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John Kinsella

John Kinsella

John Kinsella

(Australia, 1963)
There is little doubt that John Kinsella’s vibrant poetic intellect stakes out an enormous space on the horizon of international poetry. As a poet, novelist, playwright, editor, critic, teacher, pamphleteer, publisher and activist, he is one of the most widely known Australian voices of his generation. Since his first collections of poetry, the writer has has been prolific on all fronts, not only as the creator of a significant oeuvre, but as a dynamic, perhaps unequalled force in the promotion of contemporary poetry, and literature more broadly, as a vehicle for social change and political activism.
For Kinsella, language is the natural environment. The process of linguistic displacement and interrogation characterizes much of his work. While evoking the rural realities of his imaginative heartland, the Wheatbelt of Western Australia, Kinsella’s poetry moves through different ontological modes not simply for humour and distraction, but to question notions of surface and depth. For Kinsella, poetry is always political. Not simply as propaganda, poetry becomes a site of linguistic and social revolution. Kinsella’s poetics are indivisible from his politics, which are orientated around his practices as a pacifist-anarchist-vegan. Similarly, it is hard to view much of Kinsella’s work without the lens of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry.

To L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, all language is viewed as political, and it is the poet’s task not to fall back into the rhetoric and complacency of simply producing lyrical poetry centred upon the reaffirmation of egocentric logic or a logocentric ego. In his essay ‘Anthologising the Nation’, he writes:

To open lines of communication between different kinds of poetries coming out of a spatial zone that implies shared language, geography, social and cultural concerns, and political frameworks, can be useful in presenting a picture of how that place works subtextually. But it is also limiting, and tends to help establish a nationalist discourse, a collective identity that places those outside the fabric as Other.

And about nationalism and identity, he writes in the Kenyon Review

I am profoundly antinationalist … The Western Australian wheatbelt is who I am, even if I am tormented by the fact of living on stolen land, of my culpability in what I (and others) perceive as an ongoing injustice in terms of reconciling land rights claims of Aboriginal Australians, and this is an identity I carry with me all around the world. My loyalties are local, my loyalties are internationally regional, my loyalties are to those who don’t get a fair go or a right to speak; my loyalties are to community, and my loyalties are to language itself, which I see as the key to liberty on personal and broader levels. Where there is exclusion on the basis of faith, ethnicity, material “worth,” gender, sexual identity, or any other falsity looking to differentiate for empowerment, then language and literature need to travel to challenge and undo.
© Michael Brennan
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Extended biography & bibliography
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère