Yuiquimbiang | Louise Crisp #PoetryMonth

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.

Facts:

  • 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 Summer Winter
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.

3 thoughts on “Yuiquimbiang | Louise Crisp #PoetryMonth

  1. I hope she’s read Franklin who loved that country so much even if I guess her family was part of the problem in the first place (not something she recognised). Good pickup, the settler with the gammy leg.

    Like

    1. I find that poetry often leads into or connects to a book. Whether it’s a character quoting a line or the author referencing or even the reader just making their own connections.

      Like

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