With the support of the Copyright Agency‘s Cultural Fund, and in partnership with the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, Westerly delivered our fifth Writers’ Development Program in 2020–21.
Three talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online. We are delighted to showcase their reflections on the Program at the Editor’s Desk, and will celebrate the publication of their writing in the upcoming Westerly 66.2.
I try to protect my mentor, Lucy Dougan, and apologise for the dark. She tells me that ‘art should go to difficult places’. We are locked down in masked isolation, so communication becomes virtually intimate. Online, sunsets bleed recurrently in a speculative dimension, while a bushfire burns on the ground. It is a familiar crisis. Friends share posts of cremains cloaking their suburbs like it’s extraordinary. I run to be free of the gag, and after thirty-eight years of waking up to the smell of smoke-filled hair, I write the next edit.
Lucy tells me that poems are like ‘dipping pools’. I ascertain the exact depth of dread and synchronise with ghosts in tandem laps on suburban streets. It is difficult to do so. When I begin to flounder, she seems to know the precise moment to intervene. I study the mechanics of treading water, and sink alongside keystones and unbearable weights.
I sit on the bottom. With each new rewrite, my jaw clamps shut. I hold my breath to interrogate the history of gun laws, only to find cold facts and statistics. I read tabloid stories that could have been about us: a potential headline shot from a family album. I present Lucy with an iceberg. It’s all I can write. She talks of ‘condensed drama in relation to other work’, and subsequently I begin to look beyond vignettes and see a prospective manuscript.
I’m on retreat. My inner world is awash and escape to Katharine’s Place (the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre) is timely. I pack an esky with provisions and take a pile of books. Lucy says, ‘read what you’re drawn to’. I read Randolph Stow’s poems and climate change warnings. I take copious notes about obscure female artists. I switch off my phone but it’s hard to resist. When I settle for mute, a woman on Marketplace pesters me about a red cocktail dress. I resolve to write about checking into a motel room with a nom de plume and stubbornly ignore her. Yet, when I escape the city for the hills, I find myself in-between departure and arrivals. Some details I include and some I leave out, like the exact number of shards, and how the Holden was reported stolen. I draw from art installations to glean the colour of fright and write a gothic Australian dream.
I wake to the smell of toast in my hair. It’s 3am and I wonder if this is Katharine’s ghost? Between her fireplace and my cottage is a chilling reminder: the Prickly Pear’s pulped flesh with barbs of defence score a blue sky. I walk laps of the neighbourhood and come across hope sown through the herb garden, nestled between the tomes of a street library and etched in an R U OK tree. But there are gargoyles too, and a Doric column.
I speak of the dark as witness. Because it happens to us, to families in suburbs, around the Laminex.
Lisa Collyer is a poet and educator. She writes poetry with a focus on women’s bodies and how their experiences shape their everyday lives. She is a Four Centres’ Emerging Writer, a writer-in-residence with the National Trust of Western Australia and an invited writer-in-residence for the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre (2022). Her work appears in Cordite, Not Very Quiet, and Rabbit.