than I am interested in poetry that’s trying to stand up for ages, I don’t know why. I do think it has to be doing something more than that as well. Some of my poems can get toward that—some don’t, but then I just find them funny, like ‘The Bachelor’ is funny to me. But I’m always really interested in these naff sociological studies—folklore studies—in tropes that are being continuously refreshed in Western culture. And so I look at these new iterations of reality TV and being like, ‘What is this actually trying to say … ’. Or not what it is trying to say because I doubt it is trying to say anything, but what is it that it could be saying and why is it saying that? Why do people want that story? The Kardashians could be a contemporary Brady Brunch, I don’t know why, it’s just like this happy blended family.

AL: It seems to me that there is an undercurrent in the poems about how the show is speaking to the viewer, as in ‘You are what this show is all about’.

CM: Yeah it is about that. To me, it’s a bi-directional relationship. In the same way that we are taught to read in a certain way, the TV is teaching people how to read it, teaching TV how to serve them in some way. I like to watch reality TV shows until I get to that point when I understand what is happening, or I think I do. ‘You are what this show is all about’ is about those singing competitions where you start to learn the narrative arcs that you can expect from them. Then it’s like candy—you’re consuming this really familiar sweet thing, which is also slightly toxic.

AL: Another recurring motif in BC is that of consumerism or corporatisation; in the book we see the natural landscape disrupted with Walmarts and Loews stores. And I know that you’re interested in ecopoetics and the pastoral mode for your PhD thesis. How does this second collection negotiate boundaries between natural and humanmade worlds?

CM: Ah, it’s interesting. I like the pastoral because in the way I see it, the way I like it, it’s not pretending to access this pure, sublime nature; it’s this very artificial mode. I like that in it. So I don’t necessarily think of it as crossing borders between the natural and the humanmade, but that there isn’t necessarily a border. There’s no way really to get beyond the constructed even if you’re looking for a way beyond the constructed. It’s the idea of landscape as being shaped by human vision. So even in the poems where … I’m always driving—immersed in a transcendent experience, it’s not so much of a nature / culture binary to me. The way we think about nature is part of our culture. ‘February in Oregon’ was a poem written differently, trying to gain access to a place through writing about place. But even that was fake in the way that I put it put together afterwards. So while it sounds like a calendar of my days, those days were not in that order. I pulled it together and made a collage out of it, put the numbers on top of it. The compositional process is shaping the landscape.

AL: In this collection it seems that you have honed a sophisticated way of structuring and segmenting your poems. For instance, ‘Sad Teen Cancer Movie’ intersperses scenes from a film with the drive to a cinema, and ‘February in Oregon’ breaks its meditations into twenty-eight parts. Is there some significance in these textual gaps, these borders that the reader must cross?

CM: Yeah. I like collage as the idea that the reader has to bring it together in their mind. I like poems that require a reader to do something, that active participation in the construction of the poem. Which all poems do, but I like the textual gaps. Someone asked me to define poetry recently and I realised I was getting a little 1960s Robert Bly, like ‘I like the poetic leap!’ And then because I’m not a subtle person I wanted ‘giant poetic leaps for the audience to jump over, in caesuras’. But it’s also, I guess, for me, resisting the tendency of Conversations—those poems are quite narrative, and they have a tendency towards epiphanic endings, and the complete poem. So I was wanting to write away from that, to be interested in seeing what else I could do with poetry. To push myself harder in that direction and see what I could weave together. I was reading Tracy K Smith, Life on Mars, she does the weave so well. I was also reading creative non-fiction—which could also be poetry—and how they do the weave that is so essential to the lyric essay. Thinking about that in some of the poems as, ‘what could this mean as an essay?’ So with ‘February in Oregon’ there are tiny little daily things that are essayistic in that way.

AL: One thing I really like about these poems is the way you play with language from line to line. For instance, ‘Islands’—which is my personal favourite—is composed of thirty-four sections which are often connected by some semantic or linguistic link. To what extent do the histories and meanings of words drive the drafting of your poems?

CM: Very little! My husband and his friends, engineers, will be in a car and he’ll be like, ‘What does this word mean’, and they’ll debate forever and I’ll be like, ‘Stop it, I’m dying, this is so boring!’ There are some that I like and I’ll take those, but rarely do semantics come into play. The exception is I love colloquialisms and their dual meanings, and I like words that are particular to places, place words that people say funny. ‘Islands’ I like, because it mimics the kinds of conversations I have with my husband, in the layering.

AL: There seemed to me to be quite a lot of plays with language, and humorous anecdotes of misunderstandings of words, for instance you talk about emailing someone about the ‘erogenous zone of California’.

CM: That’s all true, though. I have personal favourite words. It won’t be the actual meaning of words but words that for whatever reason I’m attached to, what I think they mean.

AL: One thing I noticed about Border Crossing was its exciting use of scientific imagery. Readers get human biology in ‘Tinnitus’, physics in ‘Fear Letters’, animal biology in ‘Organ Mountains’, and even mathematics in ‘Checkpoint’. Is it difficult to write science and maths into poems, and what do you think these disciplines can bring to poetry?

CM: It depends how much you love them. I love them. Before there was Alternative Facts as a general thing we now talk about, one of the key ways I used to irritate my husband was make up my own alternative scientific theories and pretend that I believed them. And that requires knowing things to a certain degree before you can embellish. ‘So theoretically, we could have a carbon sun’, and he would say, ‘You can’t have a carbon sun’, and I would be like, ‘I don’t know why not?’ It’s just stuff that I love and that I encounter. I don’t set out to research things but as I’m moving about I take note of things that I find interesting, I read the noticeboards at random tourist attractions and think about that. I think a lot of what I’ve been working on is motivated at looking outside of faith. I’m a pretty hardcore atheist but what other wider structures can I use besides faith-based structures but at the same time not wanting to turn them into faith-based structures. So I do like to research that type of stuff.

AL: It’s another resource that you can mine for poems I suppose.

CM: Yep. And I used to think everyone should write science poetry. Then doing my PhD work I found this book it’s called Against Ecology or something by Dana Phillips and it’s all about how poets make science into a metaphorical thing, but it’s an actual thing, and we misrepresent the sciences, and it’s inaccurate. Where images of ecology are used to stand in for a presumed holism of everything is not something I’m interested in. I’m more interested in science in the sense that there’s still that gap between knowing that the universe is gradually expanding and everything is getting colder, or if it’s something else that’s going on, the idea that there are still these fundamental conflicts at different levels of physics, I love all those gaps and things that can’t be explained.

AL: It seems quite fertile ground for poetry in many ways, though we often think of science and poetry as opposite realms.

CM: But there are poets that are so much better at it than me. You know A. R. Ammons, the American poet, I read this paper about his use of fractal geometry in structuring poems. I can use the metaphoric language, but the actual physical structure is not mimicking the scientific process or physics, but the ones who can do that, I’m like ‘Whoah, you’re so cool!’

AL: Like Conversations, Border Crossing makes use of mythological, biblical and literary figures, such as Herakles, Aclima, Cain and Abel, and the occasional Shakespearean heroine. In what ways do these figures aid your expression of personal experience?

CM: I think of the ones that are mythological often as like my diary poems. They’re often the ones that people want to cut from my manuscripts. But I don’t end up doing it because I think of them as tracing even more than the popular culture ones, exactly where I am in that particular moment. So it’s that age old mask of saying something to people that you can’t say otherwise. They allow me to access emotions in a different way. Or ones which combine mythic figures, real world events or pop culture is again tracing the linkage of these archetypes throughout, which is something that I’m very interested in.

AL: In ‘Shreveport’ you write, ‘I never thought / I’d be nostalgic for destruction, the catastrophic fire warning of midsummer … ’. Yet your poetry also seems to display a nostalgia for the beauty and life inherent in the environment. How did you find the process of writing about this tension or ambivalence?

CM: I think nostalgia is a key word there, I’m always trying to push back against sentiment—even though I’m not very good at it—and see what’s beneath it, both in terms of what is driving this desire for, for lack of a better term, unification with nature and also what of nature exists outside of desire, outside of the human eye, outside of the poem. It’s an impossible task, obviously, but that’s what I think makes it interesting. Ambivalence I think is essential for a lot of poetry, especially mine where I can definitely get self-aggrandisingly lyrical. In terms of ambivalence in writing environments, I think often of this piece the late WA poet Fay Zwicky wrote on the (also WA) poet Randolph Stow—and Australian masculine modernism more widely—where she talks about the landscape taking the place of the unobtainable love object in lyric Romantic poetry. It’s a desire for possession, which is extra dubious when your write from and about—as I do—colonised landscapes. Whenever I feel my poems trying to tug me that way, a warning light flashes ‘danger’ in my head and I try and pull the other way, that’s the key ambivalence in my poetry I think.

AL: Poems such as ‘Background Extinction’ seem to hint at the insignificance of the human experience compared with the universe (‘How slow the universe moves / measured against our one life’). In a collection that explores ecopoetics, globalisation, science and travel, what kinds of ideas were you raising about what it is to be human?

CM: I don’t think it means anything to be human, but I would like it to, this is another key ambivalence in my work. Poetry as much as it can be said to be about anything, is, for me, about trying to bridge the gap between word and world, to get as close a possible to some type of meaning beyond the linguistic while always acknowledging that there is a gap. I am a relentless dualiser, very prone to binary thinking. One of the things I’m interested in raising in my poetry is how to get beyond this, that’s really what the title Border Crossing was about for me, the borders between self and world, self and Other, self and other-than-human, world and universe.

Published: July 2018
Caitlin Maling

is an award-winning Western Australian poet with two books out through Fremantle Press. A third is forthcoming in February 2019. She writes non-fiction and criticism on place and is completing a PhD in comparative ecopoetics at the University of Sydney where she is also a Teaching Fellow in English.

Amy Lin

(nee Hilhorst) is a Perth poet and PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia. Her research explores mental illness in the poetry of Francis Webb, Bruce Beaver and Michael Dransfield. Amy’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Verity La, Axon, Cordite, Westerly, and Social Alternatives.


Parallax: Negative Lyricism in Dialogue with John Kinsella

by Jonathan Dunk and John Kinsella

Je est un autre‘, wrote Rimbaud in 1871, answering Keats’ negative theme fifty-four years earlier, an echo athwart a palindrome. Both were writing letters, as though the scaffold of dialogue, the fiction of an answer, allowed them to arrive at what Blanchot considered the unanswerable conditions of literature. These negative configurations articulate a knowledge implicit in mimesis that the subject is itself a text, itself a shadow on a cave-wall. The negative ontology of lyricism might be described as a further edge of mimetic epistemology; the basic assumption of the self’s expression in literature becoming identical with its impossibility. This apophatic response to the limitations and inclinations of ‘voice’ and ‘presence’ was among the forces driving the Language poets’ rejection of lyricism, which as Marjorie Perloff notes, correlates a wider post-structural critique of authorship (1999, 406). There are aspects of Language poetry and its descendants however, which can be argued to occlude their own complicities in the attempt to resist other paradigms of authorship. The consolidation of John Kinsella’s Graphology project clarifies his writing into an alternate lineage of critique exemplified by Paul Celan, and extensively theorised by Derrida. For the present purposes I’ll refer to this tradition as Deconstructive or Negative Lyricism.

To generalise, the negative lyric uses formal violence to disrupt and move beyond the hierarchies of presence implied by the lyric – by the text as a form of signature, a machine which can activate presence through time in consistent spectral meaning. Needless to say we no longer understand authorship or textuality in these Pentecostal terms – but the way forward from the post-structural paradox of radical doubt remains less clear. Loyalty to a regressive or nostalgic form is both bad faith and false consciousness. A poem which purports to facilitate a Platonic encounter on the road to Emmaus – an inerrant and repeatable convergence of consistent subjects and objects, replicates the innumerable violences of hegemony.

An ostensibly logical response to the closure of the lyric, one epitomised by conceptual poetics, would be to dispense with the representation of subjectivity altogether. However, this route brings us to a conceptual and political cul-de-sac visible in the privileged semantics of Kenneth Goldsmith’s ‘The Body of Michael Brown.’ The rarefied absence of the writing subject constitutes the political landscape as a horizon of homogenous objects readily available for variation in a theatre of cogital agency. The thought-structure of this poetics is predicated upon the occlusion of late capitalism’s master/slave dialectic.

An alternate route is exemplified by Celan’s poem ‘A la Pointe Acérée’; the title of which borrows from and writes towards Baudelaire, published in Die Niemandsrose in 1963, the year John Kinsella was born. In Shibboleth Derrida writes that this poem ‘seeks its way in the night along paths of questions’ (1992, 374). In it the negative capabilities, the presences and absences which haunt inscription are translated from a repressed object of influence into a narrow gate or path towards what Walter Benjamin called messianic time. Celan discussed this dynamic in his speech The Meridian, delivered on receipt of the Georg Büchner prize in 1960. He argued that through strangeness and distance poetry traverses a margin between an ‘already-no-more’ and a ‘still-here’. This no-more utters both the historical temporality of inscription, to which the poet is always posthumous – and the formal death of genre – the killed chalk star of the word calcified into mere language – in semiotic terms the distinction can analogise Barthes’ demarcation between the texts of pleasure and of bliss. However, he adds crucially that the ‘still-here’ of a poetry ‘set free under the sign of a radical individualization’ (2003, 49) is achievable only through awareness of linguistic limitations, and only through the work of ‘poets who do not forget that they speak from an angle of reflection which is their own existence, their own physical nature.’ (2003, 49) Neither form nor theory escapes us – and the syntax of subjectivity is unavoidable. Celan’s underwriting conceptual axis might seem reductive – but his poetics are not Manichean; the encounter is achieved through the articulation of its impossibility, still-here resides on the margin of already-no-more. The method is clearer in praxis. ‘A la Pointe Acérée’ is structured by a series of lyrical gestures undoing, deconstructing, their own mechanisms. The calcified forms of language offer penetrative clarities

The ores are laid bare, the crystals,

the geodes.

Unwritten things, hardened

into language, lay bare

a sky

(Thrown out upward, revealed,

crossways, so

we too are lying.

Door in front of it once, tablet

with the killed

chalk star on it: that

a – reading? – eye has now.)

Ways to that place.

Forest hour alongside

The spluttering wheeltrack.



small, gaping

beechnuts: blackish

openness, asked of

by fingerthoughts

after –

after what?


the unrepeatable, after

it, after


Spluttering tracks to that place.

Something that can go, ungreeting

as all that’s become heart,

is coming.

– Trans. Michael Hamburger and Derek Attridge.

From the fractal, or obsessive variation on communicative and scriptural tensions the poem leads to another structure of meaning registered in spatial and temporal dislocations. The place of annunciation, prophesied but not arrived upon, figured by the unstable impressions of signs and objects, its time is the negative locus of poetic encounter, the sign of poetic meaning erased in inscription. The negative lyric avails itself of – or perhaps prefigures – the Derridean concept of the trace –the absence and unmeaning all signs imply through demarcation – the absence that meaning carries along with it. Any inscription or gesture or representation of selfhood – itself a declaration of self-knowing – inscribes with it the otherness and alterity of self-being – the recognition of self strangeness. For negative poetics, the absence of self-contiguity – or at best the presence of an archipelagic or fractured recognition against the desire for islandic or Cartesian integrity – becomes a field of possibility obscured by the metaphysics of communication. In the slippage of its radical individuation the othered I of the written self becomes an interpretable space to the reader – and the solipsistic abyss underwriting all ideologies of community is tenuously spanned. This problematic is concretely actualised in the final line of Celan’s ‘Vast, Glowing Vault,’ which obsessively striates Derridean thought : ‘Die Welt ist fort, ich muß dich tragen / The world is gone, I must carry you.’ At its purest the Derridean conception of literature lives in this line’s caesural comma, and Celan’s negative sense of the poem as a way to nothingness implies the other connotations of the French word ‘trace’ as a path or a track – both a mark of presence and a route, an opening.

Negative lyricism lies at the heart of John Kinsella’s long commitment to ‘Linguistic Disobedience’, and contributes to the landscape of ideas in which his work should be situated. In these schematics – and in light of most modern philosophies of literature – the vituperative attempts of some critics to rhetorically hold his work to notional and normative hierarchies of ‘clarity’ seem at best inept. Kinsella satirizes this predicament in the discursive poem ‘Graphology 2855: Translation Loss’- ‘by whose loss/ are they measuring?’ (vol. 2, 224.) In other contexts critical investment in narratives of poetic production has read his Anti-pastoral, or immanent environmental poetry, and his more abstract linguistic work, into separate conversations. Nicholas Birns notes that the Graphology series effects a rupture of any solid division between these modes I’d go a little further, to suggest that the duality of Kinsella’s formal emphases, clarified by this collection, articulates the central pivot of his praxis. It reaches towards the reality of the environment but refuses to speak for it, foregrounds textual mechanisms but refuses their limits. Graphology is a parallax registered in double exposure, a monumental, strange, and generative contribution to negative poetics.

Criticism is always a form of translation – and a ‘reading’ of Graphology can only be a bad translation, or a creative one – a variation of sorts. Kinsella knows this, describing the Graphology structure as a form of “flick-art” against which readerly presence occurs – this is one such.

‘Graphology Relapse 41’

We want to speak the loss

while we curl up inside and close

doors and windows. A poem,

a letter to the editor, an anonymous

call to talkback radio. It wants to be heard,

and us through it. Self-pity has no place,

but the public service of grief

needs a reef to anchor against, the soft

sifted sand, the short shrift, not enough

through green shallow waters or drift

in midnight-blue seas with no hope

of bottoming out. So, it matters

most, words written for someone

else, glimpses of what was, what might

have been, and what’s left behind.

I hear, I hear. I hear myself

writing script for someone else

to speak. All those lists of birds

and animals I’ve compiled; I wish

long lives away from surveys

and reports.

(Vol 3, 91)

The communicative field of this poem is structured by slippage, ironising the work of elegy. Poetry as an institution of private loss, a linch-pin ‘as-if’ underwriting ethical discourse. But speech is mired in ambivalent closures, in failure, and the truer privacy of silence, or perhaps of impossible speech, is longed for. The lyric signature is finally inescapable; the poem can neither hold presence, nor be absolved of it – felix culpa – a necessary fall, and on the cusp of speech, poetry as a way of being silent.

Graphology’s movement in time is also a work of mourning, a form of proleptic elegy. The writing act rehearses and anticipates death, it prepares to be posthumous. As the form of the text bodies the textuality of the self so the temporal structure of lyrical mortality reaches towards the certain hour when the I, when I, shall absent life as I absent this writing. Kinsella discusses the elegiac futurity of writing in his essay ‘Ageing, loss, recidivism’ included in Disclosed Poetics, where he reads a developing ecology of grief in his own and his partner Tracy Ryan’s poetry. Registering an enormity of human and other loss over its length, Graphology has much to say about mourning. I confine my discussion to ‘Graphology: Pastoral Elegy – An End Written for the End When It Comes.’ The first movement ‘Lechenaultia macrantha’- or wreath-flower – situates not merely the physical act of death but also its languages and knowledges within an ecology, and so arrives at a wholly immanent consolation:

… ahead of my time

and the time

of those I will lose

or who will lose me, initially; cinema


and debris

of suffering

the suffering quid pro quo, hayfever; both aches

work ‘alter egos’,


pure and applied mourners

about material portraits,

I live, just keeping emotive


flakes of lichen fell

from granite, the storm

took a crow’s nest to ground,

shattered loose ends,

micro-eaters already latched on,



by crow-parents; what wreath-flowers I place,

what flowers sprout to augur

seed we’ll all eat, mainly-harvest,

procession of pickers; pre-empting

the eating of Spring.

(Vol 2, 182)

The poem’s reaching towards death is translated from a revenance into a shape or gesture of natural temporality. Of course, though, the gesture towards natural consummation is textualised by irony, the moribund Latin linkage between loss and lostness foregrounding the construction of the proleptic mechanism, the distance of the alter egos augured by language. Kinsella’s metalyricism observes or anticipates where the knowledge of poetry halts.

The poem’s second movement ‘Towards Sunset’s House’ offers one of the gentler moments in Kinsella’s oeuvre, all the more arresting because it does not suspend his other concerns or arguments, but uses their inflection to explore a syntax of grace. As I understand it the poem takes Kinsella’s dialogue and collaboration with Charmaine Papertalk Green, and respect he has learned from it, and from Culture more broadly, as the springboard for a partial vision of place revealed by Aboriginal perpetuity, articulated with a respectful acknowledgement of the poet’s own subjectivity:

This end to split of script let wander,

outside my door

women speak of fishing

in evenings

baskets woven from local grasses

for the new baby;

there’s strong politics here,

and politicking in ‘that’s nice’ and ‘that’s nice’ also.

She, and she, knows that

‘part of the world’.

I know too this part unfurled

when I forget

The every name of animal and plant …

(Vol 2, 183)

Aspects of this poem’s work are inarticulable, but it demonstrates the political possibilities of the negative lyric as a means of working against colonial discourse. The poem does not attempt to contain Aboriginal knowledge, does not speak for it, but structures lacunae through which it may move. It’s one of the rare ethical approaches to Country in contemporary settler poetics.


JD: John Taggart writes that the poet’s power over language is a metonym of the hunt, and figures language as the site of that power’s assumption – with the usual pastoral metaphors ‘wilderness/ woods/ field’. While your work consistently speaks to the rights of the non-human, large swathes of it grapple with cruelty. If we grant Lyn Hejinian’s – possibly tenuous – claim that formal resistance in poetry analogises political resistance, is violence, the violence of the hunt, say, implicated, in the formal violences of poetry? Or might that textual violence possess an Artaud function, reawakening ethical sense through cruelties of attention?

JK: I would argue my poetry is an undoing of the hunt both literally and figuratively. I offer refuge to all prey in my work. One of the books of my pastoral trilogy is entitled The Hunt (it is the middle volume — the first is The Silo, the second The Hunt, and third The New Arcadia), and explores violence in pastoral motifs as well as literal rural Wheatbelt life (it was going to be called The Book of Rural Disasters) and offers an anti-pastoral critique of these motifs and the circumstances of received and delivered violence in Australian rurality.

I equate ‘the hunt’ in my work with a colonialism of the few over all other living things (animal and human) and this is bound up in a theatre of cruelty in which the performative aspect of the hunt segues with the bloodlust for control, the blooding ‘rights’ of (especially though not exclusively) patriarchy.

I do not equate the traditional culturalities (or branchings from) of, say, Indigenous Australians with this — that is a more complex set of totemic relationships with place and life than I feel I have the right to comment on.

Having said this, wilful cruelty that operates outside tradition is pretty clearly marked and is reprehensible. I do not have some othering view of the ‘indigene’ as purity incarnate, but as a human with rights both cultural and political and collective. Anarchism is in there as well.

Difference is to be respected and I feel ‘power’ should be returned. Discussions of cultural difference and, say, feelings over the rights of animals, might be discussed in the appropriate ‘power’ relationship. In other words, I am happy to discuss with a traditional owner my view regarding an animal’s rights, but only if the decision-making on his/her land is in his/her hands. Then I come from a position of respect and appreciation for the rights of sharing discourse. Then I can say openly what I think and they can accept, reject or discuss. That’s how it should be if it is at all.

The hunt in this context steps outside the language of violence to become a negotiation of how to live. But outside this dynamic, I see the hunt as exploitation and brutality both as reality and political analogy. Pathetic fallacy is its camouflage and its weapons are grammar and syntax — a patriarchy of inheritance designed to enact and enforce control.

I don’t see the poet as having any ‘power’ over language, though I do see that poetic interaction with language can potentially generate violence (much militaristic poetry shows this — ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ being a supreme example in which failure valorises violence through slippage of harsh sounds and a flow of consonants mediated through repetition mixed with mellifluous relaxations in tension). What I am saying is that the ‘poet’ has no power over language, and to think so is to be complicit in the damages done by language when it resides in the hands of fascists and capitalist exploiters and colonialists and advertisers and ‘pop’ musicians. The power is in the language, and in some ways the poet in trying to resist tyranny is actually undercutting language’s power — recognising its odd fusion of reliance on the human condition and its autonomies, its unpredictable and predictable growths.

I always worry when we hear of the ‘power’ of the poet — I feel the poet should renounce all power but understand the power of language and create slippages which thwart its empowerment. Sometimes I think gestural sound the most honest form of activist poetics because of this.

So, textual violence is a stimulant that gives us a choice to indulge or to resist — I resist, I hope, by undoing language or reconfiguring it in such a way that it cannot sit firmly in its grooves and arrangements of power. The hunt is there and we must evade and thwart it.

JD: When I asked you in Sydney how you avoid reinscribing colonial violence in the writing of place you replied that such avoidance was impossible, but that through acknowledging that violence metatextually, a settler writer could approach country more-or-less ethically. Could you speak to that more? Reading Graphology chronologically I noted a gradual increase in Aboriginal terms and language, might that imply an intensified engagement with Culture? What hope do you see for a meaningful dialogue between Culture and settler poetics?

JK: The latter first. Not a stronger engagement — that’s been there since I was a child — but rather a feeling that as language and culture are more discussed by Indigenous speakers and poets, then I have more of a ‘right’ (wrong word — and ‘permission’ is wrong, too … maybe a sense of ‘right’ …) to use this information and knowledge as it is relayed to me without, I hope, this act/process being totally appropriative.

Issues of appropriation are vital to comprehend and can be extremely destructive if not understood or if treated with insensitivity. Even if one is trying not to appropriate, one can be doing so brutally.

You are right in your observation, but in some ways the intensity of my awareness comes from childhood rural experience and seeing issues of injustice and justice played out before my own eyes. I believe in total return of land to be followed by negotiations on the rights of all ‘others’ here. I am pro migration, pro refugee, and pro all people/s living in Australia, but unless it’s a living in the space with restitution to, and communal consensus from, Aboriginal peoples, it is in reality an ongoing colonialism.

Settler writer? Well, by definition and heritage I am. The Scots side came via New Zealand and then the Victorian Goldfields in the mid 1800s to Western Australia in the 1890s, the Irish side beginning of 1850s into Western Australia escaping the great famine where they had literally resisted the English who killed many of my ancestors. They arrived and became colonisers — under the yoke of the British but ‘exploring’ and renaming as they went. My Gaelic-speaking great great grandfather becomes an English-speaking (first) Catholic teacher in south-west etc. A forestry and farming history through which a large part of the jarrah forests south of Perth on forestry maps are labelled ‘Kinsella’. That’s as brutal, ironic and paradoxical as it gets. The colonial name/s need erasing, the gestures of naming undone. I wrote a radio play called The Petition (part of my ‘forest trilogy’ of plays), which looks at issues of complicity in the colonial acts of attempted deletion of Indigenous rights, law and country. Acknowledgement is a small step in the process of writing ‘ethically’.

But maybe most importantly is the willingness to create lacunae in the writing in which the critic, especially one with Indigenous knowledges, can enter and challenge and dialogue or reject or claim or depart. I try to do that — try to create those spaces. Also, there are clear wrongs and rights regarding how one treats country and environment and there are numerous points of crossover between culture and ethical ecological activism — I ‘trace’ (Derrida a bit, but not entirely!) these in my work, but I think most vitally try to demap them. Regarding my notions of ‘demapping’ see Activist Poetics: Anarchy in the Avon Valley, my new book Polysituatedness and our blog, Mutually Said.

JD: You’ve written that modulation of themes and limits is at the centre of the Graphology project, and as I understand it the fluidity of your approach has allowed you to create a sequence that is self-analytic and in some sense autobiographic, but at the same time dialogic and rhizomic, an open text. Suffice it to say that your work elsewhere has also been characterised by a formal variousness of unusual breadth – particularly in Australian poetry – do you think there’s a conceptual link between your graphological modulation and the extents of your work in different styles?

JK: Absolutely. For the last twenty years (and actually for a couple of years further back than this) Graphology has operated as a field of potential in which my other writings have segued and departed — been in conversation with etc — operating as echoes and stimulants. I see these things as very interactive and don’t believe in the intactness of either form or meaning. Form obviously informs meaning and vice versa, but form shouldn’t give the right to dictate terms, especially as (I feel) poetry should challenge all formal constraints of ritual when it operates as a control mechanism. Display of text — the curatorial aspect of writerly text-making — can merely end up feeding a regressive and restraining status quo rather than undoing its own terms of production. The book, the reading venue, the anthology: context is relevant.

Form is taught and learned and held accountable. I run in horror when I am told a poem should be totally ‘under control’ — why? Who has to gain from this? I deny the generative in aesthetics and largely see it as constraint. Modulation — varying of the frequency if you like — also means it’s harder to intercept, harder to tap. The readership of poetry, as much as the receptive spaces of all art-creation, needs to be mindful that it is only permitted to exist within a sovereign state because it either serves that state (even in obscure ways that seem to undermine but show a tolerance — often a smokescreen — on the part of the state). One must be wary how one is being used, how the text which we release (we surely don’t possess texts!) might be used and abused by centres of power.

So much of the metaphorical language, and direct language, around the discourse of form has military undertones (and overtones!). I see the Graphology sequence as an open text trying to destabilise the militarism of language and culture/s, in all its/their guises. It’s about alertness, about an understanding that all text is under surveillance (is this ‘criticism’?), and that all text can serve destructive purposes by feeding that surveillance. There is knowledge and there is information. The latter can feed the databanks of control.

So the broad range of formal and informal approaches I utilise in framing and unframing poetry is really to avoid entrapment by the critical apparatus of the state, however that manifests. To outwit the troops of the state trying to stop you saving bushland, you have to use many morphing non-violent direct actions. That is the core of my poetics. Graphology is a means of understanding this but not a literal key insofar as revealing where it or I or the text will go next.

Twenty years ago I co-wrote a (seemingly lost) book-text with the Swiss writer and artist Urs Jaeggi entitled D & G. It was a pastiche of ‘poetic texts’ by us, and a destabilisation of aspects of Deleuze and Guattari’s writings offset in the body without organs of the fax page. Back and forth. A concrete poem in a bunch of languages, it avoided its authors and sometimes ended up on fax machines after we had moved on from places. Not sure what people made of the texts arriving at two or three in the morning with no recipient stated! That was done with a consciousness of the Graphology work. Rhizomic and yet fading, reaching out to a question…?

JD: Your praxis is concretely and conceptually anchored in political and environmental activism, but despite – or because of – this your stance towards certain forms of ecopoetics or environmental representation is complex – I’m thinking particularly of ‘Graphology 300: Against Nature Writing’ here. Do you think these genres do more harm than good?

JK: Anything packaged and sold is doing more harm than good. Nature is the essence of existence, but fetishised as a value-added commodity it is an eco-tourism of the capitalist endgame. Writing classes that package writing and nature as practice, run the risk of closing the senses to the damage being done. All writing is a field activity, I feel, and is as much a question of where we shouldn’t go as to where we should. Some spaces of nature should remain out of our reach.

I am not a nature writer, I am an environmentalist activist writer. Nature is us — is me — as well, but it’s also itself with its endless array of languages (no matter how ‘close’ to the ‘natural world’ one may be). Nature will always (and must always) remain outside human comprehension at some level/s. All living things deserve some privacy! The communal being is not without separate agencies within. The relationship between the social organism and ‘individual’ subjectivity is of constant relevance in the Graphology poems.

Cultures that respect the rights of non-human nature (i.e. that conceptualize both the human-nature dialogue, but also conceptualize aspects of ‘nature’ as being beyond human comprehension and control), and respect the dialogic relationship between human autonomies and non-human difference and rights (and autonomies!), have always intrigued me. For me, all writing should carry a sense of respect for the natural world, even if it’s about a painting of a building in an art gallery! Not necessarily overtly, but at least in the ambit of presentation and discussion. There’s a consciousness behind the discussion of poetry that matters. Graphology is an attempt to bring this discussion into the dynamic. I believe this matters. It’s a complex portrait — and as Derrida said, we must apply complex thinking to complex matters. So much seems contradictory, but only because we don’t think about it in multilayered variant ways constantly. So form is a gesture, but process is about integrity … I think.

JD: It’s fashionable to parse Australian writing through different scalar and spatial paradigms: nation, tyranny of distance, world republic of letters etc. Your trajectory strikes me as anomalous to many of these patterns, you seem to move closer to the Wheatbelt, the Avon valley, even as you traverse global or academic centres. I imagine that your forthcoming book has a lot to say about this dynamic, and it’s often been linked to the digital age, but if we bring in Harold Bloom, do you think the range or eclecticism of your influences has any bearing on your particular negotiation of literary space?

JK: I’ve long talked in terms of what I call ‘international regionalism’ to cover the conceptual and temporal spatialities of working out of a very specific locale and conducting conversations with a world poetics and ecological activism. I believe intrinsically in the regional, in the local, and in community; but community is a complex thing and isn’t just a case of who you live with or around but how you configure relationships of responsibility regarding others in those ‘communities’. So, for example, here (where I write in the ‘Western Australian wheatbelt’), I think in terms of degrees of connection and intimacy, and the desire for connection, and failures of connection. To my mind, this land is Noongar Ballardong land/Boodjar, and I envisage a conversation with traditional owners in all I do, even if I am not having, or can’t have, that conversation literally at a given time of writing.

I am also writing in knowledges of events and situation in other places (especially, say, in Schull, West Cork, Ireland, or the fens near Cambridge, or mid-Ohio, or La Réunion). The pressures of history and displacement are in tension and dialogue in terms of colonial intrusion here. It’s not an easy unravelling, and I find the only honest way I can engage with place is by constantly acknowledging this difficulty.

So, the faux grand narratives (or maybe paradigms) of Australian national literary discourse, tend not to fit, or only to partially fit, at any given time. And when they do rub at the edges, my anxiety increases and I reject and seek to undo them. They seem to me implicitly dubious, and most often ‘wrong’. The process of belonging-unbelonging I work through, introduces constant slippage and acknowledgement of personal (and sometimes collective) culpabilities. It is a state of mea culpa in terms of personal subjectivity in these contexts, and the failure of the personal subject and the self in any discourse of literary ‘production’ (which is always a lie).

Some things are quite fixed in my poetics, other variables are more unpredictable. I am interested in engaging with different creative and critical discourses and voices to see how they reflect, inflect, and depart from the variable model of locality I work out of. Influence is a variable outside the prescriptive, as one can be highly influenced by textualities that are very politically different from one’s own. I am massively influenced by Milton, but one would never be expected to share Milton’s version of the world. Now, we can easily fall into the ‘trap’ of saying that’s because he’s a ‘great’, and we have so much to learn, and that’s true of all the ‘greats’. Utter garbage! One shouldn’t respect Milton because he was a ‘great’ but because he offers us new ways of seeing which keep renewing themselves and actually escape his control/intent.

The reading of a text is as political as the writing. Often I read against the grain. And often we read to fill in the gaps our own investigations into responsibility, witness and response create (for me, Walter Benjamin is superb in this). The poetries of Judith Wright, of Lionel Fogarty, open these doors of possibility, but it doesn’t mean they are fait accompli in themselves, in their texts. There is no closure, and if and when there is, we sign off on the injustices of the world. Those poets wouldn’t sign off on these, and nor would I. And nor, for that matter, would Harold Bloom.

Bloom is too readily ‘understood’ by conservative embodiers of authority (canon) and too easily misunderstood by his critics. By which I mean that I have found him a brilliant reader, a brilliant mind, with subtleties of literary analysis not always obvious in his declarative summations. These are statements that need to be taken in context of his own cultural engagements and displacements. It is surely not contradictory for one to engage with Bloom’s reading and create readings that depart from this. It’s not a game of simpatico arrangements for the gallery of aesthetes. It’s not cadre social politics. It’s not making yourself agreeable to a movement. Stuff that! I only want to activate text to resist capitalism, to resist cultural imperialism, to resist the exploitation of animals, to resist the exploitation of the biosphere, to resist racism, to resist bigotry in all its forms, to resist developers, to resist the deniers of Indigenous knowledges, to resist the exploitations of ‘science’; to activate text and to use poetry and text as a means of repair, of justice. And Bloom can be part of that, is part of that. Read him in his entirety! It’s a complex and sophisticated body of critical work.

I belong to no party, I vote for no one (ever), I believe in no centralised state, no nation, and no hierarchy of power. I am a vegan anarchist pacifist and mean all of those ‘labels’ literally. I believe in consensus with cultural respect. There can be no making of minorities — we are all ‘majorities’, we all have equal rights, but the context of loss of rights has to be placed into the equation and rectified.

JD: In a similar vein but with a different emphasis, you’ve written that Language poetry is about America; and – paraphrasing here – that your innovations derive more from the linguistic interiorities of place than they do from global movements, forms. I think this is interesting or generative, given the range and extent of your work’s dialogues. Is it about the locality of poetics, regionalism? Or more about the rejection of hierarchy – does one imply the other?

JK: It’s about both — as (I hope) is shown in my rambling previous answer. The interiorities of place have no limits — the more time I spend interacting with the same trees, the same bobtails, the same sand, the same firebreaks, the more language evolves in a personal sense but also as a means of reaching out to the world. I seek to ‘translate’/transcribe not only what I observe, but to create a conceptual dynamic equivalent — to bring what’s happening elsewhere back ‘here’ in the least invasive and least spatially-occupying way as I can envisage. Language is about ‘power’, as we know, and the loss of language is disempowerment at its most brutal, but if you don’t ‘believe in’ power to start with (or, rather, desire its power to be undone), then the power of language is something in itself that (literally) needs deconstructing.

The essence of language is a response to stimuli, to necessity, to grasping the pragmatic and ineffable at once, but as poets we are primarily (too often?) dealing with the verbal. Non-speech can be richly informative, and those silences and even acceptances of non-language can be vital. Or, if you like, they are language, too.

But imposed silence, the theft of language, the assault on language, is something the poem resists. Celan is a vital poet for me because even in his experiencing/witnessing/conveying the breakdown of language due to the most horrific harm humans could/can inflict on human bodies and souls (which was/is also a violence against the planet itself), the broken fragments of impaired, smashed, and/or corrupted language accrue and rebuild and defy the horror. And we have need of Celan’s poetics now, desperately so. As we similarly need the poetics/poetry of, say,  the brilliant Miklos Radnoti. Language is part of poetry, but it’s not all poetry. Language is what we struggle to represent and reconfigure in poetry while constantly questioning its basis, its need, the trauma of (its) loss.


There’s something inherently pyrrhic about attempting to interpret or theorise Graphology, because its truest form is another book, written with Urs Jaeggi and lost, or unwritten, like Mallarmé’s total poem, or written elsewhere, written and unwritten in reading. In the pages of that book the poet John Kinsella is signlessly present only in the silent questions of cast shadows. That silence is representable only in translation, like this:

I parrot dog bushfruit butterfly mistletoe bird eucalypt mistletoe snake wheat dingo oak lizard monitor fox chicken bird tree hawthorn birch ash hazel ash maple oak karri jarra ash blackbutt bird eel oak bird geese widgeon mallard ibis cormorant egret blueheron reed sheep kangaroo sheep sheep merino mushroom fish oak yorkgum jamtree magpie tree duck duck-rabbit rabbit crow tree dog robin cabbage elephant tiger bear echidna flower buddleia iris leaf wildflower weed kite tree fungus tick tulip fox lamb lamb sheoak waterfowl snake weed sunflower horse flax grass bird leaf fly undergrowth bird titmouse fowl fish beast tree herb flower seed spice gum nuthatch ash aspen beech birch hickory oak spruce moth worm bird daffodil leaf tree bird sparrow bird deer dog horse cow groundhog raccoon bluebird flower tree fish bluebird flower bird cedar blackbird birch crow bluejay wagtail cockatoo tree flower bird hawk weed locust flea wheat bowerbird dog wheat bird bullant bark yorkgum jamtree bird swallow hippopotamus squirrel squirrel squirrel squirrel tree silkyoak horse sheep wedgetail bird mallee gimlet rockdragon acacia donkey spider wallaby serpent blackshoulderedkite rodent emu kangaroo blackshouldered kite fieldmouse powderbark scrubbird whitefacedheron dampiera rabbit grevilleahookeriana galah striatedpardalote buttonquail mallee samphire saltbush wedgetail casuarina melaleuca grevillea hakea acacia eucalypt wheat yellowskink wattle redcappedrobin herons floodedgum galah whitetaileddeer woodpecker grass walnut cardinal cardinal jarrah rabbit bluejay parrot parrot parrot crow crow crow crow plover tree fox rabbit eagle mallee songbird crow bird crocodile newhollandhoneyeater wattle rabbit fox tree tree sheoak bird swampgrass sargasso christmasspider plover gnat tree mulgaparrot zebrafinch blackfacedwoodswallow clamorousreedwarbler samphire grass insect blood-orange wandoo nankeennightheron crustacean redcappedrobin tree marsupial fly cat rabbit jarrah marri bark yorrel eagle frog sheep fly pine tasmanianbluegum eucalypt malleefowl bandedplover horse bandedplover cat bird fox weed whale malleefowl malleefowl hawk xanthorrhea honeyeater hawk wheat lotus rat snake frangipani flower broadleaf whitegum stringybark eucalypt fungus galah gimlettree kingfisher crow kookaburra salmongum sheep elk weed deer corn maple sequoia pumpkin wolf cat bird duck raccoon cat owl bear tigershark whitepointer snake deer sparrow horse roach suckerfish sargasso vulture sargasso rabbit parrot opossum kangaroo marsupial kangaroo dog possum possum dolphin magpie hare worm lamb bird tree squirrel eagle wheat cardinal titmouse turkeyvulture cherry deer deer deer tomato deer bird bird kangaroo bear antelope bird blowfly cat bird parrot sulphurcrestedcockatoo bird shark greyheadedflyingfox lyrebird blacktailedwhitecockatoos sheep kite turnip bird II tiger fox marsupial chicken horse dragon flycatcher fantail floodedgum floodedgum wandoo wodjil tamma sheep saltbush waterbird whitefacedheron bluetonguedlizard duck spoonbill spoonbill spoonbill spoonbill bluewren marsupial westernrosella marri jarrah tree mosquito flower bird parrot calf lamb lupin corn whitefacedheron heron snake bird fly dog bird quail wandoo yorkgum tree oat bird wandoo bird palmtree redtail yorkgum termite wheat bird tree tree bird trapdoorspider mistletoe acacia tree tree birch acacia snake wandoo jamtree yorkgum lichen patersonscurse capetulip wildoat yorkgum eagle mice tree grasshopper yanjidi typhaangustifolia butterfly tree tree wheat orchid megafauna meatant wasp beetle ant seaweed palm mistletoe limetree songbird magpie wildoat dragonfly yorkgum brigalow dog lupin mice acacia insect arachnid rodent reptile bird eagle snake crow paddymelon pigmelon almond gecko antlion blackshoulderedkite redwattlebird peacock bird gladiolus redkangaroo galah gimlet echidna eagle melaleuca bird rat bird whitetailedblackcockatoo grass flower lucerne flower gull olive tick grass redbackspider redback mallee malleefowl dragonfly bluebutterfly ant wattle moth flower marri casuarina songbird mistletoe bird seasnail tree wallaby malleefowl acacia casuarina redtailedblackcockatoo bird bird tree dove eucalypt termite horse horse horse horse bull dog horse horse flower olive grape wheat sheep parrot gull dog dpg dog pine owl nightbird daffodil beech carp carp hen rooster  bird rat kraka corncrake crake bluewren whale apple jarrah cedar sapling redrockcrab seaweed anemone greyshrikethrush greyshrikethrush wheat fox broadbean wheat yorkgum termite mallee wodjil corella bird gimlet emu tree bird floodedgum rodent reptile marsupial gum horse horse thornbill thornbill wagtail jamtree bird gull fox wattle floodedgum snake snake snake wadjil wandoo moretonbayfig tree tree galah bird tree cow sheep scorpion bat citrus olive dove lichen bird beetle skink mushroom bird grass grass lichen redcappedrobin greyshrikethrush pig eagle carpetsnake mice horse horse carpetsnake laurel eucalypt laurel ‘phoenix’ wasp mistetoebird bluebutterfly ant santalumspicatum tree sapling sandalwood weebill bird tree grasshopper gecko grasshopper gecko sandalwood sandalwood mistletoe jamtree lichen blackmouse wreathflower lilac lichen crow crow wreathflower flower fish grass lilac wheat quandong tree mackerel cow sheep corn melon greentomato parrot acacia eagle spider jamtree jamtree jamtree wasp spider grub nightshade horse wandoo jamtree yorkgum nightshade potato eagle wattle galah ringneck galah bird reptile bull meatant nightshade insect sedge floodedgum sapling whale wheat dragon tern bird bird tree ant yellowparrot goldenwhistler ant wolfspider lizard bird insect reptile blackheadedmonitor skink gecko bluebush saltbush acacia salmongum goldfieldsblackbutt dog dog eagle yorkgum mallee dragon olivetree parrot tree floodedgum ringneckedparrot wheat parrot rockwallaby sheep zamiapalm melaleuca fox acaciatetragonophylla zamiapalm peabellflower bottletree bottletree riverredgum redrivergum echidna termite bird finch needletree emu termite emu emu boar sow piglet goanna sheep bird bird ant ant meatant ant bluebell kangaroo lion marsupial sheep fox cat termite sheep wandoo steer lion lion lion lion grass dog rabbit tree wallaroo yorkgum oat kangaroo tree grasshopper swan gnat cat fox tree goldenwhistler wheat tree yorkgum alpaca sheep fox sheep serpent slug frog blackgecko bluetongue mouse insect bird egret III spinebill goldenwhistler eagle mulgasnake joey tree sheep grass tree mulgasnake sheep sheep songbird insect crab cuttlefish opossum shortbeakedechidna groundhog westerngreykangaroo raccoon redcardinal redcappedrobin barnowl barnowl crow crow mosquito mosquito tree acacia termite sugarant bullant horse camel tree coconut dragon zebrafinch doe dragon tree hornbeam spindle blackberry fieldfare dunnock gecko duck mosquito monkey horse moss bird dinosaur cuttlefish peyote berry lapdog beagle rabbit dog primate jamtree karri karri tree tree deer larkspur delphinium bat berry willow tench barbel stoat vole moss snail goat jarrah seahawk root snake bird bird falcon bird emu eagle rabbit horse bird pinusradiata jarrah pine pine pine limetree bird bee flower sheoak tree bird insect bird ant shark blackhousespider tree turtle flightlessbird flyingfox pigeon owl parrot whale heron sandalwood bird fish wattle fruit tree mulgasnake monitor eagle wheatbeltstonegecko bird goldenwhistler spider weebill weebill bird lizard bird eucalypt bee flower whale tree mouse housemouse sapling fish villageweaver redwhiskeredbulbul seagrape bat stonefish flower datura dog bandedcoralsnake fish pailleenqueue whitetailedtropicbird pailleenqueue dragonfly corbie wheat corbie blackshoulderedkite bunny tree insect grass bird bird wattle wildoat bird yorkgum insect blackshoulderedkite mouse eagle nightparrot eucalypt furze fuchsia gorseflower grouse palm coconut palm palm arecaceae dragon palm palm date houseplant palm palm palm palm palm palm coral coconut cat rat wagtail spider scarletrobin westernspinebill scarletrobin yorkgum wattle wattle flower grass insect grass kangaroo skua grass root wolf sheep redfox bird bird termite bird kangaroo seed ant jamtree mistletoe parasite mistletoe grasshopper jamtree mistletoe parasite magpie horse horse horse gum parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot darlmoorluk ringneckedparrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot jamtree bird bird parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot parrot fruittree lily bronzewingpigeon bird lizard tree bronzewing wheat wheat wheat moodjarblossom christmastree tree nuytsiafloribunda wheat moodjarblossum eagle parrot flycatcher wagtail sheep insect oak algae floodedgum motorbikefrog bronzewing wheat moth bat yorkgum parrot olive blackwingedstilt blackswan coot pelican whiteswan eagle blackwingedstilt teal spoonbill floodedgum blackwingedstilt oystercatcher nankeennightheron mite blackswan nankeennightheron tree caltrop kangaroo horse bluebutterfly mistletoe songbird grass horse insect bird blackheadedmonitor songbird mouse monitor blackheadedmonitor magpie wheat tree bat bat rose tree


Birns, Nicholas, Landscape Eaten by Foliage: John Kinsella’s Graphology Poems,

Brown, Marshall, ‘Negative Poetics: On Skepticism and the Lyric Voice.’ Representations, vol. 86, No. 1 (Spring 2004), pp. 120-140

Celan, Paul, Selected Poems, trans. Michael Hamburger, Penguin, 1996

—. Collected Prose, trans. Rosemarie Waldrop, Routledge, 2003

Derrida, Jacques, Acts of Literature, Attridge ed. Routledge, 1992

—. ‘The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)’ trans. David Wills, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Winter, 2002), pp. 369-418.

 —. The Beast & the Sovereign, trans. Geoffrey Bennington. UCP, 2011.

Foucault, Michel, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, Faubion ed. Trans. Hurley &c. New Press, 1998.

Kinsella, John,  Disclosed Poetics, Manchester UP, 2007.

—. Graphology Poems, vol 1-3, 5 Islands Press, 2016

Perloff, Marjorie, ‘Language Poetry and the Lyric Subject: Ron Silliman’s Albany, Susan Howe’s Buffalo’ Critical Inquiry 25, no. 3 (Spring, 1999): 405-434.

Published: May 2017
Jonathan Dunk

is the Kenneth Reed postgraduate scholar at the University of Sydney, where he teaches Australian and Comparative literatures. His poetry, criticism, and fiction have been published in Meanjin, Cordite, Southerly, Mascara, The Australian Book Review, and shortlisted for the Overland VU prize. He was born on Dharawal, and lives on Wangal.

John Kinsella

John Kinsella‘s most recent volumes of poetry are Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016) and Firebreaks (WW Norton, 2016). His most recent collection of short stories is Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). His investigation of “place”, Polysituatedness: A Poetics of Displacement, was published by Manchester University Press in late 2016. He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University and Professor of Literature and Sustainability at Curtin University.


I Wonder If He Has Ever Spoken to Bees: Sentiments to M. Harrison

by Clare Cholerton and Justin Wolfers


Justin Wolfers: Want to do an email interview “Justin Wolfers and Clare Cholerton” in which we talk about Martin and then submit it to that journal? We can talk back and forth for two weeks and then edit?

Clare Cholerton: Yes let’s do it! I had started writing an essay about Martin but it’s missing something, the voice of you or your memory of him. I’ve started thinking that I see him walking down the streets disappearing into cafes or in the faces of people I just met. But I can’t find him in the words I read or write.

JW: Yeah I couldn’t decide what mode to enter with – something poetic, something hybrid, something alert, but I didn’t want it to be mournful, or exacting. Much prefer a dialogue with lots of dashes in it for continuing thoughts.

I remember half-open blinds in his corner office, him asking me to fetch a juice, our whole class being ordered to read Flaubert. Once during a meeting, his incredulity at humanity’s tendency to view the mutual orgasm as the pinnacle of physical intimacy.

It’s hard to not be reflective about it. Also to write verbatim without thinking about submitting it, so it’s necessarily affected. But maybe we’ll cut through that. Does he come up for you when you write, these days?

In that last lecture he gave I’d never seen him quite so unabashedly romantic or eco-poetical. He talked about writing “shimmer” with Deborah Bird Rose. Which I’ve been reading of recently referred to as “shards” (Walter Benjamin) or as a “glimmer” of the possibility of alterity (Ben Lerner). We were discussing it as a poetic possibility that one could find in the natural environment, but Astrid Lorange suggested a flippage, that a plant might do X thing before rain falls that, to us, seems aesthetically pleasing – oh it’s so beautiful – but is actually a scientific or functional act with a biological imperative, and the poetry of it is incidental, a bonus.

CC: We can cut through the knowledge of submission: our distance acts as negation. I can’t help always thinking of you in context of Martin. If we had both not been pupils under his tutelage, would we have been able to have this dialogue, or any of our other dialogues for that matter? You sent me a message once, while we were both knee deep in thesis, saying that Martin wanted you to clarify a footnote. I like to think that this is the way we should be: enigmatic in our presence, clear in our footnotes. Maybe the footnotes is where our voice lies … Do you agree?

Martin’s office provided an annex of intimacy: the essence of the room mathematical in possibility. I would catch myself smiling as I watched cars reflect light onto Bon Marche and Martin would sit, inquisitive, that look of wisdom dangling. You know the one Justin, the one with the twinkle. Always a chess master of conversation, yet I wonder if he had ever spoken to bees.

He would start to make a cup of tea and never finish making the cup of tea, too distracted by, for example, what “blue” is. Blue only becomes blue, within an assigned frame e.g. the sky, once it has reflected other colours first. But then he would go from the window to the piece of paper I had given him, written in blue pen. The blue of the words, the only consistency from the beginning and the end of the page, other than the overarching voice of language.

Like Mallarmé’s poem “L’Azur”, 1894, which exploits the analogy of allowing disembodied voices to speak through poetry while remaining threatened by the ruthless passing on time: the blue timbre, the blue in the poem, the blue in the room after reading the poem aloud proffers that it is language itself that remains in the voice of poetry, beyond the voice of the poet, beyond any disembodied voice or voices and once it has been stripped back the blue, the refracted shimmer is what remains, even if you are not sure who it belongs to. (Martin is our disembodied voice).

En vain! L’Azur triomphe, et je l’entends qui chante

Dans les cloches. Mon âme, il se fait voix pour plus

Nous faire peur avec sa victoire méchante,

Et du métal vivant sort en bleus angelus!

Il roule par la brume, ancien et traverse

Ta native agonie ainsi qu’un glaive sûr

Où fuir dans la révolte inutile et perverse?

Je suis hanté. L’Azur! L’Azur! L’Azur! I’Azur!

But vainly! The Azure triumphs and I hear it sing

In bells.  Dear Soul, it turns into a voice the more

To fright us by its winged victory, and springs

Blue Angelus, out of the living metal core.

It travels ancient through the fog, and penetrates

Like an unerring blade your native agony;

Where flee in my revolt so useless and depraved?

For I am haunted! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky!

I think Martin knew that he shimmered: but had only shimmered through first being in and out of pursuits, physical, conceptual, but all residual: he had learned the futility of self-destruction.

I wonder what gave him the most pleasure? What gives you the most pleasure Justin? I enjoy being “close”.

D. Miller and I argued with Martin that one time regarding Dan’s and my predilection for painful imagery. We left Martin frustrated, Dan and I sharing quizzical looks that didn’t want to admit our sadomasochistic tendencies. After class I approached Martin and he smiled at me and asked: “Do you always want to walk on thorns Clare? Who will heal your feet?”.

At the time, I always thought that pain ties into pleasure, but I now realise that one should not seek out pain to feel pleasure: it is more destructive for those around you, than yourself, if you seek out pain. Pain is a by-product of miscommunication.

If I am asked “If you could go back in time, where would you go?”, one of my many answers, but close to the top, would be “to go to Martin’s last lecture”.

JW: If you’re looking at a face you now know is capable of killing you in a second – Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence – you haven’t seen this side of him before, are surprised by it but mostly afraid – and then he grotesquely impedes you, fucks you on the staircase, envelopes you in his vulnerability, openness; this is more beautiful or hotter than any tender gesture. I get that. Or I think of A., who used to have such violent, biting sex, but is that the foundation for a loving relationship, even if it is better than sex every once in a while but mostly cuddles? But in agreeing with Martin on it, I remember – Daniel ordering large triple shot lattes, deleting and then re-adding me on Facebook depending on whether he enjoyed my performance in tutorials – there was a slight difference between understanding that part of love is pain, and seeking out pain as a signifier of love.

The shimmer, being a word I cannot take seriously, slightly passes me by. But a word like glimmer, and other kinds of light-play, seem alright. Or perhaps the pure kitsch of shimmer is why we should use it. Ecopoetics as the inextricability of having empathy as a poet and the fuckedness of the planet. Trying to somehow undo the extreme human-centric relation to the planet with some trans-species gestures. Or as Ben Lerner says, “You can’t use the planet and expect to end up with a planet.” So we owe the planet something and start to look at it with bruised apologetic eyes, and look at all this shimmering, light on water, refracted light, glaring light.

I like being close. I like being close and silent. I like letting go.

JW: Martin’s last recording:

CC: You ended it so well:

“I like being close. I like being close and silent. I like letting go.”

The penultimate before the real end. The deus ex machina where you or I or both you or I imagine the return of Martin. Not in o

JW: pposition, just trying to stress less, and change the notion of “I need to do work” to “I need to write this line”

or “l need to read this page, thumb over the page numbe”

Crate on desk = standing desk

Somewhere between Harrison and Hemingway in the active writing process short of brutishness, the importance of attention, a slight tremor in my hand I become ununderstandable, sexually oblique, poetic

I think thumbing iPhone is now my most natural writing mode

Talking to Tegan, the task for my first conference paper (UNSW) is to enact rather than exact the material

CC: Thumbing a page number. Do we do it as a method of reading or out of the habit of reminding ourselves to remember or so that others see a constructed idea of what we want then to see what we are learning.

Need and wanting are two very different things; one requires it to become a part of the respiratory system. The other are cinders of desire.

JW: I hold my thumb over the page number to shield myself from thinking about how far through the book I am, to try and read presently, rather than thinking about endings, about being at some future point where I’ve finished it.

Received an email about an experimental workshop on writing with the body; yoga and Alexander technique are mentioned, but not Cixous. Writing as need, you sense the wholeness of her endeavour: 14 different pens of different inks, hundreds of pieces of paper of all different sizes on the table, 10 hour writing stints – writer as marathon runner.

CC: A marathon continues until the person can no longer run. The length is tireless. But some can persist. The same applies for writers.

I walked home tonight. Danced to Craig David and old hip-hop that make the hips quiver in familiarity. I walk home, watch Lucy, the staffy, be watched by inebriated couples, until, when all are asleep except you and me and two others, I am asked about the poetics of closeness. I tell them jeans are the most familiar, accessible. Then watercolour. Then oil. The words. Words can translate. Visuals can. And I have always wondered what Martin would think of the value of the image. Instant grams.

JW: Or in a wintry week in Sydney wearing the nostalgic-for-Europe UniQlo thermals under the jeans – it hides the skin showing from the rip in the thigh of my jeans – very authentic rip, from barbed wire while picking apples with L – but yes, provides closeness. Yesterday S & I went to L & N’s house and got caught in the hailstorm. Their house must have been the lowest point on the street because we were literally inundated with ice, it flooded the whole street and came up from the gutter, past the fence, into the yard – instagram was going crazy – we were stuck there into the late evening, played 500, ordered Turkish pizza, watched Wake In Fright for Anzac day. (Note from checking corrections of the Australian War Memorial Book: use of “Anzac” refers to the day, the tradition, the collectivity, Anzac Cove, so on; use of “ANZAC” refers only specifically to the army corps.) When we got in the car to go home, there was ice-cold water ankle-deep in the passenger seat.

I think words can be incredibly specific, potent; stimulate the imagination hugely – but offsetting the text with images throughout is interesting too (Ben Lerner comes up again).

Syntax and specificity: there’s a lot there. The end of that Martin poem, the crystal image:

Suddenly you realise

you’re hearing a night-time forest floor, a twig snapped

not this last light with its thin, gold trees and ragged openness

but a moment’s hesitation one night in a foreign country:

I was in up-state New York, there was a house in the woods,

there was indoor light of a dinner party, good people, drinks.

I’d stepped outside to get a sense of things, their loitering depth.

Earlier I’d seen startled deer leap a stone wall tumbled into bracken.

Ben Lerner, from Leaving the Atocha Station:

Although I claimed to be a poet, although my supposed talent as a writer had earned me my fellowship in Spain, I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less a particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility. Insofar as I was interested in the arts, I was interested in the disconnect between my experience of actual artworks and the claims made on their behalf; the closest I’d come to having a profound experience of art was probably the experience of this distance, a profound experience of the absence of profundity.

That of course, does not so much apply here, where the roots of poetic possibility run deep, for many reasons, and yet still.

CC: ANZAC to Anzac changes – I like the difference in connotation yet I think of them, still, the same. Patriotism created out of death: they shot him dead in no-mans-land (he was only 19), the box truck hit his motorcycle; his last lecture was about the shimmer.

So much hail! They say that no two snowflakes are the same, but that’s not mathematically possible, which is comforting because then at least we know individuality is just pure discourse and the poetics of nature provide a guttural human instinct that makes us same.

Mon amour à moi n’aime pas qu’on l’aime

Tristan Corbière

JW: My love for me does not like love – google translate

Getting stressed thinking about academic papers, when I try to explain it to D, the blurring of author and narrator, auto-fiction, etc., he says, “But don’t all good novels do that?” Makes me learn to say less, keep it small and direct, don’t go for sweeping overviews on how the book you like changes the world:

True, abandoning the figure won’t change the world.

But then again, neither will changing the world

Lerner, Lichtenberg Figures

CC: Don’t write to change the world.

Write to provide alternate auto realities. (I wanted to add in a collective we there, I’m on the tube, sleepers dozing)

Martin would have enjoyed, I think, the ability to write for a virtual world, where all viewpoints are considered, all pixels

JW: Yes, to write something eminently fast-moving, multisensory, vibrant, like watching sports on TV, yet the flurry of coloured bodies is the text across the page

CC: “It stays like this / until you understand it / as light, unconscious flesh; and it / becomes you, as you it.” (Martin Harrison)

Reference List

Corbière, T. Wry-Blue Loves: Les Amours Jaunes and Other Poems, trans. P. Dale. London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2005.

Harrison, M. “White Tailed Deer”,  in  Living Things: five poems (2013) available online at:

Lerner, B.  The Lichtenberg Figures. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2004.

—. Leaving the Atocha Station. London: Granta, 2011.

Lerner, B. and P. Holdengräber. “Live from the NYPL: Ben Lerner” (interview), New York Public Library (2014), available online at

Mallarmé, S.  Stéphane Mallarmé: The Poems in Verse, trans. P. Manson. Miami: Miami University Press, 2012.

Published: September 2015
Clare Cholerton

In 2013 Clare Cholerton was titled Sydney’s New Voice by the Ian Potter Foundation and her first collection Missive, was published by Poetry Australia in the same year. She has written for The Lifted Brow, Seizure and The Bohemyth among others. She lives in London.

Justin Wolfers

is a Sydney-based writer, researcher and editor. He has written for The Lifted Brow, Seizure, Kill Your Darlings, and The Australian among others. He is a doctoral candidate in contemporary fiction at the University of Western Sydney, and was a friend and Undergraduate and Honours student of Martin’s in Writing at the University of Technology Sydney in 2011-2012.


“Poetry does not tamper with the world, but moves it” (William Carlos Williams): Q&A with Ann Fisher-Wirth

by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Anne Elvey

ecopoetry-anthology-cover“Poetry does not tamper with the world, but moves it” (William Carlos Williams): A Q&A with Ann Fisher-Wirth

Anne Elvey

Ann Fisher-Wirth kindly responded to some questions about The Ecopoetry Anthology which she co-edited with Laura-Gray Street.
The Ecopoetry Anthology (San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press, 2013;

AE: What were your considerations in the selection of poets and poems for The Ecopoetry Anthology, which you coedited with Laura-Gray Street? Why, for instance, does the volume begin with Walt Whitman?

AFW: In choosing work for The Ecopoetry Anthology, our primary consideration was quality. Beyond that, we wanted to create a collection of poems that would indicate the tremendous range and variety of American nature poetry from Whitman to about 1960, and American ecopoetry from about 1960 to the present.

The anthology changed shape several times in its early days. At one point, Laura-Gray and I conceived of it as containing only work written since the increasing public awareness of environmental crisis that intensified with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), and that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and other agencies, and the first Earth Day (1970). It was Robert Hass’s idea to begin with Whitman. Some years ago, I was having lunch with him in California and telling him about our plans. He suggested that we begin the book with a 30-page historical section of American nature poetry, starting with Whitman—creating a mini-unit that would give some background for American ecopoetry, and that high school or college teachers could use in class. Laura-Gray, our publisher Barbara Ras, and I agreed that was a fine idea. But once we started choosing work, that section grew and grew until it reached 130 pages, there was so much gorgeous poetry.

But why, specifically, start with Whitman? In The Poet (1844), Ralph Waldo Emerson writes:

We have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable materials…. Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boats, and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres.

With Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, Whitman answers this call. He is not our first poet but he is arguably our greatest poet, and he enfolds America—its places, its earth as well as its people—in a vast, all-encompassing embrace. Hemingway famously said that all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn”; just so, modern American poetry may be said to come from Leaves of Grass.

AE: Bonny Cassidy in her review, comments on the absence of poems by indigenous writers in this volume. What indigenous poets from North America might you wish to include, if possible, should there be a further edition of The Ecopoetry Anthology? In addition to contemporary poets, is there a body of indigenous work available, for example, pre-dating Whitman?

AFW: Though Bonny Cassidy remarks upon an “absence of poems by indigenous writers” in The Ecopoetry Anthology, that is not really the case. In the contemporary section of the anthology, there are a dozen poets who may be characterized as indigenous writers—though in the United States, ethnic and racial identity can be complex. We include several poets whose lineage is entirely Native American, several others whose lineage is mixed but who identify themselves as Native American, and several others whose lineage is partly Native American but who are usually described as Chicano(a). Also included are Juan Carlos Galeano, Luisa Igloria, and Craig Santos Perez. Here are the details:

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe of Apache and Chicano descent. Lois Beardslee is Ojibwa, from northern Michigan. Lorna Dee Cervantes is a fifth generation Californian of Mexican and Native American (Chumash) descent. Louise Erdrich is Chippewa and German-American. Juan Carlos Galeano is from the Amazon region of Colombia. Joy Harjo, from Oklahoma, is a member of the Mvskogee Nation. Allison Hedge Coke is of mixed Huron, Metis, Cherokee, Creek, French Canadian, Portuguese, Irish, Scots, and English descent. Linda Hogan is Chickasaw. Deborah Miranda is of Esselen, Chumash, French, and Jewish ancestry. Luisa Igloria is Filipina-American. dg nanouk okpik is an Alaskan native, Inupiat-Inuit from the Arctic slope. Craig Santos Perez is native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam.

If there were to be a further edition of The Ecopoetry Anthology, we’d welcome the opportunity to consider other contemporary indigenous poets. We might consider including Native American prayers and songs pre-dating Whitman; we would have to do further research in that regard. Definitely, we continue to come across wonderful recent work, and that is a pleasure.

AE: Do you see a moment in which ecopoetry and ecopoetics takes a new, or more conscious, trajectory after, for example, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), or do you see the development of “ecopoetry” in the United States, as more or less continuous from Whitman on?

AFW: In the Editors’ Preface to The Ecopoetry Anthology, Laura-Gray and I write:

Nature poetry has existed as long as poetry has existed. Around 1960, however, public attention increasingly turned to the burgeoning environmental crisis, and nature poetry began to reflect this concern. In recent decades, the term “ecopoetry” has come into use to designate poetry that in some way is shaped by and responds specifically to that crisis. The term has no precise definition and rather fluid boundaries, but some things can usefully be said about it. Generally, this poetry addresses contemporary problems and issues in ways that are ecocentric and that respect the integrity of the other-than-human world. It challenges the belief that we are meant to have dominion over nature and is skeptical of a hyperrationality that would separate mind from body—and earth and its creatures from human beings—and that would give preeminence to fantasies of control. Some of it is based in the conviction that poetry can help us find our way back to an awareness that we are at one with the more-than-human world.

So yes, there is a new trajectory beginning in the 1960’s. And yet there is not a definite break. For one thing, poems can reveal themselves as ecopoetic, depending upon the sorts of awareness we bring to them; think of Emily Dickinson’s statement that “nature is a stranger yet” or Ezra Pound’s “Learn of the green world what can be thy place.” Much of Robinson Jeffers’s work is ecopoetry avant la lettre. Muriel Rukeyser’s Book of the Dead is, among other things, a powerful work of environmental justice. Sterling A. Brown’s “Riverbank Blues” has much to tell us about the environmental history of the Mississippi. Kenneth Rexroth, quoting John Tyndall, writes of “The chain of dependence which runs through creation, / And links the roll of a planet alike with the interests / Of marmots and of men.”

AE: In retrospect, are there any significant poets or poems you feel you have left out and would like to include?

AFW: You always leave somebody out. If we were to reissue the anthology, I would want to include James Wright, for instance, and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” or “Wales Visitation.”

AE: In your introduction, you write of a pivotal moment when you first read Robert Frost’s “Spring Pools”, which characterises trees as entities capable of thought. You speak of the awareness of the trees’ otherness that the oddness of the idea of a tree that thinks awakened in you. Might this idea also hint at a kind of material agency, that perhaps might be best not anthropomorphised in terms of human thought, but might suggest its own kind of self-in-relation being-acting-purposing?

AFW: Robert Frost, often an ironist, does not really characterize trees as capable of thought; he is using the conceit to express the same melancholia about natural change as informs, for instance, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” But when I first read “Spring Pools” I was very young, and the poem struck me so poignantly because I had never really thought about human cognition at all, or (therefore) about how the other-than-human world does not participate in human cognition. But yes, of course the trees—and everything else in existence—have their own forms of non-anthropomorphic agency. They fulfill (or are not permitted to fulfill) their own natures; like the kingfishers and dragonflies in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s beautiful sonnet, all things are “Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.”

AE: With reference to William Carlos Williams, you speak of poetry as having the power to move the world. Can you say a bit more about your sense of this, perhaps with reference to one or two poems from the book or elsewhere?

AFW: In Spring and All, William Carlos Williams writes, “Poetry does not tamper with the world, but moves it.” It does not meddle, intrude, or interfere; it does not play around with, alter, or falsify. Instead, it picks the world up and puts it down somewhere else. It arouses the imagination. It stirs up emotions, and in so doing, it can cause the reader or listener to change from one state, opinion, sphere, or activity to another.

I’ll give you an example. Last year I taught a graduate seminar on American ecopoetry in which we read The Ecopoetry Anthology, Camille Dungy’s anthology Black Nature, Joshua Corey and G. C. Waldrep’s anthology The Arcadia Project, and individual volumes by several poets. There was plenty of discussion, sometimes disagreement, about what ecopoetry is, where its boundaries are, what kind of poetry succeeds best in interrogating the manifold, complex relations between human and other-than-human. But every one of my students fell for Ronald Johnson’s little poem “[earthearthearth]” in The Ecopoetry Anthology, which goes like this:







They fell for it not only because it is clever, but because, like me, they were moved by it. It made them experience ear, earth, heart, hearth, and art as all interconnected, part of one living breath, one living poetry.

Now, does this experience move the world?

I am writing three days after the American midterm elections in which the Republicans gained control of the Senate and therefore both houses of Congress. Things could hardly look worse for the environment. A scientist friend of mine remarked that, whereas usually in America one can say “Wait a few years till the next elections,” at this point we may not have a few years. As Gary Snyder says, the amoebae will survive. Perhaps poetry may give us heart—may awaken those qualities of imagination, attentiveness, and tenderness toward existence that will help us also survive, and though our actions, help life’s other entities survive, too.

AE: Who do you see as the primary audience for this volume? Are there particular commercial constraints on putting together a volume of this nature, that influence the selection?

AFW: The Ecopoetry Anthology is for everyone. The long introduction by Robert Hass, former US Poet Laureate, weaves the poetry and poets into his brilliant overview of American environmental history and thought; it is an indispensable resource for scholars and teachers as well as general readers. The historical section and the contemporary section offer hundreds of beautiful, provocative, memorable poems of all sorts, from Whitman to the present. The Ecopoetry Anthology is for students and teachers at all levels from junior high through graduate school. It is for poets, readers of poetry, committed environmentalists, ordinary citizens, and those who think they don’t like poetry, who pick it up in an idle moment and find something to love. It is for anti-environmentalists, both in and out of power—would that they would discover and read it.

Trinity University Press was incredibly generous in letting us grow the volume from its first targeted length of 250 pages through many expansions to its present length of over 600 pages. Barbara Ras, our publisher, committed to raising funding to support a big and beautifully rendered book, and, as we overshot limit after limit, finally concluded, “Don’t worry about the length; just make it good.”

AE: Is there anything else you would like to say about your own sense of what ecopoetry and ecopoetics might be and about what informs your own work as a poet?

AFW: I have five grandchildren, aged three to eight. I have dedicated my part of this book to them, and to the world’s children. They move into the world we have made. We need to think hard about this: They move into the world we have made. May it be a legacy worth bequeathing.

Published: January 2015
Ann Fisher-Wirth

is co-editor of The Ecopoetry Anthology. She is Professor of English at the University of Mississippi.

Anne Elvey

is managing editor of Plumwood Mountain journal.


Q&A with Corey Wakeling and Jeremy Balius

by Anne Elvey

OutcropcoverA Q&A with Corey Wakeling and Jeremy Balius, editors of Outcrop: radical Australian poetry of land, Black Rider, 2013

Corey Wakeling and Jeremy Balius kindly responded to some questions I sent them about their edited collection, Outcrop. I am particularly taken by Corey’s comment: “I believe poetry can encourage decipherment, unbearable sensitivity, and an archaeological sense of manners.”

AE: I am interested in where you would situate Outcrop in relation to ecopoetry. Do you see Outcrop as a work of ecopoetry and ecopoetics?

CW: I do, insofar as Outcrop participates in the multiplicity of the field following certain recognised premises of ecocriticism, such as incredulity towards dualism, the articulation of porous, soluble, liquid or posthuman conceptions of the human figure, interest in nonhuman temporalities of, say, geodesy or volcanology, interest in non-economic and premodern visions of sustainability, the recuperation of indigenous knowledge, and so on. Like Timothy Morton says about ecocritique as unafraid of “nonidentity”, I don’t think much of the poetry in Outcrop is fearful of dealing with it either. As a field invested in rethinking origin, environment, and, essentially, ethics regarding these considerations, I am aware that, at the activist or metaphysical poles of ecocriticism, much of the poetry within the collection will participate uncertainly with their edicts. Well, this is my hope: that as a properly vibrant and multiplicitous field of contrary discourses of poetics and environment informed at once by the Romantic phenomenologies of Wordsworth, Shelley and Clare, and the contemporary experiments from the 60s onwards of Gary Snyder, Juliana Spahr, John Kinsella, or Peter Riley, but most importantly of the work of scientists who have rethought the meanings of consciousness, humanity, and time, that ecopoetics consider the possibilities of Keri Glastonbury’s queer pastoral or Nicola Themistes’ rewritings of pastoral myth. As conscious of the ethics of the emergence of identity and thinking in interconnected but contaminated space, exhausted space, nationalised and bordered space, I think ecopoetics is a fitting lens for understanding the collection’s diversity. If ecological thinking is as exigent to the present as it appears to be to those in science and politics and to me, then of course it commands relevancy to the collection. Necessary identification with its edicts was no stipulation nor of any interest to us as editors, however, and why indeed it is not entitled a collection of ecopoetic work but as works of land.

JB: Yes, I’d also generally situate the book under that umbrella term as it’s fairly far-reaching, though I personally don’t use the term very often. (For me, this is perhaps also partially due to the sound of the word.) As Corey mentioned, the focus wasn’t on identifying with or specifically adding to a public discourse on what is ecopoetical as such. There are fantastic publications already pursuing this in Australia and indeed, worldwide. It was specifically the poems and the encounters with land in an Australian context we were and are bright-eyed about. But if you were to respond to that with “That’s still ecopoetics(!)” we would graciously agree and offer you more tea. 🙂

AE: If you feel the works in Outcrop represent a kind or kinds of ecopoetry, or an ecopoetic sensibility, can you say a bit more about how you understand ecopoetry and what is “radical” about it?

CW: Allow me to answer the second, since I think my above response answer’s the first. These poems were chosen and nominated radical by us because they are often challenging, problematic, intensified, confrontational and polysemous works which debate the foundations on which discourses of land are embedded and asserted, discourses such as regarding nation, culture, place, belonging, fealty, and reality. Explicitation and denotation of the consternation that these master signifiers congeal and conceal is one effective way of marking and disturbing these operations, and poetics is particularly radical in the way in which the condition of writing nation, culture, place, belonging, fealty, and reality into the multiplicity of cohabited and palimpsestic socio-environmental experience opens out into its deterritorialised logics. This is not to say that deterritorialisation is simply positive. However, I do know that, as for ecological thinking, it is exigent for nation, culture, place, belonging, fealty and reality to be rewritten, that the way they are being rewritten ideologically is presently into the same categories of stifled concretion and rigor mortis of territory. This is due significantly to a poverty of poetics and language for describing the local, the apparitional, the seen, the felt, space and time—sufferings of imagination—as much as the coercions of a conservative government myopically servile to industry, all of which contributing to us abiding in a majoritarian culture of galled politics and conservative epicureans of real estate.

I have begun answering the next question. I return to Outcrop: it is as important now as ever, it seems to me, to counter the aestheticisations of Australia as a pasture and mine. Many poets in Outcrop don’t identify themselves as ecopoets, but many were glad to be collected in an anthology of work that would and has been read for ecological content and sympathy, and I think this is wonderful, but also telling as a commonality in radical investment in poetry. As Justin Clemens said at the anthology’s launch last year, this collection is about poems, not poets, and if it were simply the self-identifying radical poets that were considered radical, then a disappointing (and narcissistic) field of poetry would be the only one considered radical. I am interested in people’s questions for the term. Some poets from the collection were surprised to be called radical when we approached them. That’s okay, but I think the term is charming and honourable and identifies a certain libido. More importantly, it is radical to rethink Australia and land wherein the categories of nation, culture, place, belonging, fealty and reality have apparently changed, the nomination of ‘land’ intensifying the implications of this rethinking. I think of Martin Harrison’s reading of Jennifer Rankin in Who wants to create Australia? where he articulates a poetic phenomenology, inspired by Aboriginal topographical imagination, of being at once on the ground and in the air. I was staggered when I read this. It is geographical, topographical and spatial contributions of poets such as this which necessarily disrupt a purely industrial conception of land, which we are rife with presently. Our environmental imagination is being high-jacked; signs of this are found in the synecdochic poesy of this condition in Gina Rinehart’s “Our Future”:

The globe is sadly groaning with debt, poverty and strife
And billions now are pleading to enjoy a better life
Their hope lies with resources buried deep within the earth
And the enterprise and capital which give each project worth

Rinehart has ingeniously presented the exigency of counter-poetic upheaval on a plate. If you thought poetry was seclusion from these affairs, well even the rhyming couplet is not safe, and whether you like it or not, politicised. Rinehart’s is a poetics of so blatant an inversion of environmental priority and repulsive elision of what in fact is “groaning”—to think it is “debt, poverty and strife” the globe is “groaning with”!—and is blatant high-jackery of environmental harmonics, Virgil’s buzzing bees here transformed to workers, zones, ore and —the saviour—enterprise. But, I argue this is the state of affairs in the present majority of Australia’s environmental imagination, the sense that our future does not exist without the strong borders of “enterprise” and “capital”. Australia’s imagination is so impoverished that “Our Future” marks a collective anxiety about our socio-economic future and totemises it in its favourite rhyming couplet verse.

Certainly, by contrast with Gina Rinehart’s poem, most poetry appears radical. But, better than this, I should add that an expansion of the aesthetic, poetic and ethical imagination in a radical way, that renders old conceptions of nation and culture insolvent, is necessary to activism and metaphysics which consider a better future. Poetics is more complex than simply critique or celebration; it is a rewriting of the conditions of thinking and meaning as such. I’m very Rancierian about this, but generally very Frankfurt School, I think: change the actors and the spectators!

JB: We’d been deliberating and conversing on the term “radical” in relation to poetry, in an Australian context, for some time prior. While it’s a term which resonates deeply for each individual with varying meanings attached to it, it perfectly encapsulates or alludes to a great many things we were bringing together and it’s this diversity of discourse within the same volume that is important here. In many ways we felt that there was no other descriptor which could achieve this.

Broadly, the radical here disrupts or makes aware, and to me, this is exciting.

If your question is asking whether we define ecopoetry in general as being radical, we are not.

It’s important also to view Outcrop in the context of Black Rider Press and its overall trajectory. This isn’t a standalone publication (albeit the term radical is only used in the context of Outcrop), but is part of a broader ecosystem, including Black Rider presents forward slash and its follow up later this year, The Diamond and the Thief series, Black Rider presents Lyrics chapbook series with coming editions by Jill Jones, Ali Alizadeh and Louis Armand, the Sound of the Black Rider audio series, the Last Hurrah events, novels by JJ Deceglie and Levin A Diatschenko, Matthew Hall’s poetry collection and the coming debut poetry collection by Tim Wright.

AE: On the question of what is radical—and both the notion of something organic and rooted and the sense of a certain activist political orientation come to mind—what do you see as the role of poetry in negotiating the interplay between ecological engagements with country and postcolonial commitments to land rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

CW: I see no role for poetry, and certainly not as any kind of negotiator. This is the language of instrumentalising poetry for a common good in a world where common goods are the first bastion of ideological manipulation. There is a certain kind of civic-mindedness and tendentiousness written into the consideration of where poetry should be and might be positioned. I mentioned earlier, however, that I see poetry as vital to activism and utopia, if they are to be conceiving in symbolic and material terms as yet inconceivable and unmanifest. This is why poetry for me is new thinking welcomely undisciplined, and as such inhering in other codes, inhering in activism and metaphysics; it is a dimension of language which is a language.

Poetry is another language, and the preferred language of a number of significant Aboriginal activist-poets. Lionel Fogarty in “Aphorism Wealth Grazier” in Outcrop writes: “Geography is seen over infinite / when eternal / seen in Aboriginals spaces.” If the conditions for seeing geography “infinite / when eternal / seen in Aboriginals spaces” is in a state of ruination in the popular Australian imaginary, I think poetry is the language where we find the conditions in which to manifest this future articulated, where the citizen of Australia’s postcolonial predicament can access an aesthetic community that engages its possibility. There is no more modern poet than Fogarty on these terms, where the modern ruin of Australian life ignorant of Aboriginal heritage and knowledge is precisely the site in which Fogarty stages his most direct protest but also richest and most delirious metaphysics of catastrophic change:


It is this combination of protest and imagination which I think is so extreme in Fogarty’s work, and testament to the significance of poetry in these affairs and how influential it can be. But I would never call Fogarty a civic-minded poet or a negotiator of an interplay between ecology and postcolonial commitments. Ecology and land rights are discoursed upon in Fogarty’s work, but they are no longer themselves when he illustrates contemporary Australia as a “MUTUAL FEVER”, “AIR MINGLED A SPIRIT OF COLOURED LUNAR […] COMIC BIZARRE DEATH TRIBAL MODERN”.

To understand the twenty first century as a tumult and palimpsestic accretion of cryptographic traces of events is to be ecological with history and modernity, because it understands surface efflorescence as not just the behaviour of plants and surface dwellers, but of a magnificent ecological network of interdependence, catalysis of decay, metamorphosis, and reliance upon long temporalities of predication. I would argue that poetry which deals with the interplay between ecology and Aboriginal land rights that you mark better come to terms with the manner in which the past is written into the future-orientation of the present. I believe poetry can encourage decipherment, unbearable sensitivity, and an archaeological sense of manners.

AE: How would you situate Outcrop in relation to the earlier The Ground Aslant: An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry, edited by Harriet Tarlo, in the United Kingdom?

CW: The Ground Aslant to me is highly consistent in documenting contemporary post-pastoral writing coming out of the British poetry scene, although in such a way that turned away from Cambridge Poetry’s contribution to landscape and phenomenology in contemporary British poetry. It is an immersive anthology conscious of the slow time of landscape and place, and was influential for Jeremy and me not only for some of its appealing poetry, but also as an indicator of how radically different Australian writing of landscape is, without necessarily consciously rejecting the Romantic and Black Mountain forebears to that work.

To my mind, Outcrop’s poetry is far more invested in the problems of movement in time and space in poetry, far more incredulous towards phenomenological experience of place as an authenticator or substantiator of the land, its history and its objects. For reasons discussed earlier, Australia’s non-Indigenous establishment, its incomplete recovery of Indigenous environmental manners and social life, and its plagued unconscious, mean our poetry’s sensitivity to encounter with land is enormously different. Moreover, shared inspiration from Romantic and American traditions manifest very differently; think of the difference between Minter’s open fields to Peter Riley’s, though we may read the Olson antecedence partly in both. I can’t help but see Australian poetry as more enlightened in this respect, that there is no immediate encounter with nature that supersedes a mediated one and that language is the first mediation; it is as if English’s bastardy as culturally genocidal, contaminated and contaminating, is better interrogated by us. There is a falsity of purity, it seems to me, propagated in The Ground Aslant, and hence an unknowing that much of the lexicon used, as it specifies to cope with micro-detail, renders itself more and more alien. Remember that I really enjoyed The Ground Aslant, but I’m making distinctions for clarity’s sake. I’m most sympathetic, as goes ecocritics, to Jed Rasula here, where even the archive of literary knowledges is understood palimpestically, hence promiscuously, cross-germinatingly, grown from the shit of others, and itself shit in another state of being, but belated. Outcrop shows that Australian poets are polyphonic and polymathic, but not in terms of languages understood by different cultural groups, but in intra-cultural and extra-cultural terms, in terms of demotic, sound, citation and register. Since poetry is made of words, it struck me that landscape was not even legible in the same visual way when considering the experimental registers Australian poets write land in. Michael Farrell knows, for example, that one of the few possible illustrators of his own poetic landscapes is the amazing Chilean Australian painter Juan Davila, one of whose paintings is the cover to Michael’s book open sesame. In the eighties, it probably looked like Juan Davila’s paintings were a trenchant satire of Australian culture. Sure, they are. But in the twenty-first century, we now know that Davila is a prophet, and that his paintings paint Australia as it is, hybrid and deranged, both for better and for worse.

So, in short: Outcrop might be situated along with The Ground Aslant (UK) and The Arcadia Project (USA) as a collection unafraid of the polymathic and palimpsestic impossibilities of mapping land, wherein draughtsmanship and survey are the tools of the land speculator, not the poet, wherein pasture and garden are political spaces, wherein protest and comedy have a place in studying landscape, wherein myth can and will necessarily be rewritten, wherein the subject’s encounter with space is not limited to one habitus, one language, and one affective colour palette. The simplest answer to what it isn’t really for me to say is that Outcrop is Australian.

JB: Certainly The Ground Aslant was a reference as it came before and is a fantastic collection. Heavily influential was also the brilliant anthology The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta Press, 2012), edited by Joshua Corey and GC Waldrep in the US. We didn’t mirror their classification system (or classify within the book at all for that matter), but it is interesting nonetheless as the book is structured according to “New Transcendentalism”, “Textual Ecologies”, “Local Powers”, and “Necro-Pastoral”. I’m also particularly influenced by the journal Ecopoetics in how it describes itself as an exploration of the “creative-critical edges between making and writing”.

Another absolutely vital differentiator is that those collections published a single or a small number of poems from each included poet. This is of course beneficial for a very broad inclusion. The Arcadia Project, for example, includes one or two pieces from almost 100 poets each. Outcrop in turn offers more space and length for the individual work of the 20-included poets, which meant offering readers the opportunity to engage with longer forms, suites or a substantial selection of each poet’s work.

AE: In relation to the last question, what is the significance for you in the shift from landscape to land in the subtitles of the two books?

CW: To add to my answer partly begun about the shift from landscape to land is that landscape is a series of visual and terrestrial directives which I think poetry does not necessarily follow. For this reason, it is generally an unpopular thing to call poetry of a genre called “landscape”, studies of Romantic poetry for example are described in terms of place, nature, and more popularly now, ecology. It is again the primacy of visuality for describing experience, to echo Brian Massumi in Parables for the Virtual, for example, which misunderstands I think what poetry is capable of even simply regarding the senses. Poetry instead synthesises but also negates the senses, marking very particular sensoria, a subject I am particularly interested in, and so I think the encounter with land in these poems is better understood by the reader if they understand that the poems encounter land, rather than landscape, in radical ways. Ali Cobby Eckermann’s elegiac poems are not landscape poems; they are very careful and immediate encounters with textures and materiality, and encounter land as a living memorial. The land in Peter Minter’s poems is metamorphous, ecstatic; no one landscape could come to terms with the phases of place and feeling that shuttle through these works. Indeed, the scientific predicates on which ecology is built would dispute the category “landscape” also. What is a volcano without tectonics and lava? What are sand dunes without the wind? What is the Yarra’s colour without the city of Melbourne? Land seems to me to better suggest these ecologies than does the term landscape.

JB: To add to this, it is the simplicity of the phrase “poetry of land”, while including or enabling for landscapes, ecologies, sensory experiences, ethical discussions and the encounters Corey mentions, which is particularly beautiful for me. I’ve grown increasingly inspired by this phrasing, and use it more frequently in this regard than any other. Land is a very small word, and yet, oh the enormities!

AE: Thank you, Corey and Jeremy, for your insightful responses. I resonate with your questioning of the notion that poetry might have a “role” or might “negotiate” anything. But as you comment in relation to The Ground Aslant, there is difference in the Australian writing you are publishing which is related to what I would call an ongoing colonialism—a past that is never past (to cite Derrida). For me, “landscape” does not fit here and reminds me of some imported nineteenth century English (and more generally European) ways of seeing, painting and writing, which many of us have inherited but also to some extent resist. “Land” to me is also problematic and I wonder if it is sometimes helpful to think more specifically in terms of “country”, however contested, e.g. Bunurong/Boon wurrung country where I live in Seaford.

Coming back to poetry and agency, my feeling is that a poem is a thing in its own right, with its own material agency, but that we cannot know in advance what might be the effects on anything (e.g., readers, cultures) of a particular poem. Nonetheless, there may be a deliberateness in the making of a poem that is performative of the poet’s commitments, but also of their (often unconscious) shaping by things such as class, race and culture (e.g. the unacknowledged privilege of whiteness).

Do you have any thoughts on these further reflections or anything else you would like to add?

CW: I think your thoughts about lexical choices and the ethical significance of Country are very important. I suppose I would be reluctant to call Outcrop an anthology of poems of Country, since that would be assigning a custodianship I have no right to assert. Moreover, it would mean closing off, from an editorial vantage, these poems being read within the problematics you mark. I don’t feel it is my place to redeem them along the lines of an ideal ethical contiguity, but I admire readers that would do so; I think Susan Pyke’s review of Outcrop in Plumwood Mountain reads the collection mindful of the ethics of Country. This is a wonderful conversation to spur with poetry. Evidently, this is a polyvocal conversation already going on in Australia’s radical poetry, and certainly beyond Outcrop.

Corey Wakeling and Jeremy Balius are the editors of Outcrop: radical Australian poetry of land, published by Black Rider Press in 2013. More information about this and Black Rider’s ethos and other publications can be found here.

Published: August 2014
Anne Elvey

is managing editor of Plumwood Mountain journal. Her personal research and poetry blog Leaf Litter can be found here.

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.