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y separately published work icon Angelaki periodical issue   criticism   peer reviewed assertion
Alternative title: The Kinsellaverse : The Writing World of John Kinsella
Issue Details: First known date: 2021... vol. 26 no. 2 2021 of Angelaki est. 1993 Angelaki
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'Criticism on the work of John Kinsella is made particularly lively by the fact that Kinsella himself practices so much criticism, and self-criticism, in his poetry, fiction, and essays. This can make it, though, harder as well as easier for the critic to operate, to gain a foothold or angle of vision, to trace without trying to rival the primary author’s creativity, ingenuity, and verve. Also posing a daunting hurdle is the sheer stamina Kinsella has as an author; that he produces so much in so many different genres that, while always remaining in a coherent field of meaning, is consistently original and diverse.' (Nicholas Birns, A Type of House-Paint for All Weathers, introduction)

'The extraordinary literary output of John Kinsella has thus far exceeded the capacity of criticism to deal with it. This special issue of Angelaki is an attempt to close the gap, but as the guest editors we are only too aware of how we must still fall short. This issue draws on a range of scholars who have followed Kinsella’s work, often over many years. While John Kinsella was born and grew up in the southwest of Western Australia, his reach has extended globally, particularly through the anglophone centres of Britain and the United States, but increasingly through other parts of the world including continental Europe and China. We will not attempt to catalogue Kinsella’s works here since, with Kinsella, such lists are almost immediately out of date. But more importantly, the totalising gesture of doing so runs against the basic ethos of Kinsella’s project. Despite its epic scale, Kinsella’s work always exists as an intervention and not an edifice. It has a negative capability, akin to the sublime and serial grandeur of paintings of the Last Judgement in Christian eschatology or the sprawling tableaux of medieval tapestry. But if his work is a tapestry, then Kinsella presents his images from the other side, as an assemblage of knots and ends. In this issue, we as critics have occasionally presumed to flip the work around and offer an image in more conventional terms, but readers will know that this procedure is something that must always remain critically contingent. (Tony Hughes-d'Aeth, The KinsellaVerse : The Writing World of John Kinsella, introduction)


* Contents derived from the 2021 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
Welcome Swallowsi"On the south-east tension cable", John Kinsella , single work poetry (p. 8-9)
Beyond the Bounds : John Kinsella’s Poetics of International Regionalism, Philip Mead , single work criticism

'For John Kinsella place and space, with all their historical, cultural, political, geographical, epistemic and environmental dimensions, are explicitly constitutive of his writing. But the ruling imaginary of this writing is “displacement,” the problems and paradoxes of home, country, travel, knowledge, ecology, activism that characterise his critical and poetic engagements. From multiple angles Kinsella’s writing anatomises the unsettledness of Australian history and consciousness, but it also conceives of these national dimensions in inter- and transnational terms. Kinsella is always concerned to show place, belonging and “international regionalism” alive in negotiations with the writing of any location, of all social and biological environments. Further his work reflects an activist politics of knowledge, with its recognition that a broad knowledge of locality needs to critique “Place” studies and discourses from privileged institutions of learning that fail to acknowledge the place-knowledge of communities that do not have access to means of articulating what makes their “local” knowledge relevant, dynamic and essential to themselves as well as to the wider world. At the same time, this critical discourse is shadowed by the affective realities of displacement, of never being able to be at home.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 10-15)
Art and Acts of Seeing in the Work of John Kinsella, Ann Vickery , single work criticism

'This essay investigates the development of seeing as an affective, political and potentially transformative practice across the course of John Kinsella’s poetic career. It analyses how seeing becomes a means for Kinsella to apprehend the relationship between self and environment and to consider how local-scale is tied to broader-scale change. At the same time, it traces Kinsella’s concern at the ways in which Western theories of vision shape and reinforce structures of power, particularly in terms of gendered and colonial violence. Moving through and then past ekphrastic debates, I argue that Kinsella considers how poetry and art might, in their own ways, ethically engage with both the human and more-than-human and actively navigate and reflect upon states of connection.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 16-31)
Poetry and “Post-Mabo Lysis” : John Kinsella on Property and Living on Aboriginal Land, Kieran Dolin , single work criticism

'John Kinsella is an important literary witness to the acknowledgement of native title in Australia, and Indigenous rights more generally. His writings also bear witness to continuing forces of resistance to those rights in Australian society. This paper traces Kinsella’s engagement with the Mabo case, the 1992 legal decision that recognised native title as part of Australian law, and rejected the fiction that Australia was terra nullius at the time of British colonisation. Focusing on “Graphology: Canto 5” and other texts, it argues that Kinsella presents a sustained reflection on the implications and the limits of this decision, in law and in wider cultural understandings and practices, through poetic allusions, paratexts and personal commentary. His writing since the mid-1990s reveals an acute awareness of how imported concepts of property and law are concealed within Western poetic traditions such as pastoral. To counter the effects of this ideology, Kinsella interpolates and appropriates terms from the discourse of property law, juxtaposing them against other ways of understanding and living in the land. In several collections, but especially in Jam Tree Gully, he seeks to develop an ethically reflective account of ownership of land taken from others, critiquing the dominant idea of property and articulating an alternative way of living in the land based on co-existence. The rights of the dispossessed traditional owners are central to a new mode of “writing the land.”' (Publication abstract)

(p. 32-42)
The Cybernetic Wheatbelt : John Kinsella’s Divine Comedy, Tony Hughes-d'Aeth , single work criticism

'John Kinsella’s poetry returns again and again to the landscape of the Western Australian wheatbelt. The wheatbelt is a region that was suddenly and violently re-made by capital in the service of cereal and fibre production during the course of the twentieth century. Despite this radical repurposing of land and the wholesale eradication of an ancient biome, the new farming zone quickly took on the halo of a natural landscape within state and nationalist ideologies. Against the backdrop of this event, Kinsella’s wheatbelt can be viewed as a comprehensive deconstruction of the forces that have led the wheatbelt to where it is now and which still provide the material conditions of its existence. In this essay, Kinsella’s Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography (2008) is considered as exemplary of his wheatbelt poetry. The essay explores the basic conceits that animate Kinsella’s poetics of critique. It argues that Kinsella’s poetry offers a strategic intervention into the claims of “capitalist realism,” which is Mark Fisher’s term for the foreclosure of alternatives to profit-driven patterns of production and consumption. Capitalist realism, in the context of the wheatbelt, asserts that whether we like it or not, one cannot argue against the basic entitlement that productive imperatives (and its agents) have to use land as they see fit. This essay attempts to detail the kinds of ways that Kinsella’s poetry tries to fracture this claim to common sense that capitalist production monopolises. What it finds, somewhat counter-intuitively, is that Kinsella’s poetry draws together two things which are traditionally regarded as antinomies – the machine and the organism. In this respect, Kinsella’s poetry is distinctly different from conventional ecopoetry, which tends to uphold the distinction between an authentic nature and a corrupting technology. Kinsella’s Divine Comedy makes use of the tripartite layering of Dante’s eschatology to evolve new topologies of being in the wheatbelt, and indeed, being in the world. Further still, the essay makes the claim that Kinsella delivers us a “cybernetic wheatbelt,” which refigures nature as a communicative machine.' (Publication summary)

(p. 43-54)
What Lies beneath John Kinsella’s Graphology Poems : 1995–2015, Paul Hetherington , Cassandra Atherton , single work criticism

'John Kinsella’s three-volume Graphology Poems: 1995–2015 (2016) constitutes a major and shifting set of poetic statements. Partly a discontinuous poetic chronicle of life in Western Australia’s Avon Valley, they are also an investigation of ways in which an activist poetry may inscribe aspects of being, self and experience while protesting against environmental challenges and degradation. As these poems sprawl in many directions and express overlapping preoccupations, and as they emphasise the unsettled and unstable while affirming what has a continuing importance, so they constitute a series of ethical positions connected to living sustainably and responsibly. They also explore the porous nature of a poetic activism that steps out into the quotidian world while simultaneously refashioning the poetic, challenging and even subverting the language of the contemporary lyric and the contemporary pastoral. The Graphology poems prize incompleteness and the fragmentary, open out to reveal absences and imply other texts, value multiple meanings and represent many of the most important strands of Kinsella’s work.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 55-68)
Co-authoring Communitas : Resistance as Counter-valence in John Kinsella’s Shared Texts, Dan Disney , single work criticism

'John Kinsella remains Australia’s most militant, morally cognizant naysayer, and his oeuvre is an archive of precepts running counter to master narratives of place. This essay re-reads Benjamin’s notion of the artist as cultural producer against the grain of Esposito’s etymological excavations of “community,” and frames Kinsella’s steady output of co-authored books as not only a mode of nomadic munificence but no less than a kind of formative guerrilla poetics. Pairing with poets, rock stars, others to extend his anti-capitalist project, Kinsella’s co-authored works perform a suite of interventions, gifting readers a means by which we too might fathom the generative effects of banding together in a munus speaking its own laws (and lore) to reconfigure notions of co-empowerment, equity, and indeed comradeship. Each of Kinsella’s co-authored books constitutes an intentional community of two and, as if dwelling in compositional possibilities, each text remains steadfastly optimistic. Refusing to be locked into despair by regressively instrumentalist political non-visionaries, from within an Antipodean milieu Kinsella and his many co-authors materialize gestures demonstrating how we might struggle for control of who gets to produce ideas, by which decentralized means, and to which generative ends.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 69-80)
John Kinsella, International Regionalism, and World Literature, Yanli He , single work criticism

'This article focuses on the question of John Kinsella’s invisibility in World Literature from the perspective of his International Regionalism (IR). First, it compares the similarity and difference between Kinsella and Joseph S. Nye’s international regionalism, and pinpoints the development of Kinsella’s IR from Disclosed PoeticsActivist PoeticsSpatial Relations to Polysituatedness. Second, it concentrates on analyzing the background of Kinsella’s IR through three kinds of ideologies: veganism, anarchism, and pacifism, in order to mark the unique identity problem of Kinsella – identity dilemma in-between pre- and post-nation as Australia. Third, it clarifies the reason why Kinsella is invisible in the World Literature canon as Emily Apter mentions in “On Translation in a Global Market,” in line with the question why Kinsella was mainly in the footnotes of Robert Dixon and Brigid Rooney’s Scenes of Reading: Is Australian Literature a World Literature. In conclusion, on the one hand, Kinsella’s IR about the World and Literature does not fit in the Center, or the Periphery, nor the Semi-Center & Periphery; on the other hand, Kinsella’s IR might more aptly be termed International Community-ism, because Kinsella’s World is built up by very small communities.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 81-91)
John Kinsella as Life Writer the Poetics of Dirt, David McCooey , single work criticism

'Life writing is ubiquitous in John Kinsella’s vast oeuvre. Kinsella’s employment of the diversity of modes collected under the rubric of “life writing” is underpinned by a “poetics of dirt.” Such a poetics is visible in the central role that material dirt (as both pollution and terrain) plays in Kinsella’s work, as well as the more general concept of impurity, as seen in Kinsella’s poetic trafficking in ideas concerning transgression, liminality, hybridity, and danger. In Purity and Danger (1966), the anthropologist Mary Douglas famously defined dirt as “matter out of place.” In the poem “Dirt” (from Kinsella’s 2014 collection Sack), dirt remains understandable as matter out of place, but it also becomes radically mobile, its material and symbolic weight subject to unexpected transformations. The eponymous dirt in Kinsella’s poem is being carted from one place to another by the poet’s near neighbour for “purposes unknown.” This “shitload of dirt,” dumped onto the dirt of the valley’s floor, makes its way into the disturbingly porous bodies – both human and non-human – around it. It is “something you sense in arteries” and “the haze / that lights and encompasses us all.” This poem can be taken as a metonym for Kinsella’s entire literary oeuvre. Employing his “poetics of dirt,” Kinsella attends to the dispossessed dirt of a post/colonial nation; the dirt of contemporary farming practices; the dirt of official and vernacular languages; and the dirt of personal secrets. This essay argues that Kinsella’s “poetics of dirt” cannot be disambiguated from his activist poetics, and the profoundly auto/biographical nature of his writing. Attending to postcolonial theory and life-writing studies, this essay analyses how Kinsella thematises dirt as central to both life writing (in prose and poetry) and a life of writing. In doing so, it considers dirt as something not simply “out of place,” but – in a postcolonial, post-sacred, and late-capitalist world – endlessly mobile, unstable, and transformative, moving between material and discursive realities in newly complex ways. By attending to dirt (both as matter and as pollutant) within the context of his various auto/biographical projects, Kinsella conspicuously draws attention to the relationship between the human and the material, profoundly questioning – in a way akin to a “new materialist” perspective – the consequences of a human-centred ontology. At its most radical, the “poetics of dirt” found in Kinsella’s life writing posits a world in which human subjectivity is not the only agental force in the material world.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 92-103)
On Genre, Tom Bristow , single work criticism

'Paradoxically, loss is the only unconditional possession possible in elegy. A deep understanding of this phenomenon is to be found in long prose forms and lyricism of contemporary Australian writers. Turning the history of literature – from the Medieval to the contemporary – into a body of work more relevant to our ecological plight, in Kinsella’s corpus genres are consequences of textual events operating within an organic totality. This totality deconstructs the reference point for elegy: loss as the condition of thought and experience. Sidestepping while matrixially reconfiguring traditional and experimental forms of writing, Kinsella’s engagement with genre exemplifies not only the undoing of the codes that constitute all possible readings of a text; it is an implicit critique of speech acts that tend to “fix” life into static nouns, reflecting our culture’s ideology of appropriation of nature. Within a critical counterpoint to appropriation (namely, possession), Australian writing can be read as both urging readers to remain alert to pastoral precedents yet avoid projecting genre onto texts. To some extent, elegy has been decolonised in Australian pastoral.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 104-112)
Killing Time : An Extract from Work in Progress with John Kinsell, Per Se), Russell West-Pavlov , extract prose

'Some months earlier, John Kinsella had sent me the manuscript of his new book of villanelles. There, I had found a couple of lines that kept going through my mind in that turbulent week of world politics, lines that enjoined one “to feel the shift of media politics to one based / in re-tunings and refrains, escaping anthropocene prolapse” (“Frolic Villanelle (+),” in Kinsella, Brimstone 69). It was certainly a week of “media politics,” and we got more than our fair share of “anthropocene prolapse” (relapse? proleptic collapse?) as well.' (Publication summary)

(p. 113-123)
The Scrub of Vicissitude : The Experimental Fiction of John Kinsella, Nicholas Birns , single work criticism

'John Kinsella’s achievement as a poet has overshadowed his fiction. But his narrative accomplishment is a considerable one. Whereas his poetry is usually classified as either experimental or “dark pastoral,” the fiction evades these kinds of categorizations. This essay delineates Kinsella’s fictional oeuvre, from the estrangements of his short stories to his recent series of short novels, novellas, and full-length novels, all of which feature a protagonist who is a version of himself, a Kinsella manqué, deployed against various speculative futuristic, or conjectural backdrops. This technique enables both a searing social interrogation and a questioning of the privileged self in light of racism, sexism, and white settler arrogance. Kinsella’s fiction often rewrites anterior texts or received genres. But, unlike so much other Australian fiction, it does not simply write into the global market or attempt to temporarily reanimate received paradigms. Kinsella’s fictions, such as Hollow EarthDjango & Jezebel, and Basket Z, are not conventional novels. But they provide a satisfying narrative through-line even as they prod the reader to think about their own place in the text and in the world.' (Publication abstract)

(p. 124-134)

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Last amended 9 Apr 2021 15:00:49