QPF 2009 is just two days away and it is all systems go… so to help get you there, today’s spotlight is shining on Barbara Temperton, illuminating where she finds the words that sing that strange music we call poetry.
I’ve soaked up a large variety of influences over the years: from growing up semi-feral in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, to finally moving south, spending eleven years on the south coast before my current detour to the Mid West coast.
I started to write as a child, encouraged by my teachers, but really didn’t really start seriously until 1983. When I moved to Perth in 1987 I was able to connect with other writers – teachers, fellow students, and members of the Perth writing community – such as Marion Campbell, Philip Salom, Anne Brewster, Tom Shapcott, Elizabeth Jolley, Dennis Haskell, Tracy Ryan, John Kinsella, David Buchanan, Mark Reid, Morgan Yasbincek, Andrew Taylor, Glen Phillips, Marcella Polain, and many others. A residency at Varuna in 2000 under the tutelage of Dorothy Porter and in the company of Judy Johnston and Felicity Plunkett is a high point. Undertaking my MA at UWA under the supervision of Dennis Haskell is another.
The Writing Process
My writing process is painstakingly slow. Getting ideas is one thing … one can accommodate a workman-like approach to the construction of poems, but working in an inspired way incorporates an entirely different process. Inspiration to me is when I become totally involved – emotionally, physically, spiritually, whatever – I’m in there with it – that’s when the work really starts to breathe and occupy my life with an intensity that can last days, weeks, months… if I’m lucky.
My first collection “The Snow Queen takes lunch at the Station Café” in Shorelines came together over a period of about seven years when I was mainly focussed on writing prose. I spent the next seven years working on poems for Going Feral, and another seven plus on Southern Edge. There is always a quiet, anticipatory space for me after I’ve finished a writing project, where I wait patiently for my next obsession to materialise.
The Importance of Voice
I know I have a character and a poem when I can hear voice. The means by which that comes about is difficult to explain. Sometimes the voice comes from within, sometimes from without. I collect voices that I come across from day to day, write them down, save them up. Once, at a party, I overheard a friend say “I have found pleasure in skinning rabbits.” As soon as our eyes met she laughed and pointed at me (because she knows me well) and said “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded!” And went on to explain what she really meant. But it didn’t matter, I had already collected the words, the voice. By the time I got home that night I had created the character who was speaking. So, voice can be a narrative position, but can also take many other forms, like sound qualities or structural aspects – line lengths, for example – of a poem. The character I called Traveller in “Jetty Stories (from Southern Edge) had his point of origin outside Port Hedland in 1995. We were fishing on the banks of a tidal creek. My nephew William told me the local legend of a woman who had walked out onto the mud flats at low tide, and who was trapped and drowned when the tide came in. William’s story provided me with the situation, later work saw the development of the Traveller’s character, but the poem did not come alive for me until I had found its voice – not the voice of the character but the voice of the poem – and that didn’t come about until much later.
About a decade ago I came to the understanding that bereavement in its many forms has been a constant source of inspiration for me, as it continues to be. Wherever darkness exists it has lightness as its counterfoil. That’s the nature of binaries – where there is one there is the other. In poetry, as in drawing, you don’t create a form by drawing the form, you create it by drawing the shadows.
How have my feelings about poetry, the reading and writing of, changed since I first started writing?
I don’t think my passion for poetry has changed, I still love reading it and writing it as much as I ever did.
In recent times, due to the demands of work and study, I have had a lot less time in which to write and I really miss the sense of dwelling that came with having an active writing habit.
I love being the poetry advisor for Westerly magazine, reading submissions, making recommendations to the Editors. Back in the eighties, Westerly gave me my first real opportunities at getting my short stories and poems published, so it’s somewhat poetic that I’m in this position now.
Barbara Temperton is an award-winning Western Australian writer. Her poems, song lyrics, short stories, reviews and articles have appeared in journals, newspapers, anthologies, have been performed live and broadcast on radio. Barbara lives in Geraldton, Western Australia, where she works as a librarian and editor, and moonlights as the poetry editor for Westerly. Barbara has also worked on community writing and theatre projects and as tutor in English and Creative Writing courses at the UWA – Albany Centre, Edith Cowan University and Curtin University in Perth. Her second collection of poetry, Going Feral, won the 2002 West Australian Premier’s Book Award for Poetry. Southern Edge her third book, published this year by Fremantle Press, was written for her MA at the University of Western Australia.
From “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” (Southern Edge, Fremantle W.A.: Fremantle Press, 2009.)
There’s still a bit of south in the wind.
Waves have worried the beach in two.
The keeper’s wife collects driftwood, feathers.
There is something about the air,
the intensity of colour,
that awes her. This place
is an X
on her map of moments with God.
Whales exhale beyond the wave line,
flippers and tail flukes slow-arc from the sea.
At the high tide line: cuttlefish, shells, kelp,
and a dead shearwater half-cast in sand,
wings mocked by breeze, the memory of flight.
Another bird, feet at pointe, Degas’ ballet
framed by footprints of dogs and gulls.
Thereafter, another seven,
bills locked mid-cry.
Mist begins its skyward drift with the sun,
horses and fierce riders
thunder through the curtain into day.
Sea’s silver, molten,
taking on something like substance,
as though she could reach out, touch something solid.
She has either left the world
or just stepped into it.
Catch Barbara at QPF 2009:
Saturday August 22 – 10:30 – 11:30am
Skies Early Stars: featuring Barbara Temperton, Neil Murray & Kent McCarter
Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm
A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray
Sunday August 23 – 3:15pm – 4:15pm
Nostalgic by Ambitious: featuring Barbara Temperton, Geoff Page & John Knight
All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.
For full program details head to www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com