New Poetry with Audio!
Auto by John Kinsella. Cambridge/Perth: Salt Publishing, 2001. $12.95.
Auto as in autopsy, autodidact, auto-
matic, autonomy, autobiography:
picking through the dead for the cause,
self-taught, mechanical or involuntary,
independent, the story of a life by
the one who led it.
1/5 of his way into the book,
Kinsella asks “Where am I in this?”
If I reach for Philippe Lejeune’s take
on autobiography – “a retrospective
prose narrative that someone writes
concerning his own existence, where the focus
is his individual life, in particular the story
of his personality” – I can read Auto
as the story not of Kinsella
but of Kinsella’s personality.
In the book he says he is what he reads,
has read, writes, has written. And he is.
He is a fiction – here in the book
and there in Cambridge as he writes it.
Re-reading Auto the thought of a bodiless body
emerges. So many drugs and fluids,
you can see why he feared flesh and its waste
so long. The body less efficient than the land.
The contradictions he was he explores,
and succeeds in holding up the dead birds,
the exploded hive, the blackouts
while clinging to ethics (vegan, pacificist, anarchist).
Avoids hypocrisy through self-implication.
The shaved cunt, his body on the edges
of the gay nightlife in Perth, overdose.
Auto blends prose narrative with verse,
also includes letters and emails.
Hyper-hybrid text, androgynous.
Kinsella the I, he, and you,
in the past and the present at once.
“Shattered / sheets of ice disperse
“hot snow, the frozen centre.”
“Australia” still young: occupation,
settlement, subjugation, the ensuing guilt,
which (Kinsella admits) is useless.
The violence of men: he was stabbed
with a rusty knife, his bike thrown
into the river; beaten by men he owed
money to; almost killed by dealers.
Anti-chronological, all time in Auto is
the present, and thus no time.
The Wheatlands in WA and Cambridge
create a single landscape. To escape from one
is to become trapped by the other,
no matter how far away he gets.
The book is built on the past, the dead;
ghosts arrive as Kinsella writes –
the animals he killed and saw
killed, the rivers and wells, his friends,
his parents, his own body (three times) –
such that I do not resist his statement
“I have chosen to live” at Auto’s end.
This book covering a life is so full
of death, he earns this affirmation
even as he, the author, disappears.
Brian Henry’s On James Tate is forthcoming from University of Michigan Press.