The Ripple Effect: The Poetics of the Story Circle
In February 2012, the Transnational Story Hub1 (University of Wollongong writers) responded in poetry to Collections of Hopes and Dreams, an exhibition of artifacts and stories of migration and settlement in Australia at the Wollongong City Gallery.
An initiative of the Migrant Heritage Project and curated by Eva Castle, this exhibition recorded the experiences of European migrants and refugees (Croatian, German, Hungarian, Polish, Ukrainian) who arrived in the Illawarra after World War II. Aptly titled The Story Circle: Bearing Witness to Hopes and Dreams, our poetry response project was supported by the South Coast Writers Centre and its Director Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis.
One afternoon, we ‘witnessed’ story objects showcased behind glass: documents of identity, a wedding dress, photos, poems, hand-painted porcelain plates, a wedding bible and corsage, tiling tools, banknotes, home-sewn crafts, postcards, hand-decorated eggs, a workbench, a pot, a coat, a plait of hair. All intimate lives and public histories evoking long journeys, the artifacts of migration were not silent. They told stories.
The glass cases were mirrors: clear water to look into lives, and to reflect back our own. It was a humbling and unsettling moment: we witnessed, felt deeply, and felt connected and interrogated all at once. How to witness, how to respond, how to listen, how to speak afterwards.
Document of Identity by Patrick McGowan
Mother Ganga by Donna Waters
Tools by Tara Goedjen
Banknotes by William Alister Young
The Dress by Elisa Parry
Tectonics by Matilda Grogan
Kosa: Hair by Merlinda Bobis
Home Hogar by Inspiraciones Literarias
(Cleo Pacheco, Maricarmen Po’o, Gil Po’o, Juan Quiñones,
Emilio Yañez, Violeta Cordova), Tara Goedjen
The seven poems in this cycle are concluded by an eighth poem: a bilingual poem collaboratively written by the South Coast’s Inspiraciones Literarias–Spanish-speaking Writers with one of the poets from the Story Circle project. This final poem and its process is the culmination of the multiple mirrorings: among English-Spanish, Australia-Chile-Spain, and different lives-bodies-sensibilities.
All different yet hopefully kindred in storytelling.
Storytelling is not lonely. There is no story without a teller and a listener. First, the storyteller, then the listener who bears witness to the told story–and who can only tell another story in response, to acknowledge the original story.
Thus, the story circle expands. It becomes ripples of telling and listening, and telling and listening all over again. The arcs navigate outwards, echoing each other ‘as [we] step ashore,’ always into a new story, a poem.
-Merlinda Bobis, editor of Story Circle Poetry Cycle, December 2013
- The Transnational Story Hub is a creative-critical research project between University of Wollongong, Australia and University of Vigo, Spain on imagining each other’s cities. ↩