Scavenger’s Season by Christopher (Kit) Kelen, Puncher & Wattman 2014
“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” – Thoreau Walden
As the publisher says, Christopher (Kit) Kelen’s Scavenger’s Season represents a quarter century’s poetic engagement with a place. In this case the place is five acres between two forests – at Markwell via Bulahdelah, in the Hunter Region, on the NSW North Coast.
The sense of place is fundamental, but it is also inspiration for the imagination and intelligence of the poet. That is an essential element – the poems may have well changed if the scene was in another locale, but the drive behind it all is the perception of an ‘outsider’ to a natural environment. I don’t want to dwell on any abstract theories here because this collection is firmly rooted in the gritty relationship of this city poet with the local fauna and flora and the ever changing aspects of the weather. He brings with him decades of writing contemporary Australian poetry in a modernist manner flavoured by recent decades of translating and teaching translation at the University of Macao. It is simple English, mostly without punctuation and capitals, which is a well-accepted form for contemporary poetry, but occasionally leads a reader to misread a line and have to circle back to clarify meaning. Line breaks and syntax avoids this happening too often, but even when it does happen it may be because the phrase in question may apply to what went before and what comes after. It is one of those wonderful shades of ambiguity we enjoy in today’s poetry. (And constantly working in various Asian languages would provide daily examples of different ways of presenting the written word in continuous text.)
Kelen doesn’t praise the Australian bush or damn it; he explores nature without judgement. He introduces the reader to his explorations without overt value judgements, yet his perceptions – from ‘silence’ to ‘nothingness’ – let us enjoy his reactions on a philosophical level as well as a sensory on.
seasickness of the soul
……………in all that it cannot compass
– ‘hunting wild nexus’
Hence, as I mentioned before, it is both a poetry of intelligence and imagination.
Scavenger’s Season is loaded with delight and sprinkled with wisdom. I am a little loathe to select examples because it is page following page of delight, but I will attempt a few examples of ‘wisdom’. Firstly, wisdom as Kit revamps his Shed, a longish early rambling poem:
form follows function and a shed’s always getting ahead
……corner turns to alcove, aisle – this is the result of pile,
because there’s nothing new here but everything
is born again, and messianic so.
so many perfections to life. then death must be perfect too.
……………………………………….it follows, fits.
in shed we dwell on it – there’s time. rain on the roof’s a kind of
proof. and also it’s a dare. there’s grief.
The domestic world breaks into the review writing process, so I take the dog for a walk. Millie’s 13 and takes to nosing among the winter leaves and other natural detritus. I find her poo warms my hand as I collect it and I smile at the world, thinking of Kit’s response to his ‘getaway’ at home, his praise of the wood that supports the sky and the wood that warms us and the woods that birds feed and nest in. The dog’s sniffing ‘the great gramophone of puzzling existence’ (‘Dog’ by Ferlinghetti) as I contemplate Kit’s words on our walk –
who is it sings in my breast?
go out walking
and the grass gets deeper
a track says
and this way
tune an ear to this nothing
And then I see a stone, a flat plateau stone placed in a garden at the fringe of a house, a stone half-covered in moss as is much of the town, but this moss is a brighter green, somehow greener for being fed by more vibrant metals in this rock (if I was a dog I’d sniff it). Again I think of Scavenger’s Season where the richness of observation grows with the experience of working, building, gardening, living with the shed and its inv, presented in his rich breath … occasionally enriched by source metals in kit’s language:
in binges of dwelling
moss green the world grows
-‘ sacred to the memory’
go to the makers
never the mockers
– ‘to tend’
what the sea wears away is itself
and all ends
-‘ view of broughton island’
what comes into my house becomes me
But it’s no use, I feel frustrated as I dip forward and backward in this text like a punchdrunk flying ant! I want to quote to you this whole wonderful cross-woven web of sensory delights and philosophical meditations, this moss upon bright moss enriching my view of the world around me.
lost eddy of dusk displaced inside
a bat flies in
we weave our arms around like one
and fold up when it stops
we with our gravity
this one hung up
Like Thoreau’s Walden journals, Scavenger’s Season is Kit Kelen’s personal journey about building and exploring, about man in nature and, conversely, the nature of man. One man’s experience, for sure, but through its heightened examples, a universal application for contemporary citizens clustered in unnatural air-conditioned urban zones where lawn-mowing is the closest they ever get to nature, if they have a lawn, a left over from British rule.
– Andrew Burke
Andrew Burke has been writing and publishing in Australia and beyond since the 60s. He holds a PhD from Edith Cowan University, and his current titles from Walleah Press are Undercover of Lightness (2012) and One Hour Seeds Another (2014) Burke blogs at http://hispirits.blogspot.com/
Scavenger’s Season is available at https://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/scavengers-season