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John Kinsella's 'The Wound' Acts as a Call to Action for Humanity

Posted by Ciara Boardman, 22nd January 2018

The Wound is the latest collection from esteemed Australian poet John Kinsella, whose previous accolades include the Grace Leven Poetry Prize, the John Bray Award for Poetry, the Age Poetry Book of the Year Award, and three-times winner of the Western Australian Premier's Book Award for Poetry. Kinsella describes himself as a 'vegan anarchist pacifist', and The Wound was inspired by his anger towards the destruction being wrought on the West Australian coastal bushland by the controversial proposed construction of the Roe 8 Highway Extension, which environmentalists protested would endanger the area's wildlife, the biodiversity of which is equal to that of the whole of England. In this collection Kinsella mixes mythology with modernity, as this collection includes two books of poems, the first inspired by the character of Mad King Sweeney from Irish epic Buile Shuibhne, and the second comprised of works 'interacting' with poems written by German Romantic Friedrich Hölderlin.

In the first book, Kinsella imagines an immortal Sweeney, who has been wandering aimlessly for centuries - following on from the curse placed upon him in Buile Shuibhne. His perspective as someone who exists outside society, and at times outside of humanity, works to emphasise the destruction wrought by people on the environment, as well as on themselves and each other. Kinsella's distaste towards contemporary socio-political events is made obvious in the passages where Sweeney interacts more closely with modern society, engaging with the legacy of colonialism, the growth of far-right political movements, and the irony of white Australians who are anti-immigration. Sweeney's wanderings take him across the globe, and Kinsella's imagery paints a powerful image of how the problem of humanity is universal, and leads the reader to question, between humans and animals, which is truly more beastly.

The second 'book' feels much more couched in reality, and the tone appears more pointed towards the reader, directly challenging them to consider their attitude as Kinsella's poems shine a light on what people consider important and, more importantly, what they don't. Kinsella is clearly enamoured with the potential of nature, as his imagery consistently treats it with adoration. This beauty is marred by the contrast with the wreckage of society, from war-torn Aleppo to the appalling celebration of houses meant for refugees burning down. Jean Boase-Beier, Emeritus Professor of Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, has commented on Kinsella's masterful engagement with Hölderlin's works, and how he weaves in and out of the originals to create something entirely new.

"It is exactly where a poem crosses into another language that we see into its heart. John Kinsella's versions of Hoelderlin's poems are not to be understood as close translations but as responses that consciously engage with such moments of crossing, of untranslatability or loss, and make from them new poems that come alive in a new context."

Throughout the collection, Kinsella varies his style and form, inspired by and reacting to his source material, and thus demands the readers' attention. His last poem, purposefully left to appear unfinished, seems to urge us to consider his words and make a change to how we interact with the world, as the ending is not yet set in stone.


Ciara Boardman is an undergraduate at the University of Leeds, in her final year studying History BA, and is currently undertaking work experience at Arc Publications.