‘Soil Is a Toil Needing All to Recoil’: Lionel Fogarty, Andrew Forrest, and the Settler-Colonial Georgic


Lionel Fogarty’s difficult, urgent verse is universally accepted as an ‘activist poetry’, yet the very axiomatic nature of this characterisation has ironically obviated critical engagement with Fogarty’s experimentalist poetry as it emerges from specific protest – as a response to, and analysis of, the particular, contemporaneous, shifting injustices faced by Aboriginal people. Proposing to bring the interpretative frame of activism to bear anew upon Fogarty’s work, this essay reads Fogarty’s ‘No Cites like the Cites Hum In’ (‘Written Land’ 2016) as a timely language of judicial and poetic intervention – one itself seeking to intervene on another, restless language of intervention – that of settler lawmaking. It considers how Fogarty’s poem enacts a ‘decolonisative’ critique of the settler poeticisation of toil operationalised by Fortescue Mining Group CEO Andrew Forrest in his 2014 report on Indigenous employment and training programs, ‘Creating Parity’. Fogarty’s poem, it argues, reckons with the centrality of a ‘battlerist’ mythos to the settler-state’s specific, contemporary, neoliberal efforts to not only expropriate Aboriginal land, but also to discipline and pathologise Aboriginal bodies. This essay demonstrates how ‘No Cites like the Cites Hum In’ provides a poignant analysis of the way settler law, time and labour regimes function together to desiccate and enervate the distinct temporal subjectivities underpinning Aboriginal political imaginaries. It contends that a stronger poetic and philosophical appreciation of Fogarty’s verse is gained from understanding it in its relation to extraliterary Aboriginal struggles.

Lazy exterminator in their policies
Will fall to a decolonisative voices powered by our master race.

-Lionel Fogarty, ‘Historical Upheavals’, Eelahroo (Long Ago) Nyah (Looking) Möbö-Möbö (Future) 83

‘I think everything comes down to poetry,’ Lionel Fogarty says, in a 2019 interview: ‘ even the politicians, whatever they say ... they get definitions of a poet is a poet and that’s that, and the definition of policy is a policy, but I’d say they have a lot to do with poetry’ (Moore and Fogarty).

Declaring that ‘poetry is only relevant when it changes the bloody law!’, Fogarty’s experimentalist, activist verse has since 1980’s Kargun, poetically reckoned with the slow violence of settler legal structures (Brennan and Fogarty). His visionary, ‘decolonisative’ work commands a unique, complex relation to a Shelleyian conception of the poet-as-legislator. For, emerging from the philosophical and material clash between sempiternal Aboriginal law and settler legal structures…

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Published 2 May 2023 in Volume 38 No. 1. Subjects: Aboriginal poetry, Postcolonial criticism, Settler colonialism, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lionel Fogarty.

Cite as: Kohinga, Kyle. ‘‘Soil Is a Toil Needing All to Recoil’: Lionel Fogarty, Andrew Forrest, and the Settler-Colonial Georgic.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 38, no. 1, 2023, doi: 10.20314/als.3f7646c7a5.