Four talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online. We are now delighted to be able to showcase their work here at the Editor’s Desk, and look forward to their inclusion in our upcoming print issue.
I do think that poetry is a noticing. It’s a kind of a form of observation.
I started using a disposable camera around the same time that I embarked on the Westerly Writers’ Development Program. This wasn’t an intended correlation; rather, I saw a disposable camera in a chemist and spontaneously decided to attempt an alternate method of capturing moments.
During the program I realised that I perceive poetry itself as an act of preservation. By putting an experience or feeling into words, it provides me with an opportunity to return and experience it again from the perspective of my past self. Whereas photographs often facilitate the preservation of something which is visible, poems preserve that which cannot be touched. Writing is how I promise myself that I won’t forget a specific feeling; it is my way of collecting and sharing my own histories.
The photographs I have taken over the course of the Writers’ Development Program echo the themes of the poems I produced. They capture family moments, my friends drunk and dancing, a lover who I couldn’t stay with, and the various rooms I have called homes. Perusing my poems from the same period, I see these scenes echoed like motifs of who I was and what I was determined to remember.
Previously I believed that poetry was a process of purging, of rendering a story external and separate from oneself, so that it can be stored in a drawer and distanced from the writer’s everyday pursuits. This belief is reflective of a time in my life when I was dealing with trauma and pain. I wonder what the correlative photographs would’ve contained. I imagine them like images which didn’t develop properly: dark—blurry, perhaps, with a thumb obstructing the lens. After all, those are the photographic prints I currently keep in my desk drawer.
Meanwhile, the photographs I am proud of are displayed on my bedroom wall. Over the course of this development program, with mentorship from the awe-inspiring Lucy Dougan, I have remembered that I am allowed to love the work I create. I have written poems that are saturated with joy, stories that make me smile and words that I would proudly Blu Tack to my walls. If my mind is a museum of stories, these poems have been framed with tenderness.
During the Westerly Development Program I was grateful to complete a residency with Margaret River Press, where the isolation of the bush allowed me to temporarily forget myself and then write directly into that absence of identity. My experience of this residency can be summarised as the curious embodiment of an alternate perspective, as epitomised by a short story I wrote at the time, in which a child climbs a tree in an attempt to perceive her own grief differently:
She wants to know how feelings are actually scents, to some. How birds memorise buildings as shapes.
Looking through my notebook from this trip, I realise how my scribbles are photographs in themselves. For example, one page preserves a rotting bee hive as,
the honeycomb crust, dried on the wooden balcony, holds an unfathomable universe.
This correlation between photographs and poems isn’t intended to be a metaphor, but there is a definite synergy between the two pursuits. I have begun to ask myself not only what I am capturing, but why I am trying to capture it. I have realised that I am allowed to invest in my own joy as a writer and poet. Rather than letting poems just ‘happen’, I have become aware of my own active position as an architect of creative thought. I have consolidated ideas for future manuscripts and made goals that extend beyond the next six months.
Perhaps this is all about ageing. About growing older, and realising there is more time than you ever thought you had, and allowing yourself to settle into the slowness. However, I doubt this realisation would’ve happened without the support and influence of Westerly and Lucy Dougan. Being mentored by a writer and academic who has achieved so much, and who I admire so intensely, was an opportunity to perceive myself as a writer with potential longevity. Now I realise that my career is not limited to the work I produce before I turn 25. I am eager to invest in a practice which is sustainable, patient and prioritises my wellbeing. Additionally, there is an underlying correlation between the processing time of film and the editing process of literary work. Since the completion of the Westerly Writers’ Development Program I am beginning to realise that I need to allow myself time to develop, both as a writer and as a young person navigating the world.
I am still taking photographs on disposable cameras and displaying them on my bedroom wall. This week I have captured:
My mother driving us to our favourite coffee shop
My father watching television in his dressing gown
My friend making pasta for us, on a rainy afternoon
My car, hazard lights flashing, broken down on the side of the road
This is what I want to remember; this is what I want to write poems about. To quote the singer Lucy Dacus, ‘this is what I want to talk about’. I am active in the preservation of my own narratives, and these are the everyday moments I choose.
Both the poem below and the poem published in Westerly 63.1 (July 2018) are indicative of joy I was determined to keep. On some level, they are about the relationships that keep you alive. But mostly, they are about finding home in unexpected or unchartered places. ‘An Apartment With One Letterbox And Two Addresses’ preserves an experience I had in San Francisco, where a suburban basement became a sanctuary. While editing this piece during my Margaret River Press residency, I was struck by how vividly it captures a specific feeling, like a disposable photograph of a friend mid-laughter. I realised that when artists or writers articulate their experience from an internal perspective, the past develops an ability to ache in the present tense.
An Apartment with One Letter Box and Two Addresses
Dougan, Lucy. ‘Looking From The Margins: Making And Reflecting On Poetry’. Axon: Creative Explorations 1.1 (2010). Sourced at: http://www.axonjournal.com.au/issue-1/looking-margins-making-and-reflecting-poetry
Dacus, Lucy. ‘Historians’. Historian, Matador, 2018.
Maddie Godfrey has been best described as “a poetry fireball”. At 22, they have performed at The Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, TEDx Women and Glastonbury Festival. In 2017 they were a writer-in-residence at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Maddie’s debut collection, How To Be Held, will be released in June 2018 by Burning Eye Books (UK). Preorders available at www.howtobeheld.com. Maddie is not a morning person.