PoeticsVIRUS 2020

14 October VIRUS 2020

14 October, VIRUS 2020

‘Devastating’: The Morrison government cuts uni funding for environment courses by almost 30%. It’s one of the largest funding cuts to any university course, and will leave Australia ill-equipped to deal with the environmental challenges of the future. The Conversation

‘Nature has healing power’: Britain’s Covid heroes share their favourite outdoor spaces

I went down badly with Covid in March, and my family were told to expect the worst. I was in intensive care for five weeks and in hospital for seven. I should have died at my age . . . The key moment was towards the end of the coma, when they were trying to wake me up and wheeled my bed out to the healing garden. I remember waking up with the sun on my face, smelling the flowers and realising I was going to live. From then on everything picked up. Robin Hanbury-Tenison 83-year old author and explorer[1]

‘There is no time to lose’: Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals. The reef has lost half its corals, with a decline in the number of shallow and deep water corals across almost all species in the past two decades. SMH

Queensland transition to renewables would generate almost 10,000 jobs, analysis shows. The Guardian

Eleven months in the making Image of tiger hugging tree wins 2020 wildlife photographer award. The Guardian

Hetti Perkins and Australia’s 40,000 year history of artists as cultural activists. ABC, The Art Show

Expert snake-safe advice. Mid-Coast Observer

Canada’s last intact ice shelf broke off. It took our research station with it. The Guardian

Temperatures of deepest ocean rising quicker than previously thought. Warming ocean contributes to sea level rise and to more extreme weather such as hurricanes. The Guardian

Helios has skipped our view, the clean and jerk is now south,
we will miss our gaze, standing in bird song, the garden details
emerge as we wait for his shiny bald head to break the surface.

We step cautiously into the trees, not wishing to disturb the roos,
one stands ready, fur backlit, a formal portrait.
Jagun is in fine voice, a series of whipbirds form their hood
like outlaws, they scurry flurries of black wings. A Logrunner calls
from thick bush, getting louder, louder, then the bird sees two
pairs of legs and the call retreats. The Golden Whistler family
are not shy, flying around and around us, pausing to snatch fragments
of song, then racing off on the circuit again, we are transfixed.

They must be happy, it’s a beautiful morning, light perches
on branches, throws a spot here and there. Scarlet Honeyeaters
sing along, a Bar-shouldered Dove and Orioles are the backing singers.

Everywhere you look there is beauty:

From the lair of Antlions you step out onto a stage of dunes. Solid sea ahead, a misty view north to Hungry Head, a frail line of coast,
the seals are south, their boards bobbing on the membrane waiting for a wave.Boatshed Beach now has built a small vertical cliff.

I hear the Cockatoos coming, the sound strafes, a glimpse through the canopy
then their ragged shadows run me over, they aim for the dunes.


I find a new flower in the garden the pretty rose-pink petals,
just wandered in. I justified my suspicions. It is a weed
and in these parts, too ready to infiltrate what was here
before the British we, happy in full sun to bloom year-round
a native of Caribbean long before sugar and slaves. Small mauve melaleuca flower, and a Spider Grevillea

I ring the Sleep Clinic, the machine is working. The Dr is free at lunchtime so I dash up the highway.

I wanted to discuss Rorty but the Dr is too professional and busy. I like Richard Rorty because he thought language is important and that ‘rational’ language of the Enlightenment has become a weight on the development of democracy – must find meaning in life not from abstractions but from other finite, mortal, contingently existing human beings. I joke about Ellora with the technicians again.
Afterwards I resume filming the vine, grab the tripod and hurry, too fast, a water dragon basking directly in front of the sculpture, skitters off on its hind legs – a missed opportunity.

An Azure Kingfisher is perched quietly next to a pair of Peewees sharing nest management.

The trolley is rusting in the mangroves, technological marvel of wheels, metallurgy aimed at our ability to consume more and more, I think I will write about it.

I look for snakes: ‘There are roughly 3,00 snake bites recorded in Australia each year, with only 550 requirng hospitalisation and two resulting in death . . . The most common specie on the Mid-North Coast are red-bellied blacks, pythons, marsh snakes, yellow-faced whipsnakes, and green (and brown) tree snakes. . .  Remember: if bitten keep still. . . Hospitals no longer need to know the type of snake -they use an anti-venom that works for all.’ [2]

Find another dragon in the Botanic Gardens and much else.

Satin Bowerbird’s bower, Coffs Botanic Gardens


I don’t think we’ve ever needed the arrival of spring as much as we do this year. This year it’s felt like everywhere you turn there is bad news on top of bad news. The drought, the bushfires, climate change denialism, the plight of our koalas. A misguided gas-led ‘recovery’ that won’t help nature recover at all. In fact it will destroy nature.

Not to mention the pandemic. Then I remember that we must remain hopeful because without hope, there is no way we can press on. Because we really must press on. Nature, like us, can’t switch off. Nature needs your help this spring to help it thrive.  


Chris Gambian ,Chief Executive, Nature Conservation Council of NSW


I ring my mother, she is confused, went to bed thinking it was night time, but it must have been in the afternoon she says. I asked if she’d had any gin. No, nothing. I’m just a silly girl. Now I’m confused but after some banter and exchange of news not worried. I told her that I’d had an email from her granddaughter who had loved lunch in the restaurant on Sunday, which my mother was embarrassed by, how unusually bad it was. I should be worried.


Richard Rorty’s first book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) attacked the idea that reality is given us, that mind is a mirror reflecting reality. I finished my honours degree in philosophy in 1977, and it was much too narrowly focused. As Alexander Nehamas writes, ‘What has happened in modern times, especially in the universities, is that the scientific, the systematic way of doing philosophy is the only approach to philosophy allowed, as if the other tradition never existed. In the book, I am trying to reclaim the defining tradition of Greek philosophy, philosophy as techne tou biou – the art of living. Though ‘art’ is not a particularly accurate translation of the Greek techne, which is not art in the sense of our ‘fine art,’ but something between art and craft. I’m trying to reclaim that tradition . . .’ [3]

Richard Rorty was a neo-pragmatist who suggested that philosophy’s function should be reconceived away from the search for eternal truths (or even temporal truths) and onto description and re-description. He would prefer a post philosophical society where people forget about the meaning of life but become good at being human, that is doing things and thinking things. Rorty’s anti-foundationalism and suspicion of claims to privileged knowledge is shared by the hermeneutic ethnography of Clifford Geertz, the textual ethnography of James Clifford, and sociology of Pierre Bourdieu.

Richard Rorty admired the power of poetry: ‘In an essay called ‘Pragmatism and Romanticism’ I tried to restate the argument of Shelley’s ‘Defense of Poetry.’ At the heart of Romanticism, I said, was the claim that reason can only follow paths that the imagination has first broken. No words, no reasoning. No imagination, no new words. No such words, no moral or intellectual progress. I ended that essay by contrasting the poet’s ability to give us a richer language with the philosopher’s attempt to acquire non-linguistic access to the really real.’[4]

A philosopher as radical as Rorty in his attack on formal philosophy and the referential view of language still misunderstood the fundamental poetic nature of language and its creative nature. For example, when it comes to metaphor he reveals an essentialist-representationalist literalist backbone, when he writes, ‘tossing a metaphor into a conversation is like suddenly breaking off the conversation long enough to make a face, or . . . displaying [a photograph] . . . or slapping your interlocutor’s face, or kissing him. All of these are ways of producing effects on your interlocutor or your reader, but not ways of conveying a message.’ [5]


Great poets can speak to us because they use the modes of thought we all possess. George Lakoff & Mark Turner[i]


[1] ‘‘Nature has healing power’: Britain’s Covid heroes share their favourite outdoor spaces’, Interviews by Antonia Wilson and Jane Dunford, The Guardian 14.10.2020.

[2] Stephan Katte, ‘Expert snake-safe advice’, Mid-Coast Observer, 14.10.20

[3] Alexander Nehamas interviewed by David Carrier, Bomb Magazine, 65, Fall, 1998, p36-41.

[4] Richard Rorty, ‘The Fire of Life’, Poetry, November 2007.

[5] Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Cambridge UP, 1989, p18.

[i] George Lakoff and Mark Turner, More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor, U of Chicago P, 1989.

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