Interview with John Kinsella

John Kinsella Poetry UWAP Poetry Wheatbelt

Australian John Kinsella has written over 20 books of poetry, as well as plays and fiction; he also maintains an active literary career as a teacher and editor. His’s many volumes of poetry include the prize winning collections Peripheral Light: New and Selected Poems and The New Arcadia. He is an Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and a Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia.


How does it feel to see your collected works together in print for the first time?

It’s an exciting and overwhelming thing — I’ve understood a lot of my life through poetry, so this tells a story in a way I can better understand this life and what I’ve seen, experienced, thought and also tried to do as an activist.

Has publishing a full collection of your poetry been a long-time aspiration for you?

Only in recent years. I started to understand what I was trying to do now by looking back over what I had done since 1980, and that got me thinking about how the poems formed a ‘narrative’, how they fitted together.

Can you tell us about the process of pulling together your collected works?

A complex one! I have published many books over the last forty years and some of them are long out of print, others were in small editions in various parts of the world. One book was published by one of the early digital publisher (FatBrain) that didn’t hang around long and only existed in digital form. Some works were in limited-run chapbooks, and others were books that didn’t get published because a publisher folded or closed down a poetry list before they appeared. Other poems I’d long thought ‘lost’ are from library archives. All of these made it a time-consuming process. But I also found it interesting, and our son Tim is a diligent keeper of my work and assisted on more than a few occasions.

What is something about the first volume which will entice readers?

I hope it all does! Maybe for those who have followed my work across the decades, something like the poems that were intended to be part of The Silo but didn’t end up in the original published book (recovered from archives). For those who don’t know my work, I hope the wide range of themes and different approaches to writing poetry might spark some curiosity.

Will you continue writing poetry after the full publication of your collected works?

For sure. It’s a collected, not a complete! I hope I have a few years of poetry left in me!

How has your poetry changed from when you started to now?

My concerns about environment and human rights haven’t changed, but the way I write certainly has. The way words are arranged, how I hear them, how I see them, how I experience them.

Which WA poets have influenced you throughout your career?

Jack Davis, Randolph Stow, Dorothy Hewett, Fay Zwicky, my partner Tracy Ryan... but many others, too. Poetry is an active medium — we are always conversing with the poets around us.

How do you see your work sitting within the Australian literary landscape?

I can’t really say. I hope it does something useful, that it contributes in some small way to how the reader might think about their relationship to the world.

Which one Australian poet do you recommend other people read?

Charmaine Papertalk-Green.

What is your opinion on reading poetry versus speaking/listening to poetry?

Any way of experiencing poetry is vital. We sense poetry through our bodies in all sorts of ways. Poetry is maybe a state of mind as much as anything else.

As an activist, what change do you hope for in the near future?

For a return of land and all rights around that land to Indigenous peoples. To stop the clearing of bush and forest. To protect trees. To reduce energy usage. To stop the ravages of mining. To articulate my pacifism in a way that will be understood by others. To work for peace. To support refugees. To see an equal distribution of wealth. To work towards all people having a voice rather than the select few.


John Kinsella's first volume of collected poetry is available to purchase.

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