Thylacine

Thylacine

Walking the edge of ease and terror in the dark wood.

i was per-
haps. i am may-
be. Was nearly now, al-
most then. Ex-
tant, ex-
tinct, just visiting, dithering
with existence. Am
listed as critical. Was
history. Soon rumoured.
i am virtually non- un- on
the brink of unique,
(in)conceivably, (un)feasibly
a one-, two-, none-off.
Am RIP. Yet just as i re-
ceive a cairn of commemoration
i glimpse myself from the cor-
ner of my eye and

       it was about ten metres away when I first noticed it. Sun was going down and I was stuffed after walking all day so I was waiting by the stream for Jase to put up the tent and make a fire and whatever the fuck else he does when he says it's time to camp. Thought it was a dog at first – it was about the size of Jase's sister's Lab, the one that flobs all over you, kind of pale like a Labrador too, but then I saw the stripes, and its body looked weird – like heaps longer than it should've been. I was too freaked to move, just sat there, couldn't breathe, couldn't even reach in my shorts for my phone. And just when I'm thinking I'm so going to pass out here, it turns round and disappears into the bush. And soon as it's gone, Jase comes over – took his fucking time – and says I've got the fire going, Soph. This place is unreal! . . . Aw, what's up? You look like you've seen a


     dog- wolf-headed,
     zebra- tiger-rumped.
     i have bygonned
     my image
     on the rock. They called me
     coorina, loarinna,
     chimerical miracle.
     i am thresh- flesh-
     holding, solid as persecution,
     dwelling in the realm
     of (im)possibility where
     there are fewer eucalypts
     than there ever used to be.
     Was i a clever fake? The proof
     is (in)conclusive. My
     marsupial pouch holds
     only fables now –
     the bandicoot i toss
     to see which way it lands,
     stars miraging
     the loss of my before
     after. Yet as i dis-
     locate my jaw
     with a phantom yawn a scream,
     i dream clean pawmarks
     in the mud and

                                                     mate, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was gone midnight, I'd skulled a few beers and was driving home over the Burrenbidgee. Parked by the bridge and got a pretty good squiz – it was standing there, ears up, tail out stiff like the tail of a roo – and then I thought I'd hop out the van and get a bit closer.  Mate, if I'd only had the .308 Winchester with me – guys spend years out in the bush trying to bag one of these bastards. Tried to film it on my phone before it shot through, but it was too shit-dark to see, so I grabbed my torch from the van and hunted round for a while and found what I reckon was a paw print. Soon as I got home, I googled it and, mate, I was

right wrong,
(un)imaginable, (barely)
credible, a twilit wishful
think delivered
by the (un)conscious mind.
Whistle me up, make me limbo
liminal (in)visible,
see what you expect
hope grope to see. Am
psychopomp, tulpa,
(preter)natural personal guide.
Was a figment of my
hallucination.
(Not even) quasi-

 

Last known thylacine, named Benjamin. showing his wide gape. Photo by Unknown.

The thylacine, a striped carnivorous marsupial also known as the Tasmanian tiger, is believed to have become extinct in the wild in the 1930s through a combination of culling, habitat loss, disease and predation by domestic dogs. However, numerous vivid yet unverified sightings of the thylacine, not only in Tasmania but also in mainland Australia, continue to this day.

 

THE WILD CULTURE SCRIBBLERS' QUESTIONNAIRE — Susan Richardson

1. What is your first memory and what does it tell you about your life at that time?
I am about eighteen months old. It's bedtime and I am in my cot, clutching a hard-backed picture book featuring Dougal from 'The Magic Roundabout' — evidence that books were important to me from a very early age.

2. Can you name a few poets who have influenced you who come to mind immediately?
This is always quite a difficult question to answer as echoes and influences of another poet may not become evident in one's own work until some years after having read the writer in question, and then only in subtle/not very obvious ways. So instead, I'll list some of the poets whom I admire and whose work has resonated at different times in my life, rather than state that they've had a direct influence: Alice Oswald, Les Murray, Jen Hadfield, Mark Doty, Selima Hill, Mario Petrucci, Pascale Petit, Juris Kronbergs, Jo Shapcott, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, John Donne.

3. Where did you grow up and did that place and your experience of it form your sense about place and the environment in general?
Though I was born in Wales, I spent the first four years of my life in a house by the sea in Somerset. In my adult life, I've consistently been drawn back to the sea and have always sought to live as close to it as possible, so this early coastal experience had a significant impact on me.

From the age of 5, I was in Wales again, living on the fringes of a so-called 'new town.' With its 1960s urban architecture, countless roundabouts, concrete and car parks, I never really felt at home there. We were fortunate to have a large garden though, as did my grandmother, and I spent a lot of time out of doors, climbing trees and building dens and creating my own mini-menagerie of worms, caterpillars and snails.

4. If you were going away on a very long journey and you could take only four books — one fiction, one poetry, one non-fiction, one literary criticism — what would they be?
The Waves by Virginia Woolf; Les Murray's Translations from the Natural World; Hélène Cixous' essay The Laugh of the Medusa. I'm finding it more challenging to narrow down my non-fiction choice; can't decide between The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich, and Wild by Jay Griffiths.

5. What was your most keen interest between the ages of ten and twelve?
Trying to persuade my parents to let me have a puppy. I don't have siblings and really craved, and relished, the company of animals. I spent as much time with my cousins' and friends' dogs as I could, but my parents didn't relent and let me have a dog of my own until I was nearly 12.

Where is the borderline between animality and humanity? What are the animal possibilities of the self?          

6. At what point did you discover your ability with poetry?
I am not sure if/when I discovered an ability, but I certainly discovered a love of writing — stories and short plays as well as poetry — when I was about seven years old. Being an only child, I made my own entertainment through writing; the characters, both human and non-human animal, that I was creating were like an extended family. 

7. Do you have an engine that drives your artistic practice and if so, can you comment on it?
I am a passionate believer in the potential of poetry to inspire shifts in perception and create new patterns of thought and experience, and, to that end, I feel committed to writing poetry with an ecological focus. I am also something of a perfectionist, which can be both a blessing and a curse: long after my work is published, I still itch to tinker with it.

8. If you were to meet someone who seriously wants to write poetry, someone who admires and resonates with the type of work you do, and they clearly have real talent and asked you for some general advice, what would that be?
Rather than offering technical advice, I'd be keen to talk about emotional survival strategies: the need for persistence, and how to keep bashing away in the face of rejection.

9. Do you have a current question or preoccupation that you could share with us?
For the past few years, I've been obsessed with, and written poems galore, on animal-human metamorphosis. My new collection of poetry, skindancing, themed around shapeshifting and our dys/functional relationship with the wild, will be published in 2015. My sources of inspiration include animal-human shapeshifting tales from a number of different cultures, from Inuit to Celtic, Native American to Norse, as well as the work of visual and performance artists — plus personal experience of shamanic journeying and shamanic trance dance. I am attempting to explore a range of questions; for example, where is the borderline between animality and humanity? What are the animal possibilities of the self? Is it feasible to believe that exploring the 'becoming animal' theme through poetry may help to reestablish the connection with the animal parts of ourselves, and with the wider natural world, where we are just one animal among many — the connection at that Western culture has lost?

10. What does the term 'wild culture' mean to you?
To write, paint, dance, sing while always sensing, in David Abram's words, 'the soil beneath the pavement,' and, even when indoors, 'the moon's gaze upon the roof.'

11. If you would like to ask yourself a final question, what would it be?
Returning to question 4, have you made that non-fiction decision yet?

SUSAN RICHARDSON is a poet, performer and educator based in Wales. Her latest collection, Where the Air is Rarefied, a collaboration with visual artist Pat Gregory, focuses on environmental and mythological themes relating to the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Her third collection, skindancing, themed around human-animal metamorphosis and exploring our dys/functional relationship with the wild, will be published in 2015.

www.susanrichardsonwriter.co.uk

Top photo: Archives Office of Tasmania.

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