Over these last few months I have experienced the death of two people who were close to me. In the more contemplative moments of my grief I have tried to piece fragments of my loss into words. And while I have had little success in putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard as the case may be) I’ve though a lot about the act of writing and the triggers of imagination.
I attended the funeral of my father’s best friend, Graeme Clement, in June. He was a man that I had known for twenty years. He regularly commented on my blog, or facebook account. He knew that I studied literature, wrote poetry, was working on a novel. But what I didn’t know about him, was that he wrote as well. At his funeral some of his poetry was shared.
I wish I had of had the chance to discuss poetry with him. I can imagine how it would have gone. Perhaps sipping a Central Victorian Shiraz somewhere near a fire – but more likely drinking beer in Dad’s lounge room during the footy, comments only allowed at half time. The discussion would have been antagonistic. I would have introduced something feminist, he would have scoffed. I would have introduced something political, he would have compared me to Julia Gillard. We would have agreed to disagree on most poetry, but I think we would have shared a love of Australian poetry.
So while we never had the chance to ‘speak a bit of shit’ about poetry, Graeme has taught me that while some poetry is great to read alone, sharing poetry with others (like-minded or not) is worth the time, you never know what you might agree on. (I can’t help but think that he’d smile reading this – me admitting that he taught me something).
My grandmother, Norma Watts, also passed away this year. It was sudden and I had only seen her days before where I had the chance to tell her that I was returning to Uni to commence a PhD. I could tell that she was pretty proud of that but, as she watched my toddler and six month old climb over me, that she was calculating exactly how I’d do it.
What I didn’t get the chance to tell her was how much she has inspired my writing. She wasn’t a writer, not a big reader, but she had an interest in family history. Not the ancestory.com type of thing, but more making sure that we had an appreciation of our ancestors. Every school holiday my brother and I would visit and my grandparents often took us around various goldfields towns showing us significant sights like the houses they grew up in. At the time I likely rolled my eyes.
However, I have just spent the last 6 six years working on a novel set on the Victorian Goldfields in the 1880’s. I can honestly say that I would never have written a novel like that if it wasn’t for my grandparents.
Just before Nan passed I had been working on a poem about her. It is about collecting her old Fowlers Vacola bottling kit, brining it home and trying to use it. The poem ends with me calling Nan a few months later when I opened my first jar of preserved Apricots. I haven’t worked on it since, but I will get back to it and try to find a fitting home for it one day.
Unfortunately I never read her a draft. But I can just imagine her if I had of told her about it. She would have given me one of her very common responses:
‘Nan, I’m writing a poem about using the Fowlers Vacola.’
‘Are you darling?’ She’d reply, eyes wide, smiling and nodding. She was never any good at faking her response and her tone of voice and facial expression would indicate that inside she was thinking something along the line of ‘I don’t understand these kids, why on earth would you bother spending your time writing about preserving fruit?’ Then she’d go silent and let me fill in the gap with my own rambling that she’d nod along to.
Poetry, farm life, bottling fruit, whatever your inspiration… share it.