The Hunt began life as “The Book of Rural Disasters”. With Warhol’s catastrophe/accident series in mind – the duplication of socio-cultural motifs with slight but overwhelming variation in colour, texture, and density – I sought to map the non-idyllic aspect of Australian rural life. The “urban” and popular nature of Warhol’s work, the questions of iconicity that surround it, struck me as a suitably ironic way of viewing the rural – of questioning the tradition of “pastoral”. Be it a tractor overturning, a farm boy being killed by his own rifle, or a sheep truck jack-knifing on a highway, this is not the stuff dreams are made of. But it is part of a picture that is broader than those unspoken moments when a rare bird is heard in song or a sunset fires a rippling crop of wheat.
My volume The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony had been an exploration of the anti-pastoral, of a non-“Romantic” landscape, of the clash between urban perceptions of the rural and the realities of place and the culture/s it engendered. The Hunt picks up on these themes but is altogether darker than The Silo in its darkest moments. The colloquial voice is the redeemer of The Silo, while in The Hunt it is the stuff of Heart of Darkness. It is a book written in the shadow of genocide and cultural destruction – the poem “Relics” being the closest we come to this in a direct sense. It is a book wary of appropriating Aboriginal spaces – physical, cultural, and spiritual. It is a book about what has “replaced” Aboriginality.
Full of intrusion, of territorialisation, of occupation, The Hunt evokes environment as the one “stable” factor. Despite a landscape constantly altered by clearing, erosion, and general exploitation, there is a resilience in it that is overwhelming and dominating. And the movement between place and people is central to this. There is no moral judgment being made of individuals, but collective responsibility is explored and Fate intoned. Apart from the influence of various Australian writers and of the place itself, there is a debt to Hardy and Frost.
But The Hunt is also a book about language and the way a poetry is shaped. Poems like “Echidna” and “Corrugations” are concerned directly with a decoding of language itself, read through the metaphor of landscape. Form is intended to be dynamic and to be constantly reinventing itself – a wide variety of verse patterns is used, with an array of rhythmic variations (or quirks!). The notion of creating a new poetry, an “Australian” language poetry rather than an “English” language poetry, is there as a backdrop. But the separation of the new from the old is a false one.
In essence, The Hunt is a volume of pastoral poetry – but a somewhat more “radical” pastoral. It connects itself with a tradition and works against it. In the two “Eclogues” there is a conscious play on Virgil and the Theocritan pastoral tradition – the language is colloquial, but also heightened. There is a conscious sense of artifice about it. Is this the way farming people in the Southwest of Australia speak? Well, it might be, and it might not be. That’s the point. The reader often approaches a text with certain preconceived ideas of how someone should (or shouldn’t sound). As it happens, this is the place I come from and I attempt to write with an ear tuned to these things. However, there is no generic voice, and it takes all types! But within the structure of the “Eclogue”, artifice is de rigueur – what one is ostensibly dealing with are surfaces and a reader’s/listener’s sensibilities. The Hunt is as much about what is seen and heard as it is about the darker workings of the deus ex machina.