‘Talking with Yagan’s Head’: The Poetry of John Mateer


Begins with the provocation that Mateer's poetry can be fruitfully read through his poem 'Talking with Yagan's head'. 'Yagan's head ... is not simply an absence or a blank, but also a powerful, if spectral presence. And some of the most striking characteristics of Mateer's poetry—a suspicion and avoidance of conventional ways of meaning; recourse to personal relationships and the sensory in the search for a restorative realm to some extent outside ideology; the desire for a public, or 'civic' voice; and a deep historical awareness and resonance—can be heard as very much in keeping with such a strange, paradoxical listening. To resist and transform the world-view and language of the oppressor and mutilator; to be 'put back together,' in a bodily and spiritual sense; to achieve a public hearing which makes a difference; to restore a comprehensive historical perspective: it is such a nexus of aspiration and frustration that we find, I would argue, in Mateer's poetry, and that I am imaging here as the complex and highly-charged act of 'talking with Yagan's head'.

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Published 1 October 2000 in Volume 19 No. 4. Subjects: Human body, Migrant literature & writers, Poetic creative process, Poetic techniques, Self expression, Self perception, South African literature & writers, South African people, Use of language, Writer's inspiration.

Cite as: Heald, Michael. ‘‘Talking with Yagan’s Head’: The Poetry of John Mateer.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 4, 2000, doi: 10.20314/als.5016a35d35.