This year's Fellow, Michelle Cahill reflects on her 10 shimmering new poems, commissioned as part of the Red Room Poetry Fellowship 2020
The poems are written and shared with readers in the spirit of learning, of making a beginning. I reached out to Aboriginal custodians and began to understand how the process is not curated by Western methodologies. It relies on a respectful relationship with language custodians and it takes years. For this reason, I have chosen only to use words that were already published. In no way is my intention to claim cultural knowledge. As a poet, my process embodies scrutiny over invasion, genocide and the intrusion of English; its dominance and trespass over Aboriginal languages. My praxis is decolonial, unpicking the grammar of racism.
So, the poems witness my process, which is evolving. They do not translate language words. The following couplet places Gomeroi words beside English words to prioritise them and to pursue a process of othering English.
Yilambu. Dhawun. Nhalay Yarrul,
long-time ephemeral creeks, dry, mineral sands,
In another poem, 'Thirteen Ways of Dreaming the Glossy Black Cockatoo', Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal and Anglo-American poetic mythos is entwined. To challenge the universality of English names, I wanted a language word for 'glossy black cockatoo.' Sadly no Kaurna or Ngarrindjeri resources were available. But this bird has a species relative on the mainland. I quote 'wayilayn', the Gundalung word for ‘glossy black cockatoo which appears in the online dictionary. I believe the sound is the right sound for the poem's ending. It is a Gundalung word; it is not an English name. Poetry is a way of storytelling that dreams and a heals the injuries and assaults of our times, across culture. I honour and respect this telling.
~ Michelle Cahill