Kit Kelen

Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a poet and painter, resident in the Myall Lakes of NSW. Published widely since the seventies, he has a dozen full length collections in English as well as translated books of poetry in Chinese, Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish, Indonesian, Swedish, Norwegian and Filipino. His latest volume of poetry in English is Poor Man’s Coat – Hardanger Poems, published by UWAP in 2018. In 2017, Kit was shortlisted twice for the Montreal Poetry Prize and won the Local Award in the Newcastle Poetry Prize. In 2019 and 2020 Kit won the Hunter Writers’ Centre award in the NPP. He was also shortlisted for the ACU prize in 2020. Kit’s Book of Mother is forthcoming from Puncher & Wattmann in 2021. Emeritus Professor at the University of Macau, where he taught for many years, Kit Kelen is also a Conjoint Professor at the University of Newcastle. In 2017, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Malmo, in Sweden. Literary editor for Postcolonial Text and Series Editor for Flying Islands Pocket Poets Series, Kit has mentored many poets and translators from various parts of the world, and run a number of on-line communities of practice in poetry (most notably Project 366 [from 2016-2020]). Kit is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW. You can follow Kit’s work-in-progress a the Daily Kit. Kit is the Co-ordinator of the THESE FLYING ISLANDS community blog.

Here is a little selection of poems from Kit’s book a pocket Kit 2, interspersed with some paintings and drawings:

let everything grow wild today

embrace the poem
squander the soul

sleep to dream and wake to play

let everything go wild today
let the spirits call our names

let us requite
only the words
to bear
from my door

nowhere but the way
everything green is reaching for heaven
for light and for love
squander the paint

set afloat in a poem
only words
to be borne

to bear on
let everything go wild today

wake to play and sleeping dream
so we may work the miracle

set God and godly things

all free

let everything grow wild

A Sociology of Paradise

First I came through a hoop of flesh.

I didn’t jump, I swam. There was an endless

mud plain and another storm coming.

Rain beat the rice shoots green from the soil.

Millions were huddled round the still ether.
The century dragged on. I missed the boat

swam out to the island. And the air was still

in the sun’s quarter and the half a sky where

waves could have been. The moon washed

up where the tide rusted into the sand.
Cars came out of the twentieth century.

Coca Cola came ashore, lapped on

the hard live shell of paradise. A coconut

fell out of nowhere onto my child’s head.

I didn’t stumble. There were stars and bars

everywhere. I could hear the West

crackling through looming shadows of bliss.
Back country, hills were dense with trees,

Dissidence, notches for climbing up.

And curled into a noose of straw

the disappeared hung, swaying – invisible

burden of paradise. I jumped through a hoop

of gold. I had the ring of confidence then

and a flag colour of mud.
Helicopters filled up the sky. When the noise

came, birds shifted in a line, black, palm to palm,

fifty metres. Then when they came back

there was nothing the wind could move. 

Trees clung to a rock in the sea.
On dry land a had a good steady job 

in the fly-spray factory. They paid me in cigarettes

so naturally I took up smoking. The mist

from the nozzle formed up a halo to martyr

the very air. You couldn’t call it a leak.

It was more like missile testing.
Each day here proud of the fallen, brainless

slaughters to glory in. The earth makes up

a place for each. The new rice sings from the earth.

The colour of the mud in our veins is a flag

billowing over a hoop of bright gunmetal:

the welcome mat. I didn’t jump, I swam.

the priming of a painter’s canvas

like night come

colour no matter
skins are under skin

and skies too
shade patches, dapples take the tune

soaks pigment where the eye was caught
canvas is linen really

like a tent clouds abide in
there are rats have your pants

vultures all sorts
one lies down in it all

till the rags make ladders
next beanstalk’s got your name on it

next stop is the stars

Views from Pinchgut

Picture a track, not one of ours

but lower, maybe inches only off the scrub

and winding from that height

into a tangle water fits to a gully.

The mind's untroubled there.

It's all green. It works, birds feed

off it. Trees stand up for themselves.

Even the sky's got a look in.
Roll that gaze out onto a coin

poisoned with flour and blankets.

(The sun smiles over my gumboots and I

driven on by greed and luck. For the sake

of a good feed we murder our way across borders

unseen.) It's dirt cheap so we buy a big block,

sea on three sides, sit in a corner

count up the tides. Flog some sense

into the trees and ringbarking’s a miracle

of endurance but we go at it like there's

no tomorrow. Thumbs hammered flat chat

to the milking pastures. Wattle

and daub, brickwork entangles me.

Rains come and go, mares eat oats

where the dam rots down and does eat oats.

Water loafs around all day and little lambs

eat ivy. Prosecute those who trespass against us

as we forget our great wronging of them.

Why bother crops out of the ground

when the hill sits still against geology's

dull blade? That's how we live now

– frontier alchemists making money

of the dirt. It's lonely here so we stretch

a thin wire out over the desert, build

a million miles of rabbity fence.

Out of nowhere the radio speaks to us

and the air vibrates into atoms.
Let's tote all up. Boundless pasture,

our coal will burn for a thousand years,

this sun blots reason out. A nation now,

we speak with one forked tongue.

Three anthems but no lyrics we remember.

No flag but hoist the washing. Nostalgia

overwhelms me. Transport me over a farcical sea.

Feed me salt biscuits, flat booze that gets me drunk.

Chain me in old fetishes, punish me

with ocean views. I'll re-enact the lot.

I'll be a stripling on a small and weedy beast.

I'll send the flintstones flying. I'll go on

quiz shows in black and white. No test pattern

now to stump the wits. It's a one-day invasion.

The pitch shrinks. The flesh is stupid, the mind obeys

and crimes committed drunkenly dementia

soon forgets. Let's take a cake knife

at this hill, make out a white man's house.

Can't say fairer than that. So robber kings

cheer on, their harbour full of hobby canvas.
Give us each day our dusty cup,

temptation delivers from boredom.

Give us the hundred tracks to go down,

a freeway looming behind. The sun

built out, we vote for the greenhouse.

Time slips its old noose over our necks.

Stars and stripes wave above. Just

show us the way to the next little dollar.

Oh don't ask why. Everybody's happy.

A kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't

you bet your life we are.

my flag

is a beach towel, heavy with sand

whole tribes tangled in it
involuntary sky – heart’s refuge

in the true of dark

mind’s refuge in the heart
 the flag

must be all things to all

a mirror aloft, reflection unfurling

that should make everyone happy
in a room with queen you’d see the queen

and she’d see you, her subject

one among the many flags
in the bush would be magpies to fly in and tangle

catch them like that when they get territorial
on the front of the big boss’s car

more of chrome, dark tarmac
in the night you’d choose the stars

bright pinpricks from another sky

in which the true flag must fly

be windblown, limp

from the accustomed pole
a square cut of heaven

and so strings attached

a calling

the same words

summon me often

because –  to put it simply –

they know what I mean

the bush


which is the wild out-of-order

snakes hunting under tin left lie
garden too thick for weeds this un-naming

it chorus birds commonly bright

minds its business we make ours

yields to spirit its sustaining

best model from democracy

dark wordless turn, self tending, ruthless

              absent of law it breathes to burn

this one tree left cut down to size

so when it’s mine it is no longer
flimsy instinct joins logic to one wish

the guiltless having of all this

another sun spun, a next dicey sky

of maverick opinion, told you

    inscrutable polysemy
song between the cityfolds

come clumsy in its own confiding

all unfinished business

all neighbouring and all horizon
the bush is a trap sets camouflage

falls in and all it catches        bush

blade hailing the forest     legend made failing

memorabilia: smug of stockwhip, blanket
gathers as a blowfly to what was once meat
takes no convincing – its job to go nowhere
team of madmen tied to one tune

    a tidemark shows where we retreat

midst of limits, most natural of histories

gospel uncut in the wood
a waste of pages cash scrawls down

the bush beside my means as such

pack up but where you come from’s

as gone as what was here

so we among all animals are party to
take down each sky made out in ribs

     a cross hangs bright above

one species relieving the others of hope
barks at the edge of night a dog burning

the hinge of sentience it mourns
much admired the passage of rites

because once you were my besotted

a frightened face to rouse such love
leaves tracks to run a course paws take

this shallowest of burials
the bush is an animal gathering home

and our great Ark unmeaning


Blokes are always coming over, in their droves

or in their ones. Wear thongs in summer, boots

for weather. No one says mind my clean floor love.
Arriving in their utes and vans, they’re always

round here, day and night, courting our Penelope.

They know what’s next, what’s what, when, why.

Blokes know what to do and what you need

and even if you can’t decide. Blokes’ll sort your

trouble out. If it aint broke it’s easy fixed. Take

care but not responsible. They’re always late

and rude and wet. Blokes like to be outside

the best. They dare the ozone at their backs.

Sleep with someone else. They say things you

wouldn’t. Feel less, do more. You’ve got to love

them though. Hide in their frothy beards to weep.

You feel for them, the camera shies. They won’t

be tied, won’t be predicted. But cuddle them

and know they’re bad. Take them all for granted.
Blokes won’t take hints. Needn’t tell them.

They slink away to shed when glum. Grow darker

in the moody scrub and shed their lacks among

the fauna. They won’t be caught, they get away.

Get down to pub and dob and dob, until they’re

almost in the clink. They tell their temporary

comrades. Blokes tell the truth and when they

don’t they’ve got the story all worked out.
They know the pecking order. How to fit, not rock

the boat. Blokes make a play for the affections.

Trust the passing moment, loathe permanence

of plans. Blokes are slaves of circumstance. They

can’t help being rough with stuff, have to give it

all a test. See if it’s well made or not. It’s not

their fault the way they are, was done

to them as blokelings.
Blokes are mates or so they say. Won’t let

a bastard down. The blokiest are your best mates.

Your mates are blokes if you’re a bloke. Women

can be mates or ladies. Can’t be blokes. Mate

with them to make new playmates. Blokes or no.

If you’re a bloke you mustn’t mate with other

blokes. It doesn’t work. Dreadful thing.

Unblokemanlike. Besides, how could

you tell your mates?
Some things are better left unsaid. And out of

earshot of the nagging blokes won’t need

your looking after. Dinners tabled, washing done.

Blokes go lean in filth and glue their rotting jeans

together. They know it’s bad luck to speak

when gesturing would do the trick.
As insects lead the faster life, they’ve lost a leg

before you’ve finished telling the precautions.

They’re enemies of labour saving, scoff at

ingenuity. Do a thing the hardest way. Clog noses

and their ears fall off, eyes are full of filings.

Drown in beer to build a gut. It shows what

blokey blokes they are. They suffer beef to have

the dripping. Sneak from the ward at last

for fags, and curse their curtailed freedom.

That’s with a final breath.
Bloody this and bloody that is what your bloke

ghost says at last. And when the dirt’s all spread,

well sifted – where are those blokey souls all fled?

They’ve gone to blokeland – hellish spot. The

Shed Celestial. Dim or Bright to their deservings.
Still, there’s more. Never was a drought of blokes.

Not since the war. No – blokelings grow to

blokehood’s full bloom. Bloke’s abound and pull

their weight. Show some leg, offer beer.

Call for blokes – they will appear.

When all else fails no need to fear.

Just stir him up. Your bloke is here.
cover of a well worn copy of  a pocket kit 2

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