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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.

I’ve attended two workshops recently organised through Writers SA – Mark Tredinnick’s The Little Red Writing Workshop and Rachael Mead’s Writing the Landscape.

Mark is an award-winning poet and widely published, however this session focused on craft and technique that can be applied to any style of writing. Participants ranged from academics to creative writers, who were given a crash course in Mark’s fifteen rules and received a copy of his book in which they’re explored in more detail.

Mark shared his extensive knowledge and experience, along with some memorable quotes, such as E B White defining writing as the process of the “self escaping onto the page”, which can apply to both the writer and reader. We looked at structure and rhythm, language and voice, being urged to copy a well-made sentence and examine how it’s constructed. Mark’s message was “writing better means getting out of your own way”, write from rather than of the self and master punctuation to help your audience breathe your story.

Rachael is also a widely acclaimed poet whose work I admire and her session explored eco-poetics – an activist way of writing nature poetry in that it has both agency and impact, providing an ecological rather than humanistic perspective, the essence of her latest collection.

Rachael introduced us to four approaches, explaining that eco-poetry is a challenge to dominant discourse, chipping away at anthropocentrism. We read work by Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver and Judith Wright, poems grounded in place with biological, cultural and physical forces at play. Personal and sensory aspects are fundamental to eco-poetics, macro combined with micro to produce a multi-layered piece that seeks an emotive rather than intellectual response. Rachael’s workshop spanned a morning, but there’s enough material to easily fill a day.

And so I’ve acquired new skills to flex and drafts to develop, and a new awareness of self – the impact it has on writing and the world in which both exist.

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