A Sense of Place by Colleen Keating , member of Ginninderra Panel

A Sense of Place by Colleen Keating , member of Ginninderra Panel

 

 

A Sense of Place      How does where you write affect what you write? 

Thank you Brenda for the introduction and please convey our  thanks to Joan Fenney the editor of our new anthology Mountain Secrets. What a lot of work and how proud we all are.

And  thank you, to you both Brenda and Stephen Matthews for your vision and dedication in not only bringing us together today but bringing us together as a family of writers published under the Ginninderra Press stamp. And for organising this forum  for us as writers to grapple with a very important concept . . .  A Sense of Place in our writing.

 What an appropriate setting –   we can feel fresh unwithered mountain air, 

smell the eucalyptus oils and standing down at Govett’s Leap look at the Bridal veil falls , only a trickle for now because of the drought, hear the stunning silence of the Grose valley and its deep gorges. Just outside the shop door is a rambling track to the weeping sandstone cliffs where  we can enjoy the Australian bush with banksia, hakeas, wattles and other acacias,  myrtles, still a few waratahs if you are very observant.  There are places to sit and listen to the birds backgrounded by the iconic crack of the whip bird.

What a  Sense of Place this National Park gives us.

Exploring a sense of place in our writing  makes us present to the moment . . .  to the air we breathe . . .being  in the breath.   .the now.  . . .    like Walt Whitman  once said “Every atom of me that is good belongs to you”  

What interconnection  with place and with each other we have and  in this land.

It is  really in some ways a sense of presence.  When the poet  is anchored  in a place , in a presence. they are able to anchor the reader. 

And  it focuses the question  how does where we write affect what we write .    It seems to me as writers we need to turn up everyday.  In a room, on a couch,  at a desk, in a cafe ,on a walk – some routine of getting rhythm into our day.  Where we write is vital  to our writing. Virginia Wolfe says that having a room of our own helps us to be a writer.  . . having some space in our heart  is all we need. And when we are settled, our imagination can take us anywhere.

Emiliy Dickenson  for us as poets is an example  of  someone who did most of her writing in one location. A young woman who rarely left her room. One who could write these words:

There is a pain – so utter
It swallows substance up
Then comes the Abyss with Trance
So Memory can step
Around –  across  – upon it –

We really can write anywhere 

and we can write about anything,  anytime, anywhere 

as long as we have pen and paper or device with us.

If I invited you to  give me varied  and unusual  places  where you have written,  you would fill us with stories, with smiles, at some of the places where you have found inspiration.

So how does this affect our writing 

The American novelist Wendall Berry says ,,
“If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”  

He is suggesting  if you can’t give your reader that sense  . . . they hang rootless

Places are more than just locations on a map.  A sense of place has its human attachment. Linking a story to place not only grounds it, but makes it unique.

With my new book Hildegard of Bingen; A poetic journey,  I wrote at my desk.  I did go to Bingen three times immersing myself,  taking time just being, walking in the Rhineland of Germany.  I lived in the modern  Benedictine Abbey for a few weeks.  I walked in Hildeagrd’s footsteps.  But back home turning up at my desk was how it got written.  I played her music , lit a candle made by the Benedictine nuns  

drank her wine and her teas.  But it was at my desk it was written. . 

To transport me back  into mediaeval 12th  century so i could transport my reader there  with sounds and smells and tastes was  done from intensive reading, research and writing from my imagination.

To ground and anchor our readers, we as writers need to be grounded.  

It is walking that grounds me.  Waking my beach with sandy toes and salty taste of air  inspires me  May be it is the rhythm or the tang of air or the empty space  but that is my inspiration.   Maybe it is the the ramble or the pattern of walking that takes me inwards where I find the inspiration.

How important is this grounding in place and how it affects what we write?

I read this statement that many of the worst abuses of land, forest, animal, human communities has been carried out by people who are caught up in IDEAS rather then rooted in place   Rootless, detached people are dangerous yet when people understand where they are and have a sense of place there is more care,  more connection with their surroundings, to establish knowledge of and appreciation of their earth. This, in turn, nurtures empathy for the place and a feeling of belonging, and leads to greater stewardship.    It gives a sense of meaning.

Our Indigenous people give us the greatest prism for writing  – where  they are, affects them.  Their  routines in singing, story telling and dance .  When they are deeply rooted there is a oneness.  ‘Our Land is our Body’

When they are dissociated from their country they are lost.

Among the contemporary poets Mary Oliver has been one of the most articulate  –showing us where she writes affects what she writes. 

Her focus on interior subjects varies  but we experience  it more profoundly and more authentically when it is rooted in a specific TIME and PLACE.

In her poem  Mornings at Blackwater    the pond that she walked to each day with pen and pad, she writes,

So come to the pond, 

or the river of your imagination,

or the harbour of your longing 

and put your lips to the world. 

And live

your life.

How does where I write affect what I write?

As an Australian I cannot go far past who I am.  

I have found my childhood identity always brings its own dimension to enrich my writing .

As  Faulker says 

“The past is never dead . It is not even past .”  

 And yet my new book is about a woman living in Germany in the mediaeval 12th century  so I wondered and then I realised I could only write that from who I am here and now . Where I write and who I am informs what I write. 

It anchors me into a sense of place and affects my thoughts, ideas, values , attitudes and hence affects what I write.

So finally it seems to me  even if I write of a German mystic or “of sandy toes curling in wet sand gazing at a stormy seas “

my writing is informed by a sense of place.

We are learning from Indigenous Australians, from each other and also from the poets,  from songsters, nature mystics , bush walkers, bird watchers.  We must continue to learn to write  from those for whom the land and its sense of place is a source of wonder. 

 

 

A Poetry Morning – ‘full of beans’

Kissing Point Probus Ladies Group at South Turramurra  3rd June 2019

A cup of tea and delicious home-made date and walnut cake then we grouped for our poetry morning.

This was our second visit. In  2018 I was invited to the Kissing Point Probus Ladies Group at South Turramurra  by one of our neighbours Myra Fletcher and  introduced as an established local poet. It was a great session and Myra invited us  back to share some familiar poetry. Down Memory Lane. We noticed some of the group mouthing the poems as we read and enjoying the memory.

The session today was well attended and  from my take everyone enjoyed the time together. I worked along with Michael and the group responded to our enthusiasm.

We had a plan for 

a) Australian Poetry 

Dorothea Mackellar, ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Henry Kendall,  Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) Judith Wright, Henry Kendall.

b) General Poetry in English 

William Shakespeare, John Keats, William Wordsworth William Blake, Gerard Manly Hopkins Dylan Thomas

c) American Poetry 

Robert Frost  William Carlos Williams  Gelett Burgess 

Billy Collins  Mary Oliver

d) Finally, an iconic Australian humorous poem – 

We didn’t get through half of what we had planned. However that was probably a good plan in itself. They were very pleased. We had to  stop at a good time and they had material to take home with them.

Currently my favourite poet is the American Mary Oliver. (1935 – January 17, 2019) – Pulitzer Prize Winner in 2007.  She has just recently died and I was disappointed that we didn’t get time to tease her out. I quickly read one poem  of hers, good for birthdays as one  gets older and we all warmed to Mary Oliver’s sentiment.

Self Portrait.

Mary Oliver  (1935-2019)

I wish I was twenty and in love with life
and still full of beans.
Onward old legs!

There are the long, pale dunes, on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.

Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch.

Though I’m not twenty
and won’t be again
but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.

We finished off as promised with a narration together of an iconic Australian poem so appropriate for these times 

‘We’ll all be roon’d said Hanrahan’. by John O’Brien

The group went away with a handout of all the poems we planned to do and we felt it was  an enjoyable morning.

FIRE ON WATER

fire-on-water-cover 2

 

FIRE ON WATER

It is an honour to have Beverley George with us this afternoon.

Beverley is renowned  nationally and internationally in the field of Japanese Poetry . She is a Writing Fellow of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and past editor of the journal Yellow Moon, the Society of Women Writers NSW Newsletter 2004-2006 and Eucalypt: a Tanka Journal which she edited for 10 years. Currently she edits Windfall: Australian Haiku .
How does one sum up such a body of work? How does one begin to speak about this talented writer, her achievements, publications and awards?
She was president of the Australian Haiku Society 2006-10 and has served as an international judge for Japanese poetic genre competitions in Japan , UK, US and Canada. Beverley has presented papers at two poetry conferences in Japan and has served as literary adviser to Mitsui Travel for six small group tours to Japan.

 

Beverley’s launch speech for “Fire on Water” by Colleen Keating

Welcome everybody and especial thank you to Colleen for inviting me to launch her lovely poetry collection: Fire on Water. An honour indeed.
The poetry in this book engages with so much that truly matters to the human heart and mind. Reading it, I am reminded of the words of the American poet Mary Oliver
“. . . For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

[― Mary Oliver, ‘A Poetry Handbook’]

Even when writing on complex subjects, Colleen speaks clearly, without artifice. She doesn’t use ‘clever’ words; she uses right words; those words that fit best with the ideas she presents to us. Much thought and care have gone into their selection.
Many of the poems are concerned with social justice: such as the plight of refugees, or aspects of indigenous history but the poet’s voice remains compassionate, not sentimental.
The book itself is physically attractive, easy to use and isn’t that imaginative cover illustration by Elizabeth Keating-Jones, Colleen’s daughter so appealing? I love it.
You will soon notice that the poems are pleasingly grouped although not strictly sequential within those groups. Advantages of this formatting are that the reader can consider aspects of a particular topic at one reading and choose another topic the next time one picks up the book. It also makes it easy to relocate poems for further contemplation; those that we have particularly read and enjoyed. What did Colleen write about downsizing? About refugees? About aspects of nature?
An extremely relevant section for me right now, and I would presume for some others in this room is that of downsizing; disposing of some possessions treasured for a life-time; selling the family home with all its treasured memories of loved family members and pets.
Of particular impact is the brief poem on p. 35 “where’s home, Ulysses”. Lines such as
“where there is a home
make a house depersonalise
the real estate agent says

ebay vinnies salvos
devour my story
on the footpath garbage pick-up
my life exposed”

clearly convey the loss of control, the loss of property, the uncertainty that too often accompanies this rite of passage.

But Colleen’s poems travel through this difficult period with honesty and directness and resolve into thoughts not of just acceptance but of positivity and optimism for what is now possible; what lies ahead.

What comes through clearly and consistently in Colleen’s work, is a strong sense of social justice; deep concern for the plight of those others helpless to improve their own lives.
A particularly powerful poem can be found on. p.75 ‘Stillborn’. Colleen writes of:

“people seeking asylum
returned to face those they flee
history like a drawbridge is pulled up
closed off
humanity is stillborn”

and concludes with the challenging lines
“the everywoman in me weeps […]
if you are not weeping
ask why”

You’ve probably all heard of the Roland Barthes’ theory that once a piece of writing is public the role of the reader becomes active, as they bring their own experience and knowledge to interpreting the text; an interplay between writer and reader results. This suggests we each may read a poem slightly differently and of course you will choose which parts of this book are most relevant and intriguing for you. And this is as it should be.
In a few moments we will have the pleasure of hearing Colleen read some of her own work. Here’s a little advance notice; something I am hoping Colleen might tell us more about. Her fascination with the woman musician, herbalist and healer, Hildegard of Bingen.
A rich source of pleasure in this book comes with Colleen’s approach to writing about nature. These poems are detailed and convincing. The poet is looking hard and appreciating the world around her.
Whether she is writing about a physical location such as The Entrance; plants such as sunflowers, or a felled tree; creatures like a wood pigeon, a dragonfly or a hawk, her words reach out to us; draw us in.
Again, thank you for coming. It is now my very great pleasure to announce Fire on Water by Colleen Keating launched and ready for sharing. We will now hear from the poet, herself…over to Colleen.