Activist Poetics by John Kinsella

Activist Poetics by John Kinsella: Anarchy in the Avon Valley

John Kinsella
Edited with an introduction by Niall Lucy
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Activist Poetics by John Kinsella
    Book Description:

    John Kinsella is known internationally as the acclaimed author of more than thirty books of poetry and prose, but in tandem with - and often directly through - his creative and critical work, Kinsella is also a prominent activist. In this important collection of essays the vegan anarchist pacifist poet claims that poetry can act as a vital form of resistance to a variety of social and ethical ills, in particular ecological damage and abuse. Kinsella builds on his earlier notion of 'linguistic disobedience' evolving out of civil disobedience, and critiques the figurative qualities of his poems in a context of resistance. The book includes explorations of anarchism, veganism, pacifism, and ecological poetics. For Kinsella all poetry is political and can be a call to action.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-614-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Map of Avon Valley
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction: Blood & Salt
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Readers seeking solace are advised to turn back now. In its many eccentricities – born, I think, of a refusal to settle into a familiar style or genre – this book is not concerned to charm its way into readers’ hearts, but rather to find out who might have the mettle to bear witness to it. As Kinsella puts it in the ‘Preface to Paradiso’ from his magnum opus to date,Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography, all he requires of readers is the resolve ‘to look’, the will to bear witness … if there is such a thing. ‘One doesn’t...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Herewith the (Auto) Razó: Activism and the Poet
    (pp. 1-15)

    Any book on activism and poetry is by necessity a personal one for me. ‘Environmentalism’, for want of a better word, is what I do in life and in my writing. However, long ago I differentiated between polemic and open-endedness, between rhetoric and, if one likes, the lyric impulse. Rarely does one write a poem of pureanything; but ultimately, though not exclusively, I try to keep the balance in favour of the open-ended lyric rather than propagandist rhetoric. Although I can get mighty pissed off and even write poems with subtitles like ‘a poem of abuse’, I try to...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Standing Up to Aggressors
    (pp. 16-22)

    For me, poetry has no point unless it’s a prompt or aid to political and ethical change. This is not to say that a poem should be political or ethicalinstruction, but rather that it might engender a dialogue between the poem itself and the reader or listener, between itself and other poems and texts, and between all of these and a broader public (whatever that might be). I see myself as a poet activist – every time I write a poem, it is an act of resistance to the State, the myriad hierarchies of control, and the human urge to...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Why I Am a Pacifist
    (pp. 23-33)

    As a child, I was taught that violence is wrong. I was taught it in the home, and in church. My father was violent towards me; my mother never touched me in anger. (My father and mother split when I was still a small child.) I was obsessed with playing war as a child, and read military books compulsively. I liked the maths of it. I preferred enacting the side defeated, and reversing the outcome. I developed a sense of justice that meant the loser would become rightfully triumphant. All battles at school, in the home, the playground, inside myself,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Plagues & Bioethics
    (pp. 34-39)

    This essay has been ‘evolving’ over three years. Every time I return to it, another ‘food crisis’ is dominating the domestic and foreign policy agendas of Britain and the world in general. The difference is that now, in 1999, I am writing this from the American mid-west, from the rural heartland. I’m observing the reactions here in the USA and in Canada to the ‘foot and mouth’ crisis in Britain – a real conflict between self-concern and obligations to an ally, mixed in with old world/new world views on ‘infection’. Gambier, Ohio – surrounded by cornfields and farming communities – engenders a feeling...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Refugees & Australia
    (pp. 40-59)

    Here I will be primarily subjective. I am not so much going to explore the obvious violations of human rights by this retrograde federal government [the conservative Liberal–National Party government in Australia, led by John Howard and first elected in 1996 – NL], its overt campaign against refugee ‘incursion’ described and held accountable in such works asDark Victoryby David Marr and Marian Wilkinson, but rather to talk about complicity. I feel most Australians, including myself, are complicit in this outrage – maybe even those among us campaigning for or advocating refugee rights. I will argue that, as in other...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Wheatbelt Isohalines & the Making of Isopleths: The ‘Annihilation of Distance’ & Other Subtexts Associated with the Creation of a Sequence of Poems
    (pp. 60-75)

    It gets saltier around here season by season. The water places have dried out entirely and the white of salt has become whiter. It gleams. It is haunting. If an isohaline is a line that carries us between points of comparable salinity in an ocean, then the pipes that carry fresh water through the Western Australian wheatbelt, crossing salt wastes on small trestles and pylons, are interior or land-bound isohalines.

    I am often distracted by the nature of the ‘line’. Where or what the two points it connects might be in the first place, and the necessary curvature as we...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Half-Masts: A Prosody of Telecommunications
    (pp. 76-89)

    For some years, I divided my time between the city and the country. When I was in the city, I often used to spend time at Wireless Hill near the Swan River in the southern suburbs of Perth. It’s now a recreation and nature reserve. I found this an interesting place because of the presence of native bushland in an area that had been otherwise entirely cleared, and filled with housing, but also because of its history. The Friends of Wireless Hill have noted the following on their website:

    Wireless Hill was once known as ‘Yagan’s Lookout’, providing perfect views...

  13. Figures
    (pp. None)
  14. CHAPTER 8 Geodysplasia: Geographical Abnormalities & Anomalies of an Activist Poetics
    (pp. 90-96)

    In an ancient landscape that is largely dry and much eroded, erosion is the primary ‘healing’ factor – or, should I say,coveringfactor. By this I mean that when the land is damaged, say through farming or mining, the crimes of this damage are potentially covered up through further land erosion brought on by heat and winds and other climatic and environmental factors, as much as anything else. Much like the dustbowl of the mid-west of America ‘covering up’ the characteristics of what was lost or destroyed by the wind simply blowing the topsoil and its signatures away. The question...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Activist Readings of Three Australian Poems
    (pp. 97-128)

    I had to translocate myself to really think about this poem. Where we live near York, in wheatbelt Western Australia, there are many birds. Mainly birds resident the year round, but some migratory waders appear around the Avon River and farm dams, and every now and again there are irruptions of birds from elsewhere in the State. There is much that is uncanny about the place, but the uncanny dilutes with expectation and familiarity, and what has been lost to memory is reintroduced as a notion of ‘the lost’; so trying to reconfigure a sense of the uncanny into the...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Working with Coral Hull on Zoo (A Collaboration)
    (pp. 129-136)

    Before starting theZooproject with Coral Hull, I’d known her work for almost a decade – first seeing it in literary journals and atSalt[the publishing company, now based in the UK, that John started with Clive Newman and Chris Hamilton-Emery in the 1990s – NL], and later writing on her poetry collectionWilliam’s Mongrels(1996) for theAustralian Review of Books. Hull’s explorations of landscape and concern for ethical issues were strong attractions for me. I use the word ‘explorations’ in a heightened sense here, as it is the negative aspect of human colonisation and occupation of place that...

  17. CHAPTER 11 De-mapping & Reconnoitring Notions of Boundaries – Mutually Said: Blogging & Acting
    (pp. 137-162)

    Time to get the garden going again. It’s hard to believe that it was a high-yielding vegan wonderland only two months ago. It’d been producing for nigh-on ten months and I felt it was time to let the land lie fallow for a while. Over the next couple of weeks I will dig and hoe the weeds in, turn in dry compost, water it to let the weeds emerge then turn them back into the soil after a week or two as green compost. I’ll leave it sit for another week, water, turn it again, then plant with ‘original’ organic/veganic...

  18. CHAPTER 12 Poetry, Justice & the Court
    (pp. 163-175)

    The public space of a court is a crossover zone where the real after-effects (and pre-effects) of ‘Justice’ are felt. Courts are active liminal zones. There’s a poem by Nyungar poet Lloyd Riley, entitled ‘Supreme Court Gardens’, that encapsulates a lot of the contradictions between the loss of one law and its usurpation by another, the occupation/colonisation of physical space, and the codes of the land being covered and substituted by new codes (urban gardens). The gardens of a court (and its public spaces in general), or those in its locale or bearing its name, become complicit in a greater...

  19. CHAPTER 13 The School of Environmental Poetics & Creativity
    (pp. 176-183)

    The following manifesto was prepared early in 2005 while I was teaching poetry at Kenyon College, Ohio. It was emailed to a hundred people interested in teaching and ecological issues, especially though not exclusively to academics and poets. Others ‘invited’ to participate included farmers, environmental activists, editors, artists, radio producers and Indigenous spokespeople. The reaction was overwhelmingly supportive and not only did different universities offer spaces for the temporary ‘school’ but I/we were even offered an old building to work out of in Western Australia. A network of like-minded participants evolved overnight.

    One of the projects that arose from this...

  20. Coda: Visitors
    (pp. 184-187)

    In some ways I have been increasingly cutting myself off from contact with the ‘outside’ world. I still get out and about, travelling by train and (soon) ship, and turn up to lecture or teach classes, but these are discrete spaces that belong to their actions, and not places of social choice or growth for me. I am increasingly focussed on the block of stony ground on a hillside we have been making our home, in the region I have always considered my home place, though I have had many homes (especially in Ohio and Cambridgeshire), and the reference point...

  21. APPENDIX 1. On Anarchism: Tracy Ryan Interviews John Kinsella
    (pp. 188-199)
  22. APPENDIX 2. Dialogue on Vegan Ethics: John Kinsella & Tracy Ryan
    (pp. 200-212)
  23. References
    (pp. 213-216)
  24. Index
    (pp. 217-228)