from the editor's desk

What is a Writer Who Does Not Write?

Priya Kahlon

With the support of the Copyright Agency‘s Cultural Fund, and in partnership with the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ CentreWesterly delivered our sixth Writers’ Development Program in 2022.

Three talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support over the year in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online.

Now, we are delighted to showcase their reflections on the Program here on the Editor’s Desk. Alongside, if you want more, you can read the feature showcasing their writing published in our first issue from 2022, Westerly 67.1. You can also read Priya’s poetry from the Program, ‘Everlasting’, on the Editor’s Desk.

I have been questioning my writing more often lately, including the motives as to why I pick up the pen, what I want from my poetry and what I want it to convey. A friend once commented how they found it interesting that it was only writers who asked themselves why they write, and that no one questions why a footballer plays football or a musician plays an instrument. It is just accepted as what they do.

Maybe the same is also true for poets: that a poet writes because it is what they do. Although that does sound nice, it does little to quell the fear I have that I will one day stop writing. That I will close my notebook for good, never to return to its pages, and instead tell people that I used to write poetry as a sort of vestige of a more exciting time. Perhaps I have this fear because writing does not come easily. It involves a push and pull, a vulnerability and a requirement to bring light to the shadows. Or maybe it is for this exact reason that I am constantly questioning my ties to my craft. I first started writing poetry as a way to make sense of my world, to put context around feelings I could not express, and to answer questions that mystified me. I was drawn by the freedom and space the form offered, qualities I otherwise felt were lacking in a life filled with boundaries and expectations.

As I read more and wrote more, and practiced and developed my craft, I also placed goals and ambitions; began questioning the purpose of my writing and reasons to justify its existence. My approach also shifted: instead of coming to each page afresh, I started coming with the burden that a piece should be ‘good’ or ‘publishable’. The process, rather than freeing, became paralysing, and the question of ‘necessity’ played on my mind. Is it really worth trying so hard to reach a destination you do not know you are headed to?

What is interesting is that I do not have this approach in other areas of my life. I do not worry about being a ‘good’ lawyer, instead I simply focus on doing the work before me to the best of my ability, on the understanding that, with time and experience, I will improve. Yet here I am, as a poet, contemplating the final outcome, the finished piece, the completed collection or final performance, without visualising the steps in between, or if these outcomes are worthwhile. I place goals on myself to ‘write more’ without a clear understanding of what that means to me. To non-writers the act of writing perhaps describes a singular action, but to a writer it can encompass so much more. Is it me staring at my blank page each day trying to pick words from the clouds? Or does it involve something deeper, bringing messages to light through quiet contemplation and meditation?

What I have come to understand is that writing poetry, or creativity more generally, is not dominated by unexplainable flashes of inspiration or bursts of genius. Instead, such moments are underpinned by things far more concrete and tangible, such as dedication, perseverance and humility. That poetry and creativity involves time spent practicing one’s craft, just as an athlete masters their sport or a lawyer hones their advice.

And perhaps this is my anchor: to focus on what is before me and what brought me here in the first place. The act of pen on paper. Trying to capture the essence of the unexplainable. That it is not the writing, but the act of doing, moving through layers of uncertainty in search of deeper understanding, or simply peace, one word at a time.

Priya Kahlon is a poet and performer born and raised in Boorloo / Perth, Australia and currently living in Tokyo, Japan. She writes to better understand the world and our place in it. Her recent work has been featured in Westerly, Australian Poetry Journal and Portside Review.

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