Thursday, 25 September 2008

Of storytelling and poetry

On telling stories with a little help from Judith Wright:

South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country,
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter;
low trees blue-leaved and olive; outcropping granite-
clean, lean, hungry country. The creek's leaf-silenced,
willow-choked, the slope a tangle of medlar and crab-apple,
branching over and under, blotched with a green lichen;
and the old cottage lurches in for shelter.

O cold the black-frost night. The walls draw in for warmth
and the old roof cracks its joints; the slung kettle
hisses a leak on the fire. Hardly to be believed that summer
will turn up again some day in a wave of rambler roses,
thrust its hot face in here to tell another yarn-
a story old Dan can spin into a blanket against the winter.
Seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones.
Seventy summers are hived in him like old honey.

…Wake, old man. This is winter, and the yarns are over.
No one is listening.
South of my days’ circle
I know it dark against the stars, the lean high country
full of old stories that still go walking in my sleep.

This is an extract from one of Wright’s most famous poems. Born in 1915, her descriptive poetry of Australia has become part of the canon at least partly because she was one of the earliest poets to celebrate the Australian landscape in its own right. I’ve had her “Selected Poems” in my bookcase since school days and only now am reading them properly, trying to get a sense of country and place for the Jaeckels, in the same way as I am reading Dutch colonial literature to get a sense of place for Batavia. The best aspect of this writing thing, you have a good excuse for reading (as if I ever needed one).

I'm also trying to work out how to weave "Seventy years of stories he clutches around his bones/Seventy summers are hived in him like old honey" into my parents' story. It's odd but potent imagery and I can't decide whether to use it or not.

If you don’t mind pointing your browser to a socialist website, there is a lovely obituary to Judith Wright here. She died in 2000.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is more about poetry than Australia, but you might want to check out Maxine Kumin. Amazing poet.