Dashiell Moore Reviews Lionel Fogarty

By | 19 March 2018

I would like to end this review by thinking about the implications of Fogarty’s writing as a transportive, communicatory poetics. Fogarty is a well-versed traveller, having occasioned visits to Asia, America and India to perform his poetry. At a 2011 poetry festival in Columbia he presented a then-unpublished poem, ‘Assume Unbelievers’, which was translated into Spanish for his live audience. Written in a rhythmical, chant-like manner that takes as its starting point the repetition of the word, ‘Don’t’, the poem centres on the importance of the opacity of indigenous knowledge, and the consolidation of strictly Aboriginal space:

Don’t believe in flamboyant blacks
Don’t believe in novels for adaption for white societies
Don’t believe cultural dancers
Dancing for scum false show cases.

The context of Fogarty’s performances frames the poem in an intriguing way. He could not be more opaque as an Indigenous Australian activist and poet translated into Spanish, delivering a poem on the importance of Land Rights to Indigenous Australians, and yet he also, is an effortless cultural dancer in promoting kinship between his international audience and his community. The poem’s end consolidates such a reading, as he writes:

Don’t believe in land rights
Believe in pubs. Believe in noting.
Who are you telling me what believe is?

On this note – dubious of false, academic promises, or political niceties – Fogarty prioritises a ‘real’ kinship based on shared communication and open relation created by a secure cultural narrator. His openness on his own terms reflects his worth to comparative scholarship, especially regarding his emphasis on inter-indigenous communication. For instance, the poem ‘The Slaves Are Her People’ might be the finest of the collection. The poem is dedicated to Lionel’s mother in the ‘Notes to Selected Poems’ section at the conclusion of the collection, where it states that she experienced a profound connection with the South Sea Islanders who were brought to northern Australia as indentured labourers in the late settler period. Fogarty interrogates the rigidity of cultural identity at stake here; prioritising his mother’s acceptance of like-individuals within Aboriginal communities over cultural exclusivity in the wake of a shared cultural genocide. He writes:

we know you don’t know the legends, traditions
even beliefs of those poor slave kanakees
but what you have is a murri look into things
and speak bits of that lingo, sure long silence have been here.

As with relating his position as a member of the Yugembah and Kudjela communities in Southern Queensland, Fogarty intimates that this intercultural relationship requires a poetic understanding. For future considerations of Fogarty’s work, scholarship would do well to pay attention to these fragile moments; attuned to the necessity of surviving an extensive history of genocide and oppression, whilst also reaching out on the basis of mutuality and traumatic approximation. Trans-indigenous connections are implicit throughout Fogarty’s works, and frame his recognition of the intercultural interstice Indigenous Australian writers operate in. As scholars engaging in transcultural work, the editors have had to prepare a text that is by all accounts, ‘non-normative’, but all the more textually complex. The completed collection frames the act of translation as akin to cross-cultural communication, emphasising with Walter Benjamin’s 1921 essay, The Task of the Translator, that ‘Translation is a form’ whereby the completed text, rather than being a secondary issue, is in effect a new linguistic art form. With reflection upon this essay and the significance of the collection itself, it is worth asserting that both the editors, and especially Fogarty himself, enervate such a statement in bringing to light an edition of poems that cannot, and should not, seek to communicate the meaning of the original text, but the purpose of ‘expressing the innermost relationship of languages to one another’ (Benjamin 255). That is not to say that such languages are being anthropologically placed for scrutiny within an Anglophone place of study, but to argue that Fogarty’s work actualises a mode of communication that translates itself in its own terms, leaving a legacy that we as readers will have to deal with.

As Fogarty states in a quintessential poem, ‘Like Pieces of Paper to a Fire’, written specifically for the collection: ‘Being a 40 years works feels / 40 more 40 thousand fire’. Here, Fogarty seems to metaphorically denote each singular poem he has written over the course of forty years as the sum of a larger project, itself political, sociocultural and spiritual. Each poem must be read therefore, in collection with others. Each poem is subsumed and burnt to a crisp within a larger immemorial bonfire, a bonfire that leaves its material rejuvenated, cleansed, and new in its smoke.

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