Too often, our response to uncertainty and impending apocalypse is that we must save this world – a world of yearning for counterfeit yesterdays and rehabilitated tomorrows. Or worse, for things to continue as they are, as we have come to believe they have always been; a world we are told is ‘already great’, ad nauseam.
We live in literal times. Far too literal. Hell’s vestibule in Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit was supposed to be a metaphorical, metaphysical place. Now we’ve gone and invented it. A virtual space. An enormous room.
For you, everything holds the same unending miracle of being. You listen to stones and to children; you are as fascinated by the making of soup as by the complexities of art. Every thing is holy.
It’s gauche for a writer to admit to being externally motivated. We’re meant to tap some deep well of feeling, or write for the joy of the craft. Sally Field is still lampooned for her 1985 Oscar acceptance speech: ‘I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect … you like me right now, you like me!’
When I’m asked why I write poetry, what drives my writing, my answer usually settles on notions of responsibility that are not straightforward or easy to define. It can be a cathartic-compelling, a way of processing and responding to unexpected triggers, or reading and experiencing the work of others.
In July last year, ABC’s Four Corners aired ‘Australia’s Shame’, a disturbing exposé on the abuse of juvenile Aboriginal prisoners at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The story was picked up by a Yolŋu radio station, but the newsreader soon ran into a problem: there is no Yolŋu word for torture. They substituted the English.
Duterte’s record as mayor of Davao, a position he held for almost three decades, said a great deal about how he would run the country. According to Duterte mythology, he transformed a gang-infested, crime-riddled backwater into a beacon of peace and prosperity.
Even before Trump’s victory it was difficult to engage in contemporary political debate without joining in a shared sense that the world is ending; not just ecologically, but politically and economically. Our global social order is transitioning from something we have long-assumed timeless – the Western model of global capitalism, and the political system that ensures its control – into a much more contested field.
The grandfather of all Aryan race theorists was French aristocrat Count Arthur de Gobineau. In 1853, he published a 1400-page tome, An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, promising to diagnose ‘the mortal disease of civilizations’ and explain how societies collapsed. He began, sensibly enough, by ruling out declining morals; the canker was not ‘fanaticism’, ‘luxury’ or ‘irreligion’.
The unsustainability of capitalism was recognised from the very beginnings of ‘political economy’ in the nineteenth century. The Marginal Revolution a few decades later (which, tellingly, saw the quiet retirement of ‘political’ from the description of an economist’s object of study) brought with it further theorising on the limitations of continual growth. For the likes of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and John Stuart Mill, every ‘commercial society’ inevitably reaches its ‘natural limits’ once population growth exceeds productivity growth.
LGBTIQ teachers are consistently positioned as the ‘other’: their lives, identities and families are regarded as different, as unrelatable, as potentially harmful. Straight teachers are spared this burden: their family lives are valued as acceptable models for young innocents, as somehow representative of social and moral norms. This othering is pernicious and pervasive. A male primary school teacher I met at a networking event shared his feelings of betrayal when his husband, who had donated his expertise to help fundraise for the school, was publicly referred to as simply his ‘friend’ by the school principal, someone he had long considered an ally.
We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, in a romance with our own fantasies. For some time, though, politics on the left has refused to entertain the realm of feeling; instead it has become dominated by a technocratic and perfective strand of thinking. I am referring to the investment social democratic parties have made across the world in producing ever better technical fixes to the job of governing: If only we could crack the right set of incentives, or the right set of interventions, each of us will flourish, and our longings for a better life will be fulfilled.
Alexievich’s version of history is not one of dry and bare facts, of cause and effect, but rather one of feelings and emotions. She seeks to record stories that have been overlooked or that have slipped past unnoticed. Human beings, Alexievich argues, are always more interested in knowing about other human beings than in knowing about historical events such as wars, disasters and other catastrophic accidents. ‘History is interested in facts, overlooking emotions. Emotions are not allowed to enter history,’ she declares. ‘But I look at the world through the eyes of a humanist and not of a historian. I am enchanted by human beings.’
I’d wished I’d brushed my teeth. They were always telling me that. Brush your teeth, they’d say and I’d say I have, I have, even when I hadn’t. Then they’d get smart and would want to smell my breath, which is totally gross. I’d say, no way, gross. And they’d say, go brush your teeth and so I would because there’s only so much luck you can push with your grandparents.
But on this day, I hadn’t brushed my teeth.
Let’s clear something up at the outset. You’re probably wondering: how can I, a bus stop in Benrath, Düsseldorf, claim to be telling this story? But there’s nothing so extraordinary about it: like many Germans, I have an excellent grasp of English. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like you to imagine the following scene. A woman named Gisela is trying to get home, but she can’t recall where she parked the car. Has it been stolen?
The ride into town was downhill. This meant he had six kilometres of uphill to get home after work. But if he didn’t think about the hell of going home, going in was awesome. He always tried to leave before Dad was up which was easy as given Dad’s usual state.
In a Moscow apartment that has been without hot water for days, a mother watches the Olympic opening ceremony with her husband and son. Here’s the best bit, the Parade of Nations – here comes Slovakia! Here comes Spain! Here come our guys, here comes Russia! The family cheers, and when it’s Ukraine’s turn, her son asks why their flag has such funny colours. It’s an unfortunate question to ask, but Ukraine was bound to come up eventually, so she is not so much surprised as resigned. It’s the feeling she gets when an electricity bill arrives at the end of winter.
When Inipi said, between heavy silences, that she did not want her child to be a girl, Miss Ude shook her head and insisted that she must not think of the baby in terms of gender or skin colour or ethnicity, that there was more to this child than eyes could see. She knew the child was genderless, able to take whatever form it pleased. She did not tell the mother all the things she saw. That it would have its father’s gait, its mother’s eyes, a delicate heart and hands that would mend people. That a time would come when she would need to let go of the child in its childhood; that when that time came, she would need strength.
‘They said it was in the woods.’
‘Where are the woods?’
Leni has come to visit. She answered my call. She looks around my room as though she is wondering if she is in the right place, even though I am here. The rooms and the corridors all have the same dark seaweed-green carpet. Lowest of low piles, scratchy on bare skin. With all the rooms and all the floors there must be acres of it.
my heart is a nude bulb. Or is it
my cock? Both muscles are small & hard.
Blink often, or at least wear protection, I repeated
I am not hungry, and this feels wrong. It is Ramadan, the holy month of fasting which begins with the moon bent over, showing only curve. My tongue is grey with wanting, the way it used to be when I was a boy and went without taste. It’s hard to explain how much it excited my body.
tiny lantana clots burning in jam jars light the way
through the scrub / dragging a television by its rubbery grey power cord,
screen down, leaf litter churns and parts, ripping the scab off top soil,
This year’s shortlisted poems experimented with modes, moods and discourses to engage with various political and cultural moments. These poems made us return again and again to uncover more within their meanings and structures; to interrogate their ideas, line by line. Each poem had its particular vitality, its seductions, its pull, its hook. We continued to challenge each other about those that stood out and our lists kept changing. Some poems took weeks to emerge from the group. Others faded.
no mist no mystery
no hanging rock only
many girls white linen
men with guns and
harsher things white women
A man who ‘writes’ messages me on OkCupid saying he won’t read other authors, wants ‘it to be original’. A receipt is in the corner of the chat window. I hope that he gets the message.
Cupid messages the other man who gets a window of hope that authors me. He wants the message to be original, he writes on a receipt.
Atchinson Road Cutback
It’s weird to start at track two:
cars glitching your streets
with frame rates and small griefs,
as if the weather gods and you
could scan deep space for a clue
All artwork for Overland 226 by guest artist for the edition, Nicky Minus.