By Alison WhittakerIndigenous WritingMagabala Books

Blakwork

A stunning mix of memoir, reportage, fiction, satire, and critique composed by a powerful new voice in poetry. Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork is an original and unapologetic collection from which two things emerge; an incomprehensible loss, and the poet’s fearless examination of the present.

Whittaker is unsparing in the interrogation of familiar ideas – identifying and dissolving them with idiosyncratic imagery, layering them to form new connections, and reinterpreting what we know.

Portrait of Alison Whittaker

Alison Whittaker

Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi multitasker from the floodplains of Gunnedah in NSW. Between 2017–2018, she was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard Law School, where she was named the Dean’s Scholar in Race, Gender and Criminal Law.

Her debut poetry collection, Lemons in the Chicken Wire was awarded the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship in 2015, and was published by Magabala Books in 2016. Her latest book, Blakwork, was published in 2018.

As a poet and essayist, her work has been published in the Sydney Review of Books, Seizure, Overland, Westerly, BuzzFeed, Griffith Review, the Lifted Brow, Meanjin and Archer.

Alison was the co-winner of the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize in 2017 for her poem, 'Many Girls White Linen'. Most recently, she was the Australian Indigenous Poet-In-Residence for the 2018 Queensland Poetry Festival.

Judges’ report

Blakwork is a nuanced and sophisticated book from an exciting voice in Aboriginal literature. Gomeroi writer Alison Whittaker, experiments with form and style – including reportage, poetry, memoir and fiction – to create a work that thrills in its ambition and execution. Whittaker uses her law background to analyse and speak back to the justice system. Blakwork speaks to Blak experience with strength and intelligence, heralding a strong new talent.

Extract

for feral girls

This one’s for the feral girls! She got that—well, it’s cliché—

leopard print, she got that
thigh crumbling rumbling cheek. She got that
river map undie seam.

Nothin’ nobler than to end up like the feral girls I knew.

Solemn dread of bush-piggedness hemmed we in—
would we burst, big, ostentatiously?

Like our bellies, butts and cunts
model dimples, stretch marks, noisily.

You got that
chain-smoking habit, Nintendo 64 and KFC for dinner. You got that
hanging out down the main street, every five year off to Port 
Macquarie. You spoke
my language better than me, taller than me. You got high.

Yuself make messy determinations of
care, space, suffering,
joy, sex, sweat, body,
spirit, welfare,
violence, anti-violence, community, culture,
decolonisation, tidda supremacy.

Bush pigs, tight and ugly with panty lines, genital bulges and wiggly bits, loud in a Maccas carpark—refusing to bear it all.

‘O, youse feral girls,’
Twisting hands, dancing to
warrambul like they’re crossing fingers,
twisting Kmart bras under Big Dub singlets.
They got that
sacred patchwork of precedence—legging thighs follow panty lines, 
topograph their overcourse—goad softly little babs to sleep
goad firecourse to wake
goad Centrelink, its cards and monies, from the settler state.

She shrugs the work of goodness and forgiveness
dare someone pulls her pigtails, she ply the playground ‘part with 
vengeance.

Got wind itself as hair. The feral, reviled by whites and upright blakfulla alike
got more to tell us—

I’m yet to learn anything your feral girlhood
didn’t already know,
nor fight any fight
your feral girlhood wasn’t already set to win.



MANY GIRLS WHITE LINEN

no mist no mystery
no hanging rock only

many girls white linen
men with guns and
harsher things white women
amongst gums white linen
starch’er things later plaques
will mark this war
nails peeling back floor
scrubbing back blak chores
white luxe hangnails hanging
more than nails while
no palm glowing paler

later plaques will mark
this sick linen’s rotten
cotton genes later plaques
will track the try
to bleed lineage dry

its banks now flood

a new ancestor, Ordeal,
plaits this our blood

if evil is banal
how more boring is
suffering evil two bloodlines
from it how more
raw rousing horrifying is
the plaque that marks
something else rolling on
from this place a
roll of white linen
dropped on slight incline
amongst gums collecting grit
where blak girls hang
nails hang out picking
them hangnails



m u r r i s p a c e t i m e

From me don’t take from me what this what I been learnin’ slowly. Seein’ time stretch out from me don’t take it. I’m seein’ slow-stretch-time stretch time before me. Don’t stretch away from me just yet. Take time.

You’re learnin’ stretchin’ my churnin’. Clear me burn-burly knees just don’t take what I been slow learnin’ from me. Take it from the ██. From the ██ stretch me—I’m learnin’—

But not from me. An’ not from tall buildings—they knit tie me up at me knees—an’ not short squat ones made from stones near the sea. So, shatter them all—re-knit me knees. Don’t take just them and not just from me. What I’m slowly learning is that I am not learning even now even still even soon I’m stupid. So, stretch slowly, stupid. Just don’t take it from me.

Take it from them them who knew just what M C an’ E can do—before you-know- an’ I-think-I-know-who. I know who the ██ is for. Who stretch it so made. Who don’t take it away. The ██ stretch not to cede just to bounce me back drag me by me knees. Don’t shatter it please.

build nothing
anʼ seethe.

See time see I’m learning slow so show. Stow ya yearnin’ knit together
with me. Crack me knees milk me to the trees.

The slower I get the less I lead. The more I stupid slowly learn the less I know I need to know. Concede to know to learn. Stretch me elastic bounce back me and flow. I am less scared more ready for scarred knees more snorted at more steady—the more I’m slow the more I’m slowly stretching back. Timeless future gone lean on my back.

The further I carry it the less I dream the more shattered I am by the growing sea the more knitted I am to the horror tree the more ready the more ready the more made the more free. Don’t take that from me.

I’m from it who from slow knit made me made slow knit of something just from nothing just.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist