Culture in the Making (a walk and talk)
how to make a basket
by Jazz Money
Published August 2021
I am reading how to make a basket, walking
and pausing now and then to glance
at a dog-eared page, to take in the moment.
Gadigal light sparkles across Sydney. I’m early,
on my way to meet the author, Jazz Money,
for a yarn, for a walk and talk now
restrictions have eased.
memory swings back / round‘time travel’
time is time travel to places
where I can re
the way it was done
In the backstreets of Redfern I’ve turned
to ‘time travel’, a poem quietly refracting
a definite attention to the indefinite peculiarities of space
and time threaded elsewhere throughout the collection.
How do we measure, mark, ‘re/ write’ the borders,
the boundaries of the here, there, now and then, the proximity
of bodies and the nourishing land, of the nourishing other,
particularly in times of crises, particularly
within the settler state? These are all questions
the poet addresses here and elsewhere
in how to make a basket.
I take a seat on a park bench and my mind
wanders back to when I first met Jazz.
They were performing at the Museum
of Contemporary Art alongside
Yuin poet and friend, Dekota Ferrier.
I was awed by the way Jazz acknowledged Country,
took into their voice the space we were in, its history,
the four prominent Aboriginal men engraved
boldly on the museum’s atrium walls,
as well as reminding us all of woman’s power,
and the threads of non-binary experience
that constitute First Nations lives.
Watching these Black artists sing
their defiant songs, I am left with a joyous sense
of culture in the making.
so we come back to‘time travel’
to fix up dance / steps
to breath and fire
I’m drawn to patterns and repetitions,
the syntactical and thematic
variations, the upheavals of a unified sense of linear
time. This transformation self-consciously speaks
the collection’s overall construction.
The unending sense of unfolding
binds the poems together.
no time is real all time is time travel‘time travel’
all travel is time shifting
today is tomorrow over there
/ or is it yesterday /
I keep on walking, skimming
the pages. Here, threads of ecological
knowledge, chronicles of intergenerational change
and songs to the loved and lost in the colony
are organized into four sections:
guwiiny-ngali-gin-diy (away from here)
Pulsing within their spatial and temporal
accentuations, I practice pronouncing
their power, those wonderfully complex
morphological constructions rich with
meaning, purpose, direction. Relationality.
There is a familiarity here.
‘Jazz!?’ I hesitantly shout behind my mask.
‘Luke?!’ An equally unsure response.
We give each other an awkward hug,
we are unsure how to greet acquaintances anymore.
We grab gelato and move away from busy
Newtown sidewalks toward the melaleuca
shade of Enmore.
There is probably a Gadigal pronoun
for us two fullas, not from this Country,
walking here, I think to myself,
all chuffed to be taking in the season turning
with such a talented poet, multi-
disciplinary artist. I’m not really here
to talk about their impressive achievements,
except for joking about how I’m just relieved
they’ve already won the prizes and fellowships
I’ve got my eye on. There are shared histories
to remind each other of. And woven into
those check-ins of how we’re coping
over this last strange year, we’re making
those obligatory connections, kin from neighbouring
Countries, teasing each other with in-joke
stereotypes about our respective nations, connecting
who is accountable to whom. We’ve both
been living and doing community stuff between
here and Naarm and back again,
just missing each other along the way.
And conversation turns to the shape of things.
the shape of country, the shape of poems,
the shape of our movements in these new conditions
highlighting our weaknesses and our privileges.
People are clinking glasses in floral-fabric pockets
across Sydney Park. I’m talking too loudly
because I spent the morning working from home
with headset on. I confess that this new gig
reviewing is tough. In role reversal that makes
me laugh, Jazz asks what I think about
Punctuation and use of the page in poetry.
what became of the river‘bila, a river cycle’
who rose up
and called themselves human
stepped upon the land
containing the memories of snow melt and wellspring
smooth worn stones along their ribs
Money’s poem ‘bila, a river cycle’ comes to mind.
Like many of the poems in how to make a basket
punctuation is sprinkled sparingly. However,
the poet’s use of the page, particularly their careful
attention to lineation, speaks volumes. The line
is drawn in way that seeks connection
rather than division. The structures in many ways
are bio-mimetic, concerned with the continuance
and cyclical renewal, not in the shape of an ouroboros,
that self-contained beast consuming its own future,
but instead expands in a gesture of concentric
and interlocking lines drawn from songs rising up
from the land and our old people. In a poetics
of abundance the river sweeps impressively
across multiple pages whilst momentary interludes
of loosely scattered numbers and star
symbols offer an impressionistic element
of movement to the poem.
1 * 9 * 7‘bila, a river cycle’
** * *
* 2 *
* * 5
I’m reminded of a biro sketch a Yolngu fulla from Arnhem Land
made while boasting to me about a beautiful feature
of his mother’s country where the Milky Way meets
the river at a point in the horizon. The stars
are reflected in an overlap of sky and water.
I’ve noticed First Nations folk across the globe hold
not dissimilar affinities and familial responsibilities
to these kinds of sacred sights/sites.
The old brickworks we’re strolling past
imagining rolling forests of iron bark
and lush tea-tree swamps, once again.
‘bushfire love (on realizing there
is no home here)’, ‘redbellyblacksnake’
and ‘a woman quaking’ are also notable
for their ecological tilt, sans romanticism.
But for me, the focus isn’t ‘nature’.
I never feel as though I’m looking at Country.
Instead, country is practiced, culture is made
through repetitions, patterns, variations
and renewals: a bio-mimetic craft-work emerges.
In response to Jazz’s question about punctuation
and form I feel like I’m just recapping
what I’ve learned in how to make a basket:
yes, we Black writers love to give english
the attention it deserves… we’re exploring the violence
of settler language and temporality
using our ancestors’ notions of deep time
as method. But maybe there is something
more. Much like us two walking here,
‘Yarn’ isn’t just something we say;
it’s a way of speaking and speaking each other up.
It’s a way of tending to place and our relations.
It’s a way of conversing (Zoom, text or in person)
that allows space for meaning making. It’s a way
of building something. In the case of this collection
the absence of capitals, full stops and other
overt grammatical determiners allow for readings
that pay attention to cross-temporal/spatial
relationships that aren’t presupposed by settled
boundaries and limitations of beginnings, middles and ends.
goes beyond my flesh
two neat rows of
In these opening lines to ‘echoes’, found in the ‘guray-dyu-nya’
(longing) section of how to weave, we see how the poet
instills each line with a sense of longing,
carefully twists each narrative thread taut; all things seek
to be connected. Without relatively strict influence
of these grammatical conditions the reader is encouraged
toward affect and inclination, encouraged to make connections
beyond syntactic assumptions.
I see those teeth‘echoes’
marks upon my
speech my thoughts my self
Ambiguity between subject, object, and verbal
conjugations craftily encourages a queerer
orientation, inclination, an attraction
between lines, phrases and fragments. The poet
explores how we are made, how we are crafted
by each other. In the example above, once bitten,
in an act of play or power or both,
the mark is not just left upon the body but also
shapes the contours of our speech. ‘Speech’
in ‘speech my thoughts’ might then be read as verb
signifying a formalized structure to the stories
we tell ourselves and others. There is a longing
reflected within the form, always a trace,
an intensity, and orientation toward,
of feeling inherently (and for better or worse)
bound to our non/corporeal proximities to each other.
Longing, across time and space,
becomes a matter of craft, a matter of style.
A grammar of longing
you’re calcified within me‘echoes’
a totem a talisman a chanting curse
We’ve left Sydney Park and I ask Jazz how
they decided on the title for the collection.
Private friends only Facebook poll, apparently!
It’s fitting in the communal sense of making.
Mostly, poems in how to make a basket,
are free verse, however as the title implies,
metaphors and mnemonic allusions to making,
weaving and other processes of creation provide
a conceptual outline for how the poems are structured.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit I frequently
make the mistake of calling the book
‘how to weave a basket’ and I’ll forgive myself
because there is an etymological thread
connecting poetry and poesis (to make), and text
(from textura to weave). Jazz casts a clever net
of synonymy in their book length yarn.
Rarely, in a First Nations context,
are these solitary acts. Indeed, several poems deploy
recurring motifs of making as a defining
structural feature. ‘keep in touch’ interpolates
the reader into a scene of historical
unpaid domestic servitude, asking ‘can you feel
the dough in your hand?’ The reader is no longer
only time-traveling witness (or voyeur)
but they too must imagine themselves
doing the work. The reader is told ‘you’re beginning
to be institutionalized’; phrases like
‘quantifying memory’ and ‘the mother is absent,
the story is take/ pay attention’ are weighty imperative
baggage against the returning motif
of otherwise innocuous act of bread making.
Elsewhere, Jazz takes form into their own hands
particularly when it comes to poems
incorporating Wiradjuri language such as
‘gadi’, ‘gununga’, ‘yirawulin’ and ‘gudyi’.
Occasionally, translations are offered,
either bracketed in-text or in footnotes,
but other times translation is to be worked
for. The reader is asked, encouraged
and expected to again participate
in the act of meaning-making. ‘gudyi’,
with the sub-heading ‘song’, stands
out for its subtle complexities of form.
song for the rivers caring the land whole‘gudyi’
carving the land together
whose current birth us old here
And later, in a similar vein
song for the soil who catches the tears‘gudyi’
of our joy and our sorrow
blood and ash and possibility
The closing line of each stanza is punctuated
by a Wiradjuri word boldly, unapologetically
capitalized. BILA (river), DHAAGUN (soil).
Sure, we can infer the subject of translation
to be the transient/transitive recipients of the song,
the river, the soil, and so on. Their quality, their
essence is not accessible through direct translation
but instead enlivened through the poetics
of their definition explored in the pronominal
interrogative ‘who’. These non-living beings
are recognised intelligible interlocutors.
Then, the poem throws in a variation:
song for the rain whose gift heals the land‘gudyi’
fills bila soothes dhaagun
flowing capacity of transformations
Now, Wiradjuri words find their way into lines
previously reserved for English. Over a course
of repetitions and variations language is renewed
from within the poem itself. Country and its relationship
to language is not a matter of translation or definition
but revealed through the act of meaning making.
There is a pedagogical finesse to the writing and I delighted
by yawilawilawil, the word for breeze,
that I’ll likely not forget it
We’ve detoured around construction work.
We’re talking about other Black artists and writers
who might be inspiring us right now.
We’re chuckling at the so-called new,
new, new renaissance of First Nations writing.
There is a sense of connection and continuance
that destabilizes notions of canonic division.
For us, a thread traces back to Noonuccal
and much further, all the way back again
to our more established peers and mentors
still here pulling the strings
to bring the best out of us, right now.
and if I write a word‘if I write a poem’
it’s to stop me from burning
it’s to stop me from burning
the city down and baring my breasts
wailing with my clapsticks
a song that boils in my chest
in my soul
that no one has taught me the words to
I reckon Jazz already knows all the right words.
They’ve been listening.
I can feel Natalie Harkin’s own multidisciplinary
practice incorporating text and textiles within
the textures of how to make a basket. Powerful
chant-like songs fit for the stage, the rally
and the open air of homelands resonate
with Alison Whittaker’s Blak Work [emphasis my own].
Ellen van Neerven’s influence is evident in
Jazz’s critically reflexive queer affections
enriching beautiful meaning-making possibilities
of gender and culture. Moving outside the circle
of First Nation writers, how to make a basket
sits well beside Flood Damages by Eunice Andrada,
a poet whose attention to lineation and linguistic viscosity
makes verse an open sea of possibility.
Away from the antipodes, I would also make connections
to the poetry of Alexis Pauline Gumbs,
with its ceremonial space-time modalities
transforming words into portals.
Jazz admits how difficult it was to select
the right poems for the collection.
I’m curious because I want to learn, follow
in their footsteps. I feel privileged
to listen to their experiences and how
how to make a basket came together
with the love and support of mob and queer
kin. There is something special yarning
up here. I know literature, especially poetry,
has been a powerful mode of protest
and community building for First Nations
writers. Sure, there are the usual suspects
onwards from Oodgeroo Noonuccal,
but I don’t think I have met an Uncle or Aunt
who hasn’t at some point in their life
sat down to write their feelings in hard on the ear
rhyming quatrains — our blacks,
yellows and reds flying somewhere in those lines.
Sometimes we just need a space to let out
a good old haranguing, true good
The nation needs it. There is healing work
that can be done here, if only
by bearing witness to our own feelings
through the process of making. Other times it’s
to use an invading language in a way
so that it yields to the subterranean currents
of Country, thus letting go of arbitrary significations
and returning to the context that now grounds us.
We say our goodbyes.
And now, I’m sitting at my desk
bringing together the bits and pieces,
notes scrawled across my copy
of how to make’s pages. I’m thinking
about the book launch, how deadly
it was to hear Jazz read whilst
accompanied by Wiradjuri musician
Zeppelin Hamilton. I’m excited
to see more from Jazz’s cuz’,
Joel Spring, whose video installation
left me shaking. I’m reminded
of the complex and beautiful
tapestry connecting Jazz’s writing
with the broader landscape
of First Nations community
and art practice. When I began
reading how to make a basket
I wanted to find out what I could do
with the text. How would I tend to
the ‘how to’ aspect of its title?
Here, sprinkled with a little bit
of literary criticism, I offer
my own cultural knowledge,
perspectives and practices
in order to honour, to yarn,
to help others connect with this
exceptional debut collection
lovingly crafted by a peer, poet and friend.