Expansive Poetics – (Aboriginal Introduction)

AG: So for this [Naropa class on Expansive Poetics]. I thought I’d bring in a little bit of material that is extraneous, but is considered precursor. This is from Geza Roheim’s Children of the Desert(concerning) the Western tribes of Central Australia. So this is the only ancient poem that I’ll introduce.

[Allen begins reading from anthropologist Roheim’s text] –

“The crowd of women that he had seen in the distance arrived and he had intercourse with every one of them. The man who arose from the ceremonial pole went right into the earth and became a tjurunga. Kilpara went to Ilarilara, (Close-close), and became a tjurunga there.” (A tjurunga is a totemic object) – “The women all became tjurunga at Ltalatuma. Even today this ilpindja often brings the wrong women just as it did in mythological times” [from Roheim’s glossary ilpindja – love magic (or poetry) with a mythological background
[“This”, Allen notes, “is the explanatory material”] -The following song is an ilpindja of the alknarintja women of Ilpila (“None of my informants were clear as to were clear as to whether the alknarintja was an actual woman or a mythical being. The name is used to refer to real women and to characters in the myths and rituals’ (Roheim) – It too (the following song) contains references to the “bull-roarer” and its mythological representative, “the bell bird“. It was used in the final rite of a (nankuru) ceremony” -(“The “bull roarer”” (Allen, again), “is a piece of wood that has a hole in it – a stone – that’s whirled around on a long string and makes a roaring sound. It’s a musical instrument“).

“The alknarintja, the alknarintja’s body, sits down./ She stays in one place without moving./ The short alknarintja sits down./ She holds a fig tree as if she would a ceremonial spear./ She sees fig trees growing near the road./ The figs are not yet ripe./ She says to the alknarintja woman,”Don’t cry./ Yours will be. You will get the man who is singing the ilpindja for you./ These alknarintja women live aIlpila.. The men who performed the ilpindja for them live at Intankangu./They are all of the Bell bird totem./The other woman sees the man./ “I don’t want anybody. I’m going to continue my wanderings”, she says./ The young man sees
the alknarintja./ He runs away./ He’s too frightened to speak./ Even in his fright his penis becomes erect and the semen flows out./ Although he is frightened, he carries the spear thrower./ He is a man in search of women./ The women whirl the bull-roarer and it splits./ They whirl it with one hand./ With only one hand they whirl it./ And it splits. The bull-roarer splits./O, it splits./ It talks as they whirl it./ The yam stick which is their bull roarer, is long./ And when they whirl it, it talks./ The alknarintja woman withdraws. She wears a belt around her waist./ She has gathered the bows of the fig tree./ “Your figs will not be unripe”, she says./ “You will get the man who sings for you”./And  the other woman responds, “I don’t care./ I want to go on by myself.”/ They see a tjutupa tree./ They see many tjutupa trees./ The wind has blown a great deal of seed, a huge amount of seed, off the trees./ One of the alknarintjas has smoky blue-black hair./ Her hair is like the feathers of the ulamba lamba bird./ She stands near alinjeriri bush and puts in her nose bone./ All the alknarintja women put in their nose bones./These women who wear nose bones, have big round breasts./ Their breasts are fat./ The short one holds theam stick like this. They hear the bell bird./ They hear the bell bird./ The bell bird talks./ All the alknarintja women are decorated./ O!, they are thealknarintja./ They are working with their fingers./ They are the alknarintja who sit winding string around a small churinga./ Near them are the boughs of a fig tree./ They wear belts around their waists./ They sit under the big walee tree./ They are menstruating./ The blood is pouring continually from the mouths of their wombs. Urine, too, pours out from the mouths of their wombs./ One of the alknarintja women stands up to go for food./ Another alknarintja scolds her, “You vagina with sores, you!”/ All the  alknarintja women scold each other, The vagina of the one who stood up is closed./ She is a virgin./Her vagina is like a creek./ Her labia are the shores of the creek./ The closed one, the virgin alknarintja stands up./ One of the women cries out./ She sees someone creeping up through the milpa bushes./It must be a demon!/ One of the alknarintja women is excited./ A strong odor rises from her vagina./The others are angry with her./ “Stinking vagina!”, they call her./ The bull roarer talks/ The bull roarer talks/ There are many bullroarers and they all talk./ These women have round breasts./ Their breasts are fat inside./ The alknarintja woman sits on the top of a rock./ Her breasts are round./ She has a black skin./ She stays in one place and does not move./ Another woman offers her food, which she refuses./ “You, with the excited clitoris!/ Why do you leave the food?”, the other woman asks./”You, with the menstruating vagina!/ Why do you leave the food?”, she demands./ The woman is decorated with bandicoot tails./ The woman sees the man./ His penis is erect./ It looks like a flat rock./ His penis stands up./ The alknarintja woman is completely decorated./ “You have decorated yourself well”, the other women say./ The bandicoot tail hangs down from her belt./ An (asterisk – blank here) also hangs down from her belt./ Her belt goes around her waist./ The alknarintja women walk quickly, they hurry./ The incantation is a string pulling them on./ The woman with the smoky hair makes a ceremonial spear./ She tells the other women to fetch string./ The strings are tied together at the top of the spear./ They are all excited./ Their vaginas begin to stink./ One of the women cries out./ She sees someone creeping through the milpa bushes./ It must be a demon!/ The ceremonial spear is a wide one./ The woman, who decorated herself so well, she ties the strings to the top./ The short alknarintja woman holds a yam stick./ She holds the yam stick like this./ They put string on the rock./ As the urine trickles down their flanks, it makes a whistling noise./ The men whirl the bull -roarer on one side./ They whirl the bullroarer with only one hand./ Alas!, the bullroarer has split!/ The short alknarintja woman holds the yam stick./ She holds a yam stick like this.  

So this is the oldest form of poetry in the world, actually, because the Australian aboriginal songs have been traced back twelve thousand years (because they mention animals, beasts, which were extincted twelve thousand years ago), and it’s all about oral tradition. So it means, as poetic lineage, they have the most sophisticated and longest classical heritage of any group on the planet. And if stability and longevity (are) a sign of civilization, as it’s considered to be – recollection and library stability, stability of memory, historical memory, the wisdom of historical memory and the recollection of brilliant sayings – then you might say Australian aboriginal culture and its poetry is the most civilized on the planet – all oral transmission.

I chose this because, (as) you can see from this, anything goes in the oral transmission and in the oldest poetry. This is also musical. Each of these lines is a line repeated by the leader, (a) singer with songsticks, and then the village, also playing on sticks or bows would repeat it. Like “His penis stands up, his penis stands up, his penis stands up, his penis stands up”…”Their vaginas began to stink, their vaginas began to stink,their vaginas began to stink” – Usually, each line is repeated a half dozen or a dozen times, and then you go on to the next line.

You can see, anything goes in poetry. And this is oddly like twentieth-century poetry, or certain aspects of Surrealist poetry. I brought it in the other day and thought that would be interesting. That’s on page 138-141 [206-209] (in) Geza Roheim’s “Children of the Desert” – Basic Books, 1974, New York (I guess (that’s where) Basic Books is)

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-one-and-a-half minutes in and running to approximately thirty minutes – It may also be accessed via the Internet Archive here and here via Open Culture]

One comment

  1. Ginsberg would/might have agreed with Northrop Frye:
    "No human society is too primitive to have some kind of literature. The only thing is that primitive literature hasn't yet become distinguished from other aspects of life: it's still embedded in religion, magic and social ceremonies […]" (The Educated Imagination – Anansi Press, 1963, p. 13)

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