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Ensemble: Foulden Maar

A longpoem response to the mining at Foulden Maar, generated at a workshop led by writers Iona Winter and Kirstie McKinnon and produced by Kate Dawson and Sophie Briggs on behalf of the Mining for Meaning: the Geoethics of Extracted Industries project. The workshop occured in Middlemarch, Otago in October 2022. More writing and art from the workshop can be found at 

Ensemble: Foulden Maar

Dramatis personae:

Mined Text — the reportage

The Soil — as described
The Poet 
— always puts themselves into the poem

The Fossil Beetle — found at Foulden Maar

The Diagram — found in the New Zealand Listener

The Corporate Entity — our villain
The Underfunded Locals 
— the chorus



Fossil: Foulden Maar








The diatoms sank to the bottom, forming ‘a thick blanket

of fine-grained siliceous ooze that over time built up

to become diatomite’






                             mined for the manufacture of cement

                                                                              filtration systems


                                                                             pet litter



                                                                                            to fertilize 

palm oil plantations[*]













The soil knows the dirt.


We hold. We join. We weight. 

We make firm. We press. 

We accrete. We transform. 

We transform. We age. 

We erode. We dampen. 

We dry. We transform. 

We accumulate. We concentrate. 

We transform. We hold. We 

wait. We bide. We embrace. 

We preserve. We persevere. 

We perseverate. We possess. 

We process. We transform. 

We archive. We glean. We bibliographize. 

We memorialize. We maintain. 

This body. Your body. We dirt. We dust. 

We fertilize. We show our work. 

We time. We era. We eon. We deadline. 

We extend. We crater. We crumble. 

We cusp. We catch. We cache. We funnel. 

We web. We wrap. We warp. We weft. 

We pressure. We clasp. We crush. We crunch. 

We settle. We muse. We museum. We mummify. 

We relic. We relish. We relinquish. We recognize you 

would not recognize. We fossil. We fossick. We filter. 

We feed. We feel fleeting. We hold time. We wear your names provisionally. 

We mine mortality. We curate the things that hold shape. 

       The rest becomes us.









I press my thumb between blades of grass.                                              The soil presses back.

Fossil: Beetle


to excavate what cannot be replaced

                                                                        unexpected turquoise cerebrum, fissured

soft, fossiled tough

                                                                        grey matter, white matter

dura, intestine, exoskeletal 



                                                                        to uncover — discover — lay bare


to uncover — extract — deplete



the smell of brushed rock                 prised on a dry day


touch the dunes of the lobes

                                                            unfaithful symmetry


the beetle like no other

                                                                                                                        like every other


layers                                      these eons                                          their scene


my scene: post-viral infection          new inhaler                squidgy brain

                        under the sun                        first of spring                         laying in grass

                                                                                                            moisture speckling notebook

spots speckling vision           calcification of thought         does tau harden my brain


it bugs me

                                                I bug out

                                                                                                bug off            


Fossils from the site also include the world's oldest known galaxiid fish and the first freshwater eel found in the Southern Hemisphere. Foulden is especially valuable for the amount of soft tissue preserved in the diatomite, including the remnants of fish eyes and skin, and insect antennae and wing patterns.[†]


like beetle

                        I hope to leave a trace

                                                                                                in strata

                                                                        in silt

                                                                                                            in space

                                                                                                                        on this page

                                                                                                                                    it’s Sunday


in damp grass and dandelions: I could be back in Ontario


at school during recess I scratched around a large stone to uncover shells and imprints of creatures I couldn’t name the whole area had once been submerged and now our snobby city by the lake holds treasures for those who mind the spot next to the baseball diamond when the teachers finally discovered the hole after weeks of work I could stand in it up to my knees the stone held firm and deeper still and I was made to fill it in



diagram: Foulden Maar

in which the poet tries to read a diagram demonstrating Foulden Maar’s deposits

in this cone of earth 

                                    I see the lenticulostriate artery        particularly prone to stroke

                                    heart to brain flow    movement of


liquid through bodies of 




we read in relation to our kenning              through kenning we read     kinship           

                                                                                                                                                this layer

                                                                                                                        formerly ooze 

holds pattern: wings, scale               



                                                            The Corporate Entity acquires the Foulden Maar mine
the diatomite needed as an ingredient for fertilizer to feed 

 palm oil plantations in Malaysia 



diatomite is not rare



Goldman Sachs produces an investment report:

the locals are not well funded



diatomite is not rare





but the fossils of Foulden Maar are




The Corporate Entity plans an open pit mine        proposes to extract for thirty years

            the site made dust by trucks                        Foulden Maar diatomite trademarked

                                                                                                                        Black Pearl


the locals, underfunded


quack quibble quip rail rally ramble rant rasp rave rebuff rebuke repartee retreat retort revile revel reveal ridicule roister scoff scold scorn scream screech seethe:                                  


stop.                slow.               let us dig to understand

we know this place                           is our history                         we arrived long after

the ooze blanketed                the pressure settled              we peopled                

                                                                                                            and unbirded this place

                                                                        unbushed with fire and field

                                    we have learned what we cannot take back

                                                                                                                        and this is it

we won’t








the mine rumbled                 The Corporate Entity: insolvent                  the future of the site 




what does publishing do?


what do we do?

                                                            I am writing a poem.






to treat mountains and bedrock differently is to misunderstand






(elsewhere: the tar sands foot the bill. up north the fires that create hellscape skies in Calgary, apocalyptic haze that tastes of burnt bacon, that cancels summer. the land burns. human dis

ruption rupture eruption the places we devastate

                                                                                    because they can’t afford to say no

or they say no and 



                        is                     land

                                                                                                            is land






the dirt presses me       up to the sky

            surrender is the deepest



I wear my circadian camouflage 

                                                                                                swifts swit swit over field

                                                                                                            scouting for beetles churned

                                                                                                                        in ploughing


digestion: fossilization on the inside


matter begets matter begets bedrock begets mountaintop

the swift will not fossilize, eaten 

in turn by a ginger tabby






all names are provisional. all provisions are personal. all persons are transitional. 

all architecture a pleading from the past. 









dura, intestine exoskeletal                                                               

grey matter, white matter

soft architecture of soil
                                                                        unexpected orange cerebrum, fissured turquoise

to excavate what cannot be replaced






[*] “The Battle to Save Foulden Maar” by Sally Blundell, New Zealand Listener, 19 Sept 2022.

[†] “Fossil Treasures of Foulden Maar” by Vaughn Yarwood, New Zealand Geographic, Aug 2022