from the editor's desk

Answers, and Their Questions

Aditi Arun

With the support of the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, and in partnership with the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ CentreWesterly delivered our seventh Writers’ Development Program in 2023. Three talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly. Now, we are delighted to showcase their reflections on the Program here on the Editor’s Desk. If you are intrigued, you can read the feature showcasing their writing in our second issue from 2023, Westerly 68.2. Order your copy here, or subscribe here!

Here are some answers: Central Perk. 8 May 1945. Michael Phelps.

A large portion of my free time is dedicated to consuming knowledge as if it would kill me to not be the most informed person in the room (spoiler alert: it wouldn’t, and I never am). An admission of guilt: I’ve ignored everything my teachers have told me, and have found God in wikipedia.com—spent hours swinging across the monkey bars of blue link to blue link. Cephalopod ink to smoke screen to thermography to the human eye to belladonna. Incredible.

I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with answers, which is maybe the effect of too many gold stars and certificates and pats on the back as a child. Maybe it’s because I’m a first-generation immigrant, and feel a certain pressure to succeed. Maybe it’s just conceit.

Now, here are some questions: should I be taking writing more seriously? Am I cut out for a career in scientific research? How am I ever supposed to survive on my own?

It’s struck me how clueless I am, now that I’ve left the safety of my parents’ house, my teenage years and my uni timetable. I’ve always relied on answers to develop my sense of self, and in turn, inform my creative praxis, so this realisation was pretty detrimental to my work. Without a clear identity, without logical solutions, every poem was a jumble of pseudo-intellectual, half-arsed metaphors barrelled onto a Word document. Barely a poem at all, really.

It wasn’t until this year, in the Writers’ Development Program (WDP), that I allowed questions to drive my creative praxis instead of answers. This has been much more difficult, but so much more rewarding, too—both creatively and personally.

Being in a perpetual state of confusion, I’ve developed a sense of kinship with poems shrouded in mystery: those I’m continually questioning and being questioned by, undiminished by absolute answers from either party. Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mary Ruefle’s ‘Genesis’:

Oh, I said, this is going to be.
And it was.
Oh, I said, this will never happen.
But it did.
And a purple fog descended upon the land.
The roots of trees curled up.
The world was divided into two countries.
Every photograph taken in the first was of people.
Every photograph taken in the second showed none.
All of the girl children were named And.
All of the boy children named Then.

Each time I read it, I take a different walk around the words, stumble upon another detail that only prompts more inquiry. If finding answers is tearing through the air across the aforementioned monkey bars until my feet land on the final platform with a satisfying thunk, then asking questions is being hyper-aware of the spaces between the bars. Sensing each individual muscle contract and relax. Listening to the fabric around my shoulders brush my neck. Acknowledging the brief moment where my palm passes my face and I can smell soured metal.

Asking questions when I’m reading means reaching into every word, line, stanza to find meaning, which I’m at ease with. But asking questions when I’m writing means not seeing a poem fully formed; constantly observing myself and my work as it evolves throughout the writing process; being comfortable in not knowing what the end result will be—all of which is quite new and slightly terrifying to me.

It helps, though, to hang from an answer you already know and feel all the questions that stem from it—to let them create the poem—rather than to grab nothing at all, and fall into the sand. Questions from answers, rather than the other way around.

Here is an answer: the relative viscosities of hot and cold water make them sound different. Here is a question: how can I translate those different sounds into words?

The guidance of my (very talented, very wise, very lovely) mentor, Nadia Rhook, has been instrumental in developing my appreciation of questions from answers in creative praxis. As she put it, her feedback is ‘suggestive, not prescriptive’—marked by challenging phrases like ‘I wonder if …?’ and ‘Or …?’ and ‘Can the poem …?’ Over coffee, we discussed the ways of suspending a poem between those monkey bars—latching onto a known answer, then teasing the enigma of a piece out, flirting with all its possibilities and ambiguities, until the answer no longer existed. This didn’t necessarily allow my work to attain a set solution or that sense of doneness I was used to, but instead would flesh out its interpretations and force me to be more aware of language, form and structure in creating meaning(s). With Nadia’s help, I’ve enjoyed playing with how love might fold from a story of Valmiki, like in my poem ‘Shloka’; I’ve also enjoyed sifting through my knowledge of genetics and defunct DNA in ‘Junk Archive’.

I don’t think it’s up to me to say whether or not my writing is better or not, but I can confidently say that Nadia, and my time in the program, have helped re-energise my sense of curiosity. Not ‘curiosity’ as in the consuming of knowledge, but something more similar to the genuine sense of wonder I had as a kid who played on the monkey bars every recess and lunch. Thank you to everyone who has read my poems, particularly Ma, Dad, the Westerly team, Nadia, Chris Arnold, L, C and H. Thank you even more for asking things about them that I hadn’t thought to ask myself before—for finding a puzzle, a contradiction, a little mystery.

For this reflection, I’ve been trying to write about my creative journey throughout the WDP. It’s ended up as more of a love letter to answers, and their questions, which I suppose sums it up, anyway.

Works Cited

Ruefle, Mary. ‘Genesis’, Poetry January (2017). Sourced at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/91686/genesis-5848812fb9385.

Originally from India, Aditi Arun currently lives and writes on Whadjuk Nyoongar boodja. She has just completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at The University of Western Australia, majoring in Genetics and English & Literary Studies. Aditi’s poems have appeared in Westerly, Cordite and Damsel.

share this

Join our mailing list