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Port Adelaide hosted its inaugural writers’ festival this weekend themed ‘Living Landscapes‘ in the historic Hart Mill Precinct, with an impressive line up and books courtesy of Matilda Bookshop.

Living Landscape Writers’ Festival Day One Program

Hosted in conjunction with Writers SA, the program comprised talks and readings examining our relationship with the environment and the role it plays in art, followed by a series of workshops to learn the craft of nature writing. The venue was perfect, set beside the beautiful Port River, home to a variety of life, including dolphins.

I attended the afternoon sessions, the first a panel discussion on ‘Writing the Changing Landscape’ with Ali Cobby Eckermann, Inga Simpson and Jill Jones, facilitated by Writers SA Director, Jessica Alice. It was fascinating to learn about their connection with country, the living world around them and how they capture and express this in their work, often giving voice to the damage we’re doing. Ali spoke about healthy moments and how childhood homes become unrecognisable. Inga grew up on a farm and sought solitude to develop her work. Jill shared examples of mindful suburban walking without distraction. There was talk of the creature’s we’re responsible for, how nature is giving us the solutions and a request for us to be curious again. But the most profound words for me were these when discussing those in power:

Just because you have the money, doesn’t mean you hold the riches.

Ali Cobby Eckermann
Molly Munro and Hannah Kent

The next session was a conversation between Molly Munro and Hannah Kent exploring ‘Nature as Character’. Molly echoed attendance to country and explained how Kangaroo Island, the setting for her latest work, is the last spiritual stopping place for indigenous cultures in South Australia. Hannah referred to the ‘livingness of things’ and shared her intimate connection with the landscape of Iceland where her first novel was set. Both stressed the importance of place in their work, how it must be more than a backdrop to a story to engage not just their readers, but themselves too. They also shared writers who have influenced their writing and that’s one of many things I love about these events, the reading recommendations you leave with, where you discover new writers and work, thought and theory.

I had booked Rachael Mead’s workshop – ‘Writing the Landscape anew through Poetry’ – today, but a deadline snuck up on me so unfortunately I had to cancel. Yesterday was a memorable afternoon, which left me deeply thoughtful, reminding me again how glad I am that I grew up when I did, with a childhood outside exploring nature, back when seasons were sure of themselves.

Tuesday evening saw the launch at The Howling Owl of the second series of chapbooks from Little Windows Press; a small local publisher with ‘little books, big horizons’.

Launched by Jill Jones, an extremely talented and acclaimed poet herself, these chapbooks are exquisite – pieces of art in their own right – and in this limited-edition print run present work by Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kathryn Hummel, Jen Hadfield and Adam Aitken.

Ali read first from The Aura of Loss, a collection of poems exploring the stolen generation and its impact on those survivors who carry its grief. Ali is a Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal poet and author of seven books, including the verse novel Ruby Moonlight. Her poem ‘My mother’s love’ is a painful insight to maternal absence – ‘her touch is devoid and I am frantic’ – followed by a peeling of the self until ‘my fingers now bones dipped in blood I etch the lines of my first poem’, a haunting final image.

Kathryn’s diverse award-winning work spans poetry, non-fiction, fiction and photography, published and performed both here and overseas. Her last collection, The Bangalore Set, delves into her time in India. Among others, Kat shared ‘Wharf’ from her chapbook The Body that Holds, a poem about Port Adelaide where ‘time is a sinew to be thinned between thumb and forefinger’ and ‘rumination has its own magnifying silence.’ With nothing to do, two men wait while ‘between a jacket and its lining a flat light comes’.

Alison read poems from Jen’s chapbook Mortis and Tenon, a fellow Scottish poet whose own work is simply brilliant, while Jen lives in the Shetland Islands. As well as poet, Jen is a visual artist and bookmaker, winning the T.S. Eliot prize with her second collection Nigh-No-Place. Jen has language in landscape, beautifully evident in ‘Two Limpet Poems’ in which ‘above the rockpool everything is tilt or rough glazed in weed like afterbirth’ and where ‘This is no place to turn up without a shell / all that protects us from the press of heaven.’

 

Jill read some of Adam’s work in his absence who lives in Sydney and has had a number of poetry collections published, in addition to short fiction in journals and anthologies. Adam’s chapbook, Notes on the River, are just that; vivid snapshots that explore its nuances as in the title poem where ‘It is not a river but a question.’ A plethora of images flow thereafter, culminating in a favourite – ‘Eels find their way to flood. They dream of babies, stalk the shadows and lay each other down in them.’

With eye-catching covers and painstaking production, these chapbooks really are a gift, and in this series with the wonderful addition of pull out poems to keep handy when you need a little bliss.

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