Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a well known Australian poet, scholar and visual artist, sometime poet-in-his-own-residence at Markwell via Bulahdelah, and a Professor at the University of Macau, where he has taught Literature and Creative Writing for the last thirteen years. Volumes of Kit Kelen’s poetry have been published in Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and Filipino languages. An Indonesian volume is in preparation. The most recent of Kelen’s dozen English language poetry books are China Years – New and Selected Poems and a pocket kit. His next volume Scavengers Season is being published by Puncher and Wattman in 2014. Kelen has been Writer-in-Residence at the Australia Council’s B.R. Whiting Library in Rome, at Bundanon, Booranga and various other places. He has won a number of major poetry awards including the ABA/ABC Bicentennial Award in 1988, Westerly’s Patricia Hackett Prize and an Anne Elder Award for his first book of poems. His poem ‘Time with the Sky’ placed second in the 2010 Newcastle Poetry Prize and his poem ‘Shed’ won the local award in the Newcastle Poetry Prize for 2013. For the last several years Kelen has been facilitating the translation of Chinese poetry into English and Australian poets into Chinese, projects which have so far produced a dozen large scale bilingual anthologies. In 2013, the edited volume Notes for the Translators appeared, offering poems and advice for translators from 142 New Zealand and Australian poets. Kelen has published two scholarly volumes about poetry: Poetry, Consciousness, Community (Rodopi 2009) and City of Poets – Exploring Macao Poetry Today(ASM, 2009). Kelen’s theoretical study of national songs, Anthem Quality is forthcoming from Intellect Press in the UK.
what comes into my house becomes me
night is an instance
the imitation I show sleep
and faroff dawn
with its tribe of oars
hands take hold
last eddy of dusk displaced inside
a bat flies into the house
we wave our arms around like one
and fold up when it stops
we with our gravity
this one hung up
just inside the front door
I find a snake
I seek prosthesis of my own
about the same
to poke it with, out
come to shade
flies come in with me
over my meat I wave my hands
in just the way they do
my ancestors are burning
across an endless steppe
somewhere out of Asia
they harry the poor and the weak
on their way
they’re torching the lowlands
they’re putting an axe to the forest
they’re making the Great Hungarian Plain
the woodland creatures they turn into gulacs
of course I have other ancestors too
but these are the ones I like to remember
The 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 out of 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, washed
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 the colour of mud.
Helicopters filled up the sky.
At lunchtime and late in the afternoon
when the noise came
birds shifted forward in a straight 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 I had a good steady job
in the flyspray 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.
Everything rots away here. An hour before dawn in
the chorus of lightning, a mantra from nowhere –
cat climbs the frangipani, first bird comes down between
palms. Rooftops and treetops out of the dark. Without
hurry or effort a woman is walking, breast feeding,
begging at once. New Year’s Day. Kuta Beach,
Bali. Soon the chorus of brooms over muddy paving.
alone with my maker
they spiked the punch
and they took away my pen
they strapped me in the zipper
I saw the harbour gods you bet
spectral ferries by the wash
Joe sang and he stood up time
the city woke about its way
its any lyric told the pain
the world through me like salts
spoke the old ghost under me
roaring from Wynyard down
picking through tides done
beasts from the heart
over the staring edge till blink
a bravery which sailors seek
to know which wave they will embrace
assured the world ends everywhere
goes its own way
the eye in its blind turn
deaf ear attuned
its way unbidden
the track in its turn
for which feet
in its home
I wished for
but never if
I call them
as many words
to this day
These stunning poems were previously published throughout Kit’s career, and subsequently in A Pocket Kit (Flying Islands Books). My sincere thanks to Kit for sending me these, along with some of his beautiful artwork, and allowing me to republish them on here.