To Outlive a Home: Poetics of a Crumbling Domestic 

By | 1 February 2019

The poem emphasises Murray’s sense of connection to and rightful inheritance of the family home at Bunyah, which the hardships of nature ultimately legitimate with a sense of merit, or benediction. Contrastingly, John Kinsella’s Jam Tree Gully suite approaches questions of home not through strategies of personal or familial belonging, but rather through acts of witness which contemplate the possibilities and limitations of language to return to the land what it gives him:  

We spend days in this house but not nights. 
We have seen the early morning sunlight 
infiltrate the eucalypts, sunset deflected 
by acacias. We have sweltered at midday. 
We have walked every acre intimately. 
The kangaroos recognise us and linger. 
We spend days in this house but not nights.

Dwelling for Kinsella is necessarily temporary and predicated on an acceptance of the natural terms of his environment, much as his poetics and activism are premised by a fundamental rejection of settler right to possession or inheritance. In these poems Kinsella rejects Heidegerrian exceptionalism to model possibilities for the inheritors of modernity to attempt to live in reciprocal peace and responsibility to Aboriginal Country. Crucially, any sense of homeliness comes secondary to rituals of acknowledgement and reciprocity.

Australian poets are increasingly contemplating the problematics of home on stolen land, and the unhomeliness of housing affordability in the twenty-first century. Melody Paloma’s Some Days, which was written on a public GoogleDoc over the course of 2018 and published by Stale Objects dePress, negotiates primarily urban and suburban space with a poetics of disenchantment and frustrated gestures simultaneous with, and critical of iconographies of social cohesion and satisfaction. The year Paloma documents provokes but never entirely disposes of tropes of displacement and apathy set against the reality of colonial violence, describing days of polite conversation while ‘underneath us the bones of this country / sticking out’, and nights in which ‘Our national myth, drunk and costly / falters on the kerb forgetting / which way is left and which / is right’. The domestic spaces of Some Days are unhomely and transient; ‘Show me some kind of / home improvement / I can count on’; ‘the open window / blows in / the steaming / bin full of shit / nothing new / in that’, and the final lines of the year suggest a wilful and defiant resistance to the temporal and spatial reconciliations of form typical of Australian poetics of place and belonging operating to disguise a fundamentally unreconciled nation: ‘but we can’t / end there what / a thing to do / there are leaves / to take stock of / all these ones here / on branches / in the gutter / more days / that require stretching / pages that / need licking and tabbing / but don’t you forget / it if the goanna / comes for you / lay down flat / it’s easy / to be confused / for a tree’.

Also published by SOdPress, Emily Stewart’s Australia’s Largest DIY is similarly occupied with drawing attention to the means and mediums of home renovation, counter imposing search terms, material lists, instructions, erasure poems, bank-sponsored op-eds, property exclusion signs, anthropological histories, culturally aggressive quotation, and images of digital editing processes into some sort of anxious advertising misprint of DIY. The work offers nothing of a sense of habitude or homeliness, it fixates on the complications of sustaining adequate shelter in an impenetrable property market. In these poems Stewart and Paloma present home as something fundamentally unknowable and unsustainable in conventional terms of belonging and personal identification, and move more towards the material cataloguing of inaccessible structures on stolen land.  

These concerns are not resolved by existential reconsideration, as Heidegger proposes. The Western paradigms of building and possession underpinning his elaboration of the ‘plight’ of dwelling facing mankind are not themselves determining conditions of being, but rather entitlements, often predicated on the dispossession and disavowal of Indigenous peoples, and the denial of any sense of rights of, or reciprocity to, the earth itself. The final telos of western modernity and its entitlement to space and resources is climactic destruction. Emily Potter argues that climate change is ‘the end of nature’ – wherein nature is no longer compliantly external to, or controllable by, the sovereign Western subject – it exposes the limits and consequences of modernity, and as such, the modes used to represent a radically transforming reality must be radically transformed. Potter’s critique rejects the collectivising function of realism’s privileging of an individualised, stable, singular objective reality as an inadequate model to manifest the multiple realities of climate change across spatio-temporal scales and effects. The end of nature, and therefore the end of externality and the limits of Western modernity, means also the end of literary forms invested in, and reifying the dominant epistemology of a dualistic relationship between nature and man, and the forms of building and dwelling made possible by the assumption of Western sovereignty over the earth. This critique demonstrates the benefits of reconceptualising Western modernity’s representational ethics, but can only go so far to address those narrative voices which have not surrendered their homes or expressions to Western realism in the first place. How can Western realism comprehend its own end, if it has proved incapable of recognising that which it now destroys? How do those outside of the Western tradition imagine home when their homelands are dying?

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