Ever heard of the Faroe Islands? They’re half way between Scotland and Iceland, more or less, and as far as I can tell, they are most famous for puffins, sheep and magnificent woollen jumpers. And that they still whale. It’s basically a vertical-cliffed protrusion of basalt. And it rains a lot.
I’m going to an event, part literary festival, part academic conference, with the title ‘The Tower at the End of the World – Islands and Literature‘. I’m not there as a poet – but I intend to read poetry at every opportunity. Meanwhile, if you’re interested, here follows the abstract of what I’ll be spouting.
MEMORY IN A FRACTURED ISLAND: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE LITERATURE OF THE ISLAND AT THE END OF THE EARTH
The island of Tasmania is introduced. Almost literally ‘the island at the end of the earth’, its turbulent past and divisive politics (over radically opposed future ‘dreamings’) are outlined, and a landscape saturated in an inherent passion is described. The conflicted past manifests in a determination on the part of economic and social elites to blur history – to reduce the island’s past to a series of whitewashing clichés, and to engage in a systematic forgetting. The best-known literary engagement with Tasmania’s ambiguous past, its conflicted present, and the deep elementality of its natural world, is that of Richard Flanagan, 2015 winner of the Man Booker Prize for his novel, The Narrow Road to the North. Flanagan’s fiction is structured around an insistence that the past not be elided but be confronted; its darknesses and ambiguities looked full in the face. The paper discusses the central place within Tasmania’s literary corpus of Flanagan’s first book, Death of a River Guide, in which he resurrects suppressed narratives from the past, installing those narratives at the front of a reluctant community’s idea of itself. Flanagan notwithstanding, though, the real keepers of the island’s communal memory are its poets. Tasmania is really ‘an island of poets’, and some of that poetry is presented. It is noted that Tasmanian poetry is self-consciously an island poetry, engaging with the particularity of the island in which its authors ply their craft. It is a poetry of ground and heart, unambiguously Tasmanian, though structured around familiar island tropes – the sea, the littoral zone, a psychology of boundedness, but with an awareness that those island bounds frame a startling and unique past. Above all it safeguards the passage of the past through the fraught present and into the future, insisting that the present cannot be understood without an understanding of the shaping influence of the past. Memory is contested in Tasmania, then – and this is not only a matter of ‘whose memory’, but also one of the very relevance of remembering, period.
Image: 2016 Shing Lin Yoong, THE PUFFINS OF MYKINES IN THE FAROE ISLANDS.