‘The Rally Is Calling’: Dashiell Moore Interviews Lionel Fogarty

By and | 1 February 2019

DM: Your poetry enables a breaking of ground …

LF: Anger and temper, interpretations of it give rise to violence in English. In creole, it breaks that down without violence or aggression. English departments and education systems don’t see that. Poetry provides a buffer space, a middle point where both sides can come together to get an outcome. Lexi-grammatically, we read in the present day through creole way – a few English ways of how to do it. We want to get to the point where we can teach ourselves about English. Just cause you’re an English teacher, you can’t teach us about language. We’re teaching you the English, our upbringing and lexi-grammical values gives us confidence to say that even if we are with the highest English teacher, we’re teaching them about how language works culturally.

DM: I have to ask you a question on that, there is a writer called Edouard Glissant, who has similar views on creolisation and language, have you ever come across him? He was close to Fanon who you’ve read. He says there is no one French language today, there are several. He’s saying similar things to you!

LF: No I haven’t. Poetry is my favourite, it’s just that when you get people like Noel Pearson who say that poetry will never change the symbolism or the target of Parliamentary representation, that will be outside of government and you can’t change it with poetry. Whereas for me, I think everything comes down to poetry, even the politicians, whatever they say … English to me is a mosaic of poetry, and they get definitions of a poet is a poet and that’s that, and the definition of policy is a policy, but I’d say they have a lot to do with poetry.

DM: So what is the effect of creolisation (writing Aboriginal language and accents in English) in your poetry?

LF: That old stereotype of poetry from long time ago is still existing today. The English side, that exists, a stereotype of racialised poets, these words of possession are still dispossession to us in the present day. People like me who are protest writers and challenging writers, we like to challenge those things whenever we’re told they don’t exist. The whole thing about putting our writing in Aboriginal language and with an accent and feeling is to introduce an inflection, compassion, which is difficult to people who always give comparison to Aboriginal people who write in English to those who are writing overseas in the way they are writing. I find that a bit disturbing, when intellectuals give comparisons to James Baldwin to others overseas.

DM: Is it too easy to make those comparisons?

LF: Too easy, I know there are commonalities between us and the Caribbeans, the New Guineans, but there’s no need to put us into the same bracket when you want to intellectualise Indigenous Australia. To me, you need to stick with our own poetical definitions, and our own heart.

LF: The compassion that comes from people coming into the community … What I’m trying to say is that the up and coming Aboriginal writer will be clogged with that later, they don’t know, because of the compassion and the love of the community, that’s a hard thing to know. It exists there. It patronises and generalises the community a lot. It puts them back in what they need to create.

DM: Considering that, what do you think is the ideal way of going into communities?

LF: You might think that I’m trying to stop non-Indigenous people from participating in the community, that’s not my motive. My motive is to expose it before it eventuates. I think that it’s important for non-Indigenous people to go into community and get permission and things like that, co-operating together means co-operating on the basis of what are the real needs, sovereignty, not a heart and compassion change, but a physical material change, it’s the practice of it that needs to change.

DM: I have one more question, a retrospective question – have there been any central subject that you can think of as unchanged throughout your forty years of writing?

LF: Most often, I return to the writing of sacred sites, deaths in custody, that seems to be always an occurrence with me to write about that. Cultural rights and heritage, in terms of my personality, I like to change to write about characters in the community, different personalities, and grandmothers, grandfathers, younger peoples, aunties and uncles who are growing up to be fathers and mothers. My thing is to create a situation where I’m already published, and I don’t need to be up my egotistic self, and get all them illiterate writers, oral brothers, get all of them, to write a poem. I like anthologies myself. That was my main game in the beginning, it’s about me creating anthologies. I’d like to do that in future, getting lots of people and their stories. I know it’s been done, but me myself that’s where I like to go, where I’m staying now, I like to go out and grab the men’s group, women’s group, elders, children, from another country and grab them and get their stories, get their poems going.

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