The Argonautica Inlandica is primarily based on the ancient Greek text/translation of Apollonius of Rhodes’s Argonautica, with other ancient texts including Pindar’s Pythian Odes and Valerius Flaccus’s Latin work, Argonautica. In loosely following the journey of Jason and the Argonauts. The Argonautica Inlandica re-envisions a key story of Western literature in terms of environmental poetics and an examination of colonial impacts. Integrally connected with Kinsella's ongoing examination of south-western Australian ‘nature reserves’, The Argonautica Inlandica takes the sea journey inland via rivers and creeks, into spaces of ‘nature’ that have managed to persist despite the ecological destruction of vast areas of southern Western Australia. The journeys are many, however, a set of voyages of de-exploration and de-colonising activism. The Argonautica Inlandica is fundamentally an ecological work that examines the settler impact on country, and industrial impacts on world environments, and laments the rapacity and greed of a consumer world that has left so much of the natural environment in a vulnerable or in fact devastated condition. However, the tone is ultimately affirming insofar as action to halt the damage — including through the writing of poetry — is seen as a partial way of correction, healing and redress. The Argonautica Inlandica is a masterwork from one of contemporary poetry's major voices.
‘In searching for the Golden Fleece, the Argonauts experienced harrowing trips through the uncharted rivers of central Europe and the desert wastes of North Africa. Now, in his brilliantly conceived and dazzlingly erudite ecological epic, John Kinsella turns Apollonius of Rhodes’s great water journey inland and inside-out, revealing how in Australia “the quest for metals to service the greenwash / of energy, the lap against the balance of power hull, / is the death of a forest and its inhabitants. And that’s real /-politic, sports funding, local investment, and PR.” Indeed, “The clash—rigor/ mortis of empire craving, and the media’s / feeding frenzy” leave both poet and reader to witness “insect and reptile sheltering places / removed, echidna hollows disturbed,/ ground exposed raw as some properties /surrounding the enclave, hemming / it in. And the phantom travellers, / antithetical Argonauts, look on with despair . . .”
What can even Medea do for Jason in such circumstances? Kinsella’s is a unique, an unforgettable story.’
‘Shadowed by and shadowing the text of Apollonius’s epic, Kinsella’s The Argonautica Inlandica transposes the ancient myth of Jason and the Argonauts, a tale of theft and betrayal, into his twenty-first century account of what we plunder—from the natural world, from each other—in the name of profit and progress. In a time of climate collapse, the terms ‘coastal’ and ‘inland’ become unmoored, suffer from tidal drift—as does time itself. This is a book of journeying, crossing continents, seas and centuries, but always grounded in and returning to the inimitability and wonder of the local—the vivid colours of a ring-necked parrot, the intricate networks of a Moora spider orchid. Kinsella’s activist poetics—set against colonialism, against capitalism, and against the epic—is engaged in a project of “unmapping, de-exploring”, enacting the ethical imperative to observe and listen, without cataloguing or collecting. Skilfully ranging over poetic forms, searingly direct, and intensely lyrical and moving, The Argonautica Inlandica is a reckoning as much with personal history, replete with inherited and alien ancestral ghosts, as with national and global histories of possession and dispossession. And haunting every step is the recognition that if ‘[h]istory is ecology’, the extra-human narrative will outlast the human one, that in the “surrounding / lands being eaten by sea / sea will eat down to remake / what we unmake”.’
John Kinsella is the author of over seventy books of poetry, fiction, criticism, plays, edited works (such as The Penguin Book of Australian Poetry), and collaborative works. His many awards include the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry, the John Bray Award for Poetry, the Judith Wright Calanthe Award for Poetry (twice) and the Western Australian Premier’s Award for Poetry (three times). Among his recent books published in Australia are Supervivid Depastoralism (poetry: Vagabond Press, 2021);Hollow Earth (a novel: Transit Lounge, 2019), Lucida Intervalla (a novel: UWA Publishing, 2018); On the Outskirts (poetry: UQP, 2017), Old Growth (stories: Transit Lounge, 2017), Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016), Crow’s Breath (stories: Transit Lounge, 2015) and Displaced: a rural memoir (Transit Lounge, 2020). He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and was Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University. A frequent collaborator with other poets, writers, artist, musicians, and thinkers, he lives on Ballardong Noongar land at ‘Jam Tree Gully’ in the Western Australian wheatbelt (north of Toodyay). In 2007 he received the Christopher Brennan Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry.
John Kinsella, The Argonautica Inlandica
August 2023. 148mm x 210mm. 208pp.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.