In her Preface, Louise Crisp describes her collection of poetry, Yuiquimbiang as an ‘ecopoetic form that integrates political essay and environmental poetics: a project that evolved out of my double life as a poet and environmental activist‘. The regions she writes about the East Gippsland and the Monaro. Crisp’s poems and texts evolve from her ‘extensive walking, listening and research‘ across ‘decades of attending to this place‘ searching for glimpses of ‘pre-European grasslands and forests‘ and as such, she encourages her readers to read slowly and deeply as well.
Yuiquimbiang is a Ngarigu word, that was incorrectly heard and recorded by early settler, John Lhotsky, in 1834 as Eucumbene.
Louise Crisp was born in Omeo, Victoria. She majored in Linguistics, Anthropology and Prehistory at ANU in Canberra. She now lives in East Gippsland with her family and is engaged in environmental activism. Crisp has been writing and publishing poetry since 1988.
The Introduction in Yuiquimbiang is written by Bruce Pascoe and can be read, in full, on the Cordite website.
So many Australians hear the call of Country, but without knowledge of the history and the lives of its animals and plants, that call is confused and loses itself in opal fields and vainglorious stockman’s museums. Follow Crisp….She is enmeshed with Country and throws herself into its wild embrace.
Crisp’s collection is then divided into the three regions of Monaro, Snowy and Gippsland. An extensive notes and sources section at the back provides context to her many references to settler diaries and government reports.
It is clear that this collection of poems is very personal by the finely detailed observations made over many years. It is incredibly intimate as Crisp invites us to walk with her around these regions that she knows so well.
The only way I know to write is to walk. I came down through the granite boulders to the river Walk, pg 3
The universal story appears within the personal. She combines the use of Latin names, early settler names and Indigenous names for local places and plants to create a collage effect. This layering of information gradually builds up as you read each poem.
On the northern bank protected by granite boulders two species of native geranium face the water their woody taproots one of many on the plains once worth digging for Boundary Lake Ironmunjie Rd. pg 12
Along with Crisp, we see the yearly changes and the more permanent ones, we marvel at the small areas of regeneration, and wonder at what has been lost, maybe forever. Crisp has the knack of allowing us to see the world from the point of view of nature itself.
I came to the Monaro looking for subtle grasslands I find a rock shelter surrounded by dispossession Grasses, pg 31
The effects of dispossession and colonisation on the land are everywhere. Yet Crisp pulls the past back into view, showing us that some of the old ways are still there, if you only know how to look. There are different ways of being in country, knowing country and connecting to country, ways that have had to evolve and adapt to the land we live in now.
Sixty-year-old speckled eels swim in the deep black water nudging and blinking up against the dam wall their instinct for the Coral Sea confounded by rock fill Eucumbene, pg 38
Words, or linguistics are one such adaptation.
I found one line in Lovegrass/Bruses Rd, pg 64 that made me wonder if Crisp had read Miles Franklin’s 1936 story, All That Swagger. This line seemed to describe Danny, the protagonist, so perfectly. Or perhaps, simply Franklin wrote about a type of man that was common on the land at that time.
For a hardscrabble farm and a man with a gammy leg: attitude is history
The sense of loss and degradation (environmental, cultural and linguistic) felt relentless by the end. But I could not put this book down. I found Crisp’s word mesmerising, haunting and illuminating. Her poems were written with such heart and care, that the urge to protect and honour and somehow do better, would wash over me every time I picked up the book.
down the track the significant native vegetation sign falls off the post guarding a dead mattress disgorging rubber beside the side cut taken by four-wheel drives through golden Craspedia Craspedia variablis 23 September, pg 67
Yuiquimbiang is a book to take your time with. It requires some commitment to engage with Crisp’s lifetime of dedication to this cause. Place, or country, is so strong, so central to every poem, even if you do not know these areas well yourself, you are left feeling like you now do and you are left wondering how much better you could become at observing and researching the part of Australia you do happen to live in.
further west I leap to see the quiet pursuit resolute in single file three echidnas scuffle through dry leaves under burgan Kunzea sp. up the track over the old dune gnat orchids hover Acianthus exertus at the edge of bracken dark Pteridium esculentum 31 July, pg 81
It made me think of Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best’s #ProjectYarra that she began during lockdown in Melbourne, where she took to noting and recording the natural scenes she observed on her daily lockdown walks. This is how a more intimate knowledge of the area you live in begins. A conscious effort to observe and record. A conscious effort to pay attention. A conscious effort to join the dots, make the connections and dig deeper into local knowledge and history.
As the NSW lockdown heads into stricter regulations (finally!) I vow to use this time to take a closer look at my area of Sydney. I’m sure there will be ‘glimpses’ if I look close enough.
- Shortlisted for the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry
- Cover design by Zoë Sadokierski (which is the reason why I picked this book up in the first place).
- This post is part of Poetry Month
- Book 16 of 20 Books of
Book: Yuiquimbiang Author: Louise Crisp ISBN: 9780648056898 Publisher: Cordite Publishing Inc Date: 2019 Format: paperback
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.