John Kinsella on racism — a call for change

Poet John Kinsella speaks out on the issue of white supremacy.

In light of the recent tragic acts of terrorism committed in New Zealand, in which over 50 people lost their lives and dozens more were injured while in prayer, John Kinsella felt compelled to write a villanelle* speaking out on the issue of white supremacy.

‘This is a poem written first and foremost as an expression of support for the Muslim and refugee communities of New Zealand and Australia. I feel strongly that it is a time for all Antipodean poets to stand up and speak out against barely suppressed far-rightism.

Since the 1980s I have been writing against the racist far right in Australia — in the present day, the 'alt-right' white supremacism of the US and other colonised countries is as prevalent in Australia as it is elsewhere. Of course there are many people working for harmony and mutual understanding, but in public life the voice of intolerance is heard too often here.

This poem refers to anti-Muslim pro-white leaflets that occasionally appear outside the small supermarket in the town nearest us (about 12km away) — the shock to us is not that the leaflets appear, but that they remain there for more than the few minutes it would take to bin them.

In this poem I reject and resent the far right's misuse, as a motivation to their anger, of Dylan Thomas's poem about raging against death to keep life, which they distort for the ridiculous idea of a white purity and white vision of life. This misuse is vile, and Thomas, always of the left, would have found it so too. A poem has its own life, but no poem of life against death should be abused in this way. We write against violence, we write against intolerance, we write in solidarity with human life and all life. Fascist hatred has no part in it.'

Free Villanelle Against White Supremacists Co-opting Dylan Thomas's ‘Do not go gentle into that good night'

Lines taken out of context can make darkness burn

For those who want to burn the world, but darkness

Is their slow burn, white lies their eruption.

And when leaflets fostering discrimination

Appear outside a wheatbelt supermarket, they gloss

Lines taken out of context and make a darkness burn.

But what most disturbs is that such leaflets remain

Or are browsed as the town broods under a glaze of tolerance —

Is it a slow burn before white lies trigger an eruption?

We share breath and relish the health to rise each day in turn,

Each day shared in sameness and difference,

But lines taken out of context can make darkness burn.

Every word of intolerance sold as ‘warning' is the crimson

Shade of the day-to-day accretion of a rage that is not the rage for existence —

A slow burn, white lies their corruption.

Let words of life that urge a life continue to be a lexicon

Of day and night, light and dark, of overlaps in time's ingress —

Lines taken out of context can make darkness burn,

A slow burn, white lies their corruption.

John Kinsella

A prolific poet and author of over thirty books, John Kinsella feels passionately about using the power of poetry and literature to address urgent social and political issues.

*A villanelle is a fixed-form poem comprised on 19 lines; five tercets (three-line stanza) and a quatrain (four-line stanza), that follows a specific rhyme scheme.


by John Kinsella

Book cover for Insomnia

John Kinsella’s vivid and urgent new collection addresses the crisis of being that currently afflicts us: a situation where the creations of the human imagination – art, music and philosophy – suddenly find themselves in a world that not only denies their importance but can sometimes seem to have no use for them at all. In an attempt to find a still point from which we might reconfigure our perspective and address the paradoxes of our contemporary experience, Kinsella has written poems of self-accusation and angry protest, meditations on the nature of loss and trauma, and full-throated celebrations of the natural world.