Launching THE SOUTHERN OSCILLATION INDEX by Cath Kenneally

Cath Kenneally's Southern Oscillation Index

At the first of our new afternoon event series, Saturday Soirees, the Wakefield Press laneway was filled with merry makers for the launch of The Southern Oscillation Index by Cath Kenneally.

Launched by Linda Barwick, Emeritus Professor of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and Emceed by Wakefield Press’ fearless leader Michael Bollen, the launch was a wonderful way to start the series.

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We are thrilled to be publishing Linda Barwick’s wonderful launch speech for all to enjoy.

Text courtesy of Linda Barwick

The Southern Oscillation IndexThank you everyone who has gathered here on the beautiful lands of the Kaurna people, who never ceded their sovereignty. I pay my respects to their ancestors, to their present and future elders, and acknowledge especially any Indigenous people here in this audience today.

I am an old old friend of this magnificent human being, Cath Kenneally. I’m someone who has been blessed to share some of the layers of memories that surface in this beautiful collection, The Southern Oscillation Index. I am no literary critic, but I have spent my professional life writing, and engaging with how human creativity makes sense of the world.

So, what is this ‘southern oscillation index’?

Literally, the incremental sedimentation of data points measuring the difference in temperature between the waters of Tahiti and Darwin. The trends of local and global climate cycles ineluctably reveal themselves, long-term fluctuations emerging whether or not we choose to peek at the index tracing their flow —stirring looming prescience, reframing our memories.

Cath herself offers various clues as to how she interprets her title – her peregrinationsRiver Run, from Cath Kenneally's The Southern Oscillation Index between two of Australia’s southern states, Tasmania and South Australia, are referenced on the title page of the collection. Elsewhere, she points to her yo-yoing between Adelaide in London, but the point of reference is curiously dislocated – surely that oscillation is only ‘southern’ from the perspective of England’s shores, upon which her then-absent children are stranded?

From the poems themselves, the suggestion arises that this displaced oscillation references the constant change of perspectival consciousness, the ‘waves of nostalgia percolating up in noxious bubbles’ from our own ‘ill-sealed underground’.

The domain of these poems is the deep present, the expansive unfolding of consciousness. Far from a superficial engagement with the phenomena of this particular everyday life, the poems themselves are entangled within the layers of experience, memories and habits that surface and subside, entangling too, us readers. We make sense of ourselves through the assemblages of everyday life (not a ‘Still Life’ but ‘A Rich Full Life’):

A Rich Full Life

A Ricj Full Life, from The Southern Oscillation Index

Cath’s attention, wandering from the tablescape to the page, zeroing in on the conjunction of ‘notebook / this pen’, transmutes into our attention: ‘these words on this page / our flitting eyes’ or ‘this microphone / our ears’.

These poems follow no Aristotelian unities, either internally or in their arrangement in the volume: ‘now’ embraces ‘then’, ‘here’ embraces ‘there’.

Their deep present enfolds memories within memories: at the recalled moment of writing,Cath Kenneally reads from The Southern Oscillation Index Cath already misses “those crazy chimneys’; is ‘already nostalgic for here’. She ‘may be alone in all this space but absent family clusters round’. Flown-away brothers surge up on the prompt of Joni’s song, musings and rage are structured by television programming (real news bulletins on that TV, in the corner of Cath’s lounge room, next to that painting whose colours always elude me). In Adelaide, dear departed Pola pops up as wisecracking text-eating ‘new dog’– ready to shit on neighbour’s verge or perhaps (sorry-not-sorry) under the also-departed orange tree — while on a faraway towpath baby Noah still jauntily points the way (sometimes the past really is another country). Walking frames nestle alongside highchairs outside the op-shops of our lives. Cath’s poems work because they are true, they are funny all the way down.

There is one thing upon which Cath and I may, however, take up arms on opposing sides – and that is, in the escalating war currently taking place in our backyards between invading noisy miners and homegrown wattlebirds. Cath, how can you prefer the miners?! (I moved here from Sydney to get away from them.)

Albeit on dry land, that war is another index of the ineluctable onward tug of the river, where ‘everything pools and puddles’, ‘pulling us with it as it runs along by’. That same ‘storm-stirred’ ‘murky sea’ joins the waters of Tahiti and Darwin, Adelaide and Bruny, and indeed the faraway London canal along whose towpath Cath so recently walked, and still walks, ‘proudly dodging death’.

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