I’ve just had the most amazing poetry experience with the They Are Us ekphrastic poetry project. It was the second project between Words out Loud and the Soldiers Hill Artists Collective, the first one being the Weathering the Future exhibition that I was also involved with.
This time around things were a little bit different. The poets wrote their pieces first – they needed to be 12 lines and on the theme ‘They are Us’. At the time I was battling through the PhD, my mind was in the 1940s and 1970s, and initially I had no idea what to write about. Eventually a few seeds grew. I was interested in the idea of the force of weather and how, in the face of storm and fire, humans are no more able to control nature than animals are (climate change aside of course, just from a day to day perspective). I ended up trying to capture the moment of an eye catch, between a human mother and a kangaroo mother as they try to protect an offspring in a bushfire. At the heart of it is essentially the fight for survival. But the work, titled Mother’s Day also plays to themes of motherhood and the physical elements of ‘They are Us’ between mother and child. I wrote my 12 lines and sent the work off in May, 2019.
We then found out that the exhibition wouldn’t launch until February 2020, and I do recall scoffing at the idea that the artists were given months to produce a work, while the poets were given a few weeks. I usually like to sit on my poems for a while, take a break from them and come back with fresh eyes but the timeline didn’t allow this and I was nervous about the quality of the poem without the chance to rest it. (There are actually a few things I’d change if I had my time again)
What I also didn’t take into account was that an Australian summer would fall between the writing and the public reading of the poem. Of course the summer of bushfires that occurred over 2019/2020 was horrific, and with my mind focusing on that I’d really forgotten all about my 12 lines of fictional poetry. To be honest I didn’t even re-read the poem until I was at the opening night of the exhibition, and I was blown away by the art work that had been created.
Abigail Robertson had crafted an amazing bronze sculpture from her interpretation of my words. My quickly swept lines, easily forgotten, had been modelled into bronze. And after the summer that had been, the loss of life, of homes, of livelihood and of wildlife the sculpture and the poem together created such an impact. I cried when I saw Abigail’s work, and she cried when she saw me crying. We discussed motherhood, which was how she connected with the work. She explained to me how she had made the sculpture, the detail that was involved and I nodded along pretending that I hadn’t had a tantrum about the level of time the artists had taken to create their work. She introduced me to her best friend and they told me a story – her friend had seen the statue and decided that it looked like a trophy that a mother would get for Mother’s Day. Abigail had been amazed, because her friend had not read the poem, and didn’t know that it was called Mother’s Day. I love that idea. And that night I bought the sculpture, and every year on Mother’s Day I plan to hold it high over my head!
I was really blown away with the process and the idea of another creative soul taking the time with my words (longer than I had) to create something so beautiful and so lasting. Words are ephemeral in many ways, and seeing them interpreted into bronze was an amazing experience and one that I will treasure. My kids didn’t really like my poem but they think that the sculpture is amazing.
The exhibition ended early due to Covid19 restrictions. When I went along to collect the piece I bought home the nameplate and I now have the mounted poem as well. So for a little bit of isolation fun I’ve arranged them in my house like they are still on display (I won’t be leaving them like this but I needed something fun to do!)