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Visitants
John Kinsella
Bloodaxe paperback £7.99

review by Steve Sneyd

Bloodaxe is one of the big three UK mainstream poetry publishers yet here is a collection drawing heavily on science fiction themes, even terminology and sources (although the blurb carefully avoids the SF-word!). Name Australian poet Kinsella uses the possibility, and actuality of encounters with extraterrestrial aliens - his visitants - as key to understanding the fatally flawed relationship of fellow white Australians, and indeed himself, with their country.
   Aliens are sensed, or manifest themselves, in UFO sightings and abductions; attempts are made to study and understand them, as in the long poem Area 51/Pine Gap - A Pastoral Romance. Beginning with an alien's eye view - 37 lightyears from Zeta Z Reticuli/ where fleece was removed lighter than air/ crazy with killing hermaphrodites - the situation quickly clearing/ 38/ levels above theory, is one hoodwinking/ physicists who prefer studying extraterrestrials to their own Outback and its inhabitants. Kinsella draws on Rik Deckard and other Blade Runner referents to express the dehumanised, self-important detachment involved, scalpelling it again, almost too overtly, in The Three Laws Of Robotics, a Heinlein-epigraphed display of human leaders acting inhumanly.
   Alienation - an unavoidable pun - makes Kinsella and his equally estranged fellow citizens implicitly visitants too, and cries out for some healing mediator; from childhood, the visioned aliens have served as strange repository for such hope, less fearsome than facing an empty, inhuman land alone.
   Style tending towards list-poem/prose-poem, like instructions for operating alien machines, long blank spaces within poem sequences, reinforce that sense of estranged longing. When, in Skylab And The Theory Of Forms, emptiness is desperately scoured for sky-come wonders, for A roar that fills/ the void of Terra Nullius, no cure is found for the guilt-inducing reality inescapable since the term's first cynical use to excuse theft of aboriginal land. Instead the frenzied search for fallen spacecraft fragments yields only finds delusively mixing real and false like True Cross splinters, or a fragmented modern novel: all the chunks/ ...an entire/ city in space.
   Even actual communication with extraterrestrials, in Visitant Eclogue, brings no surcease. The Outback farmer, touched by your presence, quotes his wife - people... depleted... need something/ to absorb the emptiness. He presents small details of his life like offerings; the alien responds uncaringly, politician-patronising - we comprehend your gender,/ missus as signifier to your gravelled utterance - the simplest is most exotic. Finally, for Kinsella, we remain alone.
Visitants by John Kinsells

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