Fire Front | edited by Alison Whittaker #AUSpoetry

This incredible book is a testament to the renaissance of First Nations poetry happening in Australia right now.

UQP website

Fire Front: First Nations Poetry and Power Today is an anthology of poems and essays from many well-known and emerging First Nations writers and thinkers. It is powerful and confronting stuff. It is very contemporary, yet every piece is embedded in the history of our traumatic past. Truth-telling is the heart and soul of this collection.

Alison Whittaker’s Introduction prepares the reader for the powerful nature of Indigenous poetry. She believes that some of that power comes from the way that Indigenous poets challenge and subvert the English language to highlight or emphasise other ways of thinking.

The five sections of the book deal with relationships to ancestors and Country, direct resistence to the colonist narrative, speaking back and to each other, stories of loss and repair with a final section dedicated to intergenerational nurturing storytelling and new voices.

Some of the poets in here have gone to be with their ancestors. Some have written down to their descendents, and others have written up as descendents.

It’s always hard to know how best to write about a collection of poems, let alone a collection penned by many different people. Fire Front includes well known Aboriginal story tellers, past and present, such as Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Ruby Langford Ginibi, Ellen van Neerven, Tony Birch, Claire G. Coleman, Evelyn Araluen, Jack Davis, Kevin Gilbert, Lionel Fogarty, Sam Wagan Watson, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Archie Roach and Alexis Wright.

Five essays are also included between each section from Bruce Pascoe, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Chelsea Bond, Evelyn Araluen and Steven Oliver.

The persisent theme threaded throughout these stories and essays is to be heard. And for the rest of us to listen. Really listen. To listen deep and long. To be still on the inside and allow our spirits to fully comprehend. To honour the stories. To take the time.

We sing it back as it is sung back to us in every bird song, every branch ache, every wave heave. The firm has changed, as have we, but the songlines still hum in the soil while we read and write upon it.

Too Little, Too Much | Evelyn Araluen (essay)
The New True Anthem | Kevin Gilbert
Despite what Dorothea has said
about the sun scorched land
you've never really loved her
nor sought to make her grand
you pollute all the rivers
and litter every road
your barbaric graffiti
cut scars where tall trees grow
the beaches and the mountains
are covered with your shame

Words can be beautifully descriptive or beautifully deceptive depending on who’s writing and who’s reading, who’s seeing or not seeing. People think they know what they’ve read but have no idea what it said.

Lead You to the Shore | Steven Oliver (essay)
Remember | Laniyuk
When the colony decides the story is his
The contributions of our women
Become whitewashed myths

But personal perspective tells me the nice girl came before | the arsehole who created the bitch and now I’m stuck | with trying to run from her, the beat-down beauty, | suicidal psycho caught between the western white-man’s | world and ancient Aboriginal antiquity | I run

I Run…| Melanie Mununggurr-Williams | Australian Poetry Slam performance here

Melanie performed two pieces for the 2018 Australian Poetry Slam. Her second piece was ‘Double Threat. Whittaker talked about fire and power and responsibility in her Introduction, about poetry burning for us with diversity, ‘deliberateness, purpose and precision‘, Melanie Mununggurr-Williams’ poetry encapsulates all of this and more. And, for the record, she was crowned champion of the 2018 Australian Poetry Slam.

Powerful, personal and political.

The poems and essays in Fire Front are angry, thoughtful, questioning, demanding and confronting. It is an exciting anthology of Aboriginal voices, one that deserves to be repeated and reread.

Title: Fire Front: First Nations poetry and power today
Author: curated by Gomeroi poet Alison Whittaker
ISBN: 9780702262722
Imprint: University Queensland Press
Published: 31 March 2020
Format: paperback
Pages: 178
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 our first storytellers.

11 thoughts on “Fire Front | edited by Alison Whittaker #AUSpoetry

  1. This sounds great. And thanks for linking back to my post.

    I heard Claire G Colman speak at the Perth Festival recently (she was live-streamed from Melbourne because the border was still shut at the time ) and she mentioned how First Nation writers have taken the language of the colonialists and subverted it to create really powerful work. This resonated because it’s why I love Irish writers so much: they took the language of their oppressors and turned it into their own, using it better than natural English speakers. I think there’s a lot of similarities between Aboriginal people and the Irish… there’s even a joint Aboriginal and Irish festival here in Freo.


  2. I like Kim’s reply. I knew that Indigenous writers were doing something different and producing a powerful literature but it hadn’t occurred to me to draw an analogy with Ireland. Thank you Kim!

    Thank you Bron! You are reviewing some great poetry and I really think I will have to buy this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you will like this one Bill. I’m always impressed by the emrging artists. I hope you get a chance to watch the slam poet link I posted – she was magnificent.


  3. Pingback: 2022 | The Books

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