In his 14th collection, Harvest Lingo, Murri poet Lionel Fogarty continues his decades-long commitment to disrupting colonial language, colonial thought and their machineries of oppression. Fogarty creates poems in which language is liberated, feeding back against colonialism and strengthening languages that have been pressured by colonial linguistics. The relationship between speech and writing is constantly being bridged. But Fogarty’s stunning poiesis is much more than disruption: it also suggests new and generative ways of reading poetry across cultural spaces. The lingo of a locality is intrinsically tied into its collective identification and is a way of expressing community. Lingo may be familiar and particular, and in some ways exclusive. It can also be an imposition or co-opted by exploiters and thus become alienating. In Harvest Lingo it has many inflections.
Across the four sections of this book is an intense sense of “earth”-wide Indigenous communities in dialogue. In their radical ideation and revolutionary spirit, these poems deal with peace and violence in complex and intertwined ways in which cause and effect become part of the same poem, the same line, the same word. Fogarty’s punning can be so complex that a single word might lead to three or four or more possible interpretations of a poem, such as with his coinage “emergetic”, which suggests emerge, emetic and so on.
There are poems of great humanity and even beauty in this collection, as Fogarty advocates for the dispossessed, the exploited and the poor. His disruptions of colonialism show its brutal wrongs while often counterpointing with the integrity and community of those who suffer.
This is a book as much about reflection as full-throttled protest. We travel with the poet in physical and conceptual ways that bring us to a sense of self that resists Western self-absorption, while pondering the role of the individual imagination in contexts of shared obligation. Nature is restored to nature, Country and community, and rescued from “nature writing”, nature tourism and self-consolation.
Among the most powerful and tender poems Fogarty has written, his “India poems” could be read as those of a class warrior who is also an “ambassador” for First Nations experience of the damages that European nation states and the rich inflict on the planet (a core idea and a central motif). Remarkable poems include “Jaipur Airport Colour Wear World’s Apart” and “The Poor are Well Organised Than the Up-Class”, with the sharing of a literacy of making, of culture and community, and of mutuality: “Artists know when the stories are cold even when hot / Surrender the out-space sacrifice / Most are meaningless by an eye’s dim lantern / Common rights don’t needs to fight / Common books are read over+over / Till those who can not write will write their own way”.
In his efforts to re-sign and mis-conduct colonial languages, Fogarty often employs parody and deep irony, but in Harvest Lingo there’s an attempt – which I think succeeds – to posit a universal language of kinship between distressed, disrupted but strong continuing cultures that assert themselves against the colonial ruling class. “Aloha For Aotearoa” is a core poem of searching for accord and understanding – of making a statement of kinship between “Murri and Māoris” across the waves and under a shared sky – and is one of the most significant earth-culture statements of resistance-in-common I have read, though that might be for a Māori reader to assess: “The sun is the same to all natives. / The supernatural is forever in all us natives. / Our relationship with nature is in our daily life. / With spiritual natives we will give life a better future for our children.”
In the empathy that emerges from adversity and combativeness – as it does for the speaker in the poem, who learns to overcome his own prejudices – is an imagined exchange of understanding and a gaining of knowledge that is part of cultural assertion. Fogarty doesn’t ever insist on sameness in the shared struggle against colonialism but rather notes how the shared and the differentiated accord with vision and purpose.
One of the most semantically destabilising poems in the collection – at least in terms of European languages – is “Amour Lionel’s Love Poem”. In its highly disruptive fragmentation of French and remaking of vocabulary and grammar, Fogarty emphasises the potency of “love” for culture, Country and signs of his belonging, playing on the pseudo-identification of French as the language of “romance” and “love”. In breath-lines, Fogarty reclaims French explorer aspirations, redefines French as a language of Black Power – which it is in many ways and in many places – and reflects on the nature of his personal role as activist writer who is ultimately a love poet of his culture and people, pushing love into a variegated and tolerant space: “Alors Nous Black Power nous vous donnons l’amour / Fieret simple…ement / L’amour est l’amour / a nos terre d’amour”.
The language of love is also the language of revolution. The irony in anyone claiming liberty, equality and fraternity in an unjust and class-bound colonial world is highlighted by community, lingo and earth. In this book of revolutionary poems that challenge the certainties of the lyric and yet are imbued in song, the warrior is attuned to the violence of struggle and a desired peace, offering a renewing and vigilant poetry out of this paradox. Harvest Lingo is a tour de force: an extraordinary love letter to revolution, to those damaged by the colonial power expressed by companies or the state or privileged demographies, and a celebration of the collective healing power of restorative language. For Fogarty, love is culture.
Giramondo, 112pp, $25
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 23, 2022 as "Harvest Lingo, Lionel Fogarty".
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