A couple of years ago I had the honour of being invited to work in an exciting collaboration with the Chung Wah Chinese Classical Orchestra, as part of the Act Belong Commit Canning Music Series.
The Chung Wah Orchestra is part of the oldest ethnic association in Western Australia, founded in 1909. As cultural ambassadors for the Chinese community, they teach and perform classical Chinese music at various community events and special occasions to promote and preserve Chinese culture. The Chung Wah Orchestra is a ‘family’ of three generations playing together; the youngest member is 9 years old and the oldest is about 70 years old.
The event, organised by the City of Canning and proudly supported by Act-Belong-Commit, also featued the South Side Symphony orchestra in collaboration with Martin De Sousa Mealy, Nova Ensemble in collaboration with Kevin Gillam, and the Vocal Evolution in collaboration with Kate Wilson.
This poem is one I wrote over many weeks of attending rehearsals with the Chung Wah Orchestra, and learning about the instruments they use, the music they play, and the rich and story-full culture that is carried in their music and songs. This poem is about the Hulusi, a type of traditional flute made out of a gourd and played by the Dai people, an ethnic group living in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in south-west China. The Dai people are closely related to the Lao and Thai people.
I fell in love with the Hulusi; I’ve always been amazed by gourds and the uniqueness of this instument combined with it’s sweet sound really touched me, especially once I learnt of the cultural and spiritual significance of the gourd and the instument that is made from it. Listen to the poem for more 🙂
A big thank you to the Chung Wah Orchestra, and especially Xiaowen, for your beautiful music. It was incredibly special working with you!
This is one of my more recent poems, about the incredible experiences I had conducting extensive ecological research in Australia’s Great Western Woodlands, and the conundrums that we face when some precious parts of the landscape are threatened by mining. This video was performed on the Riverside Club stage at Denmark’s Festival of Voice, June 2017.
I’m very pleased to share with you the Wilderness Society’s Great Western Woodlands campaign video. It was a real honour for me to to have a poem that I wrote about the area adopted as the voiceover for it. The poem is based on what I learned about the Great Western Woodlands during my time researching the cumulative and enigmatic impacts of mining and associated infrastructure (especially roads) on the ecological values of this area; the largest remaining temperate woodland on earth, which I researched for my PhD.
Great cudos to Amy Matheson for excellent editing, and to the amazong team at the Wilderness Society for their great work on the campaign.
If you’re inspired to experience the Great Western Woodlands, consider joining the inaugural Jungka Jungka Woodlands Festival to be held in Norseman in April.
How does the world turn from peaceful to prickly in the flutter of an eyelash? The story of a human, a PhD researcher, a cyclist, a modern woman with ancient longings, an ecologist and a lover, is the story of the lenses through which she looks just as much as it is the story of the sparks and flames that glimmer through them.
This poem received the judge’s commendation in the 2012 Glen Phillips Poetry Prize, and was filmed in performance at the Denmark Festival of Voice, 2012.
Back in 2006 I was living in Israel and in the summer I travelled in the north, which is mountainous and full of mystical places for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others… In the summertime, it’s also full of festivals and music. I went with a friend to a Kleizmer festival up in the town of Tsfat, the birthplace of Jewish mysticism, and afterwards we spent a couple of days hiking down from the mountain, along a river, and to the Sea of Galilee, also called the Lake Kinneret. The day that we hiked along the river valley turned out to be a day I will never forget. That was the day that war broke out between Israel and the Hezbollah in Lebanon…
This poem was published by Hypallage, the Magazine of the Multicultural Writers Association of Australia. This video was filmed at the 2012 Denmark Festival of Voice.
A personal story, set in Maasailand, Northern Tanzania. Performed at Perth Poetry Club, October 2012; published by Hypallage, 2013.
We met on the edge of a cliff
gazing into our own negative image
folding limbs and lips into caresses that we had always craved
floating on the words of our deepest desires uttered by another’s mouth
bridging worlds with hearts, weaving continents with cups of tea,
melding beads with blessings, black with white, Sabbath with savannah,
mother tongues, and mothers.
pulled by shared aspirations to climb mountains, swim oceans
and create another world.
Unsure just how we landed where we did in this unfolding of history
we rowed into unchartered territory with readiness.
and while the earth gave us laughter and texture; soul and pain
the trail that we had followed was washed away by rain
we met on the edge of a cliff
with one wing each
the ground was far below us
out of reach
warned about strange birds
far flung nests
we had chased the rainbow
blinded by her colourful promise
the cliff’s edge crumbled
our destiny stumbled
we were enveloped by sky
our only hope was to fly
and we held eachother
each wing beating as hard as it could
flagellating with all of the rhythms we knew
but our wings beat out of sync
rivers of tears grew
and why – God only knows. We never really flew
no. we tumbled. we fell
through shivering winters
through hot summer rains
and old buried things
we broke our crowns
our hearts gashed open
our lips cut, dry
our voices hoarse with screams
until, in turn, we stopped.
there is always a branch to catch
if you are determined to get out alive
and now all I can do
is pick myself up
nurse my wounds
and weave my own second wing.
© Keren Gila Raiter
A few years ago I conducted some research about the threat of an exotic plant disease called ‘dieback’ (Phytophthora cinnamomi) to plants of significance to Noongar people on the south coast of Western Australia. Noongar (also spelled Nyungah) is the name for the Indigenous people and traditional custodians of southwestern Western Australia. I had the honour of going out into the bush with some of these people, and learning about their bush tucker and bush medicine. I also had the sadness of learning about the destruction caused by this introduced plant disease: beautiful under the microscope, ugly in consequence.
This clip was recorded in June 2012 at the Denmark Festival of Voice, Western Australia. The words follow:
Autobiography of a Plant Killer
They first found me rotting away in a cinnamon tree,
And I am a malaise of modern, mobile, society.
Virile, though sexless,
I am newcomer to these age old rocks.
And I am a detail by which technology killed the world.
I am small, almost microscopic, my translucent whiskers are shapely, charming, miniature versions of the coral reefs that lie stretched out beneath the oceans.
And like the reefs, I am huge too, my coralline whiskers have slithered, swum, and hitched from Sumatra all around the world, to the ancient woods of Tasmania, the famous proteas of southern Africa…
In the mud on the tyres of your four-wheel-drive-ly.
I stowed away in soil on ships and I now ravage the tall hardwoods of the Americas, and the great wildlands of southern Australia, where every peak in the landscape is a story from creation; and now the bush foods of the local ones are becoming less, and less, and less.
The old Noongar, she talks about the bush tucker.
She tells of the honey from the banksias, a good healing tonic.
Dead banksias now.
She calls me Drastic
They call me Insidious. Tragic. Deadly.
They call me Phytopathogenic Pseudofungus.
They call me Biological Bulldozer.
they call me Phytophthora cinnamomi.
They call me Worse Than Salinity.
I ignore signs. I ignore boundaries.
I ignore laws that say ‘no taking of native flora’; ‘no destruction in a national park’. I destroy the hillsides, I destroy the valleys. And those plants; I take half.
I take half and leave their skeletons, grey and dead.
They call me dieback. But I am a front. And I am in front.
And somehow it comes to be that my unconscious, mouldy evolution has outsmarted all the power and knowledge and gadgets of the human race, and all they can do is watch me do my work, try to grapple with my epidemiology, and hope to live longer than my victims and tell their story.
“Gotta speak good story”, they say.
I ain’t no good story.
I love the rotting of the living.
I scour the roots with which the windswept trees grip the ancient soil, as they turn red with silent, underground rage at their doom.
You see, I believe in simplifying the world. Just what clarity is there in a biodiversity that stretches from here to the moon? Why worry with those
all them that are Myrtaceous
(words that your common physicist couldn’t even spell)
when you can so easily manage
sedge, after sedge, after sedge.
I creep underbark, through vessels built for water and food and all things good. I creep leaving lesions scarring up tall, strong trees that withstand wind and rain and the turning of centuries, but cannot resist my deathwish.
Parched, thirsty roots dying silently.
Cells without integrity once I’ve been through.
and so, even before full-scale industrialisation,
I took advantage of exponentialization.
While young male patriots ran up and down the wild magnificent mountains, learning how not to fall over,
And pioneer farmers with high hopes cleared land for their woolly herds,
And roads were built,
And gravel was spilt,
I, without guilt,
flagged a ride on their shoes.
© Keren Gila Raiter 2012