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 Book Review of One Woman’s Journey by Ramah Juta

 

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It is a tradition for members of the Society of Women Writers NSW to send their published books to the Editor of Women’s Ink (Judith O’Connor),for review. I was honoured to have my poetry collection Fire on Water reviewed by Judith in the Winter Edition. Now I have been invited to review Ramah Juta’s book One Woman’s Journey Published in the Summer Edition Women’s Ink November 2018

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A REVIEW BY COLLEEN KEATING

Women’s history has been almost invisible. Up till this century, the stories of women were seldom included. Virginia Woolf opened doors for women by telling her stories – she helped women to get in touch with the impact of being marginalised, exploited, and invisible. She said “As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world”

So it was with delight I received Ramah Juta’s book ‘One Woman’s Journey’ for review.

The King Protea filling the cover with its soft pink-grey petals caught my attention. This incredible flower from South Africa is an apt symbol , its name coming from one of the gods of the sea. Ramah’s story captures the reader. Through her personal story of grit and resilience, she weaves the history of a disturbing and inspiring time – the final upheaval of India, and Gandhi, the British indentured Indians to Africa, ‘Passenger-Indians’ to South Africa, Indian brides, apartheid and the hope of Mandela on the horizon, finally migration to Australia.

J. K. Rowling says : “ There is always room for story that can transport people to another place” And Ramah transports the reader of her journey with rich detail.
As a young Indian bride in South Africa she writes of her mid-wife,
‘A deep vertical furrow ran down the centre of her forehead. Wrinkles fanned out from the corners of her eyes and curved on to her cheeks. A good set of teeth was stained from chewing betel leaf. Prominent veins snaked their way down her forearms to her hands. She smiled, held my hand in her rough work-worn palms.’

We are present in India, in her formative years and also in South Africa with her sensual descriptions of colours, sounds, smells and tastes.
“ . . the green of the mango contrasting against the reddish, yellow oil. The smell of the spices lingered in the air for nearly a week.”

“I took a big sharp knife and cut the formidable fruit. i peeled its free knobbly skin , cut it into cubes with gravy, frying the onions in oil, adding tomatoes, spices, ginger and garlic. Then i added the jackfruit and let it simmer. Kripa guzzled it down.”

“Chaya flitted around in the kitchen plying him (Taroon) with fluffy dokra which he gorged with dollops of tongue tingling tamarind chutney”

I always find cultural and religious words add colour to a story and ‘One Woman’s Journey’ is no exception. The glossary at the back is valuable.

Raman quotes Khalil Gibran,
‘The entire earth is my homeland and the human family is my clan’ 

And this is as it is. With the slow transformation of the closed world of the family as the younger generations embrace a wider world – yet a rich chameleon of culture and religious ways are still embedded deeply in the psyche. An important reminder that new arrivals must never be discouraged from being their unique selves as they embrace the land of the bight red King Protea, the Waratah .

Colleen Keating is a published and award-winning poet.