This year's winner of the Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript is:
Rogue Intensities: a politics of the imagination by Angela Rockel
Judge’s report Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript 2019
In this remarkable manuscript of place and decades of daily encounters in the natural world, Angela Rockel lays out ways of describing and understanding she has learned through her life. As she writes, she bears witness to this place, which shapes me as I attend to it. The place is southern Tasmania, where she arrived as a young woman from her place of origin, New Zealand. The work is ordered around a monthly set of observations of the weather, of birdlife, mammal life; the life of trees in a forest, and even the platypus swimming in the dam. That Angela Rockel is a poet is evident on every page. She writes of the unforgettable meeting with the contingency of things when describing wildfire: all the parts of me ragged in the looming blue of summer, oils going up from the eucalypts, waiting.
Following the here and now, and venturing into family history, too, in that elusive search for belonging, Rockel takes us back to Ireland and to New Zealand to track how we live in the natural world and how we might recover from our old habits of exploitation and dominance in landscapes of living. This work gets to the heart of what happens within the long duration of a life. It is also significant in celebrating the unique but threatened beauty of the southern Tasmanian landscape. Rockel ‘s work is a call to action based on a life of bearing witness to a changing climate.
Angela Rockel is a prose writer, poet, reviewer and editor whose work has been published in the Age, Australian Women's Book Review, Famous Reporter, Five Bells, Island, Jacket, Meanjin, RealTime, Salt, Southerly and Contemporary Literary Criticism. A collection of poetry, Fire Changes Everything, was published by Penguin. She has lived in rural Tasmania all her adult life and is interested in finding language for a conversation in landscape, community, history and family, towards a politics of the imagination.
Author acceptance speech:
What to say about what I’ve written? That it’s part of a lifelong quest to find out if/how it’s possible to speak in a way that is adequate to experience – which always unfolds ahead of language, ahead of a vocabulary that can do justice to and with it – in a place, a moment, a body, a community, a culture. That for me, especially in this moment which demands reparations on so many levels and in so many realms, finding a way to speak is also a way of finding a place from which to listen and respond.
Rogue Intensities is a journal, calendrical, moving month by month across five turns of the solar year through life in the landscape of a small community in rural Tasmania, in the hilly country south of Hobart. There, land was parcelled out to ticket-of-leave convicts and some of their keepers, and a long-intermarried mix of invader and indigenous cultures has created a wary and resilient people. In the last fifty years, strangers like me, arriving from all over the world, have also married in.
I wanted to find a form that would let me sit with sensations and thoughts arising from a life in place. I wanted to notice what connections, what networks and matrices formed themselves in writing around external and internal events. What I found, entering into this process, was that these associations ranged far and wide and took me in directions that surprised and disturbed and sometimes delighted me: the science of Amazonian terra preta soils; songs of the Scottish Carmina Gadelica; neurochemical modifications induced by microbial parasites in mammalian hosts; my own family history in Ireland, Germany, Australia and Aotearoa/NZ (I begin to see an alarming associative process at work here too!); the Icelandic Prose Edda, the Egyptian Nag Hammadi Codex and the Welsh Kat Godeu (from the originals of which I found I needed to make my own translations in order to understand what was being said); Byzantine icon painting techniques; Celtic cattle-herding societies in the Italian Alps; power-to-sound conversion capacity in mole crickets; deep ocean currents; earthquake displacement phenomena; the journals of Joseph Banks; Pyrenean Neolithic cave painting; 19th C roadbuilding techniques; the chemistry of plant colouration; the chemistry of flame … and sundries too numerous to mention. All of this as part of the work of (in)forming a politics of the imagination. How are we to live?
The title is a quote from the writing of Kathleen Stewart: Rogue intensities roam the streets of the ordinary. Her work draws attention to the world of affect that inflects the course of things, more and less chaotically in proportion to the degree to which it remains inarticulate, unthought, deflected. The germ of each journal entry is some experience that carries a charge to which I’ve learned I need to pay attention, allowing it to elaborate itself via explication, comment, conversation in the directions outlined above.
When I chose the title, though, I hadn’t appreciated how literally that image, rogue intensities, was about to render itself. I’ve just come from weeks of hyperalert night-and-day ember-watch as huge wildfires burned within sight of where I live – 70,000 hectares in the blaze near us, 200,000 hectares overall throughout Tasmania. These fires, according to the crews who faced them, behaved like no others they’d encountered, running against the wind or making runs after the wind had dropped. Rogue intensities. A continuation of colonial wars, in the haunted landscape where we go for our lives, seeing just where our mismanagement practices have got us – this and every confrontation like it bringing questions:
What might treaty look like?
What would be its terms?
Who could speak those terms?
Rogue Intensities will be published in October of this year.