September 2019 Poetry Feature: From CROWN DECLINE


This month we present selections from CROWN DECLINE, by TC contributors John Kinsella and Don Share.

Table of Contents:

  • Crown Decline, #55-62 (DS and JK)
  • I Had That Dream Already (DS)
  • And Counting (JK)
  • Authors’ Statement


From CROWN DECLINE (Odd numbers by Kinsella; even numbers by Share)


In a state of loss
I try to ‘Kick Out the Jams’
But am left sore-toed.
Which doesn’t mean I’ve lost faith —
To the contrary. Come on!


Is almost a metaphor
For these sad, sore times.
Which doesn’t mean I’ve lost faith —
Only some of my hearing.


I literally dreamt
a reply to this insight —
colony collapse;
but maybe my tinnitus
kicked spectral sounds out of shape.


At my age, you start
To want to die. Then, older
Still, you want to live
Longer, much longer. Too late.
Nothing really explains this.


Heading into town
Our world is turned upside down —
Summer and water
Are natural repellents
But the river is in flood.


Trying to be saved
On this Good Friday morning,
But my damn train is
Acting like it’s the devil.
I just want to be on time!


Each resurrection
Dished up to humanity
Comes a cropper when
The collection plate bulges
With fortune’s ill-gotten gains.


What is our guilt, what
Is our innocence? Who is
Safe? Who resolute?
Who strong? Who feels strongly; free?
Missiles fly high, right through birds.


I Had That Dream Already

Lake Michigan is frozen again like an ache
That settles in hard as you age: You’d
Almost never know that there was a season
In which its lymph runs clear, and so, yes, limpid,
That shipwrecks from every age can be seen
Down on the bottom, two thousand and more:
L.R. DOTY. NIAGARA. In winter, even a light-
House freezes with an overcoated sheen not
Of ice alone, but of stilled wave and the fervent
Rage of an unfulfilling and hateful blue-green
Toxic storm, crystalline in its absolute quiet.
There are young men sheathed within
The rime, and they are mariners of nothing.
Their lengthening heart-sunk days darken
Into advertising, into decoration, into decorum.
I’ve gone up close to the lake two times only.
One was to see where the old Nike
Missile installation had become a bird
Sanctuary; I was with Gary
Snyder, birding, and a Chicago cop
Came up to us, the stark sun reflected
In the dual distortion of his aviator frames.
We were not arrested. He wanted to tell
Us that a rare warbler had been sighted.
A Tennessee warbler? Is there such a thing?
I’m from Tennessee and have no idea.
He backed away from us as quietly,
As gingerly, as a suspect. The irony.
The other time I went to the lake I can’t say
Anything about; not to you, sorry.
I don’t know how it was I left Tennessee
To wind up here by the shore, anyway,
Where the Chicago River flows back-
Ward, flows over to the thin origin
Of a girded point, of a native confluence.
There’s something ever-dead about it.
Lake Street, for that matter –
It runs absolutely away from the lake.
Why is that? Can you blame it,
Though? All the streets here run,
Like Chicagoans do, the wrong way,
And at the wrong time, because all time
Is wrong, in that it is only a seeming. Take
Our seasons: snow one week, heat
Wave the next, the only real waves
We have. If there are actual waves out
On Lake Michigan, I wouldn’t know
About them, in the city. It’s not Lake Chicago,
After all, and across all that water
Is another state altogether. And why
Is the water of Lake Michigan so blue?
The blue is sediment, brought to the surface
When strong winds churn the depths; but
The blue, when viewed from space, is sand.

— DS


And Counting

I tried to examine the river in profile.
Eyes stuck open in silt — warm and cold bands
of current beneath speedboat oil slick prism.
Ear nose and throat infections were bivalves.

Flow was staccato in sections, though mulloway
ran fast and I followed. All the knowledge of origins
was unfound in me, but I knew that on a rise

above the river Mrs Dance swung an axe
for colonial entrenching, soldiers and officials
clustered around. Haunted by the brute

reality of oil on canvas, imperial palette,
the centenary of a colonial bivouac. Tidal estuary
fluxes from harbour up to Blackwell Reach —

limestone caves were valves in my pretend
heart. One of many aberrant hearts, I was sure —
Vulcan river of my play — green with weed,

red with algal blooms set by agri-chemical
run-offs up where freshwater was turning saline.
Way up on the astral plain where my cousins played.

‘Fresh’ and ‘salt’ meeting was a confused picture.
Snake birds — darters — on the rigging
of an abandoned concrete yacht — when

would it sink? We swam out — our cabal —
and levered our way into the dank, stinking cabin.
The sloshing in the concrete bathtub

said, ‘bilge bilge bilge’, so we returned
equipped with a bilge pump. The amount
of bird shit was a mine, island of phosphate,

island as shipwreck. To see the snake shape
of the river was not to know whose river
it was — is — will be. But I had a hunch

something was wrong. The paperbarks
with sap blisters, skin peeled back
under assault — mansions of mining

wealth converting the banks. Finance. Old
money already had its hooks in on the west side.
Reclaiming the low areas, the swamps,

training the Swan and Canning into their
New World settings. We crooked a finger
at the cocked red hats of the officers.

We ignored the names of royal boats
like Parmelia — Governor Stirling saying,
All of this! Not: Why can’t our artists

understand bark, for God’s sake? Only gestures,
as the carving-out began with zeal. Sometimes
I use the Noongar names of the rivers,

but I ask permission. Always. That’s
because these names have yet to be
ripped-off by state tourist marketing —

normalised so we all use them
not in recognition because it paints
a different imagery for visitors?

They are sacred names, and I believe.
I walk with my son along the banks
opposite Heirisson Island — named in honour

of a French astronaut who flew on Baudin’s ship
Le Naturaliste — named in 1801 — named
against the local Noongar naming which the astronauts

couldn’t constellate — Matagraup. Heirisson
Island — caulking for the explorers’ vessel — a cobbling
together of islets and mudflats and shallows to make

a footing for a bridge. Now, a place of demihabitat,
and a place where opposition to colonial rule gathers —
Noongar declarations of rights, of land, of independence —

camps of resistance. The state evicts them asap.
There are even — even — kangaroos at one end
of the island — kangaroos of the city (interned).

River is dying. Health of river is a conversation.
Landfill, toxic waste. Build-overs. Revitalising.
Basements filling with river. Distraught water tabling.

Real estate eats river. Real estate defines itself around river.
On Wednesday evenings near the older sandstone university
there’s twilight sailing for the wealthy. It’s a grand sight —

sails full and sleepy yachts carving their way
through the jellyfish waters — some of the sails are red.
And in that way of conjunctions, there are only

a few river dolphins left, and they are often
unhealthy. Grammar and leisure in opposition?
As convicts were brought in late to compile

stone buildings and différance. Survey
and surveillance like to meditate — are sure they own
the knowledges of flow, composition. Upriver —

up up beyond the Scarp —
we see cormorants and darters
by wheatbelt bridges. Routes. Upriver

we know the stormfront is compiling.
Travelling down to the city, to the spread
of rivers, confluences and estuary,

we know why we’ll count every cormorant
and darter and pelican and Caspian tern
on a derelict jetty. Three hundred and fifty

cormorants and more — look, more! — flocks
spiralling in — across the city, the island, the green parks,
the mansions, the ‘poorer suburbs’, the casino

with its confident crown of victory over the river.
And I — which is a pillar of a traffic bridge,
a rail bridge, a foot bridge, a derelict jetty,
just out of reach of we, of most of us.



Authors’ Statement

“We started Crown Decline as an exchange of poems in form, lending ourselves to constraint not for its own sake, but because there was too much to say and we need to hold it in check in some way. The poems accumulated over a few years from different geo co-ordinates, and from differing personal spaces, but keeping to form (from triolet to sonnet and so on) meant we had both language in common — or a lot of language… there are always tangents, shifts, lacunae and so on — and kept us going, gave us a template, even compelled us. Neither of us subscribe to form ‘for its own sake’, but an ‘act of form’ can shift the way we see things and create overlap where it’s not (necessarily). As the slow exchange accumulated, we found a need not to ‘break out of form’ — in fact, we’d been spending our times guiltily ‘breaking into form’, but to let ourselves go and see what it led to together, and separately. So open form started its run and is still going, though recently we’ve reverted to six line stanzas, but that’s finding its shape within shape at the moment. Overall, we have been through three stages of making a book — Crown Decline (which refers to the death of trees from the canopy down) — with it both expanding, but more importantly, finding a shape in itself that reflects the different paces of ‘formal-open form’ exchange that mark this interaction, and that embodies our poetry concerns, and our relationship to our worlds, and the world. We operate under no time pressure, and the pattern of ‘swapping’ can be frenetic or drawn-out. These things take years, and, indeed, this has already.”

— John Kinsella and Don Share


John Kinsella is the author of over forty books. His most recent poetry work includes the volumes Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems and Insomnia, which will be released in the US by WW Norton in Fall 2020. Recent fiction includes the story collections include Crow’s Breath and Old Growth, and the novels Lucida Intervalla and Hollow Earth. He often works in collaboration with other poets, artists, musicians, and activists. He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University, Western Australia.

Don Share is the editor of Poetry. His books include Wishbone (Black Sparrow), Union (Eyewear), and Bunting’s Persia (Flood Editions); he has also edited a critical edition of Basil Bunting’s poems published by Faber and Faber, a Times (London) Book of the Year, and is editing a selection of Bunting’s prose. His translations of Miguel Hernández, awarded the Times Literary Supplement Translation Prize and Premio Valle Inclán, were published in a revised and expanded edition by New York Review Books, and appear in an earlier edition from Bloodaxe Books. Among his other books are Seneca in English (Penguin Classics), Squandermania (Salt), The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of POETRY Magazine and its sequel, Who Reads Poetry: 50 Views from POETRY Magazine (University of Chicago Press). His work at Poetry has been recognized with three National Magazine Awards for editorial excellence from the American Society of Magazine Editors, and a CLMP (Community of Literary Magazines and Presses) “Firecracker” Award for Best Literary Magazine. He received a VIDA “VIDO” Award for his “contributions to American literature and literary community.”

September 2019 Poetry Feature: From CROWN DECLINE

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