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John Kinsella

John Kinsella is an Australian poet and essayist. He is the author of over forty books, including the poetry collection Firebreaks (W. W. Norton, 2016) and the novel Hollow Earth (Transit Lounge Publishing, 2019). He is the recipient of the Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, the Christopher Brennan Award, and others.  He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and professor of literature and environment at Curtin University. He lives in the Western Australian Wheatbelt.

John Kinsella
Photo courtesy of Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences

By This Poet


Redneck Refutation

I didn’t connect regardless
how much I participated, it’s a vocab thing
though not to do with skills of expression;
                                        ejecting bullets
from the breech, freezing whole carcasses
of home-slaughtered sheep, the contradictions
roll the same roads, and families
still come to visit:
                    crops in the bush, sullen days
coming down off bad speed, scoring from the old bloke
shacked up with teenage girls,
                          his bull terrier
crunching chickens;
                 a flat in the city is a deal
that can go either way, and the economics
of the paddock are the call-girl’s profit;
                                      the ford fairmont
runs against the speed  camera, and blind grass
poisons sheep — sightless like the minister
amongst his flock,
                the school teacher,
                                  the father
who won’t let his son play netball because it will turn him,
like an innocent bitten by a vampire, into a pervert — or worse —
a poofter. Outside, you can’t know that those
who speak in short, inverted sentences
always have fences in  a state of disrepair,
                                        line length
and wire length are directly proportional,
eloquent subdivider of land, intensive pig farmer,
will let nothing in or out, though the space around the pig-shed
is large and open, mainly used for hay cutting
while all sons play Guns ’n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction,
timeless classic... apotheosis, serrated road edge
where a termite mound astoundingly remains intact: there
are no generics, no models of behaviour.
                                    It’s not that my
name is a misnomer: it’s who owns 
a particular conversation.

Rite de Passage and the Irony of the Sharpshooter

Mum sent me a photo
of a sign near Jam Tree Gully
that’s been peppered by
shotgun pellets. It’s become
a recurring image in poems
written in separation,
but tuned to zeitgeist.
But what I’ve not drawn
out of sublingual and tangled
syntax of observation
is that I have been with shooters
who’ve pierced, decorated,
illustrated or condemned
signs to damnation,
and that I have myself,
as a teenager, shot at one.
I am not sure if this
is confession, nor am
I sure it was a rite de passage,
being on my own at the time,
drunk and lonely and curious
to see if a twenty-two would
more than dent the heavy-gauge steel.
A single shot into the centre
of a crossroads sign—a desire
to bullseye, to mark ambiguity
where there was no ambiguity.
There are rules for traffic,
even where traffic is rare,
where braking on gravel
could have you slide
concurrently to a dead centre.
I listen for that pinging
of symbols and emblems,
‘instruction’ and ‘information,’
and it sounds less like a bell
than a warning shot.

Reptile in Roof Space

The iron roof has expanded so much, corrugations
slide into each other. The wavering is not mirage—
no mirage could sustain this long, last through
such unreadable heat. In our endgame, we can
at least hope for stalemate. To take such seriousness
and game play, those orgies on the cusp of dissolution?
The rage for apocalyptic literature—entertained
and stimulated to thought at once? Or spread out,
panting, over the bed, listening to the reptile
swish through the roof space, track down its prey,
deal with temperatures beyond the scope of hotor
cold-blooded, beyond the structures of body
and psyche. This is what you choose to do—
to listen to the immensity of hunt in the cobweb
of light and dark, the sui generis of hunger, of fear.
So, spread out on the bed, eyes open but seeing
nothing, hearing your heartbeat loud in your ears
between the reptile’s movements you wonder: blackheaded
monitor—there is precedent—or maybe
a carpet python, long-term resident predator
of outer sheds, barns. Maybe it’s found its way
down the hill, out of the redness, into the zone
of mice and insects, of spiders and skinks.
Breathe, listen. The roar of your valves
and chambers, the rush of scales over broken
batts of insulation, down onto exposed Gyprock,
over metal transoms. Making a living. Distantly,
a cricket match drones on the television and an advert
comes on claiming the Australian mining industry pays
seven times more royalties than Brazil. “Brazil!” they exclaim.
“Our major competitor.” Amazon, lungs of the world? Investment.
Development. And jobs! Jobs making infinite voids,
mouths that can’t close after they’ve opened. Breathe, listen.
Jobs. Your half brother who worked years for the industry,
flying out beyond the limits of his endurance,
never knowing each place as the center it is, they are,
and taking home the emptiness he made. Alone now,
with his addictions cut off, in the roof space of isolation.
Breathe, listen. Write him a letter. It will be opened
by the censors. They will read of despair and pacifism.
That we are all brothers and sisters in this together,
as he paces the boredom, counts down, listens
to his heart in his ear, in his throat, the void.
The iron roof has expanded so much, corrugations
slide into each other. The wavering is not mirage—
no mirage could sustain this long, last through
such unreadable heat. That’s if you’re watching
this from the outside, looking down the hill,
through old York gums and new plantings,
the cluster of olive trees taking hold
as statement of survival, of stalemate.
The reptile moves fast now, across ecotones,
matching the terrain. Shaded and seething,
hungry to fill up in the overheating metabolism
of destiny. Your heart misses a beat. Proverbial.
Of course. A Symbolist on the bed, thinking
art is worth dying for? To step out before
the endgame reaches its conclusion, the jaws
close around the mysterious prey? No. No.
Breathe, listen. Ghost on the bed, palpitating
toward the scarified, the harrowed outdoors
where little can move in the heat, but silvereyes
concentrate in geraniums out of the sun,
their beaks wide open, drawing the cool
of design into their throats, splitting
           down into the syrinx, unsinging
or singing backwards. Glorious—breathe, listen.
           Their heartbeats. Their heartbeats.
And the roof space silent now, silent beyond
the flexing of metal, your loss, your fear.