Here in QLD we are heading into the clear blue of Spring, a season that heightens my awareness of the natural world. As part of Spring’s festivities, we are celebrating QLD Writers Week from October 10 – 16.
To get into the spirit of Writers Week, I have invited seven poets from across the state to discuss the role of place in their poetry. A sense of place plays an important role in the initiation of images for many poets. When a poet taps into the depth of their surroundings and is able to create images that bring the reader headlong into the environment that inspired them, it is a rare and blessed experience.
First up, Kristin Hannaford talks about the places and poets that continue to inspire her.
Place/pleis/n.& v. – n. 1. A particular portion of space, often occupied by a person or thing.
Much of my writing is occupied with the notion of making sense of the world via the natural environment or place I find myself in. A kind of looking outward, examining the natural world to write and discover interior and personal landscapes. When I think of place I’m always constructing a mental image of the wild, of nature. It’s a term that is synonymous with environment, rather than urban or domestic spaces.
Many of my poems are concerned with ‘writing place’. Some feature the early Blue Mountains landscapes of my childhood. Most, however, feature the Central Queensland landscapes where I have lived now for over 14 years. These are the places I often visit with my husband and two sons: the beaches, mangrove areas, coastal heath lands and rainforests. I’m lucky enough to live near the Byfield National park and the Five Rocks area – just below Shoalwater military territory -contains some of the most magnificent and inspiring pristine landscape I’ve ever seen, it’s difficult not to write about it.
v. 1. Put a thing in a particular place or state; arrange
There’s the notion of immersion in landscape as a kind of meditation. The isolation and quiet gives me a kind of mental solitude that shapes my writing tremendously. In saying this, though, writing place isn’t a kind of passive activity. For me, it’s a very deliberate creative intention, an endeavour.
Place is always a three dimensional experience. When I’m writing, I am imagining the kinds of layering and change that time, seasons and climate will have on a landscape and trying to convey this sense of depth to the reader. I’m interested in what characterises and makes place – the history, geology, the plant species, the interaction between people and place. I’m often scouting through bird and plant species guides, consulting charts, maps and history books; they are necessary tools for me – a kind of intersection between identifying and knowing that enables poetic writing and deep mapping of a place.
Writers who write place are my mainstays. Americans such as Whitman, Thoreau, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop and Gary Snyder. Australians such as Robert Adamson, Judith Wright, Anthony Lawrence, Kathryn Lomer and Margaret Scott. I adore writing that delivers a sensitive and intense emotional response to the natural world. It’s a kind of bioregionalism, documentary making. Writing that is infused and characterized by the landscapes writers are immersed in. A postcard from somewhere you love.
Orange Bowl diptych: Byfield National Park
Let us stand at the headland, as you inhale
all that turbid saltiness that whops
and clubs at us about our mastheads
as we leer at the Pacific beneath. Feel
it thud, as I put my thumb under
your chin and turn it southward, see –
there it is. A great yawning mouth, a jawline
slack open in the face of the primary dune,
a pock mark, no – an open wound, framed
by a fringe of coastal heath. They’ve put
an end to all that now; four-wheeled parasites
scraping and surfing the inner parabolas
of the sand blow. I’m easily fooled. You lean over
and trace an outline of tyre track drag lines,
tattooing the orange sands as if animal
teeth gnawing on dune bones.
At night, at 3am, we leave our sheets
and stand pale-bodied on the verandah.
Strange sounds of acceleration
and carousing, below us the headlights
of vehicles traffic the beach. Human
phosphorescence. Filaments, diatoms,
vanish beneath wheels that churn and spit
youth sideways. We remember the boy
who fell off the back of a ute and broke
his neck, another hospitalised. Voices carry
up through the scrub, squeals and laughter.
In the afternoon we stand knee-deep.
Our toes and feet enlarged and strange
through the lens of water. The submerged
sand terrain of peaks and valleys explodes
beneath us – each wash of wave
a ricochet of artillery fire. Behind you
the Orange Bowl lends its citrus spectrum
of sands to colour the light. We wait
for the gentle tap tap tap of whiting.
Our trigger fingers tense on our lines.
Kristin Hannaford is a Queensland writer and the author of two collections of poetry, ‘Inhale’ in Swelter (IP, 2003) and Fragile Context (Post Pressed, 2007). Her poems, short stories and reviews have been published in many Australian print and online journals. Kristin has been a featured guest at the Queensland Poetry Festival, Brisbane Writers’ Festival and in 2009 she was one of three Queensland poets selected to tour Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston as part of the Queensland Writers’ Centre Poetry Tour. Her short play ‘The Beckoning Cat’ was produced for the 2010 Sydney Short & Sweet festival. Kristin works as a secondary school English teacher and lives in Yeppoon, Central Queensland. She is currently developing a third collection of her work.