Category: Alison Whittaker

Found text manipulation by Alison Whittaker

Hello poets and readers,

In an earlier blogpost about the work of Gomeroi poet and lawyer Alison Whittaker, I discussed her work with trigrams and the process behind the creation of poems like ‘the skeleton of the common law’ from her collection Blakwork, which Alison expanded on in our podcast. Thanks to her generosity in sharing her work, we’re now able to reproduce that poem so that our readers can see how she used the technique based on search engine optimisation, commenting on the law, as she says, without doing further injustice to the people affected by it.

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the skeleton of the common law

‘This Court is not free to adopt rules that accord with contemporary notions 
of justice and human rights if their adoption would fracture the skeleton of 
principle which gives the body of our law its shape and internal consistency.’

Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1

The forty-nine most common three-word phrases in the Mabo decision, ranked.

The Murray Island –
The Murray Islands.
 
The common law
(By the Crown
Of the crown).
 
New South Wales,
The Meriam people
(Of the Colony
Of the Murray)
 
Rights and interests
Law – native title
 
Common law native
 
Of New South
(In the Crown)
 
The Privy Council
(Of the Island)
 
The Land Act
(Of the Meriam)
 
Governor in council
(The Governor in
The Aboriginal inhabitants)
 
The colony of
The Crown in
that. The Crown
Act of State.
 
Lands of the
Inhabitants of the –
– to the Crown.
 
Interests in land
(Of the Aboriginal
Of the Islands)
Consistent with the –
– the Common wealth
Title of the –
– the Crown to
The rights of –
 
V Attorney General
For the purpose
Of native title.
 
Vested in the
The indigenous inhabitants
The native inhabitants
 
In relation to –
With respect to –
The Crown, the –
 
Of the native
Racial Discrimination Act
By the common –
The Racial Discrimination
 
Alison Whittaker

Some thoughts on Alison Whittaker’s process

Alison Whittaker, pictured at Poetry on the Move 2019.
Photo by Kendall Kirkwood.

Hello poets and readers,

Our podcast with Gomeroi poet and lawyer Alison Whittaker was full of insights. We introduced the podcast by quoting her comment about the similarity between the law and poetry, in terms of reducing things to essentials: “The logics of law and poetry boil meaning and power down to their barest components.” The issue here is clarity of language. Commenting on the law without doing further injustice to the people affected by it motivates Alison. She wants to demonstrate how settler colonial power is exerted through language in a legal context. In three poems from her collection Blakwork, she uses tools developed for search engine optimisation, including trigrams, and searches court and coroners’ reports for these commonly used three-word phrases. Arranged into stanzas, the phrases exhibit what Alison describes as a certain rawness without the evasiveness sometimes found in law; the poetry deals purely with the mechanics and logics of legal decisions.

Alison explains that her process consists largely of employing poetic restraint. She eliminates some choices to be able to make other choices more fully. Interestingly, she says that these poems resonate most with readers.

She describes herself as an increasingly collectively driven poet, because of the way she learns from others. The power of teaching poetry has also strengthened community connections. She explores the usefulness of poetic restraint here, too, in workshops where participants are provided with restriction and stimulus and have to adapt in ‘controlled panic’, producing the raw material for a chapbook of poetry in just three hours. The writers’ willingness to adapt to the process creates surprises valuable to poetry. The concept of authorship can also dissolve in collaborative ventures in healthy ways. Writing for the stage has also informed her writing.

She often uses movement, particularly walking, to help establish the rhythm of a poem. Her poems ‘many girls, white linen’ and ‘murrispacetime’, for example, were shaped by being spoken aloud whilst pacing the sections of a tiled kitchen. She also describes walking through the snow for an hour each morning in preparation for writing on a stay in the US.

Sharing her insights into these specific aspects of process gives other poets opportunities. Her ideas about narrative nonfiction, experimental memoir and reportage raise important questions about the journalistic capacity of poetry. It’s an aspect of writing she’s keen to continue to explore, perhaps in a verse novel – we look forward to seeing how these drivers of Alison’s creative process continues to develop.

Podcast: Alison Whittaker’s process

Alison Whittaker, pictured at Poetry on the Move 2019.
Photo by Kendall Kirkwood.

Hello poets and readers,

The logics of law and poetry boil meaning and power down to their barest components.

We’re delighted to be able to bring you an interview with Alison Whittaker, a Gomeroi poet and author of the collections Lemons in the Chicken Wire and Blakwork, shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry 2019.

An earlier blog post introduced Alison’s ideas about law and poetry and highlighted an experimental technique which makes use of trigrams – a device used in Google optimisation – to show us what the law considers important in a legal case. This technique is used in poems like ‘the skeleton of the common law’. She discusses these and other issues more fully here, and we’re proud to be able to share her insights with the world.

References

Alison Whittaker, Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala Books, 2016)

Alison Whittaker, Blakwork. (Magabala Books, 2018)

Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi multitasker from the floodplains of Gunnedah in NSW. Her debut poetry collection, Lemons in the Chicken Wire, was awarded the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship in 2015, and was published by Magabala Books in 2016. Alison was co-winner of the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize in 2017 for her poem, ‘Many Girls White Linen’. Her latest book, Blakwork, was shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2019.

Alison Whittaker and law

Hello poets and readers,

I came across a fascinating interview with Indigenous poet Alison Whittaker in a recent issue of the Melbourne-based journal Rabbit. Whittaker is both a lawyer and a poet. She believes that poetry and law have much in common, since they both “litigate meaning and try to persuade people,” and both have rules and codes. They differ in their degree of formality, and Whittaker’s progress in both domains has become less about balancing and more about harmonising. This has resulted in the emergence of an intriguing process at work in some of her poetry.

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