Judith Beveridge’s Twelve Highlights from 2014

By | 24 August 2015

I read somewhere that the words ‘ekphrasis’ and ‘ekphrastic’ had at one stage a reference only in the Oxford dictionary, but nowadays these words are very much part of poets’ vocabularies and practices and most poets at some stage write poems responding to other art works. Erin Shiel’s poem ‘When the Wind Stopped’ was inspired by a number of works by John Wolseley, but rather than depicting the actual art works, her poem engages with Wolseley’s process of creating the works. He’s out in the landscape which has been burnt by fire and he lets sheets of paper be carried by the wind until they are caught on the charcoal twigs and branches of the mallee trees. As she says ‘The charcoal stipples and/ scrapes a song on the sheets.’ In this dancing, singing poem, in which the page becomes like a landscape and the lines become like blowing paper and the spaces give a sense of the temporal, we have an intimate insight into a creative process in which nature, weather, space and time are all participants. Shiel so beautifully enacts all the physical processes that accumulate to produce these art works. The body is as integral as the charcoal because Wolseley has to chase these sheets of paper as they are blown by the wind: ‘He carries them out of the wind/ on his two outstretched arms back/ to a clearing and lays them tenderly/ on a carpet of red dust.’ I love the way Shiel describes the whole collaborative enterprise.

The enchanting connection between land and voice – (reminiscent of Aboriginal song-lines and the idea of ‘singing up country’) is so poignantly evoked: ‘He sings the song the charcoal/scrawls have composed/ and stills them with his voice.’ The language of the poem is very verb-oriented which creates a strong sense of process, action, movement and this works in tandem with the shape of the poem, but if we notice the first verb in the poem it is ‘stands’, and by the end of the poem the sheets of paper are at rest. There’s resolution, completion, calm. This poem so effectively draws out and highlights the intimate relationship between the body, the environment and the imagination. It reminds us of the deep interconnection between mind and matter.

When the Wind Stopped

Wolseley stands on the hill under
the scribbly gum looking over
                                                                               the scrub, eyes flickering over burnt
                                                                               bush. The trunks of the eucalypts
                                                     kneel on a cushion of new green, 
                                                     dead arms extend up in praise,
                                                                               lemon myrtle their incense.
                                                                               He unrolls the paper and cuts 
as though he’s releasing a chained 
creature, sliding the scissors
                          through, feeling the smooth
                          incision, wincing at occasional 
                                                     jags as the angle of the blade
                                                     shifts. Ahead burnt out scrub
                          follows the flow of the terrain,
                          heights of the trees varying, 
                                                                               limbs tracing the rise and fall
                                                                               of the land so from above
it is a carpet of foliage.
He releases the sheets one by one.
                                                     They flap and fly over
                                                      the scrub like cumbersome 
                                                                               birds unaccustomed to catching 
                                                                               the breeze. Feathered ends flay, 
unfurl power but the wind 
drops and the flapping
                                                     settles into a glide until
                                                     the sheets are caught 
                          by the reaching arms of the mallee.
                          The charcoal stipples and 
                                                                               scrapes a song on the sheets. 
                                                                               They struggle,
                          flapping then wrapping, 
                          settling to swaddle low 
                                                                                             burnt out baby bushes. 
                                                                                             The pages caress and 
                                                     smooth the hangnails of 
                                                     petrified twigs. 
They stretch a fraction
to scratch their song.
                                                                               The charcoal song pleases 
                                                                               Wolseley still standing on the hill. 
                          He taps one foot impatiently. Leans
                          to one sheet of paper then 
                                                                                                          another before he dances 
                                                                                                          through the mallee chasing 
them one by one.
He calms their scrimmage,
                          detaching them from  
                          snags and twigs.
He carries them out of the wind 
on his two outstretched arms back 
                                                     to a clearing and lays them tenderly
                                                      on a carpet of red dust.
                                                                                                          He sings the song the charcoal 
                                                                                                          scrawls have composed
and stills them with his voice.
While they rest he considers the ring
                                                                  necked parrots screeching above. 
                                                                  How will he entice them
                                                     to land on the scroll
                                                     that documents the mallee song?

Inspired by the art of John Wolseley, various works.
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