from the editor's desk

Where the light unpicks the seam of the sky

Emma Crook

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 Emma’s work from the Program, ‘End of the Line’, on the Editor’s Desk.

I was standing in an inlet, beside our dingy, up to my knees in tannin-coloured water, when I received the email that I had been accepted into the Writers’ Development Program with Westerly. I had been out in the wilderness, in amongst the cool November winds, in the quiet place where the river and the inlet mingle with the sea, watching white-bellied sea eagles fly to their nest in the karris—at different times during my travels, on the road or out somewhere near nowhere, I often look up to see an eagle. These moments have become signposts of sorts: points of reflection and gentle guidance, usually at a time when I need them most. They remind me that everything is as it should be.

After leaving teaching five years ago, I returned to the safety of nature on a daily basis, to rediscover the words and images that I had all but lost. I now spend extended amounts of time in remote landscapes and oceans documenting my experiences through writing, photography and poetry. This year, with the reassurance of the WDP and the generous guidance of my mentor, Lucy Dougan, I started leaning in and out of the shadows of memory, experimenting with ideas, words and form, moving beyond the limits of previously comfortable creative practices to sink further into a commitment to myself: to write a poem a week, and produce a photo essay a month. And so far, more or less, I have stayed true to this and continue to let it guide my days.

There is a synchronicity that emerges between my love of language and the way I am intrigued by the silent possibilities of a photographic image. There will be stretches, that sometimes last for days, where I am completely immersed in words and the poems seem to arrive unbidden. There are other times where the words barely nudge me, so I turn to my camera, finding some comfort in the unknown possibility and patience that photography brings. This quiet, often solitary, practice of taking photographs returns me into the landscape, searching for the stillness that a certain quality of light offers, or revealing a persistence inside me to uncover a story within, and beyond, the frame. It is as if the act of looking at light and form in this way releases my thoughts and, from there, the ideas around words begin to arrive again.  

‘Ellipsis I’—from an ongoing series of double exposure black and white film photographs shot on Ilford XP2 Super 400 © Emma Crook 2022

As a writer in a regional area, there is a feeling of isolation, a feeling of being on the edge of opportunities and events. Yet with support of the Westerly team and the guidance of my mentor I found a shift in the way that I begin, develop and complete a piece of writing. I also consciously altered my approach to how I write a poem: I began a more consistent practice of writing in my journal with the quiet agreement that the ideas for pieces of writing are going to evolve and develop from those pages over time. The notes that I write in my journal when I’m sitting in the car as a passenger, the ideas I have while I’m travelling in familiar and unfamiliar landscapes, the snippets I write down at the café every morning and the jottings about events of my everyday life, have all allowed me to write poems, passages of short prose and tiny stories in a vastly different way than I have before. Rather than thinking too much about the final form of the piece when I begin writing, I now let form instinctively and organically appear in the final developmental stages.

Through the work I have produced so far this year, alongside the evolving creativity I have uncovered at home and in remote places, I have discovered a newfound comfort in the invisibility of age. There is a vulnerability that comes with returning to a writing practice with the hope that I still have something to offer a reader, after almost turning away from writing altogether. Instead of moving against the drift of the decades, I have found a space beyond the expectations that were present in my youth; I feel I am more certain of my voice as I age. The inevitable layers of memory that are uncovered with age have also revealed a certain solidity in the present; instead of pushing into the centre of all things, these days I prefer to hover and meander around the edges, where the light unpicks the seam of the sky.  

Emma Crook is a writer, poet and photographer who lives on the coast in Kinjarling/Albany, Western Australia. She has an MA in Writing and her work has been published in various print and digital publications, including Womankind magazine, Elbazin magazine, Three can keep a secret by Night Parrot Press and Westerly.

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