Gurrumul night
we listen to the rain
in darkness

Gregory Piko

blue-sky

I was hooked by the first word of Greg Piko’s haiku. It’s a name I’m very familiar with; the title of an album I’ve listened to many times. The use of italics suggests that the poet meant the 2008 solo album title, but it’s also the name of the blind Yolŋu musician, now deceased. For readers who aren’t familiar with his music, the sounds in the word itself are a clue.

The first line is enigmatic. What or when is Gurrumul night? In my mind it could be the first time the poet really hears the album, or pays the music full attention. It could indicate a ritual. Gurrumul’s music has a meditative quality, and I could imagine listening to the album as a way of winding down at the end of a hard day.

In the phrase that follows it’s clear that the night is a shared experience. There’s a sense of comfortable intimacy in listening to the rain together immersed in darkness. In darkness our awareness of sound is heightened. Hearing Gurrumul primes listeners to tune into the natural world we are all part of. This is no surprise, since it’s apparent in his songs that Gurrumul was deeply attuned to his place in the world.

This state of darkness echoes Gurrumul’s own blindness. It could also be symbolic of the listeners’ (and I suspect some readers’) lack of knowledge about indigenous ways of being and knowing. Gurrumul’s songs open up a space for learning.

This is one of relatively few Australian haiku I’m aware of that reference Aboriginal culture, and it does so in a respectful way. The haiku reflects a personal moment, and extends beyond it. It brings into play a whole wealth of Yolŋu oral literature, which is part of Australia’s rich cultural diversity.

Gurrumul could become an Australian-symbolic keyword*, according to John Bird’s definition. These are words that bring depth to haiku through connecting to our shared culture, literature and history. Through repeated use the word may gain recognition alongside words like Anzac and place names like Uluru and Kakadu, thereby adding to what Greg Piko’s poem has started.

* Bird, J, Seasonality: Coming Clean on Kigo, 2009

First published: Windfall Issue 5 (2017)

 

Selection and comments by Leanne Mumford

 

In this United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages and for something touching on the sublime, please find some unhurried time to enjoy Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu in concert.

Gurrumul and Paul Kelly sing Amazing Grace

Gurrumul singing Bapa live in Sydney, 2008