Harvest Lingo: New poems
Giramondo, $25 pb, 85 pp
If nothing else, Lionel Fogarty’s longevity as a poet should bring him to our attention. Kargun, his first work, was published forty-two years ago amid the ferment of utopian Black Panther politics, discriminatory legislation, and racialised police violence. Fogarty’s finest work, Ngutji, published in 1984, drew on his experience growing up in Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement, but the breadth of his poetic vision was already evident. Some of the early poems such as ‘Jephson Street Brothers Who Had None’ and ‘Remember Something Like This’ originate in Fogarty’s experience of Cherbourg Aboriginal Mission and radical politics, but the poems’ truths are non-propositional and essentially human.
Fogarty is a poet who remembers each poem he has ever written and the circumstances of its composition, and his devotion to poetry, the language art, is absolute. It needs to be said that, despite the praise and recognition of fellow poets and the explicatory work of critics and scholars, Fogarty remains a niche poet, and an enigma for many readers – the man who is dutifully allotted his twenty minutes at writers’ festivals but whose poetry remains dense and incomprehensible to some. The practical consequence of this for Fogarty has been that honours have been few, which is odd given the breadth and quality of his work and the magnitude of his contribution to Australian literature and Indigenous culture.