Books

Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella
False Claims of Colonial Thieves

In her poem “Simply Yarning”, Charmaine Papertalk Green writes:

Yarning is a beautiful conversation / From that moment / That space / That time / Yarning puts us on common ground.

Her co-author John Kinsella responds warmly with his own hymn to the art of yarning:

How can I but take up the call, / Charmaine, and yarn right back at you / – it’s what we do when we connect, / have a yarn about this and that.

It is an exchange that epitomises the dynamic and imaginative unity of this fascinating collaboration between two West Australian poets, one a Yamaji woman and the other a man of Anglo-Celtic extraction.

This book is an attempt to creatively rethink the broader legacy of colonisation and its various systemic manifestations. In particular, the poets take aim at the greed of mining companies and their deceptions over uranium deposits around Wiluna.

And yet False Claims of Colonial Thieves also feels like an encounter at a kitchen table or camp fire where the personal and the political blend in the intimacy of a shared space. Here you will find anecdotes, confessions, dreamy dedications and memories of growing up in and around Geraldton. Private moments connect with activist statements about land and culture and history according to the poetic logic of a good old yarn.

Kinsella tends towards quiet receptiveness in his contributions: “I go to the bottomless pool / and watch the swallows / defy gravity. I know sunsets / make a coast and I listen / hoping my errors / will find redress.” Green, meanwhile, mixes hard, chant-like verses gleaming with indignation together with more musical pieces that make striking use of Wajarri language. False Claims of Colonial Thieves is structured as a series of discrete commentaries or responses with each poet writing back to the other. Their separate identities are therefore preserved, along with everything that flows from the difference. And yet there is evidence of a kind of solidarity between them.

Might this poetry of yarning be a new pattern for artistic reciprocity, one in which a diversity of voices, opinions, attitudes and interpretations progress and flourish together but independently? If so, that would be some kind of achievement. For as Green herself notes:

To move forward / It’s the only space / We can find genuine common ground / Everything else is bullshit.  JR

Magabala Books, 168pp, $24.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 14, 2018 as "Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: JR