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Different Approaches to Illness as Metaphor in Fiction and Poetry. 

I attended this fascinating talk in the week at the Adelaide University Library given by Heather Taylor Johnson, a wonderful poet and writer from the US now residing in Adelaide.

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Heather was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease in 1999, a very debilitating condition resulting in a variety of unpleasant symptoms caused by an imbalance in the inner ear. Heather attempted to write about her experience of living with this chronic illness but found herself “frustrated with overwriting and an abundance of self-pity as the final product.” To resolve this she gave her illness to a 63-year-old man called Graham, one of the key protagonists in her highly successful debut novel Pursuing Love and Death, published by HarperCollins.

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Heather read extracts from her book that provided a real insight into what a sufferer can experience during an attack. You could feel Graham’s anger and frustration as he realizes this is going to be a ‘bad one’, and his utter helplessness with no choice but to endure it.

Writing about personal illness can be a challenge, a tightrope walk between communicating its impact (the negative) and coping with it (the positive). Heather magnificently achieves this delicate balance, and read poems from her beautiful collections, Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town and Thirsting for Lemonade, which allude to the disease but don’t linger.    

All in all it was a very inspiring session, certainly one to think about.

 

Rachael Mead‘s first collection The Sixth Creek was launched on Wednesday at La Boheme and I was delighted to be invited along.

 

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Following an insightful introduction by Jill Jones, a widely published poet and university lecturer, Rachael read a few pieces from her book engaging the audience with her warmth, beautiful imagery and sense of place.

 

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One of Rachael’s poems that stood out for me was Hope is a Perennial.  It’s a powerful piece that highlights Rachael’s strong connection with her homeland, the Sixth Creek catchment area (hence the title), in which thoughts and emotions blend and intertwine with nature, where “Hope is not a strategy” is “cross-stitched” and “circled by forget-me-nots for the wall above the sideboard”.  Another vivid image is depicted in The Animal Within where Rachael describes walking “on legs ripe with indigo blooms from encounters with edges” as she tries to “remember how to live”.

The book leaves you with a real sense of ‘there’, of life and it’s balancing act, of relating to the familiar, a wonderful first collection by a very talented poet that makes you want more and look forward to the next.