My response to the 2017-18 Seagull Catalogue provocation

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Social media butterflies may have noticed a flurry of excitement about the new Seagull Books catalogue. Every year Seagull Books create and publish a massive catalogue containing original pieces of literature, art and translations from numerous worldwide contributors.  Limited to 1,500 copies and launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair, this year’s edition has an individual cover for each edition. My copy containing one of my works on the cover.

The collection of pieces comes about from a provocation by Seagull Books’ Naveen Kishore, which I have included below.

I submitted two sestinas, a complex poetic form using intricate repetition. As www.poets.org explains;

 The sestina follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi. The lines may be of any length, though in its initial incarnation, the sestina followed a syllabic restriction. The form is as follows, where each numeral indicates the stanza position and the letters represent end-words:

 

  1. ABCDEF
  2. FAEBDC
  3. CFDABE
  4. ECBFAD
  5. DEACFB
  6. BDFECA
  7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

 

The envoi, sometimes known as the tornada, must also include the remaining three end-words, BDF, in the course of the three lines so that all six recurring words appear in the final three lines. In place of a rhyme scheme, the sestina relies on end-word repetition to effect a sort of rhyme.

I chose not to include words BDF in the final envoi, however both works follow the other strict restrictions.

The first sestina, “White Fella goes to the Red Heart” is a reflection on my journeys through central Australia and more specifically the yearly trek I organise to raise funds for the retention of indigenous women’s culture. The ending a comment on Australia’s political “recognition” campaign, and the recent political stance whereby the Government asked the indigenous “leaders” to come up with recommendations, which they have chosen to ignore. Interestingly Joseph Schreiber also used his trek, with me, for his response, which you can read here.

The second sestina is about Australia’s shameful past (and present) on Manus Island, firstly as a site for post WW2 trials, where 5 Japanese POW’s were hanged and currently as a detention centre for refugees. This second poem is also acrostic (the first letter of each line spelling out my real message). Using snippets of 1940’s/50’s media reports and current Australian immigration propaganda, it is a response to a Government that hides the truth from the electorate.

Here is Naveen’s provocation followed by the two responses that were included in the 2017 catalogue.

Provocation

It begins slowly. Always in slow motion. With just the right pink and gold that the light designer ordered for the occasion. The script as perfect as can be. The director’s genius about to be rewarded. The performance about to, yes, begin. The curtain to rise. An audience seated. Resigned to what they know will unfold. Without change. Like having seen it happen before. Not here. Not at this particular venue. Or at this play. In their lives. They know the drama. The realism. The script. The dance. The moves. They know. Everything.

Drop a bomb. Set off a device. Blow to smithereens. Unless you do. The image that springs to mind when you see a ruin is gentle. Floating into the mind. Sideways. Almost horizontal. A sense of having fallen into something slowly. Over time. Perhaps what you labeled love. Like leaves. The kind that autumn sheds. Those. Very. Leaves. I guess things fall into gentle ruin. They do. That is the phrase I seek. The familiarity of the tragic. The kind that is foretold in every gesture you create. For yes. It is creative. This ruination. How else would it ever have got to the stage it has. One of utter helplessness. Descending into an aesthetically designed. Even overwhelming. Futility.

Embraces like coagulated clots growing. Thickening. Clinging walls. Solidifying layers settling. In an intense and congealed setting for decay to blossom. Into? Dare I say it? Decay. Decay yet to be born so unborn decay. The kind that waits. Waiting to grow. Flourish. Thrive. Open. Unfolding decay. One that matures into full blown decay. Without containment or known boundaries. Therefore spreading. This decay. Decay as epidemic. A decay of ruination. Utter and complete. Defeated decay. Gnawing at the foundations. Of what? Of what once. Was. Eroding decay. Relentless and unceasing. And yes. A committed decay.  

A twilight turned yellow.

 

White fella goes to the red heart

 

This endless horizon, this infinite space, you think you’re alone.

Where ever your eyes wander there appears to be ancient dust.

From afar one cannot help but think; this is devoid of water.

From a distance this landscape appears to be devoid of life,

but peer into the vastness, up close it’s rich and teeming with black

bull ants, brown snakes, cream grubs, dead mulga trees teeming with white

 

ants, red desert peas with their black hearts, red rocks, and no white

clouds to be seen, just a vast blue sky, red dust and me, alone.

Camping under massive night skies, stars outnumbering the black.

Wood smoke enveloping my skin as the campfire burns, ash, dust,

orange flame, and the light flickers, reflecting a pair of eyes, life

in the vastness, an invisible mammal in search of water

 

the life giving substance, small rock holes and pools filled with water,

attracting roos, wallabies, lizards, dingoes, snakes with their white

bellies and camouflaged skins, venomous serpents, takers of life

cold blooded hibernators, living in nooks, under logs, under rocks, alone.

Wind stirs, rustles dead spinifex needles, rustles mulga, raises dust,

sends my wood smoke afar, illuminates embers, amongst the black

 

ash. There is nothing man made in sight, nothing except my black

billy. Beauty in the rock formations, reflections in the water

holes, where black eyed, tan skinned dingoes prick ears, wade and wash off dust

quench their thirst, placate their belly rumblings, the soft down on those bellies white

again. I the only whitefella in this vast landscape, sit and write alone,

no one to distract me, only the constant buzzing of flies signalling life,

 

although I know in the shade, under rocks, in the earth there is more life,

the emptiness is teeming with it. I’m not connected like the black

fella, he is one with his land, one with his country never alone

out here, always accompanied by elders past. Kapi his word for water,

life giving water, keeping us all alive, even pink skinned me, white

fella out of place, misplaced, miniscule like a tiny dust

 

mote, falling in an empty room, you can’t follow it, lost in more dust,

lost like a white intruder in the red heart of a nation. Not life

affirming but life destroying. Lifestyle choices, dreams of white

picket fences, manicured lawns and trimmed box hedges and hot black

asphalt leading right up to the castle’s front door. The water

moat not required as high tech security systems ensure I’m alone.

 

I’m now beyond the pale in the ‘burbs, populated with pale white

middle-class computer activists who will vote to recognize black

fellas and say they’ve done the right thing. Recognize so they don’t feel alone.

 

Manus

 

Sword cutting thick air and necks, whiskey bottle in hand, no dream island

Here, an island of execution, an island where prisoners of war are hanged

Out to dry, hanged by the neck until dead. Tropical heat, no scent of freedom

Under the languid humid sky, five judges, waiting to claim “you are never

Leaving here alive”. Five suspects, found guilty, now simply ghosts,

Dead for their crimes, hanged on Manus, away from the ashamed

 

Battalions, away from the gaze of ignorant citizens, ashamed,

Embarrassed citizens, too busy to learn the truth of this tropical island.

Admiralty Islands, United States occupied, the remnants, the ghosts.

Shinohara hanged, Suzuki hanged, Nishimura, Miyamoto, Tsuaki hanged,

Hanged, hanged. Never to see Japan again, like asylum seekers who are never

Allowed to set foot on Australian soil, never to leave Manus and taste freedom.

 

Marked as peoples never to call a place home, to taste freedom

Enjoy autonomy, play on grass, not fenced in, not ashamed,

Disgraced, dispossessed, displaced. Marked as a statistic, never

Ever getting out of this hell, not knowing if they are leaving Manus Island,

Marked, branded, citizens of nowhere. The protester hanged,

Bowed their head in shame, prayed for the murdered, the ghosts.

 

Asylum seeker Reza Barati, “severe head trauma”, another to add to the ghosts,

Riots blamed, security workers found guilty, five years jail before they taste freedom,

Refugee Hamid Khazaei, lack of medical care to blame, nobody hanged

About this, just a bunch of pen pushing bureaucrats ashamed

Staffers, working in air conditioned offices, far from the notorious island,

Enjoying suburban backyards and freedom in Canberra, never

 

Dispensing blame, simply quoting the party line; “you are never

Tasting freedom, you are never calling Australia home”. Refugees dreaming of ghosts

Of homelands left behind, haunted by ghosts of violent deaths on the island.

Barati died, seventy more sustained injuries, and all they ask for is freedom,

Empathy, a place to call home. Why are we not ashamed

Australia? White Australia Policy Government, retribution, five hanged

 

Up by the neck until dead, five Japanese war prisoners tried and hanged

Secretly, away from prying eyes. And now the mantra is “you are never

To set foot on Australian soil”, we’ve killed and imprisoned, we’re not ashamed,

Refusing to show compassion, refusing to be haunted by the ghosts.

Australia girt by sea, young and free, that rich and rare freedom,

Little shared. Born into freedom we hide our shame on an island

 

In Papua New Guinea, hide our shame, our embarrassment, our ghosts,

Allow media barons to spread lies and propaganda, Ministers never

Never allowing people to taste freedom, we should be ashamed.

 

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5 thoughts on “My response to the 2017-18 Seagull Catalogue provocation

  1. These pieces are beautiful, and very moving. They mean a lot to me, of course, since my own trip to Australia this year. Not only do I have vivid memories of being in the desert (almost as if gathered in slow motion due to my impaired mental and physical function on the trail which is oddly counter-intuitive), but when I was Melbourne I went to a film at ACMI with Des and the short film in advance was a documentary about Manus Island that was very dark and powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Carpe Librum! or, in which I fear for the foundations… | Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

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