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A world of contrast

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.

Tealeaf Troubadours at Denmark Festival of Voice

The delightful Denmark Festival of Voice will be on again from Friday 3 June until Sunday 5 June in the lush south-west town of Denmark. This will be the festival’s 12th year of celebrating the human voice, with an inspiring lineup of local, national and international artists in a cappella and accompanied ensemble, group and individual performances. Every year hundreds of people come together to watch, listen, learn, laugh, share their stories and sing their hearts out with choral, comedy, cabaret, poetry, spoken word, storytelling, with sacred, indigenous, world, folk, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and blues music.

We’re excited to announce that after a year’s hiatus, the Tealeaf Troubadours are back in action with not one, but two shows lined up for the festival. The Tealeaf Troubadours are a four-piece ensemble of storytellers, musicians and poets (including me) who create enthralling performances which combine music, storytelling and poetry. Our adults show is called Driftwood Stories and will be performed at the Mongolian Storytelling Yurt on Sunday 5th June at 2:30 pm. We will also be performing a kids’ show, called Treasure, also in the Yurt, at 10am on Saturday 4th June.

Meet us at the forest ocean interface, a liminal space where wizened boughs whisper tales of memory and longing to the sea air, but beware your step as this ancient landscape may conceal harder truths.

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Keren Gila Raiter at Perth Poetry Club, 28th May

I’ve been invited to give a feature guest performance of poetry at Perth Poetry Club later this month. The feature will be part of Perth Poetry Club’s regular stint of poetry which happens at The Moon Café (323 William Street, Northbridge, not far from Perth’s Central Train Station) every Saturday afternoon from 2-4 pm. The afternoon will include MCing by Perth Poetry Club’s Underlords and open mike performances from Perth’s happening poetry community, as well as another feature performance by Bill Dickie.

You can find out more about what’s happening at Perth Poetry Club here: http://www.perthpoetryclub.com/whats-on. My blurb for the performance follows.

Keren Gila Raiter is awed by the natural world and the power of our words to give us meaning in an otherwise very mysterious existence. An ecologist and eco-philosopher, she has recently completed a PhD on conserving the Great Western Woodlands of south-western Australia. Keren weaves words and animated performances into poetry that spans landscapes, languages, and lifetimes. In this feature for Perth Poetry Club, Keren will perform a series of pieces about her research, and also some works written in collaboration with the Chinese Classical Orchestra as part of a poetry-and-music creative fusion.

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A love, a loss

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

the sky

out of reach

 

warned about strange birds

far flung nests

we had chased the rainbow

blinded by her colourful promise

 

and as

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

flowering springs

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

Autobiography of a plant killer

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…

I slither

Imperceptib-ly,

Subterranean-ly,

Relentless-ly,

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

Proteaceae

Epacridaceae

all them that are Myrtaceous

Fabeaceous

Papilionaceous

Xanthhoreaceaous

(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,

commercialisation,

post-modernisation,

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

No-one’s slave

An old friend, Benna, once taught a group of us this song while we sat around a fire, on a hiking trip across a stunning wild part of the Pilbara, in north-western Australia. We were walking the land on an ecophilosophical journey of learning and (self) discovery, led by an amazing teacher called Patsy. Years later, I hunted down the original lyrics, adapted them to suit my story, and made of them a spoken word piece. It was a shame to remove the music, but I hope that you enjoy it nonetheless.

This clip was recorded at the Denmark Festival of Voice, Western Australia.

Words adapted from the original lyrics from the song of the same name.

‘Beneath our Feet’ performed at Denmark Festival of Voice

Here is a piece about what I do in my day job – that is, one of my day jobs at the moment. I am an environmental scientist, and I work with climate change, forested streams and forest management practices. I investigate what happens to our streams when we log, thin, mine, and rehabilitate the forests (and combinations of the above) against the striking backdrop of our drying and variable climate, and what we can do about it. This poem is written specifically about the Jarrah forests and streams in the Darling Ranges to the east and south-east of Perth, although similar things are happening in many parts of the southwest of Australia.