This book explores the author's contemporary poetics and pedagogy as it emerges from his reflections on his own writing and teaching, and on the work of other poets, particularly contemporary writers with whom he feels some affinity. At its heart is the author's attempt to elaborate his vision of a species of pastoral that is adequate to a globalised world (the author himself writes and teaches in the United States, the UK and his native Australia), and an environmentally and politically just poetry. The book has an autobiographical element, as the author explores the pulse of his poetic imagination through significant moments and passages of his life.
This book is concerned with the complexities of defining 'place', of observing and 'seeing' place, and how we might write a poetics of place. From Kathy Acker to indigenous Australian poet Jack Davis, the book touches on other writers and theorists, but in essence is a hands-on book of poetic practice. The work extends John Kinsella's theory of 'international regionalism' and posits new ways of reading the relationship between place and individual, between individual and the natural environment, and how place occupies the person as much as the person occupies place. It provides alternative readings of writers through place and space, especially Australian writers, but also non-Australian. Further, close consideration is given to being of 'famine-migrant' Irish heritage and the complexities of 'returning'. A close-up examination of 'belonging' and exclusion is made on a day-to-day basis. The book offers an approach to creating poems and literary texts constituted by experiencing multiple places, developing a model of polyvalent belonging known as 'polysituatedness'. It works as a companion volume to Kinsella's earlier Manchester University Press critical work, Disclosed Poetics: Beyond Landscape to Lyricism.
This section includes reading of writers of place such as Ouyang Yu (historical-social-cultural geographies), the mysterious and elusive Charles Walker, the great Australian short story writer Henry Lawson, Peter Carey (True History of the Kelly Gang), Lisa Gorton (The Life of Houses), Western Australian poets John Mateer and Barbara Temperton, a reading of an anthology of Asian-Australian poetry, and a brief comment on Native American poet, Janet McAdams.
Issues of migration, ‘return’ and belonging are explored through the Irish-Australian nexus, with a focus on animal rights, ‘nature’ and human presence in ‘landscape’. This is what I see as the gravitational (off-) centre of the book. Journal entries are interspersed with essays considering diverse but interconnected issues, always coming back to the idea of ‘place’, ranging from questions of ‘storage’, ‘irredentism’, the Australian Jindyworobaks (white appropriators of ‘Aboriginal Australia’ in the 1930s–1950s), Travellers and ‘nomadism’, and the issues behind writing ‘local’ poetry from ‘outside’ and ‘reversioning’ The Táin.
‘Below the surface-stream, shallow and light’ – transferences of weirding place: through the eye of Randolph Stow’s ‘Still Life with Amaryllis Belladonna’ we approach and reproach the pastoral and arrive at a reading of STILL Moving by Marc Atkins and Rod Mengham; and Working with Thurston Moore on the poems of A Remarkable Grey Horse and ‘New Stuff’: Et in Arcadia ego, not; and Eclogue failure or success: the collaborative activism of poetry – working with Charmaine Papertalk-Green.
This section presents a series of definitions and personal backgrounding of research and creative endeavour in the field. Place, agoras, ‘international regionalism’, displacement, collaboration, activism, ‘polysituatedness’, theoretical underpinnings are all considered and contextualised. Further, a redefining – even rejection – of the word ‘place’ itself is explicated in detail. Activism in the context of the Noongar writer Jack Davis and a personal move towards concret(ion) poetry are discussed. This section finishes with a personal ‘encounter’ with the nineteenth-century Western Australian bushranger Moondyne Joe, in whose zone of influence we live and on whom I collaborated on a book with the late Professor Niall Lucy.
A manifesto of polysituatedness with considerations of Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘The Kraken’, an extensive and ‘close’ reading of Jack Davis’s life and poetry texts in the context of the polysituated, and a tangential but relevant engagement with Socrates and animal rights. This section also con/tests aspects of Marc Augé’s Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity.
This section is not about definitions but about illustration. Why craft is an ineffective measure of the poem, how spirituality and the poem dialogue, a series of commentaries on ‘reading’ texts from childhood to the present day with an emphasis on creating an experimental novel when I was a teenager, and tracing its unusual history through to its recent publication as it moved through different zones of intactness and rehabilitation, an ‘introduction’ to collaborating on a collection of Persian poetry and how not being in Iran affects this process, a biographical overview of the nineteenth-century poet Auguste Lacaussade (La Réunion and France), and finally a long piece on McKenzie Wark’s and Kathy Acker’s intense email correspondence that came out of a brief physical interaction and the displacements (alluded to) that emerge from this.
Traditionally, pastoral worked as a vehicle of empowerment for the educated classes through the idyllicising and, most often, the romanticising of the rural world. The pastoral is not really about nature, except insofar as it is about landscape, the mediation of nature through human interference and control. A critical language is deployed to discuss these issues, which in a sense becomes part of the pastoral construct itself, so that pastoral is about the language of presentation as much as about the language of place. Terms such as ‘pathetic fallacy’ become in this context a self-conscious critique of the anthropomorphising of place and nature, yet pathetic fallacy is itself one of the weapons of pastoral. Pastoral has always been about the tensions within morality, and a moral guidebook for behaviour. Another concern is gender – is the pastoral a patriarchal tool? The idyllicism of the pastoral juxtaposed to the loss of alternative idylls becomes a mirror of oppression, and potentially liberation. Parrots in Australian poetry have a bad reputation.