Last Thursday’s The West Australian carried this piece about our books, with a particular interest in the way Kumakana ‘resonates strongly with a sense of place, yet is not limited by location’. I wrote on what it might be about the novel that evokes this kind of response on my personal blog, in which I discuss some of the hidden concepts that might conjure a sense of place.
Elaine Fry told me afterwards,however, that what she meant by the phrase is this: ‘although the story is set in and has a strong flavour of the South West of WA, maintaining “The Natural Order” is something that is important everywhere’, consequently her comment that it is not limited by location.
I have to say, I rather like that.
Kevin Price’s long awaited novel, Kumakana: A Gronups Tale, was launched by Crotchet Quaver at Northside Books on March 7, 2017 by local musician Paul Reynolds. The following is an extract from his launch presentation.
There are other writers in the history of fiction who have taken just as long to complete a work as Kevin has with Kumakana—Tolkien with Lord of the Rings springs to mind. If a book takes that long, some, such as Tom Kenneally, might suggest that the horse has died beneath the writer … and if it stinks, it’s time to bury it.
Of course there is another possibility—the one that suggests a book as multi-layered as this one needs the oak-barrel ageing usually reserved for a 1926 Macallan—time enough to create new chemistry and allow its nuances to surface, and after a first taste, demands greater and deeper inspection.
Kumakana is a fairy tale. Dark, mysterious and abundant in its use of the fantastic. Two common tropes of fairy tales are the creation of a bond between communities in the face of inexplicable forces of nature, and the suggestion of hope in a world seemingly on the brink of catastrophe.
The impending catastrophe in Kumakana is the approaching demise of the indigenous animals of the forest at the claws of the feral cats—Snowqueen and her gang of cutthroats—and, worse, the teeth that ‘glint like steel in a butchery’ belonging to a cunning and voracious clan of foxes—Don Canida’s mob. Caught on the horns of this impending disaster are the Gronups, the spiritual custodians of the animals and the keepers of the Natural Order. If they cannot find a ‘turning point’, as they describe it, to bring them back from the precipice, then the Natural order will be lost forever.
As luck would have it, they pin their hopes on the untested spirit of Lavender Jensen, a headstrong, determined, 13 year old girl, and a suspected ancient spirit carried by Jerramunga, a buoyant, laconic, Aboriginal youth. Because of their unusual arrival in the forest, tensions between the two clans of predators and the enigmatic Gronups are ignited, and they become the inevitable key to the future survival of the mysterious world within the forest and, perhaps, the world outside.
The reader quickly discovers that the Kumakana forest is a community orchestrated by the intersection of multidimensional planes, one of which is the forest itself. Others comprise Lavender Jensen’s reality, Jerramunga’s alternative reality, the world of the forest animals, and that of the Gronups. This intersection of communities sponsors the unfolding of dialogue that invites the reader to consider ‘the real’ from an alternative, ‘less real’, perspective.
Fairy tales engage the fantastic so as to leave traces of the human struggle for immortality that we can feel safe with. Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, The Ugly Duckling … all offer us metaphors of human frailty, show us that there are unsavoury aspects of human nature that need to be taken seriously and guarded against. The many barriers Lavender Jensen encounters, from the inaccessibility of a direct return to her world of the everyday, to the trickery of the old snake Cedric, are transforming moments of the narrative, enabling an exchange that lifts understanding across the different worlds the forest offers up, including a version of its own, into the world of the reader outside.
Community becomes the central organising principle of the Kumakana narrative. The forest, for example, is a community of vegetation, ranging from the trees that rise like columns ‘in the rampart of a great fort, forming part of a landscape that sits idly, waiting as the crackle of their leafy crowns tosses whispered incantations to the winds, passing myths and legends of dark days and forgotten languages’ … to the ‘wall of springy ferns—the kind that snap back to their upright positions and slap you in the face after being pushed aside to pass through.’
Kumakana’s cosmic design not only uses the forest to present multiple obstacles, but to introduce passage-ways into that which remains mysterious. In particular is the tingle tree. The tingle tree is a massive tree, unique to the south west corner of Australia, without question one of the world’s mightiest trees—in competition with the Californian redwood and the mountain ash for sheer size and presence. But largely unknown away from its natural habitat.
In Kumakana, the tingle features as barrier, signpost and passage-way—it is an iconic symbol of solidity and great age, and stands in representation of the awesome power of nature. But it is also central to the history and community of the novel, as a centre of power that is both under and outside of the Gronups’ agency in the survival of the natural order.
It’s common for fairy tales to have talking animals, and Kumakana has them in droves. Kevin’s skillful use of language weaves a musical theme into their dialogue, grouping them in clans through clever names and drawing on highly localised 19th century collections of Indigenous words for their identities. The layers in this work are such that to suspend disbelief in that fact that it is animals in conversation occurs without notice. The use of metaphor and allegory illustrates a rich canvas on which topical issues of refugees and asylum, habitat degradation, greed, and waning spirituality are readily exposed.
Kevin’s offering of this book to ‘those who believe there is always a better way’ points to these serious issues affecting our world, both the natural and the man-made, and how perhaps it is necessary to let go your beliefs in order to see how things can be different. At one point Lavender is trying to convince a group of vixens that Gronups are real, she asks Wonaiea (a Gronup) to let the foxes see him, to which he replies: ‘I can’t … To see a Gronup you have to let go your beliefs’.
Belief is threaded right through the book. Lavender Jensen believes in magic. Jerramunga, of similar age but from a different culture, does not mock her belief in magic, but mocks the magic in which she believes. A clan of foxes believe in the law of the jungle. Their leader believes the sweet meat of the young girl will bestow everlasting powers. The forest animals believe in the Natural Order, they trust Gronups to guide them. In turn, Gronups believe Lavender’s spirit may yield a turning point from the path of destruction that has seen a contraction of habitat and extinction of animals. They believe the spirit Jerramunga carries is ancient, and they have met it before. Lavender’s father believes her imagination is problematic; Gronups believe it may be the answer.
Kumakana is about belief, yes. But it challenges ownership of belief too. Kevin demonstrates in Kumakana the impossibility of writing of one belief without attempting to explore others.
In the past he has faced the challenges of cultural appropriation—the argument that, if we are of a particular cultural heritage, we cannot write of beliefs held in another. We are told that by making use of cultural artefacts that can be clearly shown to belong to a culture other that the one we belong to, it is a form of appropriation. This book illustrates how it can be done.
Kumakana shows us that human nature moves forward by sharing cultures. We share our nourishment, our knowledge, our beliefs, our art and dance and music because it helps others understand who we are. It helps us understand who others are. When we are touched by the cultures of others, and we find a spiritual concert playing out in ourselves, we cannot help but be changed. When we actively deny others access to such change, we deny humanity the right to grow.
Like Salmon Rushdie in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Kevin Price has written a story that allows him to diagnose the sickness of our country spurred by unreconciled effects of colonisation that have left scars so deep they may never heal … He urges readers to embrace imagination, become inventive, daring, and cunning.
In this work, Kevin Price has written a book that will leave a mark in society, providing hope for solutions without supplying the definitive answers. Those he leaves up to others.
It’s Quite True!, an illustrated rewriting of a Hans Christian Andersen tale about the dangers of rumours, by Lis Mathiasen (authror) and Judith Price (illustrator) was launched at Paper Bird Books & Arts, Fremantle on Saturday 25 February 2017 by celebrated children’s author Norman Jorgensen. The following is an excerpt from his launch presentation.
I am a honoured to be launching It’s Quite True, written by Lis Mathiasen and illustrated by Judith Price, and based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.
Now, I am the worst person to be launching this book and, might I say, the most suitable of all. Worst, because I normally hate children’s books about talking animals. And considering my life’s work has been about kids’ books, that is pretty sad and makes me in the minority. The fact that this one, and about half the books inside here at Paper Bird, would be about birds and animals that can talk tells me I am totally wrong.
I am also the very best person to launch it because, would you believe, Hans Christian Andersen’s half-sister was Karen Marie Jorgensen, an illegitimate child fathered by travelling potter Daniel Jørgensen—a known womaniser. He had several other illegitimate children that he did not care about either.
Hans Andersen’s father, a shoemaker, died aged thirty-three in 1816, leaving his widow Anne Marie Andersdatter penniless and working as a washerwoman. In 1818 she re-married another freelance shoemaker, called, coincidently, Niels Jørgensen, who also died young. The rough life as a washerwoman made her turn to drink.
In a letter home to his mother, Andersen begged, Please do not unscrew the cork too often, dear mother. In 1825 she was placed in a mental hospital until her death in 1833. Cause of death: Delirium Tremens. Alcoholism. That explains quite a lot.
Now the problem with many book launches is that the launcher talks about themselves too much, just as I have done, and not about the books, the real reason we are all here.
I love picture books. They are usually such beautiful objects. There was no four-colour printing when I was a kid, so hardly any good looking picture books were produced, so I came to them as an adult in the 1980s, a supposedly golden age for children’s literature. They were becoming sophisticated and on several levels. I worked as a bookseller so started selling them into high schools as well. I love how they use a mixture of both words and illustrations to tell the complete story. You need both. With one element missing they make no sense.
As a writer I’m that not so keen. But the illustrators often have better pictures in their heads than I do. As Liz would have found working with Judith. Her paintings are amazing. I love the expressions of the chooks’ faces as well as the colours, the backgrounds and the overall style of it. Well done, Judith.
I was a bit worried about Lis killing off five chooks and upsetting delicate gentle readers, but then remembered what Has Christian did to the little match girl. Handle that and you can handle anything. And handle it well is what she has done. It is such a difficult task, writing. It is about making constant choices and getting across your message, the atmosphere , the characterisations, the setting, plot developments and all the while keeping the reader mesmerised and wanting to continue reading—in as few words as possible. Congratulations on achieving that, Lis.
Those other qualities I admire, other than great artistic and writing talent, are perseverance and courage. With all three elements, you can’t help but have a brilliant career ahead. You two have certainly shown those, as writing, illustrating and publishing a book is a very great endeavour. Many, many people say to me they are going to write a book one day, but very few actually sit down, day after tedious day, and actually do it. Even fewer finish, as I suspect, deep down, they are worried about being criticised. You do normally need a pretty thick skin as well if you put your work out there in public, but in the case of It’s Quite Right I am certain you won’t need to be worried. The critics will like it as much as I do.
So Lis, the author, Judith, the artist and illustrator, and my friend Kevin, the publisher, on behalf of the ghost of my illustrious, hopefully, probable ancestor, Hans Christian, who I know would be proud of the three of you, I commend your work to everyone in the world, and it is my deep honour and privilege to hereby launch your marvellous book onto an unsuspecting world.
Jenny De Reuck’s launch of David Moody’s collection of poems at Nexus Theatre, Murdoch University on Thursday 23 February was memorable and moving as she highlighted aspects of David’s work that make this book definitely noteworthy. The following are extracts from her launch speech.
When David asked me to launch this collection of his I was deeply touched. We’ve shared a great deal in our years at Murdoch in the Literature and Theatre Programs—highs as well as lows—but I was genuinely surprised to discover that this book of his was a collection of poems and not a novel or a play.
I knew him as a gifted dramatist and a writer (not to mention those other attributes for which he has become famous: actor, director, adaptor; lecturer, critic and stand-up comedian among others) but that he had embraced that most arcane and difficult of contemporary literary forms and done so with such lyricism and emotional integrity has been a revelation.This collection of poems, with the beautiful and evocative illustrations by Judith Price, offers us an extraordinary range of ‘ordinary’ experiences. I can’t of course predict each reader’s response to them, but there will be sorrow, laughter, amusement and, at times, anguish among your responses. They were mine. What David does so well is use language (as poets must) to shape a thought, a feeling, a moment in time for his speaker and then of course for his reader. As I read and re-read the poems I found myself delighting in the playfulness in his use of words and the fun he had with the shaping of the lines, such as those from Murdoch Drive, Good Friday:
Bikie with Sudden bravado,And for any of us who have opened the cages in the Drama Workshop to ‘source’ props, there is a moment of recognition artfully captured in the poem, Drama Store-Room. David captures exactly the nostalgia, the loss—as well as, perhaps, the comical status—of discarded theatrical artefacts.
Fishtails across two lines, a brief
Wild spiral of
No audience, but
Startled (From Murdoch Drive, Good Friday p56)
There are, of course, much sadder moments, darker tones, but in these, too, David demonstrates his control of the emotional onslaught. Language, in these poems, is charged with a depth of meaning that wrenches the speaker and by extension the reader.
A title as innocuous as Sunday at the Esplanade contains quietly submerged emotional grenades for the reader to negotiate. The implicature in its final lines, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”, in the resonant words of that Scottish tragic hero, pulls us towards a complex world-view in which the banal, the ordinary, is felt with an anguish that surpasses the everyday and asks the reader to consider what courage it takes to continue.
And the poem that gives this collection its title is one I returned to again and again—its gentle tones mask a disquieting, even disruptive set of truths for the speaker and his audience. Ordinary Euphoria asks us to consider ordinary events and to realise that despite their apparent banality—driving to work; drinking a cup of tea; eating tea at home; a casual touch—they have a capacity in them for the alerted imagination to render them transcendent: “Routine’s, accidental carnival of Grace”.
Each of his readers will find their own point of entry into David’s poems. Mine was the collection’s opening line in the beautifully wrought, Poem on Death of Madiba, where the speaker states: “I am not South African”. At once intensely personal and politically charged, this poem explores an observer/subject’s ‘right’ to empathetic emotion in the face of suffering which we ourselves have not endured. Here the speaker conflates Robben and Manus Islands—with all the implications for an Australian readership—but also conjures for us, via Mandela’s (he uses the affection, intimate term, “Madiba”) towering presence, the possibility of secular forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s a beautiful poem, and it wears its political garments lightly.Simone Lazarro’s words in the preface of this volume capture the essence of David’s achievement:
[The poems] reveal the treasure to be found both in quiet moments alone and in encounters with other people, and they help us celebrate these and the value to be found in our everyday lives. Much like a good friend, they give us a fuller sense of who we are and who we might yet become. In short, reading this book of poems will leave you feeling richer in unexpected ways.I would add that David Moody’s poems arrive at a time when the Arts and Humanities are under more stress, are more existentially threatened, than perhaps at any other time in our history. A volume of work like this, a testament to the value of a creative mind examining and then articulating—in heightened and impactful language—those insights, could not be more timely. David’s embrace of poetry (the ‘Cinderella genre’) in Ordinary Euphoria, now seems to me to be one of those moments which we should celebrate, affirming the need for powerful expressions of this kind, that have their origins in cultures as old as humanity itself. If we don’t shout back at the fates aligning malevolently against us (yet again) “the fault … is in ourselves, not in our stars”.
David’s poems fly up in response. His creativity a wonderful antidote to the forces of aesthetic repression. Without such assertions of the intrinsic value of Arts—in the broadest sense—“the rest” we can be certain, will be “silence”.
Listen to David read the poem Ordinary Euphoria #2 from his book (page 113)
Also See Inside
A young girl believes in magic. A young boy of similar age, but from a different culture, does not mock her belief in magic, but mocks the magic in which she believes. A clan of foxes believe in the law of the jungle. Their leader believes the sweet meat of the young girl will bestow everlasting powers. The forest animals believe the Natural Order is the Way; they trust Gronups to guide them. In turn, Gronups believe the young girl’s spirit may open up a turning point in the path of destruction that has seen a contraction of habitat and extinction of animals. They believe the spirit of the young boy is ancient, and they have met it before. The young girl’s father believes her imagination is problematic; Gronups believe it may be the answer.
Read more at kevinprice.com.au
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In many senses, Kumakana represents an in-betweenness that is reflected in teenage life. Teenagers sit on the edges of childhood and adulthood, and the thresholds between them are frequently indistinct. This same sensation is true of Kumakana , where Lavender Jensen sits in a liminal space that transcends the reality of being trapped in a scary place and the magical realm of being at one with the animal world. While she has a foot in both, she is never really in one or the other, and this sensation is what gives rise to the book’s magical realism.
The cultural work of Kumakana is achieved through its expression and shaping of the long term effects of colonisation on the south-west Australian landscape, but to do so it needs to draw on life as it might have been prior to the upheaval of invasion. The central theme of the work might be a message to the reader to ‘let go your beliefs’ because it’s in the act of letting go that meaning might be made.
Read the full article >> kevinprice.com.au
The idea of ordinary euphoria, the title of my upcoming collection of poems, and also the title of two of the poems in the book, is an attempt to capture an experience we all have at some time. It happens at unexpected times, when we are simply going about our everyday business, and not at all in a mood of spiritual readiness or even much vaunted mindfulness. It is that moment when an odd lining up of accidents, a shaft of light hitting an object, or an experience of unguarded human emotion, or a sense of time passing, transforms time and space into the numinous, or the transcendent: when we feel somehow close to the heart of things, a sense of the earth’s essential mystery.
Something related happens when we read a great poem, or gaze at a great painting—or catch something fascinating and beyond definition in an old forgotten photograph. I make no claims that I have captured that sense, that mood, that moment in the poetry. I think the poems are more “about” that feeling than “of” or “in” it. But it is why I write, too—well, why I write poetry.
We are kicking off our 2017 book launches with David Moody’s Ordinary Euphoria on Thursday evening February 23. To be at the event, visit our facebook event page. While you are there, be sure to like our official facebook page, and to secure your copy of Ordinary Euphoria to collect at the launch visit our bookshop here.
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