Displaced: A Rural Life by John Kinsella, Transit Lounge, Melbourne, 2020. 329 pages, ISBN: 9781925760477. About AU$30 in most bookshops and online sites
TUMBY BAY - I’ve just finished reading a memoir by one of Australia’s acclaimed writers and poets, John Kinsella. I bought it on the strength of the reviews that I read.
Blue Wolf Reviews calls his work “magnificent, raw; the words coming together in form and shape to evoke the essence of the moment in time he is creating”.
The Australian says that “Kinsella can see into the heart of the country, and the evidence of these taut, complex stories is that what he sees there is both ferocious and unresolved”.
The memoir includes selected pieces of Kinsella’s free verse poetry.
Despite all of this praise I found large parts of both the rambling memoir and the poetry verging on the incomprehensible.
Purists, like Chips Mackellar, would probably also take issue with the cogency and quality of Kinsella’s verse. I’m no poet but I’ve read better stuff from Papua New Guinean poets.
Kinsella’s stream-of-consciousness style, interspersed with obscure words and pretentious obfuscations, strikes me as a classic example of arty-farty literature.
This is strange because he appears to have had a few knocks in life and should have left that sort of stuff well behind him. Then again, he is an academic and maybe that influences how he writes.
That said, I found that I agreed with a lot of his views and ideas. None of them are particularly remarkable and have been canvassed by more articulate writers many times before.
Kinsella is a dedicated activist and his causes are many, they range from animal rights and veganism through to indigenous land rights and the ills of capitalism.
However, I learned a long time ago that proselytising your views in the manner that Kinsella does is largely counter-productive, people simply bunker down and ignore you.
Changing how people think takes wars, pandemics and other catastrophes to really work. Words seldom cut it, although there have been exceptions, but they are few and far between and usually follow events rather than precede them.
Making your views known is fine but trying to jam them down people’s throats just doesn’t work. At best it antagonises them and at worst simply washes over them.
People mostly read books and commentary with which they agree. People with right wing views read right wing literature and people with left wing views read left wing literature.
The same applies to what they listen to and watch on radio, television and social media.
People want their views reinforced, not contradicted. That sort of armour makes their minds unassailable. Politicians understand this but apparently some of our writers don’t.
Capturing readers who think like you is a fine art. It involves a lot of hit and miss. Unfortunately it is largely pointless if you want to be an influencer rather than just a simple entertainer.
Promulgating your views in what you write is also a handy way of establishing your identity.
Personal identity is important to many writers. It is almost as important as ego. Kinsella seems to be about both of these things.
He wants people to understand where he is coming from. Here I am, this is what I think, take it or leave it. It is almost as if he desperately needs to justify himself.
Unfortunately, he overdoes it to the point of boorishness.
I guess the fact that he is prepared to publicise his views is a point in his favour. Then again, maybe he can’t help himself.
It just would have been nice not to have to puzzle over what he says and extract his undoubted wisdom more easily.
His wisdom is not only topical but crucial in the times in which we live. It’s a pity he has made it so hard to understand.