Poetry and Place

How do we write?  And, importantly, where do we write?  Each of the Elwood Writers has their own method, quirky or disciplined.  Some are methodical, setting aside regular precious hours to pen papers, while others wait for inspiration to strike and write ‘off the hoof’ – and that would be me.  I find Place particularly important – ideas and images come randomly; when I’m out walking, in the middle of a busy cafe, or regularly at 4 am.  It’s handy to have a notebook or even a smartphone to capture those fleeting thoughts.  It can be a chaotic process.

I write poetry and have just returned from a wonderful, enriching two weeks in Japan, the spiritual home of haiku.  Never was a sense of place more powerful to me than being in the land of the rising sun during both Sakura – the spring cherry blossom season – and the last of the winter snowfalls.

Finding myself mentally free from the entrapments of daily chores and routine, I felt creatively open to these unique sensory experiences.  In Kyoto I visited the 17th century home of Mukai Kyorai, the great haiku master Basho’s most famous disciple. I even dared to write a Sakura haiku and post it in the dedicated haiku letterbox.  The timing was serendipitous, as it was close to International Haiku Day.

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The home of Mukai Kyorai in Kyoto

Where I live in country Victoria we have a monthly poetry-reading afternoon, Chamber Poets.  In the very week when I was trudging through four inches of snow on a mountain pass on the ancient Nakasendo Way, my haiku, which seemed to spring effortlessly into my head day after day, were being read aloud at Chamber Poets as that important day was celebrated. The joy for me was in being able to relay that wondrous sense of place to my fellow poets so many thousands of kilometres away.

Earlier in March I had the privilege of being the featured poet at Chamber Poets.  Our meetings are held in the local RSL (Returned Servicemen’s League) Club.  I read a short memoir piece about my English grandfather’s experiences in the trenches as a 17-year-old foot soldier in World War 1, and I was both comforted and overwhelmed to share his history in that most appropriate of places.

Poetry and place; the words bind us, wherever we are.

My Writing ‘Process’ – Helen

Haphazard is the word I would use to describe my writing process. I have tried to put structure to, and boundaries around, my practice, but after many years it still seems to resemble squiggly lines on a piece of paper. I’m not hugely disciplined and like many writers will procrastinate to the bitter end, and think up anything to do rather than sit down and actually write. I’m slow too. I walk a lot – fresh air and exercise is a wonderful guilt-free excuse for not getting it down on paper.

But here’s the funny thing – it happens anyway. As I stride along, ideas take a hold of me – like gremlins they whisper ‘go on, go there, I dare you.’ I am surprised by what I write. Often it is the thing I most want to avoid – or bury in a deep hole quite frankly. It’s what takes over when I am pondering other themes to explore or stories I want to tell. To my astonishment, the slow decline of elderly parents, the heartbreak of separation, the fear of drowning in the mire of daily struggles – there it all is poured onto the page.

These words take form in poetry. I love the intensity of making every word count. I struggle with it and despair. But sometimes, just sometimes, I see in the words a truth I’ve told.

And then I know why I write.

 

Helen’s Reflections on Adelaide Writers’ Week

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Looking back I barely dipped into the rich lucky dip of writers and their works on offer at this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. A smorgasbord of talent on offer, it was hard to pick and choose which sessions to attend.  Fortunately everything will be up on podcast within a week, so I can listen to my heart’s content to those authors I missed.

I had the sensation that bees were coursing through my veins, such was the level of excitement around the Festival hubs.  My creativity leapt and each night I lay in bed with thoughts and ideas sparking randomly and uncontrollably.  In short, I was beside myself.

I took a lot of notes so that, in the words of Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, the ‘immortal words’ I heard would not prove to be mortal.  I wished I’d seen more.  In the written expression of the human condition I learnt from New Zealanders Kate De Goldi and Fiona Farrell how it is to survive a devastating earthquake and record those experiences in both fiction and non-fiction forms.  Hyeonseo Lee took me on her journey as a defector from North Korea’s strange cult of the ‘Dear Leaders’, into hostile China and finally South Korea, where her welcome was not as warm as she might have anticipated.  Her perspective was fascinating to me as I lived in South Korea for four years in the 1980’s and had stared across the impregnable 59th parallel into a North Korean mock village, its communist soldiers bizarrely laughing and pointing at us.

French novelist Muriel Barbery – ‘The Life of Elves’ – is exploring a deeper understanding of her life, as she tries to live it more slowly as she ages.  It was heartening for this slow writer to know she has taken eight years to write this, her second book.  It’s OK to take time!  I loved her sense that the novel is ‘more intelligent than you’, taking on its own life while she writes.

Annabel Crabb and Jane Caro entertained with their wit and quips while American Jim Shepard inspired with his extensive research into the voices of Polish children in the 20th century for his latest novel ‘The Book of Aron.”  New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate, Bill Manhire, advised us to write what we don’t know.  How encouraging to hear inspiration is what happens when he’s NOT working.  First time UK novelist Max Porter thrilled with his readings from ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers”.  In the same session (recorded for ABC Radio National) Oxford English literature Professor Jonathan Bate’s erudite reflections on  the life and work of poet Ted Hughes was dramatically enhanced by original recordings of the poet reciting his work at the Adelaide Writers’ Week forty years ago.  It was haunting.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe, a national treasure, uses all language in his poetry, mixing linguistic styles, the professorial with the profane – and he travels without Gods.  Nothing is unavailable and he believes lyric poetry turns sound into language.

I took away the message from Max Porter that nothing should get in the way of the reader.  There should be no connection between the lived experience of the writer and the word.

But most of all it made me want to write!