On Sunday 14 August 2016, I was privileged to read my poem Art of the South Western at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. This was part of the Perth Poetry Festival’s Ekphrasis project, which matched eight poems to eight artworks in the AGWA collection. As it happened, the occasion coincided with my seven week anniversary as a fully-fledged Perth resident. Happiness and excitement all round!
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/179631956″>EKPHRASIS: pictures for words and words for pictures</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user15261657″>Francesca Sasnaitis</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Film credits go to Alex Chapman with my heartfelt thanks.
Art of the South Western celebrates the painting South-west Landscape (early 1970s) by Reynold Hart, but also refers to Hart’s other paintings of the period, and obliquely to the legacy of white settlement on indigenous culture. Hart (1938-1981) was a Noongar artist who was taken to the Carrolup Native Settlement near Katanning when he was four years old. At the Carrolup school he was taught to draw and paint in the European realist manner. Hart’s style has been referred to as naive, but that meeting of European and Aboriginal sensibilities is what attracts me most to his work.
Art of the South Western
In the beat between systole and diastole cars disappear
swallowed by the ridge ahead, and ahead thoughts drown
under a parchment sky. Country flexes muscle slow-slow–
fast—faster——in foxtrot time, a granite thrust
and eucalypts pass too swiftly to identify, serpentine boughs
ridiculous in paint but correct in life, the tropes of trees
daubed across a slope as if Hart had a hand in creation
or destruction, depending on your point of view.
Paddocks steamroll over remnant scrub, mapped
in umber, ochre and titanium white, stripped of honey
like a blonde blurred by middle-age. If I take my eye
for a second from the road I might drive straight up
and over the edge of the picture plain into wall space
and never-never land : country tidied, tamed and parcelled up
by settlers who would have us applaud their efforts
without questioning the cost. I find no monuments here
nothing to commemorate a massacre no one agrees to
remember, no rudimentary cross etched into a boulder,
only surreal visions scratching like gravel under the chassis
as the wheels stray and the ribbon of the highway unspools
with the trrrrr t tt of a silent movie film. I wonder
if I were to fall asleep would there be time to wake
and turn the wheels back on track? One false move
a moment’s inattention and over I slip, a headfirst dive
through the guard-rail of Samson Brook Bridge, dead weight
dangling upside-down from the seat-belt and me listening
for the boatman’s call. Later they would erect a plaque
in memoriam and leave bouquets beside the road.
In that moment just before the sky-blue river fractures
into a riotous yellow shriek, I would remember the rituals
we shared, our loves and losses, a moment’s grace
before the cockies settle and galahs bow their ruddy faces.