We don’t normally feature poetry in Crikey. But we don’t normally get pitched poetry by such a celebrated poet.
John Kinsella has published more than 30 books and is the winner of numerous prizes, including the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards poetry category for his collection Jam Tree Gully. Judges noted at the time his work had:
“… great technical virtuosity and variation, exploring traditional verse forms and freer, experimental modes of language. They capture the continual unexpectedness of the world, its violent weather, the proximate lives of animals, the depredations of settlement, the demands of the seasons. This is a poetic voice finely tuned to the shocks and delight of country life.”
Kinsella’s work has long been concerned about the environment, humanity and an “international regionalism”. In that spirit, he has turned his attention to the people who seek political asylum in Australia.
“I think we’ve reached a low with the ‘turn back boats’ stuff,” he said. “The situation is deplorable, and poets should be speaking out on the issue.”
In fighting the sea, pinging
Neptune hidden deep with his heavy
trident, the emperor Caligula had his men
use whatever means necessary, tearing
up the waves, rending still water
with swords. The emperor knew
Neptune wouldn’t give up easily:
take no prisoners, he said. Turn
back the Nereids and their offspring,
they’ll share no food at our
table. In his human form Caligula
was the iron man, chief worshipper
of his own cult, his priests
of industry heaping wealth
at his feet. He grew giddy
with success. Turn them back!
Turn them back! And the empire
jumped, caught up in his fury.
Alone with his thoughts, his immensity,
Caligula said to himself: the sea
can throw up such nasty surprises,
there’s room for only one god
on the high seas. I will guarantee
safe passage for those who take
the test, who kiss the bootstraps
of my troops, who worship me.
When Neptune sent his boats
Caligula scrambled his forces,
put the empire on war footing,
bunkered down in Canberra,
said he was doing it for love
of humanity, love of his people.