In an essay ‘We’ve Seen the End of the World and We Don’t Accept It’, Tony Birch points out that narratives of catastrophe in relation to climate change are not new to Indigenous Australians, but are part of the story of invasion – as ongoing system rather than historical event.[i] Quoting Kyle Powys Whyte, Birch writes ‘climate injustice for Indigenous peoples is less about the spectre of a new future and more like the experience of déjà vu’.[ii] The title of Birch’s essay, ‘We’ve Seen the End of the World and We Don’t Accept It’, is borrowed from Murrawah Johnson, a young Indigenous spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, who have been resisting construction of the Adani mega-coal mine in the Galilee Basin in far north Queensland.[iii] The complex intersection of colonial violence – as a continuing state of which climate change is in some senses both symptom and exacerbation – with the resistances, strategies of recovery (e.g. of language) and resilience of First Nations, forms a key context for this issue on Intersecting Energies.
In this issue, I am seeking to locate creative responses to climate change in relation to multidimensionsal, or intersectional, experiences of location and gender, where location stands in for located experiences of race, place, identity. As a prompt in April, I pointed to poetry by Marshall Islander Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Filipina Eunice Andrada, addressing climate change from multidimensional perspectives. In the background, too, is Natalie Harkin’s poem ‘Climate Change’ from her collection Dirty Words, and work by non-Indigenous poets such as Bonny Cassidy (Final Theory) and Lisa Jacobson (The Sunlit Zone), where aspects of the complexities of place, gender, sexuality, race, as well as the violence and power dynamics of colonial and capitalist praxis, entwine.
Funding from Copyright Agency Cultural Fund has enabled me to commission poems from five younger voices based in Narrm (Melbourne), three of whom spent time on Boon Wurrung Country last year being mentored by Ali Cobby Eckermann: Wiradjuri woman Emily Munro-Harrison, Worimi poet, Ryan Prehn, and performance artist, Monica Jasmine Karo, who is a proud descendant of the Brataualung, Gunditjmara and Mukjarawaint peoples. The other two commissioned poets are 2018 Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow, Magan Magan, and Lian Low, recipient of The Wheeler Centre’s inaugural Next Chapter scheme. To these are added the voices of another 25 poets from general submissions. As always there were many fine poems I had to pass over regretfully. The thirty poets published in this issue address the intersectional elements of the theme in poignant, challenging and interesting ways.
Several take the perspective of a parent considering the future in relation to the maternal or to parenting a child. ‘What kind of future are we making?’ asks Emily Munro-Harrison. Monica Jasmine Karo’s performance piece asserts, ‘They abandon mother’.
I am delighted to publish, too, the work of Craig Santos Perez, an indigenous Chamorro poet from the Pacific Island of Guam, and Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo from the Philippines. Should we, and if so how should we, communicate terrible knowledge to children? (Perez). What resilience to such knowledge might they communicate to us? (Susan Wardell). What desires intersect in the exploitation of people and the exacerbation of climate change? (Aguinaldo). What happens when Malaysia becomes ‘A trash outpost for rich nations’? (Lian Low). How do domestic duties and relationships, infused as they are with questions of self-worth and personal safety, spill into our experience of ecological responsibility and climate emergency? How do these ever-present environmental challenges impact in our everyday encounters?
From gendered understandings of Earth as female, poets such as Magan Magan, avoid cliché by shifting the subjects of violence and desire subtly and tranformatively. In Shari Kocher’s ‘Ode to Earth’, winner of the Venie Holmgren Prize in 2018, Earth love folds into encounter with the other, with self as other. Human love and Earth love cross as the impossibility of foreseeing what a climate changed future might be, prompts the thought that: ‘Everything will be different, everything will be the same.’ (Rachael Mead). What might be our more-than-human ecological inheritance?, asks Gavin Yuan Gao, while climate and illness enfold in the work of Heather Taylor Johnson and Jane Joritz-Nakagawa.
Jill Jones questions, ‘Are poems becoming hotter and darker like the world?’ ‘The sea is my mother tongue’, she says. Anne Casey interweaves oceanic losses with the watery beginnings of human life. But climate change might just be a reason to forego reproduction, says Dženana Vucic with the kind of humorous touch so often absent from talk of ecological emergency. Nick Chlopicki’s collage poem builds an ironic picture of self-absorption and desire for ease, in the face of ecological catastrophe.
Gender does not mean exclusively women’s studies. There are poems that question toxic masculinities (Prehn), as well as the more subtle often gendered problematics of scientific communication (Michaela Keeble) and science-fictional (factional?) desire to depart Earth for space (Patricia Sykes). Closer to home is an impulse to scale that betokens our being ‘always too confident’ (Rose Lucas). There is in our talk of endings something that ‘we cannot see … / we are too far away’ (Jennifer Mackenzie). Close attentiveness to place is entangled with the monstrous in the deepening frisson of a future we cannot fully know (Frances Presley).
In ‘Darkinjung Burning’, Luke Patterson writes ‘this is not a mourning poem you see’. The reality is more complex; engagements are more multi-faceted. Indigenous epistemologies based in Country, as Brenda Saunders intimates in ‘Inland Sea’, contrast with failing land practices of settler farming.
Trees feature as otherkind that actively speak back to anthropocentric undoings. How might human lives depend ‘on the knowledge of a tree’ (Emilie Collyer). In Alana Kelsall’s ‘the will of trees’ , the purposes and legacies of our arboreal kin contrast with and accompany human loss and remembrance. A kind of captivity to climate is mirrored in the captivities of both otherkind and humans forced to serve, as human longing and loss are, likewise, held in thrall (Hessom Razavi).
Do ‘fish float dead’ on our partying, even as we celebrate our diversity? (Angela Gardner) What gendered violence lurks, gothic-like, beneath the surface of our ecological awareness? (Madeleine Dale). ‘Picture us’, writes Catherine Trundle, ‘first saviours, then villains, and now / a complicated algorithm.’
Complementing this array of poetic voices is a photo essay ‘CLIMATE GUARDIANS: A Snapshot’, for which I am grateful to Deborah Hart and Melissa Corbett. Climate Guardians founded by ClimActs is an activist performance group using ‘angel iconography to highlight the vital role of guardianship of precious natural resources in addressing the global threat from the climate emergency.’ Sarah Balkin reports on a one person show Not Now Not Ever by Lara Stevens in May 2019, bringing a feminist ecological perspective to parenting in a time of climate change. There are also a range of new book reviews. My thanks to all the contributors, our donors and Copyright Agency Cultural Fund for making the publication of this issue of Plumwood Mountain journal, ‘Intersecting Energies’, possible.