Chris Brown Reviews John Kinsella

By | 27 June 2016

It may be useful here, and with Kinsella’s experimental work in mind, to bring clearer definition to the term anti-pastoral: situated in a traditional poetics of land and ecology as well as an anti-tradition of the postmodern. More important than denotation is a need to contextualise the term; here, anti-pastoral is not anti per se, or by necessity, but in the given context of pastoral’s colonial inapplicability or untenability. Further, the anti of anti-pastoral might be viewed as prepositional, suggesting a responsive proximity rather than antithetical distance to traditional pastoral writing and the ‘fair lands’ of a Virgil or Petrarch. It is within this tradition that Kinsella’s experimental forms begin to resemble a transgressive literature, an ecriture. Importantly, and perhaps in a way that allows us to differentiate Kinsella’s work from a tradition of Australian writing about land, the poems are frequently experimental in form, in their distance from lyrical modes and their interest in hybridity. ‘The Rust Eclogues: Radnoti, Poetry and The Strains of Appropriation’ refers to ‘fields of metaphor … cross fertilised in the language laboratory’, though, as process, this is taken up more purely in poems like ‘Polytype’:

A right idea has no history, just punches 
in the old time clock decorating the tessitura.
They heard him sing when IT was at its finest.
                    Job security. A Titian. The Gypsy
                    Madonna a fusion of nonsequiturs 
and false names. Low otherness of systems
they see and follow politely, dispersing memoria.
Too late on Etna Empedocles this gory discipline.

Drowning in Wheat assesses and organises Kinsella’s work in lucid and impressive ways – successfully, and almost seamlessly (given the extraordinary formal range of the work selected) compiling poems from over twenty collections. If it’s a significant part of Kinsella’s mission to hold conservative language and culture to account, it makes much sense that he titles a poem such as the one that follows, ‘& Succour’:

inist geothemies sistic, treple upclass – ments,
axiomies, i sest readentary: drinkables thirst sents

func gigs up crites, less lovely, encircled festeries
can as can do, fuck hit’n duelists says group, treez
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