My name is John Kinsella. I make poems.
There's no getting away from The Magic Circle. Once you're part of it, it doesn't let
go. I restore that piece of the narrative: you know, where my grandfather took me to the
Perth Magic Circle meeting up near Parliament House. I was shown how to palm a coina
twenty-cent piece, I can still do it though my fingers were and are still too thin to be
really good. And I was shown the canister trick, how to pack the silksI wouldn't
use silk these days, but then the implications didn't cross my mind. Though the
ramifications of betraying these secrets did. Light-hearted intimidation. It may have been
about illusion, about prestidigitation, but the magicians of the Magic Circle not only
encouraged an air of mysticism, but probably crossed over intoif not wiccan or
occult practicesa ritualistic secrecy. Freemasonry and clubs, special codes of
behaviour, seemed to lurk behind the courtesies. Most of their magic was performed in
public for childrenand a child's innocence was a special kind of magic, a
particular point of contact with belief or ectoplasm, depending. So I was welcomed as a
prospective novice, and a validation of all they believed, and as a naive medium. The
language of the place was poetry. There's nothing small-r romantic about thispoetry
has always been "dark" and "anti" for meit's the danger
of words as much as the beauty that has attracted me. I try to write a poetry that undoes
the poetry I enjoy reading. To work an illusion is to tell alternative "truths".
What the eye sees but the brain knows can't be so. What I remember most distinctly are the
odours of the magicians in their coven. A clean smellthe only acrid taint being a
light (general) aftershave. Whites were crisp, coat and tails perfect. These were people
for whom entertaining anniversary crowds and children's birthday parties were a pleasurethey had money, middle-class incomes.
My grandfather told me that these were judges and politicians, car salesmen and
sign-writers, like himself. He wasn't a member but knew them and was welcomed with open
arms. He loved magic and had worked backstage when Houdini came to Perth. He painted stage
props and collected programmes. He had a set of Chinese Rings, the secret of which was
passed on through my mother to me. I also inherited the knife secret, the matchbox trick,
and others. I added many new skills and ran weekly magic shows at home for years. In the
back shed I manufactured equipment to help with my act and acquired a magic hat and a
wand with numerous trick latches, sashes and strings. I collated books of tricks and made
notes in the margins about the history of a particular illusion. Lacunae and diagrams,
marginalia and annotations grew and made their own linguistic tricks. Poetry came out of
the magic books. When I built my first laboratory in Mount Pleasant, the process became
alchemicalthe nomenclature hybridised. Eventually my laboratory in Geraldton would
reach research efficiency and the language of science would edge out the Culpeper tone
that would return in my drug years. The words collected, each invested with ostranenie.
Bakhtin became bedside reading, and the four Aces appeared from a deck of cards at will.
Having got back together after my retreat to Cocos, where magic was not illusion but
realitywhere what you did see was true, and what your brain told you was true was
an illusionI bought some simple tricks and materials for devising my own and put
on a magic show for Tracy and Katherine. The surprise and the lack of answers drove
Katherinefour years oldinto a frenzy. She simply couldn't cope with this
way of challenging perception. The accepted order of things had been challenged and upset.
She demanded answers which, given my sub-spiritual and unofficial connection with The
Magic Circle, I was loath to give. It took weeks to restore household harmony, and it would
be four years before I introduced magic into our discourse. She counters now with tricks
of her own. To beat an illusion, make an illusion. It's all about production and
consumerisman empirical and material gesture. As such, she separates it from her
spiritual beliefs and can cope. It's just a gimmick, like television, and worthy of no
more than this. A set of physical skills worthy of admiration, but that's it. So we tell
each other and laugh.
I once discussed conversion from Anglican to Catholic with Veronica Brady. She'd lined
up the priest. I've said this before but will repeat it as it comes into my thoughts
regularly. It's easy to see it's the ritual and magic and history that attractthe pagan
aspect of it allbut this is a Protestant protest surfacing here. It's got nothing to do
with it, really.
I hear my grandfather's transistor radio tuned to the Australia-England test-match
twenty years ago. The minister comments. He mutters under his breath and wanders out. He's
only there because the family have been at him. They are worried about his soulmaybe
appearances, but more his soul. But his non-believing is not preventionthis is the
gauge by which they consider the worth of a church. Their prayers will get him there.
I was tuned in to air traffic control. I'd swapped some chemicals a friend had bought
from Selby's in Perth. He was a chemist and twelve years older. He did favours like that.
We made rockets and explosives together. I suppose I should consider the Freudian
symbolism of this, but I was pretty astute and didn't detect anything. If he got off on it,
he did it behind closed doors. Anyway, I swapped some chemicals for an instrument that,
with some work and additions, allowed me to hear air traffic control. It wasn't magic, but
it was illicit. I was consumed by guilt and destroyed it. I heard things I felt I
shouldn't have. I can't even remember what. Maybe it was just crackling I remember as
words as a plane flew overhead, but the memory was of intrusion. The same thing as magic,
an intrusion into one's perceptions. That's when the author died for memy poetry
had nothing to do with tricking the readerthe tricks were made by the reader
him/herself. They did all the believing or non-believing. They'd see what they wanted to