A Poetics of a Politics

1 November 2017

A woman in the ceremony targets the boy for this seeming dissonance, repetitively identifying the boy as akin to a void in the world, suggesting that he is literally ‘meaning nothing’ in living between Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds, an association reinforced by the quotation marks around ‘‘belief’’. The boy’s disassociation from the ritual indicates that he lives not only between the borderlands of youth and adulthood, but between two temporal structures, two ways of ontological existence: an older, customary way of living with the land and community, and the present, in which a violent exposure to anglo-celtic beliefs and social practices has made a custodial life dim in comparison. The boy is described as literally embodying the borderlands interstice of a ‘post-colonial’ world, forced to see through a Glissantian ‘metissage’, ‘where river parts inside my guts’.

The perspective of the boy between two temporal, social and ontological modes is reflected powerfully in the use of the word, ‘windowed’ in ‘watching morning asleep / but gunya, sparkling stars windowed at darkness / a giggle swept tears’. Here, the persona in the poem is situated in a semi-permanent dwelling in the bush, ‘a gunya’, and upon gazing at the morning light implicitly realises the darkness of the world is ‘windowing him’, providing a screen between, or surface against the starry night. The effect of ‘operaed’ is echoed in this instance, revealing again the manner in which for the boy the world is layered with a film of interwoven, intercultural experiences that he cannot decipher, or act between. The persona is taken from a reverie within his environment, and cannot imbue the stars above him with corporeal implications that could relate to his cultural, contemporary reality; and yet, he still searches for a mode of Being that qualifies his existence.

Alizadeh argues that in the start to this passage ‘Beauty, parents may protect helpless creeping country babies/but will they point the way to the waterhole’, the boy is in contact with non-Indigenous people of Western Australia (n.p.). Perhaps a systemic result of such contact, Fogarty foreshadows the boy’s discontinuity from the land in light of another contemporary trend in which Aboriginal peoples become divorced from a harmonious existence with the land around them. As Fogarty poignantly recalls, ‘cause land felt slaughter to any who lifeless the hills / fish and snake rest, while people eat rope’. The rupture of the boy’s existence echoes that of the unused land, which constantly experiences an ongoing colonisation; once indicated by open genocide, disease, or displacement, and now percolating on into the contemporary in the lack of awareness surrounding the debilitating effects of Aboriginal suicide on community as suggested in, ‘while people eat rope’. The boy’s disassociation and windowing from the land enables Fogarty to reflect upon the ambiguity of the Indigenous physical and spiritual landscape against a contemporary history of intercultural violence and systematic disenfranchisement in an ethno-singular, majoritarian Australia. It is through this experience and his contact with non-Indigenous Australia, however, that the boy’s comes to ascertain the plural temporal structure / ontological formation he is situated in; a union indicated in ‘the relationship I previously had, shorter/now it longer’.

Now able to lay visual claims of the ‘windowed’ nature of things, as well as the layering of multiple, disparate social customs upon his world, the boy’s return forces the community to ‘sing out’ with the boy a singular plural mode of being; that the boy / Biral embodies ‘many influences, many spirits / Nguthuru too’. While the reference to Ngunda echoes the reference to the Biral figure as a Creator force, a nameless, wonderful Being, Nguthuru also acts as a reference to the spirits of the dead for the South-East Queensland Indigenous peoples, which ominously symbolises in part, the importance of remembering the horrors of European colonisation. Glissant too asks that we sing out the rediscovered opacity of a singular within a plurality, and to make a comparison here – in the beginning of Poetics of Relation, Glissant describes the experience of the Middle Passage and the triangular slave trade linking the New World to Africa and Europe as a ‘womb-abyss’; understanding that the forced displacement and suspension of African people in passage via enslavement created the conditions for multiplicity, for relation. He suggests that following the traumatic splitting of the self as enslaved / human, it is those enslaved that gained:

Not just a specific knowledge, appetite, suffering, and delight of one particular people, not only that, but knowledge of the Whole, greater from having been at the abyss and freeing knowledge of Relation within the Whole. (Poetics of Relation 8)

Fogarty marks something similar in citing ‘Nguthuru’; describing the boy’s greater knowledge of spirituality and one’s place in the world by having been at the abyss, from having been situated in a virtual suspension between worlds and experiencing the depth of suffering the land has felt. The boy’s situatedness amid the ‘windowed’ nature of things calls to attention the singular plurality that is required for us to scrutinise the wide range of discourses that understands Aboriginality as a metaphorical construction based on anglicised identifications of ‘authenticity’, ‘spirituality’ or ‘politics’.

The poem’s end, ‘These words, not vocation / Born, inbred by Aboriginal people / I’m blood. Sheer and delightful’, might be read as a signification of the Aboriginal language or body as an interpreted object, ‘sheer’, transparent and open to the placations of stereotype and post-colonial discourse. I argue, however, that the end of the poem upholds a relational poetic, reinscribing the opacity of a bilingual, cross-cultural balance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, whilst simultaneously imagining in the ‘sheer, delightful’ blood of the boy a broader, more empathetic understanding of the plurally singular subjectivity conjured up in the following phrases: Murri, Yoogum, Kidjela, Aboriginal, Australian. To be any of these identities is to represent the series of crossings that Biral exemplifies. As the boy is singing out his pluralised state of consciousness, he completes a Glissantian phrase used in Glissant’s work Traite du Tout-Monde, where he refers to the ‘ability of our imagination to conceive the ungraspable globality of such a Chaos-world … (that) enables us … to sing our place, which is unfathomable and irreversible’ (Traite du Tout-Monde 22).

However, my reading of Biral Biral does not elude an oppositional reading of Aboriginal poetics. Fogarty provides nuance to the stereotyped, metaphorical construction of the Aboriginal figure as essentially spiritual or connected to the land, but he equally maintains the boy’s separation from Anglo-Celtic discourse. He enables the boy to see both sides of the riverbank, a spiritual realisation that might more accurately describe Fogarty’s wielding of language ‘as an offensive tool or weapon’. Can Fogarty be read in the light of Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, expressing the cultural specificities of an Australian, Yoogum and Kudjela identity, itself suggesting a ‘congregation’ of Indigenous language groups and colonial impositions? Or should we say that Fogarty’s Biral Biral is a different case: that Glissant’s relational poetics are more usefully aligned with diasporic and mestizo individuals of the Caribbean and Latin America, whereas Fogarty articulates an oppositional separatism that refuses to contribute to the weave of Relation, enacting a poetic interface that contests multiculturalism, subsumption, and equalisation? I would like to suggest that Fogarty can be read as contributing to a relational poetics, as someone who engages with an experimental, bilingual poetic structure; evading stereotyped constructions of character while visualising the windowed separation of a boy from a singular, community existence, and imagining in the ‘sheer, delightful’ blood of the poem’s persona the infinite potentialities of cross-cultural discourse, a ‘world-archipelago’ in the making.

I hope that in future discourse, more attention be paid to the way in which indigenous literary structures are thought of and scrutinised, not just as oppositional wedge-blocks in a forever-lengthening path towards reconciliation (a phrase just as outdated as multiculturalism), but as valuable intercultural exercises that balance between disparate languages, customs and world-views. In this case, I think it clear, that Fogarty engages in bilanguaging for his own purposes in resituating the narrative by which one claims indigeneity. These are purposes that do not erase the worth of his work in themselves, nor do they move the work from textual study appreciating the many-layered languaging that is occurring at the base of Fogarty’s poetics; maintaining Anzaldua’s plural perspective on the borderlands between one’s environment and the filmic presence of social evolution, whilst also singing out the Relation imbued in a ‘knowledge of the Whole, greater from having been at the abyss’ (Poetics of Relation 8).

Thinking back to my thesis presentation, I think I would’ve responded less pompously in abstract, wishy-washy terms, in choosing to say that if a text is political, that does not give us an entire understanding of its effect. This facet of poetics can be studied from any number of angles, for instance considering the aural and lexical affect of a broken English poem upon a reader. To paraphrase Fogarty a little, poetry is only useful when it changes the law, when it reaches an audience and it makes its affect known in tangible terms. But to even think of this effect, there is an implicit underlying process that is the enactment of voice among many and its subsequent diversified emergence. The question of bilanguaging as well as the ontological issues of the singular and the plural is to me, a vital place to start when thinking about how political issues may bog down our scrutiny of indigenous artists, as well as more minor-poets. Such a mode of thinking would contribute to our larger picture perception, a weave, as well as the composite texture of the weave itself.

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