In July critics and teachers of Australian literature met in Nipaluna/Hobart to commemorate the thirty-year anniversary of the Mabo decision, and to trace its various afterlives in the novels, films, and poems of the settler-colony. Keynotes and papers contemplating the changing aesthetics and politics of Australian writing were punctuated by austere reminders of the decimation of an already exclusionary humanities sector.
In 1838, the Sydney Herald dismissed arguments about prior Indigenous possession of the place now known as Australia. In its response to Aboriginal claims, the editorial argued that ‘[t]his vast country was to [Indigenous people] a common—they bestowed no labor upon the land—their ownership, their right, was nothing more than that of the Emu or the Kangaroo.’ The editorial expressed the philosophical underpinning of terra nullius: that, as John Locke says, land becomes property only when man ‘improve[s] it for the benefit of Life, and therein lay[s] out something upon it that was his own, his labour’.
There is a Bugarrigarra story from north-west Australia about spirit children, the rayi, who emerge from the water to create future children in the minds of dreamers. Among other things, the story suggests that rights and obligations can be inherited as well as bestowed. The story is significant to Paddy Roe, a Nyigina man from Broome in Western Australia, whose authority and custodianship is linked to a vision of a pregnant stingray he experienced with his wife, Mary Pikalli. In part, the vision conveyed the future coming of children in his family.
‘Might as well,’ I heard myself say. I was telling myself to record the poems I wrote in the margins of The Trouble with Being Born whenever poetry struck in the middle of reading it. I normally record it or them elsewhere. But I put them here today, Chinese or English, regardless.
Amid the repercussions of decades of ecological disaster invented or intensified by capitalist development and a historical rift between red and green movements in the West, Marxist ecology, emerging in the late nineties and early 2000s, recuperates Marx’s writing into ecological materialism, which can inform otherwise typically apolitical or liberal solutions to our concurrent climate catastrophes. It is from this standpoint that a Marxist intervention into ecopoetics can be articulated.
I am in a world of women and they are everything. That is why I carry the labeller with me, so I can allocate each woman to their rightful place. It is a secret thing, the labeller, small enough to hide in the palm of my hand or tuck into the front flap of a basketball bag. It prints little tags of invisible plastic that adhere neatly to the forehead. Sometimes, after I have slept with someone, and they already have a forehead label, I glue the new classification over their breasts while they sleep. Other times, I just stick over it. The label is soft in its rigidity.
Animal voices are annoying, says my writer friend, spinning her spoon on the table. We have met over coffee to discuss writing, something we do periodically though I have no innate sense of direction and am always late to our meetings. We speak hurriedly in a café west of the city, rain falling against the glass eleven days after it started, La Nina having been declared for the second year in a row. The month is November.
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It was the machine attached to someone’s arm that woke me up. That type of machine on wheels they use to monitor blood pressure, take your pulse, drip meds into you. It was beeping loudly. They always seem to. I became aware of feeling cold. Hospital cold. I was lying on my back. I felt like I was perfectly straight. I pulled the covers up to my neck. I nestled into the warmth of the bed as best I could but I still could feel the cold all around the room above me. I kept very still. What else was there to do?
Several things happen. I wake up. I hear the appeal of the advertising cruisers creeping past my building. My skin flames where it rubbed against the grainy sheets. Still two more days before I can do a load of washing. My Palm lights up with messages from work, Mum and (surprise, surprise) no men. And my mind remembers too late my affirmation principles: today is a good day. I am good. I am today. And all that. But I feel like death, or worse, like life gone on too long. Mornings like this, with the abrupt awakenings and the too-late affirmations, I fall into a mood made up of a single thought: is this all the apartment my hard work can afford?
From a field of many hundreds and a remarkable shortlist of nine poems, the judges of the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets 2021—Keri Glastonbury, Grace Yee and Toby Fitch—have selected these three poems as the winners
1911 / governor of istanbul orders stray dogs to be rounded up and exiled to the island of sivriada / hunger and thirst / they eat one another / 80,000 dogs perish / some drown at sea trying to escape / a severe earthquake follows / a punishment from god / the island is now aka hayırsızada / the inauspicious island / 2022 / now the accountant tells me hes reading moby dick / tells me i should try to increase my income this year / tells me it hasnt quite grabbed him yet but his son loves it /
ok, let’s get rid of everything. let’s just have, i just, i just want plumbing, art a steady stream a community and Lucy and i suppose modern medicine…… and a big mac and a decent rosé …
he asks to see each pill I take, a catalogue blue|green and yellow|pink|tangerine each one a promise, a spell: make my mother well we lie on my bed and watch the birds, eyes leaf-green somewhere between autumn and spring