The Hierarchy of Sheep
FACP, $18.95 pb, 85 pp,
What is the comparative of prolific? John Kinsella, in this latest extension of his ‘counter-pastoral’ project, manages a tricky balancing act between the extreme givens of the bush and the fashions of art gallery and English Department. A belligerent posturing is implicit in Kinsella’s term, while there is only so far a poet can be anti-Georgics or extra-Georgics or post-Georgics before the game becomes exhausted or obvious. Nevertheless, ‘counter-pastoral’ is an extended essay that takes the pastoral concerns and illusoriness of ancient and eighteenth-century Europe and tests them against our own realities: environmental degradation, both random and systematic destruction of nature by humans, and a seeming indifference on the part of many Australians to doing anything about them. In the midst of this, at least one vital concern ties us to those earlier Augustan times: liveability. At or just below the surface of Kinsella’s poetry run questions such as: what is it to live? how do we live well? how can we live with this? is this the best way to live?