Images courtesy of Jeanine Leane and John Kinsella.
A callout for a poetry of consciousness ‘that enacts and is responsible for what it considers’, that has been written with an awareness of ‘crises, brinks and redress’, was always going to bring some powerful and confronting work. We also hoped for poetry with contiguous capacity for social justice, community awareness and social and emotional wellbeing, and we feel that we have been able to select and collate such poems here. There are many different causes, convictions and concerns addressed in these poems, but the act of showing concern and suggesting a wish for positive change – for asserting a sense of justice and seeking that justice – is inherent in different ways in most if not all of the poems in this issue.
The selection process was long and drawn-out for both reasons of the large number of submissions, and also because we spent time discussing the very nature of the callout and the issue, and just how tangential a poem could be to the issue callout for us to include it. This is a ‘no theme’ issue, but one with, nonetheless, a very specific focus – poetry as activism. We consciously rejected any western imposed binary between poetry as art and poetry as activism or that poetry is divorced from any didactic moral, political or utilitarian function.
We received many well-written, highly publishable poems that we ended up turning down – which always rubs against the poetic grain – because they were less directly activist. We are aware that it should be argued that allusion and suggestion, even the creation of a poem itself as a statement of rights, are adequate justification for a poem to be included under our callout, but selection criteria become the method of meeting restraints of what can be selected, and this necessarily creates false divisions. In fact, we didn’t so much turn such poems down as decided they might have other contexts in which they will speak more decisively.
The poems we selected had to speak in and for themselves, but also converse across the community of refusal, resistance and also healing that we were trying to stimulate and maybe even nurture. And that community seems exciting to us because it in itself is constituted of so many different communities with their own inherent concerns. How to create spaces of dialogue without damaging difference and intactness is a major question we worked through. We consider this issue a ‘safe space’ for claims to rights and affirmation of rights, while recognising that each of those claims is autonomous in itself while overlapping through poetry as a shared medium; a tool for dialogue across difference without compromising difference.
There is a universal need for environmental justice – necessarily a focal point of the issue – but there are different implications regarding where an individual or their community/communities sit in relation to cause and effect, culpability and responsibility, and it seems only just that relative positions also be a variable in addressing the damage to the biosphere. Some are damaging and have damaged the biosphere far more than others and articulating that difference can lead to justice as well as repair. In our callout we wrote, ‘For some, crisis is an ongoing state of being, and continuing colonialism and neo-colonialism ensure that past wrongs cannot truly be addressed. Poetry is a way to engage a decolonisation that is imperative if our world is to be respected and its exploitation halted. The many brinks people have been pushed to over millennia by imperialism are reaching an ecological fracture that will be absolute unless addressed’… and the place of colonialism and capitalism in the crisis of biosphere needs to be acknowledged before repair can happen in substantial ways. Repair is contingent on justice.
In poems that articulate how injustice affects individual and community, in poems that observe (often via massive media input) how a discourse of injustice becomes desensitised to the actual injustices themselves, and poems that implicate the poet as interlocutor of witnessing and experiencing injustice, we build a sense of how many poems working together create an organic but differentiated – with each of its parts intact in itself – mechanism for confronting injustice on many overt and less obvious levels. And in this we state our ongoing support for feminist and LGBTIQ+ readings of poetry and poetics.
There is no hierarchy of poems in this issue, only a concern for the community that doesn’t interfere with or erase the communities the poems come out of. This issue, for all its confrontations, is a celebration of conversation through poems. Open or closed, porous or hard-shelled, the poems speak for themselves, but let’s hear them speak together, many voices at once.
These are times of confrontation of mass injustice when Black Lives Matters and Deaths in Custody are absolute inherent parts of the broader crisis of being. Why should some people be murdered and die when many of us are fighting to save the biosphere? Why should we campaign to save bushland when country has been stolen from those who have looked after it and profoundly understood it for millennia? It’s offensive, illogical and unjust, to not work to stop injustice while trying to save ecologies. Of course, we should protest and peacefully intervene to stop the destruction of bushland and forests, but of course we should be acting for human rights and issues of justice as well.
One doesn’t exclude the other, in fact it demands of the other to act in empathy and commitment. It is offensive and wrong to protest the destruction of a forest while women cannot walk the streets safely at night. Rights aren’t separable, and a poem is a way of creating an inclusivity of purpose and intent, and it is up to the reader to act while reading as well. The intent of this issue is to ask these questions through the juxtaposition of poems and let the poems provide possible answers … or ways of considering ‘answers’ at least. The resolution is often in the seemingly unresolvable.