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
today 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.
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
the same words summon me often because – to put it simply – they know what I mean
1 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
2 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
3 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
4 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
5 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
6 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.