In the attic this week is my dear friend, Western Australian poet, Rose Van Son. Rose is a huge supporter of the WA writing community, so I’m thrilled to be able to share her words here in the attic.
In this post, Rose write about her childhood memories, her love of nature and haiku, and the intersection of nature and poetry.
Rose van Son has been widely published nationally and internationally, in Rabbit, Cordite, Westerly, Australian Poetry, and Canberra Times. She was Highly Commended in the ACU Poetry Prize 2019, and has won prizes in the Tom Collins, Ethel Webb Bundell, Henry Kendell, Ros Spencer awards. She was feature poet at the Perth Poetry Festival 2015, Armadale Writers’ Festival 2017, and the New Norcia Writers’ Festival, 2018. Her collections include Nature’s Warehouse, Birds in Focus (with images), Cloak of Letters, Out on A Limb – an Exhibition, Three Owls and a Crescent Moon (haiku). She is Haiku Editor for Creatrix online and loves nature, history, culture, literature and philosophy, but it is language, its sounds, mysteries and perspectives that inspires her to write.
UNRAVELLING THE SELF
You can only imagine my love of birds, though you may have seen me walking Perth’s wetlands, camera in hand and notebook in my backpack. Over the years you may have heard my mother’s and grandmother’s stories, stories that have become my own. What I didn’t realise when I started writing more than 25 years ago, is that through travel, my mother’s stories are my stories. For over a hundred years, in winter, cows have been kept warm beneath the house in the village of my birth, with rooms often built especially for them, for they are part of family. At home in Perth, I watch coots build a nest on the edge of the lake, see parent coots take turns to care for their young. Grebe fledglings, too, ride mother’s back until they are strong enough to fend for themselves.
Poets and writers have always written of family, nature, history, birds. These are the stories I love: how the backstory, the history, blends with the present. How the present is a lifeline to the future, because it is to the future that the past speaks.
My father grew vegetables. Between vineyard rows there were always lupins, melons, red and green capsicums, eggplants shadowing glossy, glowing skin. These are part of my repertoire, my days growing up, my notes when I write: the citrus trees, the loquat tree. That first fruit of spring always in my writing, that thin membrane that separates the seeds yet holds them together, the detail that I love.
One of my favourite readings is Snow, Edward Thomas’s beautiful poem in which the child cries for the loss of the bird in its nest, recalls its melancholy in a mere eight lines.
Secrets hide in the splintered timbers of the old Busselton Jetty where seagulls build their nests. Each year they return, like the melons planted by my father between vineyard rows: the melons, the lupins, the loquat tree, one of the first fruits of spring. The seasons: so important to my writing. As I write, spring appears and disappears outside my window. Mid-July saw the street filled with the orange-red of Flame trees, the whole street tree-lined and over the years, when the large fronds fall, the timing is almost clockwork. I write my observations in my journal, for my journal is a resource I hold dear, somewhere to document all that I see, hear, words I have read. To remember, to record, the sightings of birds, the sounds of words—how simple words fit together, how metaphors are the basis of imagery, how memory can take you to places long forgotten.
At home, I watch again coots building nests on the lake, remember the wagtails nesting in the pitched roof of a loved veranda in our last home but one: an important occurrence in my memory bank, noted so many years ago in my journal. For me, everything is connected to the seasons, to time and place, to associations that extend my writing. For we are our associations: what we have done, people we know, places we visit, what we hear. It is late afternoon, almost evening, and I wonder whether the night heron who stood statue-like beneath the palm near the water’s edge last summer, will return.
My mother tells stories of the circular life in her mother’s village, of the grain as it blows in the wind, winnowing, separating grain from chaff. A nonagenarian, she revels in the season, holds nature to her chest.
Nature is central to my art, to my poetry. Nature blows in to my writing when least expected. I also write essays and short stories but poetry is always there inside the work. Creative non-fiction, too, is a favourite medium; it can take you places you could not have imagined: simply follow your associations as they swing by. In 2019, I was one of three winners in the biennial University of Western Australia Essay Art Writing Prize. Poetry must unravel, spill on to the page. I remember poet Mary Oliver saying, Don’t dare lift your pen as you write!
In late 2019, I published Nature’s Warehouse, Birds in Focus, containing 90 colour images with poetry. Photographs taken over a five year period, mostly of birds, but also seals from the Houtman Abrolhos islands, a motorbike frog taking refuge in my courtyard, a jellyfish. What to include; what to leave out?
In 2019, I also published Cloak of Letters (Sunline Press) a 180-page collection of poetry. Stories (for what is a poem if not a story?) of my mother picking grapes in a hot February summer, she with child at the time, my sister about to be born. For it is history and family that I write, food and travel, meld philosophy and reflection. It is seeing which becomes story—insight, hindsight, foresight. So many ways of seeing, but I mostly write with sound in mind. Cloak of Lettershighlights my love of nature: the Boranup Forest, the Swan River, the Kimberley and the Pilbara (… / fungi frills a dead log / …Bird Orchid). The latter half focuses on families (‘& in this sudden storm / you and your mother / appear under a great green umbrella / …’ Voiceless).
I read each morning from about 5am as meditation: poems, stories, following what other writers are writing. Over the years I have been reading, judging, running workshops, encouraging new writers. This year, I collaborated with two multi-media artists from the south-west–Lynne Mitchell and Denise Gillies—with an exhibition of art and poetry ‘Out on a Limb’ (with book): 30 artworks with 30 of my haiku. A wonderful way to stretch the imagination. Exhibitions were held at Galleries in Kalamunda and Busselton.
My mantra has always been: ‘be aware; make connections’. Walk, observe, reflect. Trust in your associations; learn to love their interruptions. Even if we only travel to the end of our street, it is there we will find our writing selves: over the neighbours’ fence or up in a tree. Encounters are moments I love to capture.
Elizabeth Jolley, (my tutor), Virginia Woolf, Rainer Maria Rilke, W.S. Merwin, Seamus Heaney, Henry David Thoreau have all inspired me. I have been fortunate to walk the path Thoreau walked—in the fall of a glorious afternoon, in a shimmering forest, to a small clearing, to place a stone at his hut’s site, a pilgrimage to writing. I read and reread the works of my favourite authors, for it is those we wish to emulate, whose work we admire, to whom we are drawn. I walked back along the narrow path, between Walden Pond and the forest that late afternoon, found the welcome of a Great Blue Heron in the reeds. So much more to write.
Rose has donated a copy of her book, Cloak of Letters, to giveaway.
To enter, simply comment on the blog or any of my social media posts about Rose’s book.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Thursday, 22nd October, and will be chosen randomly.
International entries are welcome, but we can only post to an Australian address.
NEXT UP …
This series of Writers in the Attic began in April this year, soon after Covid abruptly interrupted our lives, book launches, festivals and author events. Since then, twenty-six writers have shared stories here, giving us insights into the inspiration behind their books and a peek into their writing lives. It’s been a wonderful series, and I thank all the authors who have contributed their time to write a beautiful piece, as well as donate a copy of their book for a giveaway.
I thank everyone who has read, commented on and shared these posts, and entered the giveaways—you’ve helped boost what has probably been the worst year ever in which to launch a book.
It’s been a joy to present a post each week, but now I’m taking a wee break. I won’t be going too far, though, as there are still authors to come in 2020, and I might even write a blog post or two myself!