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Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Kit Kelen’s new collection, Scavenger’s Season (Puncher & Wattman, 131pp, $25), has its own bush ethereality, but it’s mainly tonal. The book describes his relationship, over 25 years or so, with his 2ha property on the NSW north coast and the surrounding landscape. There is a lightness to it all that reproduces the feeling of sun through trees, either experienced or seen in art.
Kelen moves through the countryside like a relaxed urban flaneur embarked on a drive rather than someone determined to drink in meaning and significance from it all.
He pays attention, and the sketching is sharp, but always under the watchful eye of an intellect that makes constructs of experience.
The tone is set early on with the long poem Shed, (which won the Newcastle Poetry Prize local award in 2013).
The shed is the ultimate rural assemblage — made up of all sorts of scraps, it is a place to work and ponder, and the bush is all around, and in and out of it all the time. There is almost no concept that can’t be worked into a shed metaphor, and Kelen gets to most of them:
Why bother with the grid? / A blowfly drone’s annoying / but one day it will power the place. The thing just needs / some nutting out. So leave it on the bench. / The peasant / is the king here. Where monarchs tinker with old crowns / no need for revolution.
Later in the book, with in my tin kingdom the shed seems to have diffused out into the landscape: “and a stretch / spring is such / with gums of their own volition / my kingdom / ‘tis of tin I sing”. In between these galvanised ruminations, Kelen’s experience of the land, the wildlife, of himself, is conveyed in short, rhythmic, rhetorical phrases, bucolic and ode-like, and Horace makes an appearance, in case we were in any doubt as to what is going on.
Kelen’s engagement with the country is a wry one: he is amused by the fact that within his boundaries nothing much happens of any utility, and he engages with the land in an almost Berkeleyan fashion: it seems to exist only if he writes about it. He is self-consciously a bricoleur, making his life and art out of what he finds lying around, and makes the Australian bush appear far more charming than it has any right to.

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