'who gets to give the one star review: a response to Paul Kelly's "13 Ways to look at birds"' by Kiara Lindsay

This piece was commissioned by Melbourne Recital Centre in collaboration with the Emerging Writers Festival for the 2019 Writers in Residence program, and was written in response to this concert. To learn more about the writers and the program, visit  Soundescapes, where stories, music and people intertwine


i. Galah

gotta put the poetry
up against aussie rock
if you want anyone to hear it

these are the greats
and what about the rest
they’re no good or

there’s no point in hearing them?
is this a scathing review?

not of paul kelly himself
(I wouldn’t dare)

but of the makers
who let it be like this
who tell the audience

this is what’s good and
this is what you’ll enjoy

and they do

this is What They Enjoy

I am sitting in a donated seat
assuming my new role as archaeologist
trying to dig out the words from the music

I’m new to this and not having much luck

so with the applause rising
I use this moment to scramble for the brochure
take some respite in the printed poems of the greats

they are the greats for a reason
and I like them in my own head

but here they have been presented to me like a dead possum
gifted to me by a dog I don’t really know

the owner is saying “good dog, you’re so clever”
and I’m staring at the possum’s carcass
and I want to put it back


ii. Black Cockatoo

if everyone in this room was
forced to read the poems paul kelly’s
putting music to

they’d probably come out with a review
more similar to what the masses report on Google
after visiting a national park
and they’re a ‘Local Guide’

paul kelly offers a musical rendition
of judith wright’s black cockatoos

another Google user gives a two-star review
with a special mention of a pesky cockatoo
I don’t know which is worse

it’s not all bad news about the music
I liked some sounds and
had a beer

and I guess that everyone else
probably did too

after the show I read an article which states
that birdsong stirs birds’ ‘emotions’ as much as music affects people

I wonder if this Google user would’ve left a more generous review
if they’d been affected by some music prior:

terrible place to visit. there are too many noisy smelly birds. one star.

perhaps I’d have felt differently about this show had I
brought my emotions with me
I left them wrapped up in review culture
to rot and decay somewhere on a forest floor

now a bird of prey is picking through it
perhaps giving me a one-star review for my cynicism
or instead let’s call it ‘critical thinking’

iii. Silver Gull

I have to say I liked it when paul recited a poem
off by heart
and for a moment
all the instrumentalists stopped
looked and
heard

at the end when he talked about climate change
and how to put your money where your mouth is
I thought about all the climate deniers in the room
hypotethically loving the birds
and simultaneously loving to destroy the planet

I imagine these climate change deniers
sitting down to pen a review of the dandenongs
lots of birds and trees. one star.

I feel better for a moment until I realise
the hypothetical review isn’t hypothetically a joke

late in the week
I’m watching a nature documentary

sea birds are feeding with sea creatures
in a bubbly white water commotion

I’m imagining the Google reviewers
as a frenzy of sharks

the fish as poems

they’re taking them all down

barely looking up to see feathers
floating on the surface



Kiara Lindsay is a poet. She completed her Honours in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne in 2017. Alongside Bridget Gilmartin, she co-edits Inhabit Journal and runs a poetry reading series called ‘Evening Swim’. In 2018, Kiara was the recipient of the H.B Higgins Poetry Scholarship. You can find her work in Voiceworks, Lor and Marrickville Pause.