Can poetry save the world?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Wendell Berry says he doesn't want his words to be reduced to a bumper sticker. In the slogan-steady city of Melbourne tonight, a new film on Berry's life and work is being premiered. It's called Look & See.

I considered joining mates and travelling down to the "city that looks like every other city" to celebrate this global elder's work, but instead I chose to stay home, far away from bumper stickers, their cars and the brightly lit billboards. Not exactly news. In fact it's exactly this non-news that I crave, and that stays present to what could be Berry's greatest bumper sticker of all, It All Turns on Affection.

Four years ago Rasha Tayeh made this film highlighting many of the themes Berry has been writing on for decades. The Growing Food Project features my poem Step by step and numerous other voices that call for action in the present, not to wait in blind hope for governments to act. Rasha's film champions poetry's potential for such autonomous storytelling. It gives another kind of voice in articulating the rarely spoken assumptions of our time and culture. Like the Look & See trailer, Rasha's film suggests that poems might have a role in the grand attempt to save the world.

Peter Minter, writing about my work, asks: "Can poetry save the world? Jones’ poetry is challenging, perhaps not for everyone, but the world he is saving is the same one you’re living in." Berry sees it differently: “Maybe we could give up saving the world and start to live savingly on it.” And, in the same piece (Our Only World, 2015) he writes:
“Oh, oh, oh,” cry the funerary experts, looking ahead through their black veils. “Life as we know it soon will end. If the governments don’t stop us, we’re going to destroy the world. The time is coming when we will have to do something to save the world. The time is coming when it will be too late to save the world. Oh, oh, oh.” If that is the way our minds are afflicted, we and our world are dead already. The present is going by and we are not in it. Maybe when the present is past, we will enjoy sitting in dark rooms and looking at pictures of it, even as the present keeps arriving in our absence.
Be we an optimist or a doomer, there is always trouble. What we do in response to the sticky material of trouble that dwells in the living present is the making of us, and the making of the/our world. Berry expresses the hopelessness of blind hope, as much as he expresses the agency of people to live savingly and presently, with little and with much. 


re:)Fermenting culture: a return to insight through gut logic

Sunday, November 12, 2017

While my main work resides with Artist as Family, performing our day to day neopeasant home-economy radicalism or continuing to facilitate the network of community gardens in our home town, I have my own side projects always brewing away. Each day I research and/or write for two hours. Anymore than this and I feel myself becoming just another privileged Western thinker relying on my resources to be brought to me in the most earth-damaging intransigent way. I rail against such reliance to fuel my thought, and as a result (and being so odd within my culture) I'm writing work that doesn't yet have a wide readership, let alone a publisher in the conventional sense. This enables a wonderful freedom to experiment and be bold. Such obscurity is indeed a liberty, and paid for in the vegetables I grow myself and with friends and family. 

This year, after the compromises I felt co-writing The Art of Free Travel (compromises not with my awesome co-writer, but with the monetary demands placed on the book and how that eroded the spirit of it), I have returned to the fertile place of home and community publishing. My many editors have been my considerable brain trust – friends, family and the community of authors who I rate so highly. The result is this book, beautifully and sensitively designed by Adele Del Signore. 
The writing of re:)Fermenting culture has been an experiment which placed equal responsibility on the gut to inform the book's trajectory as another significant centre for logic and knowing. The mind in Western thought dominates everything, constructing a Cartesian blindness that is inherently masculine and thus, I argue, has constructed a gender-lopsidedness that has contributed significantly to climate, species, societal and ecological ruinations. To uncover this assertion I've gone right back, well before Descartes (he is just part of the succession of such lopsidedness), back to early Greece, to the Pandora myth and to the related myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus – the West's yin and yang story – a precautionary tale of twinned opposites concerning technology and memory that has long been forgotten.

My book is also an experiment in radical distribution. I'm going to steal it into bookshops and leave it in many more places besides. It's Free to take: pay later model is as original in Australian publishing as the content, and this ethico-politic, modelled on the honesty system of the ubiquitous Aussie farmgate stall, is another conceptual unsettling of bourgeois urban publishing. My only financial aim is to recuperate the modest expenses to pay for its production. The book is light and therefore cheap to send and distribute on foot, or via bicycle and public transport, but weighty in its cultural scope. A culture only of mind, of gender-lopsidedness, I argue, has become a culture of sterility, extraction and imperialism. This culture attacks our gut's logic. The gut is the Pandoran hub of human health, an underworld where 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is produced, that is if the gut is given to kindly. I argue in re:)Fermenting culture the trouble that springs from gut reductionism (refined sugars, antibiotics, pesticides, acidic and non-fibre foods) is not to be underestimated.

So, this has been a snapshot into my cerebral contribution to the flowering earth this year. If you'd like an ebook version of it I will send it through for free. Just send me an email. But if you're like me and prefer to read off-screen it will cost you $10 plus postage. You can also barter me for a hardcopy. Please feel comfortable to get in touch.

Update (27 Sept 2018): My book in hard copy has sold out...

Here's the media release for those wishing it,

and here is the invitation to come to the book warming in our garden on the 26 November.

Happy gut reading wildly folk!


Black market, liquid gold (or, nabbing a hive for honey money?)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Huh, the propaganda of banks is priceless! They have been whingeing for a while about the growth of the household and community economies (lumping these virtuous economies in with the black market), and have even pressured governments to "crack down". 

What's remarkable about the below NAB ad is the bank's blatant double standards. Bees produce all their gold by freely foraging non-monetised flowers in a 5-7 km radius of their hive. Isn't it just a case of double-standards to whinge about the growth of bank-less economies (as what Artist as Family is developing where honey is just one currency in a dynamic gift economy), and at the same time promote the foraging commons as being "more than money?" You can't have your cake and eat it too, NAB, or are you once again just trying to rob a hivelyhood?

I took this pic in Melbourne yesterday on my way to speak to RMIT students about, among other things, building a waste-free, moneyless society


Émilie Carles (1900-1979) recalls on old peasant recipe from Provence

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Click for bigger...

excerpt: p128, Émilie Carles, A wild herb soup, Indigo London 1996
(with permapoesis fermentation edit in blue, 2017)


Institution (slow text version)

Thursday, June 29, 2017



Monday, June 26, 2017

a pigeon
feeds from the
of the museum

poisoned like
the rest
of us
(at tables)

the simulated
rainforest next door
what’s left
of indigenous

perch and crayfish pause
in cut outs
into once was food

a Pandora of a Kulin trace
the reticulating pump 
pretending hope and abundance
shameless womb envy 
of a building; 

I took Blackwood to see the whale bones, fishing spears and shell strings at the Melbourne Museum today. We stopped by the cafe for some nourishment. It was a brief moment of civil sucking and gut killing, all in all a bad move, which triggered this poem.


Vale Rod May (farmer, activist, father, lover)

Monday, May 29, 2017



kind eyes

of kindred 

by old land 

and now —
by flippant car


against waste 

for life

now wasted

guilty comfort

in late May


vale Rod May


man of the rows
of our nourishment


Great Dividing Age (for Zephyr on his 15th birthday)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Life is changing fast in your time. This can be measured in big stories as much as those not needing celebrities. Like the man we met who now voluntarily eats just one meal a day, or the four of us walking this poem line, the Great Dividing Trail between Daylesford and Castlemaine, for your birthday.

We eat the fruits of the earth early on our first day. All the long processes — the morning’s dew, storm’s temper, intentions of the bees, the fungi, worms and not-by-naked-eye critters of the soil — have lived before these gifts. We eat in this love of the earth, together. Your reluctance is for your own understanding. You see this fruit-love as mine, but she belongs to everyone who holds dear the earth. Her fruit is your adult mother and lover, sister and aunty too. 

We follow goat track and hard dry wallaby lines, trailed in blackened fox scats. Your fox has also eaten blackberry and the seeds are impregnated from pointy carnivorous tip to pointy fruitarian end. We are never just one thing.

After half a day’s walk from town, home table and cellar, the shrivelled, dried-on-the-cane berries are appealing, even preferred. Our walking unsettlement is already changing us, quickening our senses, exposing our prejudices.

We pass by the campsite where we once endured the hail and sleet and a first winter camp challenge. You boys got so wet and it seemed to take an eternity to get the fire going the next morning. We were miserable until then, but that’s how fire makes home as we discovered together. That Promethean comfort, that myth in our face, warming our frozen fingers. This story was not the beginning of your initiation at nine years old, just another story of your and my making, with friend Gabe.

We walk into the blowhole where we rest and throw rocks at imaginary beasts, 

into the prickly pear (Opuntiapatch,

shaving away the splintering hairs of the skin of her fruit. Then on to the first-date-dumpling-lunch-story where we had taken Meg and boiled the billy and I ask her into our hearts. Where she took us on seeing our fatherness and sonness, our light playfulness at Breakneck Gorge.

After lunch we dig the burdock (Arctiumroots from the path and keep their leaves. Remember this plant young fox. It only grows in cool to cold temperate climates, but it's carbohydrate may save you one day.

The seeds hitchhike around our ankles distributing their future nourishment along the track where it’s wet enough for their renewal, and we haul our heavying packs into the afternoon when my note-taking drops off and a quietness intrudes upon us. Our fatigues, with Jeremy and Connor, our bodies instead — a compaction of atoms and more-than-human microbes in numbers outnumbering us a billion to one — write this poem. Our toes crushed into steel caps siren out in the cries of white-winged choughs who follow us trailing the scats of the unseeable fox, your totem.

We finally make camp, your accruing survival skills relaxing into you.

We bring out the burdock and wrap the roots in the leaves to cook 

on the fire's coals to accompany our brought along food. 

Sleep will trouble itself with each of us on this night, not just because of our chosen sleepwear. 

Lactic acid has built its restlessness in our turmoiling, quivering muscles, and no amount of stretching will completely becalm them.

Our second morning is spent in near fruitless forest, as though the gums have consumed every last drop of every last thing but for the edible devil guts (Cassytha), not yet ripe.

Wild food? A possum, a cockatoo, a skink camouflaged before a black wallaby thumps across our animal track song and disappears. Our brought along rations begin to run out. 

No fatty Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) or lean rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) to snare and spit on a small bush fire. Instead inedible cramps form in our grieving legs before we reach Vaughn Springs and recharge with rock-given carbonated water and swim in the old Dja Dja Wurrung story of the Loddon River — Yolelerwil-meerin, Yarrayn, Woppoon, Byerr, Pullergil-yaluk, Gunbungwerro, Minne-minne, Mudyin gadjin.

Following your lead we all end up napping after lunch,

wake and break from our intended forest path and head to the little banjo town where you volunteered your fourteen year old skills and helped bump in the festival. The town held a place for you then, and will again, or somewhere else, if you continue to offer yourself to the call of others.

On our second night, well fed on the general store’s local bread and eggs, 

we camp by what’s left of the river. Mosquitoes predate through the night. Shooting stars rocket across our animal eyes, soft but no longer hunting. You three young bucks slept fairly rough, while your old man's light flynet and mattress enabled a little more rest.

On our third day of walking, I become that guy who over speaks in your direction. You groan like a trillion sons before you. 

There are no poisoned gifts to wake up to, just this waking, walking poem, and a little breakfast. 

Our last leg trek along the railway from Guildford offers up a multiplicity of feral fruit — peaches, plums, blackberries, figs, grapes, apples. Our opshop marbles are slung rapidly, illegally at rabbits. Discreteness, Zeph! Care. You have the choice to be a gift giver-receiver of the flowering earth, or a parasite, a mistletoe of grave and selfish destruction. Anywhere between this binary is still the latter. Not much in life is this clear. Nothing else is as defined between two distinct modes of being.

I’m not sure how much more I can teach you. Your fox-like pride wants to teach yourself or learn from others. I get this. Your fox smells freedom. I want more than anything to let you go on your wanderlusting. I want to blow gently onto your free-seeking sails, away from the sad story of school and now home. 

Yesterday’s mineral water – calcium, sodium and magnesium et al – today quells our long haul aches, our last 12ks to Castlemaine. Remember this free medicine from the underworld. Remember this communitarian walk, before you solo out in search of your own people. We'll always be here with open doors and wide open tracks to walk with you, but not always open to just anything thrown at us. 

On our walk we gathered up the cowboy's arse paper (Mulleinalong the post-industrialising track. You may want to note such soft and useful gifts.

We ate sweet March flies (Tabanidae), raw and toasted on coals skewered on sharpened stick — fly kebabs! They tasted good, did not make us sick, it would be prudent again to note this animal protein easily hunted, little energy expended.

And we noted the flowering fruits that would be consumed by others later on.

Greeted by farmer’s and ancestral shade trees at the market in the park, just this coming together at the end of our walk, could go unappreciated where your ideological father spoke about the urgency of non-monetary economies with agrarian friends and finished off the first draft of this walked-for poem, scribed on paper.

You’re right, I’m not listening to you, much. But I do see you and will come to listen more closely as your voice grows and you become comfortable in your own unique and unusual skin, like the young men you have been walking with. 

I see and feel the yearning in your fox burrowed skin, it pops out in over excited pimples. Trust your resilience and the skills you possess that no industrial school has imparted. Your many schools of life will be your health. More and more you will start living your story and joy will fill you up as you grow into her and respect the lores of her and your own tellings. This may be a long road for you, especially if you continue to worship mass society's false gods who only quicken mass death. The teen-age is merely a product of such unrelenting consumption. Go that path and tragedy will be your story. Abandon the ad-men, con-artists and poisoned gifts that are killing the flowering earth and your beautiful spirit will be unleashed with the great force of love you possess. 

Happy birthday Zeph! Much love, Dad.


Food sovereignty? It's a peasant (not a money) thing...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Food Sovereignty Alliance chair Tammi Jonas recently took umbrage at Artist as Family's application of the term neo-peasant. She wondered whether we were "colonising the discourse". Tammi has just hosted Joel Salatin, other food celebrities and a host of punters, at her farm in Central Victoria. The event raised nearly $40,000 for the purposes of setting up a legal defence fund. I wrote to Tammi in the spirit of debate. 

Hi Tammi, if you're interested, here's a little more unpacking as to why we use the term neo-peasant:

In an economic sense it's peasant non-relianace on money that we identify with, and see money as the great curse [to ecological] cultures of place due to money's need to grow markets and exploit people and environments. This, essentially, [ends up as] neo-liberalism, growing anti-ecological city-centric cultures permissive of their pollution outputs. Hence our concentration on degrowth money economies and the growth of localised (non-transported) non-monetary economies (urban, rural, suburban).

Neo-peasant Woody (4 yo) walks-for and wheelbarrows a small portion
of the household's fuel in readiness for the winter.

We feel that Joel Salatin, for instance, is super cool when it comes to biology, but super problematic when it comes to his choice of economics. His form of economics we consider Christian-capitalist or conversion-capitalism. It is by nature imperialist as it must aggregate. In this way the great work he does in the biological field is undone by his economic form. To feed hypertechnocivilians (city dwellers) is not a reason for such activity, it only aggregates the problem of people not being accountable for their resources and not in relationship with the processes and communities of life that make life possible. We will never become an ecological culture of place while this pattern continues.

An ecology of money's waste in Central Queensland (passed by bicycle).

These books also give contexts for our term neo-peasant:

Life without money (editor lives in Castlemaine, RMIT academic)

The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation (on how self-reliant and organising peasants were kicked off land and forced into the factories to become essentially what our grandparents were).

Debt: The first 500 years (you've probably read this awesome text)

It seems strange to us that regrarian is OK but neo-peasant is not. Perhaps you could unpack this? Do you think traditional agrarians would be offended by this term you use? I understand we have a (middle-class) choice to reconnect with our respective family peasant histories, and hence that's what the neo is doing. It immediately locates our privilege of education. We're immediately 'fessing up to this by using the prefix while honouring our ecologically intelligent ancestors and calling for a return. 

Yours in community of change-makers.

So far I haven't heard back from Tammi. But the questions raised concern us all. Why participate in the monetary economy? Why serve a system of economy that is inherently flawed and ecologically destructive? Why raise money to pay lawyers and thus pay heed to laws that only apply if raising money is at the heart of your economy? 
Meg prepares gifted, grown and gleaned food in Artist as Family's kitchen.


Sugar, booze and extreme parenting

Friday, February 10, 2017

Late last year I gave a keynote address at the 2016 International Indigenous Allied Health Conference in Cairns. The paper I contributed, Fermenting country: caring for the ecology of our guts, revealed that sugar and booze work in similar ways:

"Refined sugars, which are secreted into almost all processed foods today, increase your risk of disease in a similar way to alcohol. What is extraordinary is that it’s become acceptable to pepper food, especially food targeted at children, with sweet addictive substances that cause a plethora of health problems. Parents and carers think if a product is sold and advertised then governments have approved it, therefore it must be safe. Sadly, this is not the case. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of California, there are three similarities between the effects of alcohol and fructose sugar:
1. Your liver metabolizes alcohol the same way as sugar, as both serve as substrates for converting dietary carbohydrate into fat. This promotes insulin resistance, fatty liver, and abnormal fat levels in your blood.
2. Fructose undergoes the Maillard reaction with proteins. This causes superoxide free radicals to form, resulting in inflammation.
3. Fructose can directly and indirectly stimulate the brain’s ‘hedonic pathway,’ creating habituation and dependence, the same way that ethanol does." (go to above link for citation)
In an article in The Age a few days ago entitled Expert says we are giving children the equivalent of alcohol for breakfast,  it is stated that "[a]ccording to the latest ABS statistics, children aged 2 to 3 were the most prevalent consumers of breakfast cereals (54 per cent), followed by 4-8-year-olds (52 per cent)... That's no big deal if they're eating plain oats, but few kids are."

In an article on my family last week, where the byline on the homepage ran: The next level of extreme parenting, it read: "One look at the couple’s four-year-old, Blackwood, will also have you prizing that lollipop out of your toddler’s mouth. 'Woody' has never touched processed sugar. “A treat for Woody is a mandarin picked off the tree, a handful of ripe berries or a sweet red capsicum,” Ms Ulman says. “We don’t shop at supermarkets so there are no shiny packets or chocolate bars to entice him and we don’t own a television so there are no ads to seduce him.”

While in Murdoch's media world, which represents the so-called mainstream, it is 'extreme' to keep booze-like refined sugar out of children's diet. But in the worlds of creatures, ecology, wisdom and care, it is unthinkable to give our young people industry's poisoned gifts.

Woody on a berry hunt


It's time for...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Capitalism – so full of itself, full of its poisons and waste, of hatred of everyone, the land and its diverse communities – has run its course. Exhausted it begins to shut doors. To build more coffins. To plan more war – its finest economy. The Left with drab succour watches the Right running away with the ball (and the goalposts) yelling out ‘that’s not fair’. But Trump has been a long time in the making. He has been manufactured by capitalism's core value: aggressive competition. Only we can choose not to participate or dwell in the milieu of this illness; not to join the money markets that empower the Trumps of the world. Only we can take up land, learn again to grow food, energy, ecology and community, and leave nascent neo-fascism to the 1%. #divestfromcapitalism #divestfromfascism
Written and unauthorised by the neopeasant quiet and non-violent revolution going on in the magnificent underworld everywhere around the world.


Newspaper by 2008

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