Recently I drove east from Perth through wheat belt country to the Helena and Aurora Ranges, past Cunderin, Kellerberrin, and Koolyanobbing, towns whose names echo the rhythms of the landscape; past the shimmering salt pan that was once Lake Deborah East; down rutted tracks which changed abruptly from red earth to yellow sand; past the ravages of iron ore mines to the sacred Aboriginal ochre quarries of Bungalbin Hill. This is the wheat belt region of Western Australia to which John Kinsella appears to lay claim as surely as Tim Winton claims the coast.
Kinsella is a prolific and laurelled poet, essayist, author, and editor. His poetry, in particular, has been variously praised for its sparse realism, attention to detail, lyricism, and metaphoric resonance.
The twenty-seven stories in this latest collection are seldom longer than a few pages. Themes and images – white imperialism and bone-white silos, red earth and the damage humans wreak on a fragile ecology – are recognisable from Kinsella’s poetry. The intensity and precision of the poetry is, however, rarely matched by the prose of Crow’s Breath. The scrupulous narrator of the poems is replaced by a number of not entirely successful voices, almost as if Kinsella has challenged himself to reproduce overheard conversations, or to elaborate on snippets gleaned from a newspaper’s ‘OddSpot’.