Read this and be smarter: how poetry can educate and illuminate us on the tense relationship between humans and the Western Australian coastline

Caitlin Maling’s most recent poetry collection, Fish Song, is rich and diverse, exploring physical landscapes as well as historical and socio-cultural aspects of place. In these poems, she travels the coast of Western Australia, writing about what the ocean provides and questioning what poetry might offer by way of solace and reconnection in an age of climate change.

Non-transferable Leasehold
After National Trust of Australia Cultural Heritage Assessment

They seem to me beautiful, though it’s a fact they have nothing to do with beauty.
D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo.

Things are kept cheap.
Neighbourhood discards, the occasional salvage yard,
maybe one or two bargains off the net.
Everything temporary, the report says there are
distinct disincentives to over capitalise
with no long-term tenure.
Like how all the old blokes say, f**k it
and keep smoking right through until the bypass doesn’t hold,
the heart gives out and people say simply,
“He carked it.” Only damaged goods bought in
because only what’s rough can survive the corrugations,
the slip slide of dune sand.
Most keep up outward appearances—
curtains and the like—
while the insides rust to s**t,
a separate pile at the tip
just for metal wrenched free, left to corrode.
A place you think has no secrets,
turned out by sand and salt.
But so easy to dismantle,
one tractor would do it.
Nobody would pick over the remains
buried by just a little wind.

They are not just small houses
After National Trust of Australia Cultural Heritage Assessment

From the Old German hutte: hide:
a place to conceal oneself.
Now people grow bigger
and their places grow bigger,
but these stay small, maybe
an added upper deck
or cement slabs
some might call a porch.

Decorative aspects
like the large plumage
on a bird of paradise,
that attracts as it disguises
the frailty of the round
plump centre of mass.

Cervantes Colloquium

at the house next to the house
where Johnno died of the bird flu
after goin in at Jurien for a buggered hip
Stringer went to Benny’s
to get some fibro and ended up staying
for playschool and five tinnies
till Occo Bob rang and said
we can have 200 pots in the water by new years
as long as them bastards at Fisheries dont f**k us
the way the Gov always sticks its nose in
said Big Simmo no that’s Fat Simmo
yeah the Ranga Simmo he
decked Jezza on the jetty over a mooring
while a deckie driving up at dusk hit a big chook
and had to be helicoptered back down
and did ya know Bluey only keeps his tractor
so when tourists get bogged
he can charge em a block for a tow
past where the Mongrel’s Uncle Pete
took a shotto to the tav
and that’s why the Carrs
haven’t been back in since

My Ideal Landscape Has Room for Halfway Things
After Simon West

After days of wet,
I read the crime book
in the tradition of:
Outback Country Town
Beset By Tragedy.
The weather it seems
has only sand,
riverbeds just frames
no soft mattress of water.
The man it turns out
has killed his wife/child/lover
because nothing can grow
and the sheep/cows are fly-struck
and dying on the dry straw.
A cautionary tale
like how fracking
can sometimes turn water
to flame in documentaries
about our inevitable
climatic demise.
Housebound, I grow frustrated
with rain, overabundance
like a magician.
Houdini still drowned. Silly men
spacewalking and diving
where there’s only one element
and a very firm clock
ticking down loudly
like a farmer’s gun
discharging cartridges
in the ten-year drought.

Fish Song by Caitlin Maling is available in all good bookstores and online

Books discussed
Fish Song

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