The Power is in the Word – an Intergenerational Project

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On Wednesday, October 4th, Kingston Seniors Festival 2018 was launched at Westall Community Hub in Clayton South, a new community centre and library that will be twelve months old on Sunday.

The Festival opened by the Mayor, Cr. Steve Staikos who celebrated the completion of the latest Intergenerational Project: The Power’s in the Word.

mayor and ceo close up

The project presented in a partnership between the City of Kingston Social Development team, Kingston Youth Services and Kingston Arts.

I heard about it from Lydia Sorenson, the Positive Ageing Officer, Social Development whom I’d worked with when she was with Youth Services in 2016, my first involvement with an intergenerational project.

I was thrilled to work with Youth Services officers Mealea and Sophie who were involved in the earlier project too.

In 2016, I wrote a short film script and collaborated with a multi-aged team to produce it. Along the way,  we learned about camera angles, lighting, sound, scouting locations and props, permits, schedules and networking.

Favours asked of friends and family. We shared skills and professional knowledge – I gave a writing workshop, photographers lectured on the importance of light, sound experts ran us through recording equipment and dialogue, cinematographers and not for profit filmmakers gave tips and inspiration on what was possible with a limited budget and excess enthusiasm!

The school children and teenagers involved shared their ideas, knowledge and confidence of new technologies and love of all things screen. The premiere of the completed project held at the Shirley Burke Theatre in Parkdale.

Everyone revelled in the Academy Award atmosphere…

It was such a positive experience, I didn’t hesitate to get involved in this latest project.  My friend Jillian and fellow writer played the lead role in my short film, but ill health and travel commitments meant she couldn’t be involved in Power’s in the Word. However, she made the launch and enjoyed the presentations.

me and Jillian
Me and Jillian

This project began in June and entailed a commitment of 12 workshops on a Tuesday evening at the Kingston Arts Centre in Moorabbin.

Story, Print & Poetry Workshops: Inter-generational Project 2018

It was a privilege and fun to be involved with several other seniors and young people. Artwork, including linocuts and poetry, were made and displayed and at the launch, several of us read a poem written for the occasion.

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Both projects enabled me, not only to meet and interact with people I may never have met otherwise but also moved me out of my creative comfort zone. 

We worked alongside writer Emilie Zoey Baker and visual artist and printer Adrian Spurr who taught and supervised the linocuts we produced. To learn printmaking was the drawcard for me,  and to link it with poetry.

Adrian was everyone’s idea of a favourite art teacher. He made a klutz like me feel I’d produced something appealing!

The ten finished pieces from the group looked impressive although I’m not sure what the mayor will do with his framed copy!

Great Things Never Come From Comfort Zones

We started to meet in June and for 13 Tuesday nights we learnt printmaking, discussed various topics, shared stories, and wrote haiku and short prose.

There was a schedule but lots of flexibility.

It was winter and people got sick, or members of their family did. As with any free and volunteer project, people also dropped out. The timeframe coincided with the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, which meant Emilie’s attendance and input varied.

Adrian’s print workshops turned out to be more intense and time-consuming than the organisers realised. The schedule below rearranged as the weeks passed:

  • Introductions and Rumi’s Cube writing exercise
  • Writing about “love”
  • Collograph – flower print-making
  • Collograph and monoprints
  • Writing on Place – haiku
  • Writing on Place – childhood
  • Monoprint and linocut
  • Writing on Place – first home
  • Writing on Place – current linocut
  • Writing on Place – dreamscape
  • Signing of prints
  • Rehearsal and editing
  • Submission of 1-2 pieces on places we have lived

Rumi’s Cube Personality Test…

Emilie had us write as she introduced the various elements of the well-known Rumi’s Cube exercise. 

Briefly, you imagine yourself in a desert and there is a cube of whatever size, material and colour you choose. There is a ladder – you decide where it goes, and a horse – you decide where it is in the position of the cube and what colour and type of horse. There are flowers – how many, colour, type or where growing is up to you. There is a storm cloud – how far away or severe is again up to you.

Ruminating Over Rumi – Mairi Neil

Miles of sand stretching to the horizon…
a clear blue cube, water glistening like dew
a ladder of tree branches rooted in the earth
the cube drip-feeds a carpet of yellow daisies
a large grey mare, heavy with foal shelters
alongside the cube, nibbling at the flowers
preparing to lie down.
Aware the sky is now changing
white clouds becoming bruises on a sea blue sky
transforming to stormy grey
the ladder trembles and sinks
returning to the earth as the cube begins to melt
the landscape awaiting rebirth…

If you Google there are numerous interpretations of the significance of your responses. Emilie’s interpretation just one of many and had some similarities to this:

  • The cube represents you. The size of the cube is your ego. What it is made of (wood, marble, or the texture) determines your feelings or personality.
  • The ladder represents your goals. The length of the ladder shows the scale of your goals, the shorter the ladder the more simple the goal.
  • The horse represents your ideal partner
  • The flowers represent your family and friends. The number of the flowers determines your connections and how close you are to them

  • The Storm represents the obstacle(s) in your life. If the storm is close to the cube/ stationary, then you are experiencing some emotional, mental and hard situations right now.  If the storm is in the distance then you have overcome many challenges and will continue towards victory.

Emilie said she had never come across ‘a pregnant horse’ response before!

Psychoanalysis can make you hungry for comfort food…

After that exercise and the interesting discussion it raised, I was ready for a cup of tea.

Most of the workshops were between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, a couple started at 5.00pm. The lovely council officers ensured food was delivered, they arranged taxis if needed. Always their priority was the happiness and comfort of participants.

In a way, there was too much food, but we gratefully took home plastic containers of leftovers – especially on the pasta and pizza nights that the young folk enjoyed the most. A couple of the participants shared cakes and sandwiches with their U3A writing class the next day!

Collographs and Monoprints and Love

I missed the workshop on Collograph flower prints because I fell that day and had an unplanned trip! The work the others produced amazing, particularly when most were new to the art form.

The larger pieces below examples of Collography.

The writing task was about ‘Love’. I missed out on creating a collograph but could write at home without too much effort.

Love
Mairi Neil

Can love be put into words?
Trust, passion, security, contentment –
limiting the concept seems absurd.
Love is all encompassing, enthralling,
ecstatic and entrancing, but also
mundane, steady, unconditional ––
not all excitement and romancing.

It’s the years of care from a doting Dad –
caressing his ageing skin and feeling sad.
Massaging Mum’s arthritis, being close
savouring the aroma of her Sunday roast.
It’s marmalade and toast made with
daily devotion – delicious pancakes
and scones triggering emotion.

A smile causing the heart to flutter –
a light behind your eyes for no other.
Unexpected flowers to cheer the day,
orchids or roses have something to say.
A heartfelt cuddle, a warm embrace,
loving strength, if trouble you face

It’s gentle bedtime snores confirming
belonging and comfort at night.
Shared laughter and crazy dreams
It’s pride and happiness on sight.
A special tone of voice, whispering
your name, and other endearments,
a baby suckling at breast, content
the promise of future fulfilment.

Nurturing children, bathing and caring
the pleasure of siblings playing together
the squabbles, support, and sharing.
Holding hands with lovers and
celebrating each day with joy
free to be embarrassed or unduly coy.
What is love? Can words describe it well?
Live it, breathe it, only your heart will tell…

Monoprints – what a challenge

Adrian told the class to follow on from their idea for the Collograph and draw something for a monoprint. This would then be drawn on acetate with ink applied and a print produced.

I can’t draw a straight line without a ruler, in fact, I can’t draw anything and don’t try.

What was I to do?

Fortunately, a few days before, I’d been completely enthralled by the first blooms appearing on my bird of paradise plant outside the bedroom window.

Inspiration!

I tried to draw the flower head to appear like a bird – what a mess – a few more strokes and it looked like a bird sucking on the plant.

‘Don’t fiddle’ my mantra – it would have to do.

Adrian gave it the okay and I printed it off. He suggested I use a different paint tool and create a second print. And I did.

In one session I did something I never thought I could.

The monoprint was an expression of a haiku written on the train on the way to the workshop.

After worrying over the session I missed, feeling embarrassed at my artistic ineptitude and lack of talent, I achieve something that doesn’t look too bad.

I’m enjoying this project!

Outside my window
July flowering delights
homegrown paradise

Writing on Place – haiku

With my first haiku written about a place – the garden –  I continued on that theme and write about my home in Mordialloc.

For You – My Garden Haiku
Mairi Neil 2018

Outside my window
July flowering delights
homegrown paradise

The warm dawn sunlight
penetrates the ti-tree bush
baby birds awaken

Red geraniums
withstand sea breezes daily
to perfume driveway

A sturdy bottlebrush
succour to Noisy Minors
Jack’s living tribute

Magpie serenade
from majestic woody throne
a morning Etude

Wattlebird feasting
on blooming grevillea
picnic on the wing

A whiff of rosemary
reminds us of sacrifice
seeds of love and hope

Freshly cut roses
carefully arranged in vase
memories of love

Floral posies in
aromatic profusion
the colours of love

Marigolds dusk glow
sunflowers smiling happiness
promise of sweet dreams

Comments from Participants

quotes about projectemilie's haiku and quotes

And You Too Can Haiku!

Emilie gave everyone the most common guidelines for haiku: the standard seventeen syllables split up into three lines of five, seven and five syllables respectively.

A good starting point, however, most of the young participants didn’t know about haiku poetry we had a lesson where everyone was writing and mouthing syllables as they counted and worried about fitting into the criteria.

Nowadays the form is more fluid. Poets write one, two or four-line haiku and the syllable count can vary enormously.

The extreme minimalism– absolutely no unnecessary words – and the presentation of a defining moment are the most important requirements.

It is important to present the thing itself, the simple truth. No tricks –

Linda France, Mslexia

The haiku is a classical Japanese form. It was an important influence on the imagists – poets like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, and later the Beat Generation, in love with Zen and now it is popular with the generation into mindfulness and ‘living in the moment’.

That is essentially what the haiku is: a moment; a vivid image that seems to make time stand still.

Economy and observation are its two main qualities  –  excellent disciplines for writers, no matter how old or what genre you prefer.

Writing on Place – Childhood – and an idea for Linocut

Brainstorming, thinking in haiku mode, and seeking an image from childhood that could translate onto a tile to be printed – an image I could actually draw so it resembled my words and was achievable for a novice in the art of linocut!

my haiku displayed

Childhood Memories of Scotland
Mairi Neil

At our kitchen table
babble of happy voices
the breath of family

Weather for lamb roasts
rosemary thriving in pot
the smell of Sunday

Scones, pancakes and tea
bramble jam bubbling on stove
Mum’s off-key singing

Bitter icy winds
Jack Frost and his snowmen arrive
snowball fights are fun

The teapot ever ready
Soothing sorrows and worries
culture and comfort

Dad’s railway uniform
always trailing soot and coal
and the sound of steam

Daily tidal dance
a rumbling in the distance
tuning life’s rhythms

But shipyards must close
jobs and happiness are scarce
Australia needs us

At the dinner table
lively discussions hosted
no topic ignored

Time to leave our home
the inner child’s fear frozen
warm climate ahead

The learning curve and level of excitement rose as Adrian demonstrated the various carving and cutting tools and the method for sculpting. We were given a special board to ensure no nasty slips with very sharp objects!

Despite there being octagenarians, septuagenarians and sixty-five year old me around the table, there was no tragic blood-soaked workshops.

It is not an easy task drawing on a tile and then deciding what is positive and negative space so that you cut out a design and produce a print of what you want – what parts of the drawing will remain solid and black, what parts will not be inked.

Tanya, one of the participants who is a well-known artist in her own right, advised me to chalk white the parts that I didn’t want to carve and then wipe off the chalk when finished. Great advice.

Most of us took our tiles home in between sessions and used the tools Adrian kindly lent us so that we’d be finished by the end of the project. I am indebted to my daughter, Mary Jane for helping me and ensuring I didn’t cut away too much of the tile.

close up of my linocut

My first attempt at inking resulted in a couple of dirty marks. Adrian showed me how to clean up the tile and reprint until I was satisfied with the finished product. The second print was fine.

What a relief to know that you get a second chance, even with something as complicated as this.

Writing on Place – First Home – Belonging – What we remember…

It’s amazing how one memory triggers another and in a writing workshop, like pirates, we pick up gems from others and it helps us to remember, reflect and write.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say

Bryant H. McGill

Another youth worker involved in the project was Sophie and one night,  some new young people joined us and we did a getting to know you exercise called Intergen Bingo. We moved around the room to discover various facts about each other to match at least three pieces of description to a person:

  • was born overseas
  • has a dog
  • favourite food is pizza
  • catches public transport
  • likes listening to rock music
  • enjoys gardening
  • drinks coffee
  • plays a musical instrument
  • cannot eat a certain food
  • likes to tell stories
  • plays a sport
  • has an older sibling
  • wears glasses
  • can speak another language
  • has a job
  • has green eyes
  • likes going for walks

The room was soon abuzz with multiple conversations, laughter and surprise. The questions had led to more questions and a better understanding of each other.

I ticked plenty of the boxes, discovered three others had hazel eyes like me, that dog lovers outnumbered cat lovers and the names of two groups the Avalanchers and Jokers played music regarded as ‘surf rock’ – a genre I didn’t know existed.

We discussed what to read at the launch of the project. The presentation needed to be as close to a minute as possible.

A poem about the house we came to live in when we migrated to Australia in 1962 was deemed suitable.

close up of me reading

Aussie Childhood
Mairi Neil

I grew up in bushy Croydon
the trees grew thick around,
milk and bread delivered
to a tuneful clip-clop sound.

Kookaburras laughed and swooped
to steal our pet cat’s food
it wasn’t Snappy Tom, of course
but ‘roo meat, raw and good.

The streets were mainly dirt tracks
a collection of potholes and clay,
most people walked or cycled
and even strangers said, ‘gidday’.

Our weatherboard house peeled
the corrugated tin roof leaked too,
a verandah sagged under honeysuckle,
the rooms added as family grew.

Mosquito nets caused claustrophobia
possums peered down chimneys three,
but the dunny banished down the back
the most terrifying memory, for me.

Electricity brightened inside the house
so torch or candlelight had to suffice
night noises and shadows of the bush
and the smelly dunny was not nice!

The path to the toilet lined with trees
growing tall to seek the sun
but when the dark cloak of night donned
branches became hands from which to run

During the day our block was heaven
definitely a children’s adventure-land
blue tongues, geckos, tadpoles and frogs
all shared our world so grand.

A snake the greatest danger
or a bull ant bite on the toe
a truly carefree wonderful time
my rose-coloured glasses show.

I also read Sammar Bassal’s haiku because she was too bashful to read it herself.

The poem and tile great representations of how the library was her home as she struggled to learn English and find a place in her adopted country.

A design student, Sammar’s tile detailed all these wonderful fantasy characters emerging from an open book.

Home away from home
Surrounded by written words
The library has gone

close up of finsihed product.jpg

October is a month when Victoria celebrates seniors and the City of Kingston’s Seniors Festival has the theme ‘Get Social’ encouraging everyone to be involved and feel part of their local community.

Involvement in the Intergenerational project and exhibition, visiting the Westall Hub for the first time and meeting up with many new people during the course of a wonderful, learning opportunity was not only social but fun.

Kingston is a proudly diverse city, with residents coming from more than 150 countries, speaking 120 languages and following more than 28 different faiths. Council is committed to helping foster an accepting and inclusive community, regardless of anyone’s origin, ethnicity, faith, economic status, disability, age, gender or sexual orientation.

Cr. Steve Staikos, Mayor, City of Kingston.

Whatever the intergenerational project is next year, watch out for it and participate – you won’t regret it.

Here are a couple of pics of some of the seniors involved plus Sammar and the Mayor ‘getting social’.

a happy snap with the mayor.jpega nice group photo.jpg

 

When counting blessings, friends must be high on your list!

tiled mural flinders street.jpg

Coco Chanel apparently said, ‘Nature gives you the face you have at 20. Life shapes the face you have at 30, but at 50 you get the face you deserve.’

If we sulked or made a funny or unpleasant face, my Mum used to warn, ‘the wind will change and you’ll stay like that.’ Both my parents championed smiling and politeness and modelled being friendly and pleasant.

‘You use more muscles to frown than smile’ is always a good comeback when someone looks glum, but there is no scientific proof behind the old saying!

“Scientists have studied the muscles needed for both facial expressions, and to do a small smile generally uses 10 muscles; a small frown uses 6. On average, a smile uses 12 and a frown 11. However, since humans tend to smile a lot, these muscles are stronger. A frown may be slightly more effort to produce just because we aren’t as used to using these muscles.”

Science Made Simple 

However, scientific proof or not, I’m sticking with smiles, politeness and kindness to people because I feel better when I do and following another piece of Mum advice, ‘civility costs nothing.’

My face – wrinkles et al – reflects life hasn’t been easy but there are plenty of laughter lines and when I meet up with friends there are usually smiles and laughter aplenty and I try and catch up with as many as possible during term breaks.

Spring In Melbourne Town 2018
(A hybrid Haibun)
Mairi Neil

outside Alan McLean Hall.jpg
outside where U3A meet

Today, I won’t be grey and miserable
and definitely ‘not over the hill’
I’m meeting a friend of many years
several hours we’ll happily fill.

On way to the train
U3A club gathering
‘Nice day for an outing!’

Dressed for mercurial Melbourne
sturdy shoes and light jackets,
sunglasses, lanyards with names,
backpacks and lunch in packets.

‘Join us?’ their chorus
prepared for fun and adventure
my kind of ageing…

On the train beside a Metro worker
who’s heading for Glenhuntly Station
we chat about insecure work and gender
driving a train once her inclination.

I’m on the bus now
Meet you under the clocks
C u soon’

A confirmation text received
we’ve embraced the digital age
but I open a book of poetry –
I prefer words written on the page.

Train stops Platform 10
30 steps to reach the street
ever mindful of heart health

Food court wafts hot chips, coffee and cake
September’s Showtime and school hols
Flinders station’s abuzz with children
plus seagull, sparrow and pigeon trolls.

Myki tapped lightly
eyes seek a waiting friend
welcome smiles and hug

Age hasn’t happened all at once
however, we stroll not stride, to NGV
with hours to enjoy art and beauty
top priorities a pee and a cup of tea!

A young girl walks by
her straw hat embroidered –
the word – ‘paradise

Indeed! Melbourne – the world’s most liveable city.

Old friends are gold

Uma and I go back forty years BC (before children) and have encountered storms and defeats; sunny days and triumphs. Recently, retired from full-time work Uma is recovering from a serious back operation. I’m a few years older, almost retired from part-time work – four months to go – but who is counting!

For a just celebrated 61st birthday, Uma received membership to the NGV and as we walked from Flinders Street Station, she extolled the advantages and virtues of access to talks, special events, behind the scene views, plus a membership lounge – our first stop for a complimentary cuppa.

THE FAMOUS GLASS CEILING.jpg
The famous glass ceiling at NGV

I love the NGV too – it is celebrating 50 years this year and I can remember it being built. In fact, I can remember the obligatory school excursion where you got to lie on the floor and stare up at the magnificent and unusual leadlight glass ceiling.

There are always several special exhibitions at the NGV, plus their permanent collection. Uma’s input and knowledge from attending member lectures added to the richness of the day as we wandered through galleries discussing exhibits.

A recent talk about Nick Cave’s work: Sound Suit made her think differently about the pieces and how we perceive each other.

sound suit 1.jpg

Nick Cave makes sculptures that you can wear. These outfits cover the body and remove all traces of the wearer’s identity. When you are wearing a Soundsuit, no one can tell whether you are rich or poor, black or white, male or female…he created his Soundsuit series in an attempt to process his trauma associated with the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

…wearable sculptures act as symbols of endurance and a form of protection by obscuring all signs of the wearer’s race, gender, age, sexual identification and class…

made from everyday materials sourced largely from flea markets, including dyed human hair, plastic buttons, beads and feathers…joyous and spectacular…rattle and resonate when worn in performance.

sound suit.jpg

Both Uma and I were busy mums in 1992, with our firstborns leaving Prep and our second children preparing for playgroup and three-year-old kindergarten. International events reported via radio or television and often delayed by hours but the 1992 LA riots unforgettable because at the same time Australia was facing the reality of the Stolen Generation stories and alarming statistics of Aboriginal deaths in custody.

I expressed my anger and fears at Readings By The Bay, the monthly poetry and story readings held by Mordialloc Writers’ Group:

Our Burning Shame
Mairi Neil 1992

Rodney King – who gave you that name?
A “king’ in a black skin…
some will see the irony
or is it okay as a surname.
Is your destiny entwined
with that other dreamer?

The world watched in horror
as they beat you to the ground…
on the ground
into the ground.
The gang of four with official batons
grasped tightly, wielded as if warriors
beating your head
beating your body
beating your legs

Pounding, pounding, pounding…
a steady funeral dirge
burying the myth racial equality is accepted

Middle-class liberals gasped
horrified at the naked truth
other victims sighed with relief
the truth at last revealed.
Those with the power to change
shrugged away the fuss

A picture is worth a thousand words
a video worth a thousand affidavits
television news beamed across the nation
worth a thousand protests
an opportune political decision
worth a thousand votes

Time dimmed the anger and horror
even brutes deserve a trial…
innocent until proven guilty
but will Nuremberg be revisited?
We waited for the sentence
believing we knew the judgement

A jury without black faces
proved society is controlled
by red necks preferring white liars
who can live with red faces

Now Los Angeles burns –
along with our shame
those with real power
remain unchanged
Cosmetics mask ugly faces
waspish capitalists sting
again and again and again…

Shocked Australians are horrified
yet reality reveals our guilt
smugness shattered
when black deaths in custody
inspire jokes

Our custodians of the law
don’t need lessons in brutality
we watched the scenes in LA
but closed minds
can be switched off
just like television sets

Will our cities burn
today…
tomorrow…
next week…

Now, of course, the time delay is only seconds. The 24Hour media cycle (circus?) barely gives us time to digest, never mind process, events. There are social media platforms and mobile devices offering no escape or relief, and ironically, the reality of ‘fake’ news.

After almost three decades I have to pause, reflect, and ask how much have attitudes and behaviour changed?

Will the wider dissemination of news and events via the Internet make people seek further knowledge, see a different perspective, consider a change in behaviour or attitude – or will it just cement their own truth and beliefs?

Across the room beside Sound Suits is Amelia Falling by Hank Willis Thomas, a most effective photographic image on a mirror and depicting Alabama 1965 – I remember that too almost three decades before the LA Riots! :

amelia falling mirror.jpg

Amelia Falling is derived from an archival photograph taken by photojournalist Spider Martin during the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama in 1965…

… civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson being carried by fellow marchers after having been gassed and beaten by State Troopers during what was intended to be a peaceful protest…

Willis Thomas states, ‘In a lot of my work I ask the viewer not to be passive but to actually think about active participation’.

 

What artwork will the Trump era produce – chronicle our despair, facilitate change or confront our shame?

Trumpeting Limericks To Let Off Steam

Mairi Neil, 2016

There once was a candidate Trump
elected by those who took hump
at moneyed elites
according to tweets
by Trump’s collective misogynist clump

He blew bigots up like a bicycle pump
‘deplorables’ swelled to a poisonous lump
forget about facts
diplomacy or tact
winning is all that matters to Trump

As the President-elect Donald Trump
sneered at women considered plump
his unleashed tongue
grotesque insults flung
Trump’s misogyny a cancerous lump

His presidency corrupt at the core
means the United States no more
anger and hate
an uncertain fate
Trump’s only about settling a score

He campaigned with deceit and lies
winning the penultimate prize
of course, he’s a fool
others actually rule
will the majority avert their eyes?

From Mexican artist Joaquin Segura we have Exercises on selective mutism, 2012:

protest banner.jpg

In this piece the artist has recovered a found object – a canvas banner discarded in the aftermath of a protest in Mexico City – and transformed it into a minimalist sculpture by applying layers of white paint to its surface. 

The attempt to cover up (literally ‘whitewash’) the banner’s political message is key to the work’s meaning… about efforts to silence, and render invisible, dissent – through omission, spreading misinformation and erasure – and a questioning of conceptual art’s potential to make political claims or to challenge authority.

I love writing Found Poetry and the last lesson for the term in my Writing Creatively class was exploring Found Poetry by reading a column in the local paper which collates local news snippets from a hundred years ago.

The exercise was challenging but productive and I hope the students polish the variety of poems they wrote.

Art can Confront, Challenge, move us from our Comfort Zone

Several other installations prompted discussions on a host of current media topics and various events we’d lived through.

Baby boomers have survived tumultuous, exciting times and have adapted to incredible change, especially the rise of the digital world. I’m glad there is still support for art you can touch, walk around, relate to and experience in real time, not just on screen.

Melbourne is rich with events to attend, particularly during holiday times and I never tire of the trip to the city – as a teacher of creative writing, particularly Life Stories & Legacies, cultural experiences and exhibitions offer a mine of information and material for lessons and ideas to write about, plus triggers for personal memories.

When we write about our past, it’s easy to look at memories as if through a fixed lens. Events and people, including self, coldly observed – especially childhood – embarrassments, failings, mistakes, sometimes enlarged or erased with hindsight, successes perhaps forgotten or if unrecognised at the time, now embellished. The telescope pointed at childhood fixed, and often others not consulted, so the memory, reliable or otherwise, is our own.

The immediate past and middle years, early adulthood onwards not so clear to categorise or to talk about – marriage, parenthood, working life – may still have ongoing repercussions – more likely family, friends and fellow travellers, still alive even if not active participants in your life.

The memories may be raw and traumatic and still needing some distance before reflection.

Our childhood distant, but not the experiences of our own children and their effect on our lives still being worked through, as are decisions that may have affected our health:

  • abandoning regular sport or dancing,
  • quitting smoking,
  • alcohol use,
  • prescription medication,
  • middle-aged spread,
  • promotion at work,
  • redundancies,
  • reducing to part-time
  • or casual work,
  • divorce,
  • widowhood,
  • estrangement,
  • de facto relationships,
  • weddings,
  • grandchildren,
  • retirement,
  • relocation…

… so many experiences and turning points to be written freely or honestly, or perhaps censored with ramifications fully understood.

Shared experiences, Interviewing friends, a Memoir Writer’s fodder

At the NGV, along with discussing the contents of the galleries, Uma and I chatted and remembered events of our forty years friendship. We both are the product of the first wave of feminism and both have daughters who we raised accordingly, hoping they would not go through some of the sexism and inequality we faced.

Uma, as a woman of colour, born in Malaysia, a country with a long history and acculturation from British colonialism, recognises she adapted to Australian society with relative ease compared to other migrants but we agree the conversations around #blacklivesmatter and #metoo are relevant to Australia and long overdue.

Proud to be Feminist

“You’ll love the Guerrilla Girls: Portfolio Compleat,” said Uma as she guided me to the next gallery.

Guerrilla Girls exhibition confronts gender inequality particularly in the creative fields, and because myself and both daughters (a filmmaker and a stop-motion animator) work in creative fields, Uma wanted me to see it.

We found ourselves sharing insights about subtle and not so subtle discrimination in a world that unfortunately still sees power wielded by the privileged, and in western society, the privileged are overwhelmingly white and male.

Uma confided that at work in the public service, even when she was in charge, as the manager or ‘boss’, she sat in the front row at conferences or prominent positions at meetings to be seen and she consciously spoke a little louder to be heard – a woman of colour, she had two hurdles to jump!

Guerrilla Girls is a group of anonymous feminist artists and activists who call themselves ‘the conscience of the art world’. Their posters, billboards, books, videos and live lectures use facts, humour and bold visuals to expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world and popular culture.

The collective formed in New York City in 1985 with the mission to bring gender and racial equality into focus within the greater arts community. The members protect their individual identities by wearing gorilla masks during public appearances and by adopting names of deceased female icons such as Edmonia Lewis, Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo.

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guerrilla girls and homeless

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Uma pointed to number four on the list of advantages of being a woman artist.

‘You have another 20 years,’ she said with a grin…

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Many of the observations were witty and shocking but in today’s depressing political climate ‘stating the bloody obvious.

On the way to visit another special exhibition, we paused at random objects that caught our eye.

From ‘in your face’ feminism, to the eighteenth century, known for its enlightened philosophes (you’ll be forgiven for only knowing the names of the male intellectuals – Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Diderot, Hume…) because women were literally and figuratively trapped – in clothes that limited mobility, a society that denied rights and access to education:

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The fashionable ideal for women in the eighteenth century comprised voluminous dresses, open at the front to reveal matching stomachers and petticoats, tall powdered clouds of hair and pointed buckled shoes. Skirts were widened with hoops or panniers to create an exaggerated hourglass silhouette that emphasised the natural waistline.

This work is known as a robe a la francaise (or sack-back gown), distinguishable by its sack-back of loose pleating and front robings trimmed with lace that conveys the luxury and ostentation of the period.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, fashionable women’s shoes for the upper and middle classes followed a common form. Straight and narrow with a pointed toe and thick-waisted heel, most were made of rich silk fabric and often had decorative trimmings known as passamaneria. This pair features exquisite metal thread bobbin lace made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread, further edged by strips of braid work. The shoes do not buckle but are worn with the latchets overlapping at the front.

How did they function?

I loved Georgette Heyer’s Regency and Georgian novels as a teenager and imagined floating around in muslin and silk dresses – a visit to a museum would have given me a reality check!

The research required for good historical fiction is painstaking and often clothes play a huge part in whether the story is believable, even more so for screenwriting.

I visited so many museums and galleries when I travelled and often looked at the displays and pondered the hours of labour to make the material, dress and shoes.

My aunt was a tailoress and my older sister an amazing seamstress too, she quilts, embroiders and does all manner of creative needlework. I know the effort and time hand sewing takes – mind-boggling!

However, the men and women hunched in candlelight, in rooms with little or no ventilation, sewing these glamorous gowns earned a pittance and history did not even record their names…

A Stitch in Time (a villanelle)
Mairi Neil

She sits sewing by dim lamplight
embroidered threads by her side
contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

In the stillness of evening light
needle and thread silently glide,
as she sits sewing by pale moonlight.

Cross-stitches, pattern small and tight
new techniques taken in her stride
contented, happy, eyes shining bright.

Her creativity in wondrous flight
imagination flows like the tide
as she sits sewing by candlelight.

Machines embraced despite Luddites
mass production becomes her guide
contentment gone, eyes no longer bright

History records seamstresses’ plight
workers stripped of all but pride
many still struggle in shadowed light
exploited, sad, eyes no longer bright.

A Day For All Things Domestic?

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Curry 2006 by Subodh Gupta

Uma was thrilled to come across an installation by an Indian born artist Subodh Gupta called Curry.

A wall displaying the various utensils used for cooking reminded Uma of growing up in Malaysia and observing her grandmother cooking. There were certain types of pots and pans, spoons and ladles found in every Indian household.

The tiffin boxes brought back memories for me too.

I first heard about tiffins and saw one when John and I became close friends with a workmate, Peter Cordeux who had been born and brought up in India as part of the British Army community.

Whenever we had parties, Peter and his wife Kathy brought a tiffin box filled with delicious curries and rice, which Peter always jokingly claimed he made.

Peter died in 2008, but his stories of growing up in India, holidaying in Pakistan and Afghanistan, being stationed in the Middle East, fighting in Malaya in 1948 during the “Insurgency,” and then the various jobs he had before migrating to Australia, including operating an ice cream van, introduced a whole new fascinating world.

His funny and serious tales reflected in those tiffin boxes! My girls loved their Uncle Peter and still miss him.

Cultural references resonate within the make-up of this artwork: the use of stainless steel in bowls, plates and cups is synonymous with the modernisation and economic development of India in the twentieth century.

Stainless steel replaced kansa (or bell metal, a brittle bronze featuring a high proportion of tin) in the 1950s and 1960s and came to transform the kitchen and eating utensils used in everyday life in India.

The nod to the multitudes of India is made in this work, where straightforward, comparatively small, individual elements are brought together at such a scale that they transcend their everyday nature.

A Writing Exercise

A common writing exercise for those writing family history or memoir is to look in cupboards and write about objects kept for sentimental reasons or as heirlooms. What is the story behind them? Why is it important to write their legacy?

Or write about and explain the value and attachment of everyday objects.

How were they acquired and is there a significant memory attached, like a birthday or anniversary, a travel story?

A trip to the NGV or the museum may help to trigger memories – this stainless steel display certainly did for me and Uma – as did the final special exhibition we walked through.

a stroll through coffee pots

A Modern Life: Tablewares 1930s – 1980s

If you want to date or explain the provenance of that treasured plate or teapot, visit the NGV before 27 January 2019. You’ll have an enjoyable history lesson too and perhaps discover that valuable piece of crockery a la Antique Roadshow!

The layout of some of the displays to mirror popular designs, I found a bit overwhelming and busy, but certainly stunning and there is a great range of designers. So much detail to produce the humble cup and saucer.

Nowadays, in trendy places, you can be offered a jam jar to drink from and your meal served on a wooden board – or even given disposable crockery and cutlery!

Not so in previous decades.

Following the Second World war, societal changes resulted in the decline of domestic servants and many women going out to work. These changes, along with the growing enthusiasm for a modern lifestyle, prompted manufacturers to produce dining wares that were versatile, easily cared for and able to go from the oven to the table.

Postwar optimism also encouraged the development of new tableware forms that were decorated in bold colours and modernist patterns.

This exhibition explores the growing engagement with modern design by commercial manufacturers charting the application of technical innovations in production and decorative techniques in pursuit of commercially competitive products.

Whilst focusing on ceramics, the exhibition also explores the use of new materials resulting from wartime technological advances including plastic, aluminium and stainless steel.

 

As we walked around the cabinets so many memories were triggered.  Personal family stories, especially memories of our mothers and the impact of their preferences, tastes and habits on our own behaviour shopping, cooking, serving meals.

Memories of setting up house in the 80s – scrounging furniture, crockery and utensils to build a home.

Uma was surprised to hear I’d worked in Johnson’s Pottery in the 70s – in fact all members of my family, apart from my young sister, worked in the Croydon factory, producing Australia’s best-known tableware.

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Mum on the pinning bench, Johnsons Pottery circa 1968

Dad was a kiln man for ten years, my mother worked on the pinning bench preparing the holders for the pottery to be fired, my brothers were kiln boys helping load and unload the kiln cars and clearing up debris, sorting and stacking; my sister worked in the decorating section and I inspected the finished products and also worked in the office during the traditional three-week Christmas shut-down period.

When the factory closed for maintenance, the only person running the office was Mr Stephen Johnson, the boss and owner before Wedgewood bought the company. Teenage me on university holidays was hired to answer the telephone and type letters.

At the time Johnsons negotiated special deals with shops like GJ Coles, David Jones and Myer – they chose a specific design that became their exclusive tableware. I took a call from the famous GJ Coles who was a personal friend of Mr Stephen’s and made afternoon tea for the many suited gentlemen who visited to seal agreements for the coming year. 

I can remember the fuss when Johnsons moved away from traditional whiteware and made their first stoneware as they tried to compete with imports from Japan.

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Japanese stoneware

Technology and mass production has made a lot of household items disposable but access to good quality tableware used to be prized – the first complete set of tableware for many being the traditional wedding present of a dinner set.

Most of my family, myself included, had a dinner set gifted as a wedding present. I have a couple of plates, the remnants of the wedding present to my grandparents and parents. Bone China still cherished and on show in cabinets in the homes of many of my generation.

John’s sister in England has a magnificent collection of blue and white pottery (Delftware) and Royal Albert and Royal Doulton Bone China, but the coffee sets and tableware in this exhibition very much examples of the everyday pieces that may not survive intact if their purpose and design enjoyed rather than displayed!

The bold colours of the 70s and 80s obvious and I’m sure similar pieces can be found in Opportunity shops as my generation declutter.

I don’t think young people today place the same value on many of the possessions older generations had to use a greater percentage of their disposable income to acquire.

I can recall seeing the famous blue Willow pattern for the first time when I came to Australia in 1962. We stayed with a cousin of Dad’s and that was the pattern of her everyday dishes. I fell in love with the oriental scenes, my imagination working overtime as usual because I’ve always had a fascination with China.

In the early days of living in Mordialloc, one of the retail chains had a sale of Blue Willow pattern crockery and I bought a set.

When the girls were young, they too ate their cereal from Willow-patterned bowls. I’ll have to ask them if the scenes had any impact on them – I’m pretty sure their answer will be no.

But perhaps in the future, looking back on their childhood or wandering through an art gallery or museum with a friend…

For Auld Lang Syne

I’m lucky to have several dear friends to enjoy the present and some have shared the immediate and not so distant past – the part of life we often struggle to write about in terms of memory and reflection.

Talking about shared experiences or interviewing friends about a particular event can help with perspective when the desire or in some cases, an urgency to record a life for family members or the general community arises.

There are three classes into which all the women past seventy that ever I knew were to be divided: 1. That dear old soul; 2. That old woman; 3. That old witch. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A couple of centuries have passed since Coleridge made that statement about ‘old women’. I’m heading towards seventy and some friends are there already and we’d all agree he got it wrong. 

We may still be fighting for gender equality, and ageism is a reality, but thankfully Coleridge and the other Romantic Poets with patriarchal and sexist views are only around in print and any modern poet expressing similar views will have to contend with shaming by Guerrilla Girls!

I loved my day out with Uma and look forward to catching up with other friends ‘of a certain age’ and intend to enjoy lots of the available activities in October as we celebrate how great it is to be a senior in Melbourne.

Politicians and Poetry – Both Nonsensical Today

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The above quote by Sir Winston Churchill played out today as Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull was finally removed by the internal bickering of his own political party!

This is the second time he has lost the leadership and of course, he has done the same to opponents, notably former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which I wrote about in a previous post in 2015.

I wrote about being glued to the television news coverage and being a political junkie – well the last few days have been deja vu!

Malcolm Turnbull smarter than Tony Abbott, or just a better tactician, pre-empted an assassination attempt, but after a torturous few days for the public,  finally lost and Scott Morrison is now the 30th prime minister of Australia.

Poetry A Good Outlet To Express Feelings

There’s an old saying – if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry… I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling frustrated, bewildered, and angry at the behaviour of the current Liberal politicians and the latest stunt really is beyond belief considering there are so many important issues the voters are worried about…

However, laughter can be the best medicine – or playing with words and writing silly verses can get rid of the anger.

Humour works well in poems, many poets use irony. Repetition and rhyme are great tools too. Added to rhythm and choosing a great subject you could be on a winner like Dr Seuss!

I certainly enjoyed myself manipulating words and making up limericks and clerihews about the hapless lot currently masquerading as our government. Some are unprintable.

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The Muppet Show @ZanettiCartoons

Canberra’s Shenanigans Fodder for Cartoonists but also Poets

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A Limerick is a rhymed humorous or nonsense poem of five lines which originated in Limerick, Ireland. The Limerick has a set rhyme scheme of :

a-a-b-b-a with a syllable structure of: 9-9-6-6-9.

The rhythm of the poem should go as follows: Lines 1, 2, 5: weak, weak, STRONG, weak, weak, STRONG, weak, weak, STRONG, weak, weak Lines 3, 4: weak, weak, STRONG, weak, weak, STRONG, weak, weak…

Part of the charm of the limerick is the surprise, the sudden swoop and unexpected twist of the last line. Like the nursery rhyme, many limericks attack the authority of the church, lampoon politicians and are great outlets for protest.

Limericks Record a Week of Political Lunacy
Mairi Neil

Liberal MPs are rogue again
flushing their PM down the drain
up to power-grab tricks
these self-absorbed pricks
behave as if they are all insane

Malcolm Turnbull has said his ‘Goodbye’
was it only yesterday he said, ‘Hi’?
LNP politics rough
you have to be so tough
‘Cos their loyalty’s in short supply

‘Jobs & Growth’ a slogan, not reality
like all Libs Mal lacks mendacity
a Top Hat forever
his spins are quite clever
Pity he lacks political morality

Tony Abbott always lurked up the back
unforgiving for getting the sack
revenge best served up cold
Biding time to be bold
Then use Dutton to lead an attack

Dud Dutton mistimed Tony’s planned coup
this decision supporters will rue
many thought they had won
dirty deed all but done
till the numbers reduced to a few!

And like Judas, ScoMo can betray
volunteering to save Turnball’s day
with his hyena-like smile
he has prayed for awhile
and been lying in wait for his prey.

Bishop’s catwalks will now be the past
Poor Julie has deputised her last
intimidating stare
and her fixating glare
all gone when her power lunge crashed

Vic MP Greg Hunt rates a mention
No obvious crude rhyme my intention
suffice let me just say
he’s a rat by the way
and deserves careful close attention.

Small ‘l’ Liberals today were trounced
the results of the ballot announced
Dutton’s supporters lost
stability the cost
methinks dastardly deals made with Faust

Josh Freydenberg, ScoMo’s deputy
that may be a strain on fidelity
is there love in his soul
for the mining of coal –
or NEG disappear, plus integrity?

Whoever you vote for, be warned
Peoples’ choices too often scorned
In Canberra’s bubble
Egos foment trouble
Integrity frequently deformed.

What about all those Labor pollies
Scarred by the memory of follies
Libs continually try
But Bill Shorten won’t die
Perhaps that sent them off their trolleys!

quote about politics

 

You Too Can Clerihew

A Clerihew (or clerihew) is a very specific kind of short humorous verse, typically with the following properties:

  • It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view;
  • but it is hardly ever satirical, abusive or obscene;
  • It has four lines of irregular length (for comic effect);
  • The first line consists solely (or almost solely) of a well-known person’s name.

PM Malcolm Turnbull
must feel a bit of a fool
thought he had power
but his party turned sour

Scott Morrison won
leadership squabbles no fun
reflecting on the past
he must wonder will it last?

Ex-cop Peter Dutton
Should order some mutton
like potatoes, he’s mashed
prime ministerial hopes smashed.

Labor’s Bill Shorten
votes must be sortin’
perhaps three-word slogans seeking
‘ScoMo must go’ worth tweaking

Clerihews are funny poems you write about specific people and you don’t have to worry about counting syllables or words, and you don’t even have to worry about the rhythm of the poem.

You don’t have to limit yourself to writing clerihews about people you know. You can write clerihews about people you have never met but it works best if you write about someone who is well known, or who at least is known to your readers/audience.

Politicians and celebrities ideal!

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Hollywood Mel Gibson’s home
Where many Aussies like to roam
Mad Max and Braveheart a winning streak
Pity his true character’s so bleak

But you don’t have to limit your clerihews to real people. You can write about characters from books, movies, comics, and cartoons.

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Poems can have many different purposes, e.g. to amuse, to entertain, to reflect, to convey information, to tell a story, to share knowledge or to pass on cultural heritage. Some forms of poetry are associated with certain purposes, e.g. prayers to thank, celebrate, praise; advertising jingles to persuade; limericks to amuse.

Some of the most satisfying lessons I have are when we try different types of poetry in class. Not all the students agree with me or even like poetry but they always make tremendous efforts and write amazing poems!

Splurge Dirge

Mairi Neil

Let’s agree poetry is a way
for words to live in print
Wordsmiths have their say

Sometimes it’s a bit of fun
doggerel, childish ditties,
satire, irony, – even a pun

Practicality can be boring
romance is better in verse
poetry sets emotion soaring

Memories collect and grow
nostalgia breeds a poem
subverting what we know!

Terse verse a picture paints
limericks, clerihews, lunes
ridicules sinners and saints

Messages in greeting cards galore
Quatrains, rhymes, free verse
jingles, psalms, songs and more.

I can’t imagine poetry’s demise
this wonderful chameleon genre
Its devices will always surprise

I have a wonderful student who has been coming to my classes for more than 18 years – she is now 89 years old. I love her poetry, her attitude toward life and treasure the poems she has written about me!

Limericks & Rhyme

Heather Yourn

There once was a tutor called Neil
Who fervently made an appeal
To all in her class
To get off their backsides
And write with some fervour and zeal

It’s hard to write in rhyming verse
When one is used to prose
But when your tutor suggests you try
You had better – I suppose.

There once was a bard from Avon
Whom many have thought a right con
Some said he wrote verse
But others were terse
Claiming he’d never catch on.

Poking Fun At Pollies
Heather Yourn

Poor old Bronwyn bit the dust
After that chopper ride
Even Abbott deserted her
But no-one even cried.

Mr Palmer’s very rich
He always ate big meals
Bit off more than he could chew
With dubious mineral deals.

Malcolm Turnbull goes by tram
Anyone know why?
Even Google is nonplussed
As certainly am I.

Malcolm was Republican
Until the Hard Right to a man
Forced him in another mould.
Now he does as he is told.

That last stanza of Heather’s written in 2016 – insightful!

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Form Poetry Can be Fun

I usually teach poetry by introducing various forms first – templates and structures help people if they have never tried to write poetry or have a fixed idea of what poetry ‘should be’.

Take a TRIOLET

A triolet is an eight line poem or stanza with a set rhyme scheme. Line four and line seven are the same as line one, and line eight is the same as line two. The rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB.

  • line 1 – A
  • line 2 – B
  • 
line 3 – a
  • 
line 4 – A (line 1)
  • line 5 – a
  • 
line 6 – b
  • 
line 7 – A (line 1)
  • 
line 8 – B (line 2)

ad nauseam

Here is my wonderful Heather again… commenting on our class attempting Triolets from visual prompts…

Triolet Torture

Heather Yourn

This here is a Triolet
Stuff the guy who thought them up
A masochistic fool I bet
This here is a Triolet
Just as well we never met
‘cos on his ‘brains’ I’d sup
This here is a Triolet
Stuff the guy who thought them up

Tori’s got the chicken card
I don’t think that’s fair
How can I be champion bard?
Tori’s got the chicken card
I am trying really hard
Pulling each grey hair
Tori’s got the chicken card
I don’t think that’s fair.

Everyone’s still writing
Furrowed brows the deal
Too engaged for chatting
Everyone’s still writing
Are their rhyme fish biting
to please dear Mairi Neil
Everyone’s still writing
Furrowed brows the deal

And because this post is about politics and poetry I’ll end with one of mine and perhaps a message to ‘that mob in Canberra’ who are so entitled and ego-driven they have forgotten why they are there!

Distraught Democracy
A Triolet
Mairi Neil

Democracy requires some thought
The right to vote so dearly won.
Truth and Integrity can’t be bought
Democracy requires some thought
Election promises with lies fraught
Politicians desperately seek the sun
Democracy requires some thought
The right to vote so dearly won!

No doubt there will be an election sooner rather than later and we can get the chance to vote and teach them a lesson!

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When A Trip is Unforseen, Unplanned and Unappealing…

 

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On Tuesday morning, in a buoyant mood, I set off for work – my last class for the term – and mind already turning over a list of appointments, events, ideas for lessons, and a list of catch-up household chores to be squeezed into the winter break.

In a folder ready for photocopying and collating, the prepared anthology of the writing students of Godfrey Street’s Writing Creatively Class.

I had burned the metaphorical midnight oil for several nights but tiredness banished when I organised the wonderful work produced this semester.  The cliched spring in my step real because a task satisfactorily completed – a job well done.

Pride Comes Before A Fall

However,  life has a way of reminding me never to be too comfortable or smug!

I’d only strode a few yards from home when I was flying through the air before landing with a thud on the concrete path.

Wings definitely clipped!

Three days later, beautiful bruises reveal themselves in places well-hidden but still painful, I  reflect on how lucky I am (no broken bones just sore muscles) and I now obey (within reason) both my daughters’ exhortations, ‘Can you just sit and do nothing – pleeease!’

I’m trying to ‘go with the flow!

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Windsurfer, Mentone January 2018

Déjà vu or Ground Hog Day?

While sitting in Frankston Hospital’s Accident & Emergency, Facebook reminded me of my travels last year and yes, unbelievably, it was this time last year when I was limping through the last leg of the big overseas adventure because I’d tripped in the hallway at my cousin’s house in Renton near Glasgow.

Despite my lovely cousin’s pleas, I didn’t get checked out by a doctor and ‘walked through the pain,’ which led to all sorts of complications when I returned home.

My daughters were most insistent I didn’t repeat any stoicism.

I reluctantly agreed, despite feeling like one of the guest speakers at a Women’s Hospital function who said once she retired ‘a trip’ became ‘a fall’ and she was sent off to a Fall Clinic as if she had a chronic problem.

My accidents were both unexpected trips, but landing on concrete is more likely to do damage than a floor – and it felt decidedly more painful!

I can laugh about Tuesday now, but the audience of half-a-dozen workers were not laughing when I landed beside them. Several strong pairs of arms hoisted me to my feet when I told them I was ready to stand and prove I didn’t need an ambulance.

At another time I might have revelled being fussed over by a batch of young men but I just wanted to return the few yards home and ‘have a Bex and a good lie down!’

A young man escorted me the 100 feet and carried my bag. He returned a few minutes later to check I was okay but I told him my daughters were on their way.

The cavalry arrived to greet a crying mess sitting draped in a bath towel toga with a large icepack on both knees and double-checking fingers, wrists, elbows, neck and all the other places that hurt.

Maybe it is a sign of age but the pain was excruciating. Shock set in and I started to shake – the girls were decisive.

A cup of tea and a couple of Panadol and we headed for Frankston Hospital.

Mobile phones a godsend that day. They had tried for an appointment with our local doctor when I first rang them but the clinic was booked out. They’d also rang my manager and cancelled the class.

While Mary played nurse and found some looser pants for me to wear that wouldn’t pressure my knees, Anne marched down to the worksite introduced herself and recorded the company’s details. She got a contact name of a supervisor because I’d caught my foot on the corner of a manhole cover they’d removed but left jutting out from the area of pavement blocked off.

Distracted and curious by the activity I tripped, but maybe the whole path should have been closed.  Lessons to be learned all round!

Silver Linings

The day became surreal and emotions ran high – suffice to say various temperaments exposed and moments bordered on slapstick, television soapie, Grey’s Anatomy, Brooklyn 99 and then an unexpected lovely moment…

We arrived home from Frankston to find a huge box of fruit on the doorstep and a handwritten note from one of the workers hoping I am okay and wishing me well.

I really appreciated their kindness.

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I also appreciated my daughters’ devotion and decisiveness – they proved themselves capable and caring adults and in all the drama I had a moment of parental pride and joy – they will survive, perhaps thrive – without me and have obviously discussed and thought about ‘the ageing me’ with one of them declaring at one stage, ‘You are not superwoman and don’t have to be supermum anymore.’

And so for a few days, I am ‘taking it easy’ factoring in Panamax and Voltaren Emulgel with the vitamins and blood pressure tablets!

I’ve been touched by visits and phone calls from friends and I’m blessed that injuries don’t seem to be too drastic and the holidays will be great recuperation time.

Happenstance indeed!

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And Today is Poet’s Day

POETS day is a term used by workers in the United Kingdom to refer jocularly to Friday as the last day of the work week. The word “POETS” is an acronym for “Piss off early, tomorrow’s Saturday”: hence Friday becomes “Poets day“.

With ‘enforced’ leisure I’ve started going through notebooks and extracting the ideas jotted down – maybe I’ll get some creative writing done!

I came upon this poem – apt because it was Tuesday Class I was heading to when I tripped so here’s ‘the postcard’ I ‘didn’t send’.

Remember the perennial joke from primary school if you witnessed somebody tripping?

Oops, I tripped.

You didn’t send me a postcard!

An Acrostic Tuesday

Mairi Neil

Tuesdays during school term, I teach in Bentleigh

Up the line from Mordialloc towards the city

Easy to get to by public transport, especially trains

So convenient! And I love it! I know I am lucky, even on

Days when inclement weather suggests

A day in bed or seat by the fireside…

Yet, I‘d never use bad weather as an excuse. Unless

 

Catastrophic cyclone creates wailing whistling winds

Large hailstones the size of tennis balls thunder down

An unseasonal snowfall blocks doors, driveways, footpaths

Sleet, slush or slippery ice replaces stable ground –

Scenarios unimaginable in Mordialloc – unless you are a writer!

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Happy Holidays and Happy Poet’s Day!

 

 

Did You Know 35% of 15-Year-Olds Are NOT Digitally Literate or Proficient in Technology?

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As mentioned in a previous blog, I attended a conference on Adult Education in the community sector where I’ve worked for two decades. This was a great opportunity to consider how learning has changed and what it will look like into the future.

The Foundation For Young Australians was represented by Shona McPherson who is passionate about redefining the role of young people in our society, as well as her belief that the not-for-profit sector can drive social innovation in Australia.

The Foundation has produced detailed reports and these can be downloaded or read on their website. The shocking statistic in the title for this blog is one of them.

Before saying, “Oh, that can’t be true,” it is worthwhile reading the research.

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Teenagers may be big on using Facebook, gaming, and texting but that is not necessarily literacy.

  • Can they use more than Google’s search engine to find information and when they find it can they verify its provenance?
  • Can they format a document?
  • Can they write and send a coherent email?
  • Do they know the difference between various types of files?
  • Do they understand about security on the Internet?

In 2018, we have more than one generation of digital natives, but not necessarily literate ones yet 90% of jobs will require digital literacy

Digital literacy involves:

  • basic skills
  • getting online
  • communication knowhow
  • navigate online
  • create documents

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What Does Being Literate Mean?

Shona focused on digital literacy and building a different mindset for the future but another speaker, Sally Thompson, the Deputy Director of the Future Social Service Institute, who is an education analyst and leader with a background in adult literacy, challenged us to think about how we view literacy and what it will mean for future adult learning needs.

What do adults use literacy for and how do they learn?

Why do they learn?

  • How do we apply reading and writing in everyday life? 
  • In this world of globalisation, many people speak read and write variations of English.
  • It is also a digital world.
  • The main game for us in the community education sector is building a network so people can live meaningful lives.
  • This is complex.

A project by the Australian National University mapped literacy in an Aboriginal community where indigenous language has been retained.

What is reading and writing to them and what did they use their literacy skills for?

Researchers discovered the church, community radio, and other shared hubs for community life were where text was generated.

  • making of culture was the aim,
  • also interacting with other groups
  • and there was extensive use of literacy mediators.

For example, in the Aboriginal community, there were a lot of fly-in/fly-out service providers. When people encountered new texts they didn’t try and master all of it but sought help from the Christian pastor, retail workers in the shops (mainly young women) and those permanent workers or volunteers at community hubs like the radio station.

We all use literacy mediators!

If you have a new mobile phone you don’t read the manual you find a teenager.

If you buy furniture or any other item that needs assembling (think Ikea) you may call a friend or check Youtube.

If you want to understand the prospectus of a tertiary institution, health information, public transport timetables, and numerous other pieces of information that may be delivered in an unfamiliar or detailed format, you ask a friend, a family member, an employee, a receptionist… even a passing member of the public who looks as if they are knowledgeable or confident!

workstation Toronto.jpg

Globalisation has made literacy a patchwork.

It takes a village to be literate in the modern globalised world.

The image we have of someone illiterate is confirmation bias. We think poor, disadvantaged, miserable but research has proven this is NOT TRUE!

  • Researchers discovered the majority of those traditionally regarded as miserable actually live fulfilled meaningful lives by relying on networks to navigate texts.
  • They don’t see themselves as dependent nor do they usually employ someone to read and write for them.  If they do, a lot of trust is required.

However, Sally said the cliches still exist.

If you have no mates you’re in trouble, if low literacy and no friends you are in diabolical trouble.

In the community sector, we often deal with the cliches (those in diabolical trouble, friendless and illiterate, or with poor literacy skills.)

We work incredibly hard in the adult education sector to ensure people can return to education or continue lifelong learning.

However, regardless of our position, we are all literacy mediators especially administration staff who are the first responders to people coming in and needing brochures/leaflets interpreted.

Similar scenarios occur in medical facilities, retail establishments and many government or banking offices. 

There are numerous social interactions and explanations where staff are entrusted to help people or where people help others understand a map, a guidebook, operating instructions etc.

lecture room clarendon college.jpg

The research into various communities showed that:

Tradesmen’s wives, parish secretaries, administration and reception staff – these people often have bi-cultural experience or knowledge.

The work they do is invisible. Comfortable in their environment, available, non-judgemental, and not in a position of authority, they will share their literacy skills.

Reflect on the number of times you have asked someone to decipher instructions, explain a form to be filled in, even translate a menu!

Literacy today is a complex issue. 

Especially financial literacy.

There are lots of mediators necessary because who can say they understand superannuation and the taxation system?

Not many as the current Royal Commission into the banks is revealing.

And as more and more services go online digital literacy is necessary to pay bills, pay for goods, issue accounts and quotes.

Sally suggests that there is a policy disconnect because the government thinks you can only teach and examine levels of literacy in a particular way and so there is a political origin of the tests we use to judge skills.

Isle of Arran 2017

How do you measure literacy?

The current tests are too narrow because we are dealing with human beings, not problems to be solved. A competency-based assessment doesn’t necessarily help.

  • We are not prepared for the modern globalised world.
  • We need to make what is needed visible and encourage the government to change its attitude to funding and other measures because technology is here to stay and in every aspect of our lives.

A conference member told a story of her 17-year-old son who wanted her to play a game on his iPad. She couldn’t understand the technology, or ‘language’  used nor the rules. He became so frustrated with trying to explain that he gave up playing with her.

When getting into the city building where the conference was held we confronted technology.

A keycard with your unique code had to be collected from a central reception area, the card was swiped to go further into the foyer and gain access to a lift to our particular building and floor.

The card had to be held in a way that the barcode was read, not swiped or tapped, which was the first instinct for most people and caused a bit of confusion.

To leave the building was a similar process – a bit like tapping on and off a Myki for the trains and trams (and this was a new experience for country members).

The use of barcodes and scanning is increasing.

I remember when I volunteered at MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) a few years ago only a few patrons downloaded movie tickets onto their mobile phones and the scanners we had were unreliable and didn’t always work.

Today, most people print off tickets or download them onto their phones. If you don’t, you suffer long queues at venues where less staff are employed to deal with the “digital dinosaurs”.

However, navigating websites for information or to buy products can be a nightmare because of poorly worded instructions.

Southland Shopping Centre has introduced paid parking since the train station has opened. Shoppers get the first 3 hours free and movie-goers get an extra hour if they ‘scan the barcode on their ticket’.

What is not clearly understood is that you must take your downloaded ticket to the box office and exchange it for a barcode because just scanning your printed ticket won’t give you that extra hour free. It would be helpful if these instructions were on the website or added to the ticket.

To “get out the carpark free” you have to scan the collected barcode, key in your car number plate and wait for a confirmation.

When I went with my daughters to see the latest Marvel movie (fantastic by the way!) there were a lot of confused customers, a queue at the ticket machine, and most people had to try several times to get the instruction sequence right.

Digitalisation is increasing but so are frustration levels and those not competent with new technology will be increasingly isolated.

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What does it mean to be smart?

Shona  McPherson asked the conference who was the smartest person at school and why did we think they were smart.

A quick discussion around the tables revealed we judged people’s smartness in different ways but usually who got the highest marks in a test or performed better at a sport.

On reflection, we know this is a bad perception, but we still look at who gets the highest TER at VCE.

We carry these perceptions into adult life and yet it should be challenged – employers are usually not interested in high school scores.

But, we still think in numbers when we judge success. In workplaces, it is the ones who have the best sales figures or best results who are considered the smartest.

 A truck driver may not think he is good at maths and may not be able to write well and yet he can look at a truck and know exactly how many pallets it will take, its capacity and weight and fill out relevant forms.

For us, it’s about working out the student needs and directing energy to what they don’t know, not what they already know, and giving them the confidence to see what skills they already have and to build or adapt them to the digital future.

The perception that high test scores are the indicator of smartness is now outdated in workplaces and should be challenged. Other skills are more important and not necessarily quantified by numbers

  • financial literacy, personal initiative, enterprise skills, computer coding, communicating via email etc
  • the practical application should be building those skills in schools, looking at the VCAL system to improve outcomes and adapting to digital workplaces
  • intergenerational learning – using young people skills for older learners

Accreditation will be different – individual and acquired skills will be judged holistically.

Watching 3 TED Talks you have completed learning but how do you measure it? The motivation for learning must be the number one priority but how do you provide the carrot to excite students?

And talking about TED talks these ones by Sir Ken Robinson are worth watching:

What will learning look like in the future?

  • On-demand learning, e-Learning, just in time, and m-learning (mobile learning).
  • It will be modern and contemporary, MOOC, in-bundling and less sitting in classrooms
  • Learning will be done when you want to do it.
  • It is the era of the individual – what do I need? How do I get it?
  • Less structure, more independence and embracing technology.
  • Increasingly there is the attitude ‘get on board or get out of the way.’
  • Don’t reject it because it’s everywhere like SMART phones!
  • Learning is not just face-to-face anymore but we are still connected whether through videos, podcasts, webinars, Skype, Messenger, closed Facebook groups…

Our city is changing rapidly and so must we – I was struck by how isolated Bunjil, the Great Eagle sculpture looked – almost swamped by high-rise and high-tech – and yet Aboriginal culture survives, has adapted, adopted, and influenced…

People look insignificant from the top floors of the buildings too. The future, like our city, will look different but that doesn’t have to be negative.

Teachers in the Sector have been Called to Action

  1. Challenge what you think you know
  2. More important work out what you don’t know
  3. Make a plan for the future
  4. Planning meets opportunity = luck
  5. Ask questions of mentors and others in your professional network

Lifelong learning will look different

  • Risk being foolish and making mistakes with technology.
  • Learning programs must be co-designed – sharing technical knowledge and talent.

Skills are transferable

  • behaviour management
  • confidence building
  • navigating your way around work

Don’t be a Digital Dinosaur!

How Do Writers Benefit?

Mastering digital technology has empowered writers to publish their work and keep all the income for themselves. Some writers have embraced this control and thrived, but many more still struggle striving for elusive success.

Not every writer wants to, as the latest buzzword insists “monetize” their creativity, some just want to publish their poetry, short stories, family history or novel for the joy of writing and sharing.  Even so, skills and quality control are needed.

There are many steps in the process of writing and publishing – each one important:

  • good editing
  • design formatting
  • ISBN
  • quality covers
  • copyright
  • launching – real and/or virtual
  • publicity and marketing – blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube…
  • financial matters such as how will people pay, downloading, invoicing and taxation responsibilities

At every step, you will encounter technology – be prepared and learn – and I can think of no better place to upgrade skills and confidence than at your local neighbourhood house.

The following are just a selection of what is on offer at Godfrey Street in Bentleigh (9557 9037), but similar classes will be found at Longbeach Place in Chelsea (9776 1386) and other community houses around the Victoria.

Understanding and mastering the new technology in a sensible, ordered way will assuage fear and frustration, limit mistakes, and save valuable writing time!

And you never know – you may be more digitally literate than you think. 

A fun lesson is writing a poem, short story, even a novel in bite-sized sentences of no more than 140 characters – the standard number for a Tweet – good luck!

Penultimate by M C Neil
The writing class complained
Digital tools are not for them
Pen and ink and even type
Will outlast this Twitter hype!

Nevertheless, they wrote some great poems and flash fiction.

 

 

 

It Will Be A ‘Happy Earth Day’ If We All Care

to plant a garden

I received a couple of emails today from newsletters and blogs I subscribe to wishing me “Happy Earth Day.”

I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know much about this celebration despite the fact it’s been happening for 48 years and is celebrated every year by more than a billion people in 180 nations around the world!

A Plea for Earth Day 2018

Mairi Neil

Earth, our planet, may be unique in this vast universe

And yet, we take its bounty for granted

Really, we are running out of time

To heal and save this damaged miracle

How foolish we are to ignore the signs

 

Do nothing’ is not an option… Reduce Reuse Recycle

Act now to save ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef or

Year in year out, climate change will wreak havoc

greenery mordialloc

What Is Earth Day?

In 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, recruited activist Denis Hayes to organize a teach-in on April 22, 1970, a day chosen to raise awareness among the American public of an environment many thought was in ‘visible ruins’ and to put green issues on the political agenda.

It wasn’t uncommon in some cities during rush hour to be standing on a street corner and not be able to see across the street because of pollution.

Nelson and others decided to use the consciousness-raising awareness methods from the anti-Vietnam Movement and organised protests and teach-ins, which today some people credit for launching the modern environmental movement.

“The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance.”

The day still provides a benchmark for reflection among people in the environmental community although the movement now involves many other special days focusing on different aspects of “being green” and is not just USA-centric.

By the end of 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been born, and efforts to improve air and water quality were gaining political traction. And as we all know, the USA is a world leader and many countries followed their lead but not Australia – we are still waiting for a national policy!

children at gardenworld

What Can We Do For Earth Day?

For me, every day is Earth Day and I really do try and limit my environmental footprint. My garden is a work in progress. I try and choose trees and plants that are indigenous to the area, although I do have ornamental and introduced flowers, but always I consider the birds, bees and butterflies!

butterfly on rosemarymagpies in front garden

We can all plant trees and flowers or encourage our local authorities to do so.

Be a dendrophile!

“Planting a tree, morally and poetically, requires taking care of it for a really long time, not just sticking it in the ground.” 

slide of tree presentation

 

Earth Day Facts

Although the idea for Earth Day began in the USA, activists can claim environmental victories that have impacted globally.

National Geographic lists 48 changes in the USA since 1970 and of those the following have made changes internationally:

1975 Global Agreement on Endangered Species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was drafted for signatures in 1973 and went into effect in 1975. Signatory countries agree to ban or restrict trade in endangered species and their body parts. Although black markets arose for such products as tiger skins and elephant tusks, countries have also worked together to combat such trafficking.

 

1982 Saving More Whales

In 1982, the International Whaling Commission finally adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling around the world, in response to more than a decade of protests and pressure from scientists. Although pirate and controversial “scientific” whale hunts continue, the end of large-scale whaling marked a big turning point for the animals, and most species began a slow recovery from the brink of extinction.

 

1986 McPackaging Improves

In 1986, McDonalds started using biodegradable packaging, in response to criticism from environmentalists over mountains of Styrofoam containers littering roadways and choking landfills. Campaigners declared a major win, and the effort helped usher in a new era of companies both working with advocacy groups and acting on their own to reduce their environmental impact. The effort also helped raise consumer awareness about the impact of their own daily choices.

 

1987 Plugging the Ozone Hole

In 1987, many of the world’s nations came together to agree on the Montreal Protocol, which outlawed a series of chemicals that had been destroying the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Most famous among these were chlorofluorocarbons. Scientists were concerned that the loss of the ozone layer could lead to blistering rates of skin cancer and other problems. The ozone hole is now healing.

 

Thank goodness for that piece of news because Los Angeles has some of the most contaminated air in the country. … In 2013, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area ranked the 1st most ozone-polluted city, the 4th most polluted city by annual particle pollution, and the 4th most polluted city by 24-hour particle pollution…the American Lung Association’s recent “State of the Air 2017” report, has labelled the state and region a leader in air pollution, with the highest ozone levels.

Here is a poem I wrote when visiting the USA in 1997 when the emissions from cars and industry were choking the cities and I read in the newspaper that it was “marine layer”:

The Veil Lifted on L.A, USA 1997
Mairi Neil

It was like peering through a veil
each day –
not a pea-souper London fog,
nor a Melbourne winter smog,
no this was California, USA,
El Nino blamed for the
atmosphere being grey
and so, we peered through this veil
every day.

The citizens of Los Angeles
told it was the marine layer…
We breathed much easier knowing
government statistics kept showing
that in 1985 over 200 days
Los Angeles spent in ‘marine layer’ haze,
yet in 1997 there were only
twelve such days!

Some misguided tourists
(me included – and called deluded)
thought that veil each day
may be poisonous air pollution,
authorities struggling for a solution,
but no, ‘they’ said not so
and it’s so good to know
L.A.’s twenty-two lanes of traffic flow
only produces marine layer.

Tourists can breathe much easier knowing
that government statistics are showing…

Oops….

since then Climate Change revealed
and what big business and governments concealed…

 

1992 Rio Earth Summit

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was a major event in Rio de Janeiro that helped focus the world’s attention on big environmental problems. It spurred all kinds of solutions, from government to civil society and business. It was there that countries agreed to start working together to address climate change. Countries also committed to increasing their use of renewable energy and to respecting the needs of indigenous people, efforts that were amplified when the UN met again in Rio 20 years later.

 

1993 Protecting Biodiversity

In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity went into effect after being ratified by enough countries. Nations pledged to work to protect biodiversity around the world, in a decision that is often seen as the foundation for sustainable development.

 

mordialloc creek
inner Mordialloc Creek 
bridge hotel and creek
commercial part of Mordialloc Creek

 

 

1997 Early Climate Agreement

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by some countries (although not the U.S). It marked an early serious attempt by world leaders to address global warming in a coordinated way.

2002 Cradle to Cradle Is Published

The book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart helped introduce their concept of biomimetic, clean design to the public. This helped kick off a new movement to rethink all manmade processes to be more in-line with nature, including the idea of ending the concept of waste and replacing it with the idea that everything can have a use as a material for something else.

 

2003 Electric Cars Get Cool

Tesla Motors was founded by Elon Musk in 2003, helping make electric cars cutting-edge again (after they languished in obscurity for a century). Other manufacturers also pushed forward with a new round of innovation, helping ramp up a technology that many pundits think will be a boon for the environment.

 

2006 Al Gore’s Movie

Love it or hate it, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped raise public awareness around the threat of climate change.

2007 Rise of Walking

Walk Score was founded in 2007, rating cities, neighbourhoods, and more for how pedestrian friendly they are. The company helped raise awareness of the growing walking and biking movements, which aim to get people out of cars and into more liveable communities.

I’m a great believer in walking and using public transport. Walking your neighbourhood helps you value and protect it!

2015 Climate Agreement

In late 2015, nations came together in Paris and agreed to a new plan to limit global warming. The deal opens for formal signatures on Earth Day, and it will require countries to reduce emissions according to their pledges. Environmentalists are cautiously optimistic that the agreement represents a global turning point.

2018 Species Show Recovery

In April, the lesser long-nosed bat became the first bat to be taken off the Endangered Species List. After decades of conservation work, including working with agave growers to harvest tequila in a manner more friendly to the bats, the species has recovered its numbers to an estimated 200,000, up from just a few thousand. In June 2017, Yellowstone’s grizzly bears were removed from the endangered list, while the American wood stork was removed in 2014. These examples show that the Endangered Species Act is working, conservationists say.

The Earth is fragile and many parts need healing but Mother Nature is resilient and with our help we may not need to find planet B!

little boy and ducks Mordialloc Creek

 Happy Earth Day!

Quilters Quell Feelings Of Despair And Piece Together Stories To Impress

1. the earth without art is just 'eh'
THE EARTH WITHOUT ART IS JUST ‘EH’

This impressive quilt was just one of many on display at the Australasian Quilt Convention, held at the Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens, April 5-8, 2018.

It is the largest dedicated quilt event in the southern hemisphere and again I used it as an opportunity to catch up with my “quilter” sister, Cate, who came down from interstate for the event, and our younger sister, Rita joined us.

The event is a wonderful celebration of creativity, craft, and community with international participation and recognition.

If you tell stories with a quilt (as many people do), express yourself through hand-crafted clothes and gifts, or adorn and decorate with embroidery, then the convention was the place to be. And, if the day we attended was anything to go by, the organisers will be thrilled with the numbers!

3. closeup bridges over bombs quilt
PEACE – entered in AQC Challenge – Borders & Bridges

Tragic Coincidence

I’m writing this as President Trump and his allies, UK and France, are bombing Syria and so have chosen the above quilt to showcase first.

Each beautifully stitched panel expressing sentiments dear to my heart. If only quilters and writers had political power…

The quilt maker’s statement will resonate with others, I’m sure:

Every time I hear the news it is filled with atrocities and cruelty… it bruises my shadow. I want to tightly shut my eyes, like a young child wishing not to be seen, in the hope they do not exist… but they do. perhaps shining a light on it through the graffiti of tomorrow will prompt us to see… to discuss… to understand… and to bridge the chasm of disinterest and inaction. By adding one reasoned, empathetic voice to another we will steadily erode the borders between us and achieve what we seek and can earn… a Peaceful World.

Maria Mason

What Do Borders & Bridges Mean To You?

This challenge was one of several given to quilters here and abroad and one Maria addressed.

Quilters from the USA also exhibited quilts responding to, and exploring, two fascinating opposites – Turmoil and Tranquility.

A group of South Australian textile artists explored the hashtag symbol. They interpreted the theme in textiles.  “Originally, a typewriter key symbol for ‘number’, the hashtag is now widely used as a means of connecting targeted audiences on social media platforms.’ (Another ‘topical’ topic!)

The Van Gogh Cherrywood Challenge, Dutch Gallery Tour, also came from the USA. The latest exhibit a predominantly blue swathe of exquisite quilts inspired by Vincent’s life, many of his artistic motifs, and even some fun play on titles and his name.

There was an exhibition Met In Melbourne, from eight Australian textile artists who had dinner at the AQC in 2016 and decided to create ‘pieces of/for 8’ – choosing to make quilt panels focusing on a concept of words ending in “ate” as their theme. (Grab your dictionary – concatenate, undulate, ameliorate, rotate, migrate, pomegranate, decorate and ornate.)

Like the variety of responses in writing class to prompts and triggers, the quilters didn’t disappoint. Their thought-provoking, inspirational, and brilliant interpretations, whether of word, theme, or concept absolutely delightful. 

 

4. violin bridge quilt.jpg
Who would have thought of the violin’s bridge?

 

Another quilt maker asked, “Is this Paradise?”

I looked from the tour bus and saw them, Syrian refugees, huddled on a street in Athens, mattresses bundled under tarps. They all had a look of abject misery, here in a place barely able to support itself, let alone provide them with the future they had risked so much to find.

With this thought in my mind I scanned the Internet for more information about borders and bridges, there were so many stories of people crossing bridges and unmanned borders from war torn lands throughout all the world. Did any of them find their Paradise?

Sue Mobilia

5. is this paradise quilt.jpg
Is This Paradise?

I liked quilt maker Jeannie Henry’s declaration that “Borders and bridges are artificial constructs created by man but ignored by nature.” Jeannie and a couple of other quilters used bridges bordering Victoria and NSW, or over the Murray River as subjects.

Linden Lancaster declares, ” I grew up in the border town of Echuca… spent many hours on the river – a scruffy, suntanned girl – swimming, fishing and riding my bike up and down the goofies with friends. Sometimes we would construct cubbies in the shadow of the bridge when the river was low. My first kiss was under that bridge, bridging childhood into adolescence. Forty years later, the painted graffiti of first crushes are still being proclaimed from the bridge pylons and framework.”

Shirley Drayton trips down memory lane too, ” The Echuca Moama Bridge… originally a road and rail bridge with the Fruit Fly Inspection a stone’s throw from the bridge, to stop the fruit from coming over the border from NSW, to prevent the spread of fruit fly. Mr Ron Hicks (my uncle) the fruit fly inspector… The cars had to stop and wait for the train to come across the bridge. Cattle were taken across for market day at approximately 6.00am, again cars had to wait until all stock and stockmen were completely across.”

How Writers can be Inspired

In my writing classes, particularly Life Stories at Godfrey Street, I’ve given Crossing Borders as a topic and ‘burning bridges’ – something most of us have done in our lives. However, many of the quilts focused on a sense of place, not just for the Borders & Bridges Challenge but even those addressing other themes.

“Place” (or setting) is a great writing topic to make a lesson around – not just for a memoir. A sense of, or focus on, a place can trigger all types of creative writing.

There were many fascinating interpretations of the Bridges & Borders topic. The quilts created were striking – geat for inspiring a writing class, especially poetry.

Topical issues, whimsy reflections, emotional reminiscing and gut-wrenching observations. Quilters love words too – some even incorporate them in quilts.

quilt marriage equality.jpg
Marriage Equality 2017

 

Marriage equality is the bridge across the heart of human love and understanding. Negative emotions and thoughts make up the sea of negativity that border this act of love.

Ronda Hazel

 

12. young woman and body not to be abused.jpg
The World Awaits #TimesUp

 

Fear of or caused by sexual assault causes restrictions and confinements in lifestyle and thought. These borders are internalised, held within the model, stitched in text. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are exciting bridges, for the first time ever women are being heard and believed. The onus is starting to be on men to change – and not on women to curtail their lifestyle, to dress conservatively, to not provoke. Stitched into the background are words of empowerment and hope. This quilt can be hung either way up. the model in bridge pose or flying through the sky, free.

Neroli Henderson.

 

16. koala quilt.jpg
Bridge To Extinction

 

‘Bridge To Extinction’ highlights the conflict between humans and nature. Koalas create borders within their eucalypt habitat. Logging in Southeast Queensland forests shrinks these borders and threatens their survival. Using dyes, printed text, paint and stitch on fabric, I wanted to turn the dry words from the newspaper into imagery that couldn’t be ignored. As human ‘progress’ destroys its habitat, the koala escapes on a log bridge to wasteland. I reflect on the irony of providing koala bridge crossings whilst fragmenting the bushland that serves as their only food source and home.

Marie Mitchell

 

 

13. rosellas and galahs quilt
Bridging The Borders

 

conceptually linked to the theme… by its very title. The borders are the empty husks of the gumnuts on the right, symbolising youth and as such empty of knowledge and the full, flowering gumnuts on the left, symbolise old age and being of wisdom and experience. The bridge is represented by the birds arching in full flight across the sky, connecting one side to the other and symbolising the flight of time between youth and old age. Leap from one side and trust that your own momentum shall carry you to the other side.

Kathryn Harmer Fox

 

11. masking ptsd - bulding bridges quilt
A Hidden Reality

 

P.T.S.D. is an insidious and debilitating disorder. Every part of your life is affected. Enduring workplace harassment and bullying led to devastating consequences for me. I was told to ‘build bridges and get over it’. Physically and mentally I was unable to cross the border from NSW to VIC for several years. My career was shattered. I learnt to mask emotions in order to function. Emotionally and creatively I felt dead for several years. the theme resonated immediately for me. The image flashed into my mind and stayed there. Creating it was cathartic. I am a survivor – speak up about bullying.

Julie Evans

 

9. looking for the edge- two generations bridged
Looking For The Edge

 

“Taken from a photograph of my daughter and granddaughter as they gaze out across the sand towards the open ocean. The sand is the border between land and sea. My daughter and granddaughter bridge the generations as they hold hands sharing the moment. They do this often in a silent communication of their shared love for the beach.”

Di Tramontana

 

14. love bridges all borders
LOVE BRIDGES ALL BORDERS

A great display of heartfelt offerings with memorable and thoughtful designs produced by deft hands and artistic minds.

Van Gogh In Stitches

The Cherrywood Challenge was in Australia from the USA for the first time and the exhibit displayed textile art inspired by Van Gogh’s life and masterworks. It was an extensive tribute to the much-loved artist.

Participants from all over the world with 200 out of 450 entries selected. The quilts will travel throughout the world. Participants win fabric prizes, receive extensive exposure and have their work published in a book.

Not surprisingly, there is a growing interest in the Cherrywood Challenge and I think it is appealing to a younger audience than is usually associated with quilting. The next theme being Prince, the musician – cherrywoodfabricsbigcartel.com

 

 

Tradition Versus Technology

There were plenty of traditional quilts on display but I overheard a couple of older ladies lamenting the introduction of “too much technology” – for them hand stitching still the mark of a good quilter.

There may be some resistance to technology, a fear it is ‘overwhelming’ what many proudly boast as a craft were needlework and handmade were the keys to excellence.

Others were ecstatic about the new sewing machines, embroidery attachments, printers that process photographs and material, computerised design and stencil cutters and numerous other offerings from the stall holders, teachers and workshops at the convention.

The digital divide is everywhere – those that embrace and those that resist.

It may be a case of move over or adapt Baby Boomers if you don’t want the Millenials to needle you! Times change – and often for the better…

1949 attitudes to women and sewing.jpg

Generations Explained

And in case you wonder where you fit in, here is a potted version of The Atlantic’s explanation – believe what you will:

  • Greatest Generation, 1930-1946 – they fought and many died in WW2 for ‘our freedom’.
  • Baby Boomers, 1946 – 1964 – freedom from fear because the war was over and relaxation of sexual mores means the name is self-explanatory.
  • Gen X, 1965 -1984 – because it fits a nice 20-year time span, spoiled, apparently they think they’re ‘cool’.
  • Gen Y, – mid-70s to mid-2000s – but considered a made-up generation, so really fake – skip to Millenials…
  • Millenials, 1982 -2004 – the digital natives who apparently want it all.

From a Baby Boomer With Millenial Daughters

I like traditional quilts and know how much time, effort, and expertise is involved – I’ve observed my sister and had many discussions with her and listened while she has explained in great depth the intricacies of various methods of applique, patchwork, dramatic designs, embroidery, paper-piercing and fussy cutting techniques.

However, she belongs to a quilting group that is open to new methods, technology and new ideas – caring, sharing and learning a great philosophy.

I have two creative daughters totally comfortable with new technology and pop culture.

Below is a minute selection of traditional quilts on display – there were even rows of the ‘Best in Australia” with award winners from every state.

I love the inclusion of non-traditional articles and adaptations. We met a young lass who loves cosplay. She was promoting sewing machines with attachments that did specific embroidery and lace effects.

We chatted about cosplay and I mentioned some of the memorable costumes I saw when I went to a convention in Sydney a few years ago.

Her anime costume a gorgeous pink layered dress with rabbit ears headgear. She wore the dress recently as a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital at Easter and attends events and does other promotions when she has time.

The dress took several weeks to make and has over $400 worth of material. A marvellous example of dedication to popular culture using centuries-old crafts.

There were two other costumes on display – one a la Jane Austen and one from the Lord of The Rings.

While I was engrossed in reading the stories behind the quilts my sisters met up with a writer and academic who has just published a book Towns and Trailblazers.

Rita was particularly impressed with Jen Wulff ‘s research of local women from the 18th, 19th or early 20th centuries, some renowned, others unknown.

‘Each trailblazer and her town have inspired a quilt block which combines to create an Australian inspired textile providing a tangible connection to places and the women remembered.’

29. quilt of forgotten women

The quilt blocks relate to the far North West coast, through to the Red Centre, across to the East Coast and down to Southern Tasmania. Short stories about the women, quilt templates and construction tips are included in the book, which Rita, bought.

Jen is a quilter too and ‘greatly values the lasting friendships made through local quilt groups and she hopes her recently published book increases awareness of both quilting and the role women had in shaping Australia.’

The Melbourne Exhibition ‘8’

 

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CONCATENATE

 

“To link together, to unite in a series or chain.” Quilter Lee Vause drew inspiration from childhood games: Scrabble, Barrel of Monkeys, Snakes and Ladders and Twister.

 

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DECORATE

 

Using thread and free motion stitching, quilter Raylene Richardson decorated face shapes emphasising different facial elements.

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ORNATE

Showing wonderful use of texture and design and manipulation of materials, ‘Ornate’ is self-explanatory, but for ‘Migrate’ the quilter chose feathers and fish to represent the large migrations that occur in nature.

 

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MIGRATE

 

Our world is constantly turning, slowly spinning and rotating around the sun. Inspired by the marvels of the natural world Brenda Wood is fascinated by the way the sun peeks over our horizon in the east and we catch ‘the trails of its warmth and beauty, until each evening we rotate away from its heat and light…’

Sunlight travelling through our atmosphere scatters colours, stronger beams during the day than in the evening – depictions of the varying strength of colour in sunrises and sunsets represent the concept of rotating.

 

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ROTATE

Instead of an adjective, quilter Sally Westcott chose a noun. The pomegranate is beautiful to eat, cook with, and to paint and draw. She enjoyed exploring its texture, shape and colour.

 

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POMEGRANATE

Internationally, award-winning, Melbourne based Neroli Henderson chose the word ‘ameliorate’ – the process of making something bad or unpleasant better. Her panels “focus on the vulnerability of the female form, and its power and ability. Creating personal, explorative works such as these helps to ameliorate the past. An artistic catharsis. These pieces seek to take memories of physical pain and loneliness and transform them into moments of beauty.

 

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AMELIORATE

 

I wonder how many people have heard of Neroli ( eiloren.com.au ), quilter, writer, editor of Textile Fibre Forum magazine (2014-16), a group owner of the popular Facebook Textile Arts group, and an artist ‘who combines art quilting techniques and materials with traditional media and digital approaches.’ She believes ‘in the use of textiles and stitch as a valid fine art medium and can often be found using this traditional “women’s work” to create feminist, political, and other social commentary based artworks.’

As my first image implies – I can’t imagine a world without art – in all its forms!

 

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UNDULATE

Kim Boland’s chosen word ‘undulate’ transformed into four colourful and charming panels. “Undulating, curvy, wave-like lines, found all around us, are peaceful and calming.”

 

Her depictions: blue ocean waves, rolling green hills, red desert dunes and yellow fields of canola. Specifically shaped pieces portray the movement of air and water across flowering fields, sandy dunes, grassy fields and ocean waves.

Carolyn Sullivan’s Retrospective

Mairi Neil (a found poem from AQC 2018)

Australia’s climate captured
cool and hot, clear and misty
searing heat, sleet, and storms
flat plateau country and
eucalypt and deciduous forest,
garden parks and deserts of
thousands of kilometres…
changing environment evoked
and expanded on cloth canvas
lovingly dyed with colours
of plants from Aussie desert and bush.
Plainness transformed
into earthy and warm
tantalising textures,
tree trunk tracks of insects,
lichen, leaf and fungi patterns,
depictions of diversity –
native animals, trees, birds,
and beautiful grasses…
hand stitched close, straight,
the vastness of the landscape
and love of country
honoured in every stitch.

Retrospective.jpg

There was another evocative reflection of the world by quilter Gillian Travis which if I was talented with a needle, on any level, I’d love to do!  She has created quilts from her travels to exotic, and not so exotic, places like Uzbekistan, India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, South Africa, Europe, Israel and Jordan.

These quilts focus on people and place and beg for stories to be imagined and written!

Observation and attention to detail important for quilters, photographers and writers. At the convention, you could do a course on turning your favourite photograph into a quilt and intrepid traveller Gillian’s work offered walls of inspiration.

Journeys In Stitch

 

Turmoil And Tranquility

“Presented by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), this museum-quality exhibition features quilts created specifically as art pieces. Work brought from the USA explores two fascinating opposites…”

Again, what was fascinating was how each artist interpreted the words and I loved reading the stories behind the quilts.  Just as we become comfortable or can relate to particular stories or genres in our taste of books, so too how the artists depicted the theme is influenced by our ideas of what the words could mean.

Sometimes what the artist was trying to do resonated more than the finished piece, and at other times little explanation was required.

Jill Kerttula from Virginia chose the turmoil of a woman’s first pregnancy: ‘physical, emotional, cultural, and mental changes and challenges, both internal and external.’ Jill used sketches from ancient medical texts, copies of cards her mother received and original images to portray turmoil and angst.

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BABY QUILT

Jennifer Day from New Mexico chose Donald as her subject for Tranquility. He has ‘led a life full of twists and turns… his adulthood serving his country in the French Indonesian War in 1956 – almost 70 years ago. He later served in Korea, and in another war that he will not talk about. He has had cancer numerous times and is still fighting lung cancer.’

Jennifer took a photo of Donald as he sat in the window of an old barn in New Mexico. She captured the light of the setting sun gracing his face and “his expression leads us to believe that he is content. At age 86, I believe that he is satisfied with life and that his future holds promise.”

I was charmed by this quilt, by the subject matter and outlook of the artist and my photograph does not do it justice – each strand of hair is stitching – the artistry seamless connectivity in this work truly impressive.

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DONALD IN THE LIGHT

Carol Capozzoli from Connecticut captured the insidious spread and effect of cancer. “From the first pathological cell division, turmoil begins… (it) spreads to surrounding tissues and possibly other body parts. With a diagnosis, the turmoil spreads to the person’s emotional and spiritual being, and to those close to the person.”

cancerous turmoil quilt.jpg

  A CANCEROUS TURMOIL

Lots of the pieces celebrating nature or the seasons understandably focused on tranquillity. Judith Roderick from New Mexico chose the endangered Whooping Crane.

“There is something very compelling about a human-sized, ancient bird who has been on the planet since the dinosaurs. the Whooping Crane, one of the two North American Crane species, is the world’s most endangered crane with about 600 now in existence. This quilt was hand-drawn from some of my own photographs. It reflects my hope, intention, and prayer that they may continue to grace our skies and landscapes for ages to come.”

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Whooper

Illness is probably the most common disruption many of us experience and as our population ages, statistics reckon more of us will be living longer and coping with Alzheimer’s.

Diane Born from Oregon seemed to reflect from personal experience when she wrote, “That fine, immaculate woman is now mismatched and muddled. She withdraws from loved ones, snarls at children. plaque invades her brain, erupting in tangles, robbing her of memories. She mutters and mumbles, rarely smiles. paranoia stalks her, evident in mood swings, delusions, and apathy. Her sewing, hand or machine, fragments and disintegrates. Brain waves slow and falter, losing a rhythmic pattern. the lady vanishes into the disease.”

My father succumbed to dementia. It too was slow and insidious and painful to watch. Occasionally, flashes of the father we knew and loved appeared – the effect on the person and their family is indeed turmoil!

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A SLOW DEATH BY ALZHEIMER’S

Another piece that resonated was by Michele Lea of Ohio. who admits to constantly searching for peace and tranquillity.

“Trying to find a place of light, rather than focusing on the cloud of darkness that looms over me, is a daily ritual. I suffer from chronic mental depression, which is a disease with no cure. More than 40 million people suffer from it and suicide is an ongoing threat for those of us who want to escape. The image of me floating, with butterflies draping over me as a blanket, is tranquillity. For me, it is an end to torment – a place of safety and peace; my original home where I could join my creator and become whole again.”

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TRANQUILLITY THE END

It is a reflection of the times and the pervasiveness of the 24-hour news cycle that the turmoil of the world refugee crisis is never far from our screens or minds. Sandy Gregg from Massachusetts observes:

Since the beginning of time, people have left their homes to begin lives as refugees for a myriad of reasons, including war, discrimination, crop failure, and religion. This piece represents borders crossed, obstacles faced, and the turmoil that these brave people face during their travels.”

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CROSSINGS I

Another quilt that appealed to me used vintage postcards (collecting postcards a hobby of mine) and image transfer a technique I’d be tempted to use if a quilter.

Patricia Kennedy-Zafred from Pennsylvania is doing a series portraying women from all over the world with ‘strikingly varied concepts of beauty‘.

The images are of Japanese geisha who ‘despite the typical connotation, true geisha were highly trained in dance, music and various forms of art.‘ Their calm facial expressions ‘part of their allure, as their rigorous training was designed to create a presence of subtlety, strength, and grace.’

geishas.jpg
A SEPARATE REALITY

I have to feature Donna Deaver from Idaho who although we are living on separate continents, we have a similar way of relaxing and finding that elusive tranquillity.

I have a deep love of the sea. It draws me in an unexplainable way, calling to me when I least expect it. Even though I no longer live by the ocean, I feel at home whenever I return. One of my favourite times of the day is early morning when the beach is empty. Listening to the infinite rhythm of the surf is a form of meditation.”

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MORNING WALK

Believe it or not, the images featured are only a tiny selection of what was on offer at the AQC 2018. I’ve written about some that caught my eye, or touched my heart as a writer and haven’t done any justice at all to the array of fabrics, threads and techniques the artists applied.

Suffice to say the convention has lots to offer to those not expert or involved in the art of quilting, and from what I’ve observed the few times I’ve attended it is only going to expand and become more eclectic.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and seen in this post, I hope you attend one day, you won’t regret it.

Having firsthand knowledge of the quilting community via my older sister I know they have a sense of humour too and I love the self-deprecating quilts like this one – the three women are staring at the latest super duper sewing machine and asking “But does it make the coffee?”

quilters - but does it make the coffee.jpg

After this marathon writing effort, I’m heading to the kitchen to make a cup… but will leave you with one of my personal favourites from the convention with a message for all those who struggle to achieve their dream…

 

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A tribute to Senator Elizabeth Warren.

 

Writing Creatively About St Patrick’s Day

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All of us are influenced by everything we have experienced in our lives but like a gigantic sponge, writers absorb more than most.

The small details, the unusual objects, the striking character, the overheard conversation, the beautiful sunset, the changing leaves – the possibility of story everywhere –

like the pub dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and Baker Street in the heart of Melbourne advertising St Patrick’s Day that I discovered on Friday!

Many writers worry they are regurgitating ideas seen or read somewhere, ideas that have been written up ad nauseam

I remember when this was mentioned at a workshop I attended years ago, the presenter said, ‘Don’t worry there’s no copyright on ideas and whatever you write will be from your perspective, you’ll have your own take on it.”

Just as the owners of The Sherlock Holmes at 415 Collins Street have done – creating their version of the famous character’s story.

history sherlock holmes pub

Do they worry about appropriating ideas from Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpiece? Worry about cashing in on the desire of the Irish (and on March 17th it seems a worldwide desire) to celebrate St Patrick’s Day?

Not at all.

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I tell my students – even if the idea isn’t fresh, still write the story or poem because you can change everything (names, place, people or events) after you have let your creativity loose.

The finished work is yours – a unique perspective – an original manuscript!

Ideas are free and flexible.

Focus on writing your life experience, your dreams and fantasies, adding your research, your interpretation of what you’ve absorbed and your thoughts…

… and whatever results will be a new work of art.

The recipes listed in Mrs Hudson’s Pantry below are just a variation of well-loved British or Australian delicacies. There may be a pinch of a special spice or sauce that makes it ‘original’ like a story that is enhanced by wordplay, metaphor, flawed character, or exotic setting to vary one of the acclaimed seven basic plots authors keep writing!

Do you know the what, why, or when of St Patrick’s Day?

Brush up on your history of St. Patrick:

‘ before him, there were no farms, sheep, or deer, but there were saintly women who slew dragons and performed miracles’.

(This quote from an article St. Patrick’s Day Facts: Shamrocks, Snakes, and a Saint by John Roach in 2010, available from the National Geographic magazine online quoting St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.)

  • Can you write about St Patrick from a position of knowledge?
  • Do you know anyone called Patrick (are they saint or sinner?) that you can write about or make a character in a story Irish and called Patrick – or why not Patricia!
  • Write a story around the theme of immigration, or slavery (sadly, still two very much alive and contentious issues)
  • Or perhaps religious zealots, or cults – or maybe how important partying and having fun is to health!

There are many stories waiting to be written from a variety of angles… who would have thought Ireland, a staunchly Roman Catholic country would vote for marriage equality long before Australia got its act together?

What Colour is Tolerance?
Mairi Neil

Green comes in forty shades
The Irish folk group sings
Soft moss by rivers streaming
Tarragon glory of faerie rings.
Ireland the true Emerald Isle
Celtic forests delight and intrigue
Crushed pine perfumes the air
Woodland ferns soften history’s deeds.
When English mist descended
Paradise green became no more
Even Dublin Bay was laced with blood
Years of bomb blasts and ghastly gore.
Like the famed Amazon jungle
Impenetrable; a hope of peace deemed futile.
But as spring buds banish winter
Persistence gave reason to smile ––
From green felt to cameo silk
Ireland’s metamorphoses proudly displayed
Acceptance of all shades –– green and pink
In May 2015, history indeed made!

bunch of red roses

10 Things You May Not Know About St Patrick

  1. The apostle and patron saint of Ireland wasn’t even Irish! He was born in western Britain, probably West Glamorgan circa 389AD. His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman official and deacon.
  2. As a boy, Patrick was captured in a Pictish raid and sold as a slave in Ireland. he escaped to Gaul, studied in a monastery and returned to Ireland to spread Christianity.
  3. Although landing at Wicklow, Patrick travelled north and converted the people of Ulster first!
  4. He died in 461AD and is buried in County Down, Northern Ireland.
  5. There are many stories ascribing miraculous powers to Patrick, including one that credits him with ridding the island of vermin (snakes) Slowly, mythology grew up around Patrick until centuries later he was honoured as the patron saint of Ireland.
  6. No native snakes exist on the island today, but they never did so the story about St Patrick casting out the snakes was fake news in his time. (However, snakes symbolically represent evil and Patrick was the power of good.)
  7. St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans. (I can hear my Irish mother groaning and saying ‘typical Americans claiming everything!)  However, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not take place in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. As the years went on, the parades became a show of unity and strength for persecuted Irish-American immigrants, and then a popular celebration of Irish-American heritage. 
  8. Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and sometime in the 19th century as St. Patrick’s Day parades were flourishing, wearing the colour green became a show of commitment to Ireland.
  9. Until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it.
  10. In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green. Similarly, pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout brand are dyed and consumed. The party went global in 1995 when the Irish government began a large-scale campaign to market St. Patrick’s Day as a way of driving tourism and showcasing Ireland’s many charms to the rest of the world.

So, if you are like me, with a partial or full Irish heritage, you can be forgiven for thinking all the fuss and ‘green’ everything around St  Patrick’s Day, is a modern phenomenon because it is!

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Today, March 17 is a day of international celebration, as millions of people around the globe put on their best green clothing to drink beer, watch parades and toast the luck of the Irish.

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What’s your experience of St Patrick’s Day in Australia – after all, we have lots of Irish immigrants?

Writers, especially if they want to be journalists or write blog posts should have eclectic tastes and always seek to improve their general knowledge.

In this day and age of instant news and a proliferation of people competing online and in print to be writers, those who want to see their name in lights and/or earn a living from writing need to be up-to-date and in fact, with the 24-hour news cycle, they need to be up-to-the-minute!

If you are writing family history you may just have a touch of the Irish in you because Ireland is a country with a long history of exporting people.

Or perhaps you have an Irish Setter? This dog breed falls into the category of ‘love them or hate them’ and as an ex-owner of one of these lovely dogs, I challenge the stereotype that they are stupid. Our Orla was indeed the queen of dogs.

Did you learn or love Irish dancing, Irish music and songs?

My music collection ranges from wonderful tenors like Father Sydney McEwan to The Dubliners folk group and Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin (anglicised as Enya).

When you hear a particular song – When Irish Eyes Are Smiling or Its a Long Way to Tipperary – what memories are evoked? What about The Unicorn song or Lily The Pink by The Irish Rovers?

Have you visited Ireland or is it on your travel Bucket List?

To get more inspiration wear something green, or sit in the garden — perhaps the luck o’ the Irish will heighten the muse!

Grab a stout and join the craic at a celebration – visit The Sherlock Holmes, or even Ireland itself!

 

The Richness of Celtic Culture Can Be Mined For Stories

Before the introduction of Christianity, Ireland was largely pagan. However, with the arrival of early Christians, missionaries preached where people already worshipped and folded pagan places of pilgrimage, including holy wells, into a new faith. Saints replaced pagan deities and existing places of prayer were given a Christian flavour.

Despite Anglo-Norman attempts to replace veneration of Irish female saints with the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and later efforts to suppress rituals and beliefs around wells, dedication to the saints persisted, and they remained regionally significant. 

The endurance of particular saints became connected to the success of dynasties that were attached to certain territories and their endowment of land for churches and abbeys.

(Did you know that professions have patron saints? St Matthew for accountants and bankers, St Genesius for actors and for secretaries, St Jerome for librarians, and writers have two saints, St John the Evangelist and St Francis de Sales – is this because we may sin more than most or need more looking after?

What happens to those saints of professions no longer prolific or even existing? St Crispin (cobblers), St Sebastian (pin-makers), St Hubert (huntsmen) – do they get reassigned to the new professions created by technology?)

For many wells, their mysticism extends beyond their connection to a saint. Known for their healing capabilities, some wells were believed to specialise in treating diseases such as tuberculosis and whooping cough.

Today they are sought out more for maladies like sore throats, head, back, stomach, and toothaches, warts, and other skin-related problems, anxiety, and even cancer.

Researchers’ studies determined that some wells are rich in specific chemicals, for example –

  • waters associated with skin remedies are often high in sulphur, an effective ingredient in acne medication.
  • Wells connected with “strengthening weak children” are generally iron-rich.
  • The wells in County Kerry’s “Valley of the Mad” contain lithium and were effective in treating mental illness.

    …a few hours into the dark of night, an intergenerational crowd encircles a large, smoky bonfire near the sites of two holy wells dedicated to St Brigid. Just over 100 participants have gathered outside Kildare town for an annual event celebrating both the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc (the beginning of spring) and St Brigid’s Day (February 1st). Led by sisters of the Brigidine Order, they bring lanterns and candles to welcome “the light of Brigid” and the end of an unusually cold winter.

    Quite literally in spite of the cold, the crowd is sprinkled with water from St Brigid’s nearby healing well. A woman sits by the fire and begins weaving a large St Brigid’s cross of local rushes. As the crowd falls silent— her actions are explained as symbolic ritual labour; she weaves into the cross the dreams and worries of those present…”

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  • This practice of observing a modern religion and a pagan precursor is known as ‘syncretism’. You can find it all over the world among former slaves and indigenous peoples who are nominally Catholic, but who identify their saints with pre-Christian gods.
  • In parts of Latin America, Indians in the more remote regions especially, observe rituals that are derived from both Latin Catholicism and their ancient animist traditions.

Story Ideas

  • Write about a saint or someone who turns up at the well to be healed.
  • What story can be written about the failure to keep the sacred feminine well?
  • Do you have a ‘miracle’ cure story?

BelleGibson

Did you Know These facts about The Shamrock?

Trifolium dubium, the wild-growing, three-leaf clover is what some botanists consider the official shamrock.

However, many refer to other three-leaf clovers, such as the perennials Trifolium repens and Medicago lupulina but according to the Irish these plants are “bogus shamrocks.”

The custom of wearing a shamrock dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, but there is no evidence to say what plant people used, therefore, the argument over authenticity is purely academic.

Botanists say there’s nothing uniquely Irish about shamrocks. Most species can be found throughout Europe so is this just another example of the Irish ‘gift of the gab’ and great marketing?

Spiders are supposed to be lucky too – so I guess my run-in with this greenery cocooned in webs in Northern Ireland was extremely lucky!

STORY IDEAS ABOUT IRELAND &  ST PATRICK’S DAY

Think of words associated with Ireland and St Patrick’s Day – list them and see if a story or poem is triggered:

WORD LIST TO GET YOU STARTED:

Ireland, luck, leprechaun, a pot of gold at end of the rainbow, Guinness, stout and beer, blarney (kissing the Blarney Stone), brogues, dancing, bagpipes, the fiddle, Gaelic, Erse, potatoes bread, Irish Stew, scones, shamrock, shillelagh, limerick, poetry, jigs, faeries, banshee, pints, poteen, marching, clover, green, Irish, happy, St. Patrick’s Day, holiday, myths, legends, stove pipe hat, buckles, shoes, surprise, superstition, seventeen, Dublin, Belfast, magic, four-leaf clover, tradition, celebration, family, emigrants, Emerald Isle…

  • Pretend that you have found a four-leaf clover that will bring you extraordinary good luck for exactly one day. Write about that lucky day.
  • What does it mean to get a “lucky break?” Write about a time when you got one.
  • James Garfield (the 20th US president) said, “A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.” What do you think he meant? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Draw a mindmap in the shape of a large four-leaf clover. In the centre write: I am lucky because… Then, write a different way that you are lucky on each of the four leaves. Use the words to make a poem.
  • Do you have a good luck charm? Describe your lucky keepsake and how it brings you luck. Do you have a lucky number? An item of clothing that you wear that always seems to make you happy or good things happen when you wear it?

Writing About Leprechauns

  • Do you believe in leprechauns? Why or why not?
  • Write the Legend of the Leprechaun. Create a story about the lucky Leprechaun (or one who lost his magical powers).
  • What do leprechauns do all day? Make a daily schedule for a leprechaun – what will happen if one leprechaun tears up the timetable?
  • You have caught a leprechaun (how?).  He/she gives you a pot of gold in exchange for freedom. What do you do with it? Or maybe you are granted 3 wishes… but there are rules/consequences
  • A mischievous leprechaun paid a visit to your garden during the night and caused all kinds of trouble. How do you cope/ fix it?
  • Make a list of the advantages or disadvantages of being as small as a leprechaun. Can you write a story?
  • You are a leprechaun who is tired of the old-fashioned hat, suit, and shoes and you’ve decided green is not your colour. You want a new, updated look for today’s modern leprechaun. Write a letter to the leprechaun fashion designer explaining why you think an update is a good idea and what the new leprechaun outfit should be. Or write the dialogue between a grandmother/mother and teenage leprechaun daughter or grandfather/father and teenage leprechaun son.
  • Describe a magical land “over the rainbow.” How do you get there? Do you stay? Is it really Nirvana/Paradise/Heaven?

Acrostic poems can be written about anything…

You can use one word for each letter, create a full sentence, have it rhyme, or just write random phrases. Acrostic poems are whatever you want them to be – I’ve used GREEN and LUCKY from the word list above.

Grass is always greener somewhere else
Really you make your own luck
Each of us can pay it forward
End the myths about magic
No leprechauns just as there were no snakes!

Leprechauns are too small to see
Unlucky for some, but not for me
Can a rainbow grant wishes, or promise gold?
Kids love these stories and beg they be told
You can see the ‘wee people’ if you’re bold!protest outside parlt.jpg

Are you Green?

Today ‘Being Green’ has everything to do with the environment and recycling, or having a ‘green thumb’ in the garden.

But perhaps you were ‘green’ once upon a time when you were learning something new?

Or perhaps ‘green around the gills’ from a wave of nausea?

recycling Groomsport NI

Mairi Neil’s attempt at St Patrick’s Day Limerick

Have you ever tried writing a blog
Through a St Paddy’s Day partying fog?
The brain is numb
Words don’t come
Until you sample ‘the hair of the dog!’

May your muse function better than mine – Happy Writing and feel free to share!

Rekindling The Desire To Write

desk

The other day, I received an email from a young man who wanted to write – not a book or novel but ‘perhaps for the screen‘. He believed his future was to write stories and present them in a way people understand just ‘not in paper format‘…

Unfortunately, Mordialloc Writers’ Group is no more but his desire to tell stories and write made him seek guidance from other writers.

His request rekindled memories of why I founded the local writers’ group in 1995 and maybe he and several others who have contacted me will be motivated to establish their own support group.

I remember that ache to be with people who understand the desire to write.

I remember wanting to not feel isolated or alone; needing to be with others who understand the fascination with words.

Sometimes I wonder where that eager, passionate writer has gone.

empty beach

It’s Easy to Become Jaded

Over the years, through my involvement with the group and my teaching, I’ve managed to keep writing, but not always, writing what I want – and sometimes not from the heart. There have been periods of avoidance or dissatisfaction with whatever I’ve written. Periods of feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of others.

At times it took a conscious effort to remember and appreciate the sheer joy of stringing words together into a meaningful sentence, a memorable metaphor, a funny rhyme, an interesting character or setting…

When there are workshops to organise, deadlines to meet, lessons to plan, and editing of other people’s writing, the passion and pleasure, spark of imagination and fun are often smothered, spontaneity lost.

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  • I’ve never had ‘making money’ as the main aim or motivation for writing – just as well because few writers ever become wealthy like JK Rowling.
  • My ego has never been so demanding that celebrity status or becoming famous kept me motivated to write.
  • And unlike George Orwell, I have never been so driven that I could neglect family responsibilities or my friends.

However, I do want to be able to respond proudly and without hesitation,  to the questions, ‘What are you?‘ or ‘What do you do?’

I want to respond with, ‘I am a writer.’

I believe I am, and I do – even if not as successful as many others in the field.

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  • I still want to record my own stories and help others record theirs.  Let their voices be heard regardless of whether they have a university degree or dropped out of high school.
  • I want to meet anyone who enjoys playing around with and understanding the power of words, whether it be writing ditties, letters to ‘the editor’, romantic and creative cards, bookmarks, popular or literary short stories, healing personal stories, or the ‘one novel everyone has inside them’.

Mordialloc Writers Group produced nine anthologies between 1997-2016 and gave 66 writers a voice and an opportunity to be a published author. Many have gone on to write novels, poetry collections and memoir.

I have a shelf of class anthologies from paid teaching positions at several places, including the Sandybeach Centre 2002.

Writers gather to workshop
Read their prose, poems, and plays
In the Studio
Tuesday morning
Each week at Sandybeach

Mairi Neil 2002

blue moon rose

The anthologies from classes at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, Godfrey Street Community House and Longbeach Place, remind me to appreciate the privilege of meeting so many different women and men of varying ages and abilities, all with a desire to write.

I have pages of imaginative, poignant, amusing and serious poems and prose from so many different writers.

What a privilege to share their stories, poems, plays, songs – even an opera – as they delighted in being with like-minded people with a passion for words.

Writing groups and classes bring together people from all walks of life writing what they want to write, but also valuing the techniques and tools of the craft.

Some write as part of a healing process, recovering from accident, illness or grief. Exercising their imagination not just therapy but a glorious release of ideas perhaps not revealed before.

Some write with the aim of helping others recover or learn from their journey, or impart knowledge and ideas they care about.

Some write because at long last they have the time or the courage to nurture their desire to write that novel, or book of poems, or rhymes for children, memoir, autobiography, family history or screenplay for Television, Holywood, or the Web!

Digital technology opening up choices not dreamt about when I first started writing creatively.

The young man who wants to tell stories by writing but not on paper an example of the digital revolution and the future. Maybe he’ll find an online group…

What Am I?
Mairi Neil 2004

I’m a writer.
A phrase with connotations galore –
author, biographer, journalist, poet,
columnist, editor, dramatist, copyist,
novelist, playwright, reporter,
essayist, wordsmith, hack ––
Need I name more?

Writers write!
Unless up against the dreaded block.
They author, communicate, compose, pen,
scratch, sign, autograph, indite,
correspond, create, draft, inscribe,
note, pencil, record, scrawl ––
Scribble frantically around the clock!

The literati boast lucubration at escritoire,
manuscripts cause graphospasm,
and corpus oeuvre fill posterity’s chasm,
from palaeography to grammatology,
stenography preparing bibliography ––
Pseudonyms detected by graphology!

Whether freelance or fabulist using
nom de plumes, ghostwriters or epistolary,
thank goodness people of letters
still continue orthography.

Scriveners scribble in scriptoriums
producing poetry and prose to fascinate,
enlighten, entertain and have their say!
Words that uplift, educate –– or challenge,
even offend –– to promote a cause célèbre!

5 Ways to Rediscover or Retain Writing Mojo & Spirit…

Number 1:

Write something for fun or like me vent your frustration. Form poetry is a good place to start – maybe a limerick or two.

Current Affairs But Who Cares?

Mairi Neil

Barnaby’s no longer Deputy PM
No longer the National’s gem
But tone-deaf Tony
And Bernardi the phoney
Both agree he’s not one of them!

Meanwhile, Malcolm’s losing the polls
Trying to dodge social media trolls
Tony keeps sniping
Ol’ Barnaby’s griping
Mal’s struggling to hold the controls.

Yet, who wants Bill as the boss?
Both the left and the right are cross
Bill tried to be canny
Lying about Adani
Now Labor may face electoral loss.

Aussie politics seems such a joke
Weekly stuff ups by bloke after bloke
Time for the choice
Of a strong female voice
The glass ceiling again must be broke.

Number 2.

Keep a journal or maybe a blog – experiment with poetry, flash fiction, citizen journalism…

Searching for Words and Meaning…
Mairi Neil

In writing class
we explore language
seek living words
lively words
alive words
volume high
sentencing each other
to work it out
or perhaps not
just listen, absorb and be
explore the language
search for words
taught in childhood
read in books
overheard on the train…
volume doesn’t matter
one sentence or two
from me or you
language exploration
job description
happiness prescription
research for a living
search for meaning
out-search a life
my sentence
to teach
writing in class…

Number 3.

Make the time to read a book or see a film, visit an art gallery or a museum – it may inspire you to write a review.

Haiku Book Review by Mairi Neil

Crime and Punishment
Dostoevsky challenges
ethical nightmare

Number 4.

Be creative – sew, knit, garden, paint, take photographs – find pleasure and satisfaction in other projects and free your mind to return to writing.

Number 5.

Dance, listen to music, walk, meditate, enjoy the silence of nature.  Nurture your inner self, the words will come when you are ready and your creative energy returns.

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Good luck – and wish me luck too!

 

Don’t Refrain From Trying A Cinquain

 

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The original card a fundraiser for the Isle of Iona

 

When I first began teaching creative writing it was a volunteer in my children’s schools. A steep learning curve for me as well as for them!

But it did encourage me to do more with my desire to write including a return to university aged 57, to achieve a Masters in Writing.

The early experiences in schools and community groups inspired me to become qualified to teach in Neighbourhood Houses. I have been privileged to be with and help other passionate writers for over 20 years.

A wonderful journey, exploring the power of words and learning new ways to express feelings, observations, and thoughts – playing with genre and form and having fun with the flexibility of the English language.

And So I Discovered The Cinquain!

  1. The cinquain is a five line poem that follows a pattern.
  2. Cinq is the French word for five.
  3. Cinquains do not rhyme.
  4. The most commonly found is an American derivative of the haiku and tanka.
  5. It consists of five lines, of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables respectively.

 

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UNSW image Barry Eggleton

Although this form appears simple, it isn’t necessarily easy to write well, or with the subtlety or nuance, many people expect from poetry.

However, it is a good starting point for anyone intimidated by ‘Poetry’ – perhaps harbouring feelings of inadequacy (or nursing a dislike) – because of what or how they learned at school.

Form poetry like the limerick and haiku provides a useful framework for the inexperienced writer to experiment with words and experience some early success.

It doesn’t matter if the lines don’t have exactly the right number of syllables – what is important is that the writer has created a word picture and has had access to a framework for support.

I use pictures for inspiration, making it even easier! Another way of recording memories…

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The traditional cinquain may be based on a syllable count but modern cinquains use a formula of word type.

  • line 1 – one word (noun) a title or name of the subject
  • 
line 2 – two words (adjectives) describing the title
  • line 3 – three words (verbs) describing an action related to the title
  • 
line 4 – four words describing a feeling about the title, a complete sentence
  • 
line 5 – one word referring back to the title of the poem

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Writing A Cinquain

  •  On the first line choose a subject
  • On the second line, write two adjectives describing the subject
  • On the third line, write three action words (usually ending with ‘ing’) to describe what the subject might do
  • On the  fourth line, write a phrase describing what the subject may mean to you or others
  • On the fifth line, write a synonym for the subject

It can even work for personal stories, themes or special days like Mother’s Day!

 

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Mum and me 1953!

 

If you Google “what is a cinquain” it will say:

A cinquain is a five-line poem that was invented by Adelaide Crapsey. She was an American poet who took her inspiration from Japanese haiku and tanka.

A collection of poems, titled Verse, was published in 1915 and included 28 cinquains.

Originally, Crapsey created the form for the American cinquain with five lines.
There were stresses per line –
• The first line has one stress, which was usually iambic meter with the first syllable unstressed and the second stressed.
• Line two has two stresses.
• Line three has three stresses.
• Line four has four stresses.
• Line five has one stress.

Following the invention of this form, Crapsey made changes and included a certain number of syllables per line. The most popular form I mentioned above of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables.

Even though iambic feet were typically used in these cinquains, it was not a requirement of the structure.

Aaron Toleos hosts a cinquain blog and for his master’s theses studied Crapsey and the various forms of cinquain that existed prior to her “American cinquain” –

Adelaide Crapsey did not invent the five-line poem. The Sicilian quintain, the English quintain, the Spanish quintella, the Japanese tanka, and the French cinquain all predate hers. What she did invent, however, is a distinct American version of the five-line poem. Inspired by Japanese haiku and tanka and based on her advanced knowledge of metrics, she believed her form “to be the shortest and simplest possible in English verse…

Her interest in Japanese poetry has also led some critics to link her to the Imagist movement that became popular shortly after she died and was led by the likes of Ezra Pound, H. D., and Amy Lowell.

Louis Untermeyer, editor for many years of Modern American Poetry, for example, called her “an unconscious Imagist.” Although her untimely death precluded any chance for her to collaborate with these poets, Crapsey was undoubtedly influenced by some of the same factors that fomented their movement including a desire to pull back from some of the excesses of the Georgian poets. Like Crapsey’s cinquains, Imagist poetry is characterized by the precise use of imagery and economy of language…

Although modeled after Eastern forms such as the haiku and tanka which are almost never titled, Crapsey titled all of her cinquains. Furthermore, her titles were not casual but usually functioned as active “sixth lines” which conveyed important meaning to the poem

Although it was likely a matter of fashion rather than a meaningful poetic decision, Crapsey used initial capitalization exclusively for each of the cinquain’s five lines.

Aaron quite rightly asks – How could the Crapsey cinquain be the American cinquain when no one is writing cinquains in a way that is consistent with the formula she established?

The form has devolved into something much simpler: a verse of a 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 2 syllabic structure or a simple form based on word type, ‘an exercise in metrics regardless of meaning“.

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Variety Spicing The Writer’s Life

The term cinquain is also used for any five-line stanza, along with quintain, quintet, and pentastich.

John Drury’s, The Poetry Dictionary, second edition, by Weiter’s Digest Books 2006, defines key terms helpful to every would-be poet:

quintain – a five-line stanza, sometimes called

a cinquain (although the term is now usually applied to a stanza developed by Adelaide Crapsey),

a quintet (although the term suggests a musical ensemble), or

a pentastich (especially if the stanza is unrhymed). Various rhymed schemes are possible.

Examples are given of aabab, ababa, ababb and a reminder that the limerick is a quintain!

IMAGISM – a poetic movement invented by Ezra Pound around 1909 and intended as an antidote to the rhetorical excesses of Victorian poetry and the pastoral complacency of Georgian verse.
Pound, along with Hilda Dolittle and Richard Aldington announced three principles:
1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

Imagist poems strongly influenced by haiku and other eastern verse, were short, written in free verse, and presented images without comment or explanation.

Amy Lowell later led the movement, which expired near the end of WW1

In her own cinquains, Crapsey allowed herself to add or subtract a syllable from any given line. (That’s what is great about making the rules – you can break them!)

And really the resemblance to what is generally regarded as the cinquain seems tenuous…

Niagara                                                          
Seen on a night in November

How frail
above the bulk
of crashing water hangs,
Autumnal, evanescent, wan,
The moon.

Snow

Look up…
From bleakening hills
Blows down the light, first breath
Of wintry wind…look up, and scent
The snow!

Adelaide Crapsey 1878-1914

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To Sum Up

At the most basic level, a cinquain is a five line poem or stanza.  The poem has one topic and the details describe the topic’s actions and feelings.

A Cinquain can be written about any topic, unlike traditional haiku which focuses on nature or seasons.

Choose any of the methods mentioned above – or follow Adelaide Crapsey’s style – and perhaps create a book of verse of memories, travel experiences, observations of daily life… most importantly just ‘have a go’… you’re a poet and didn’t know it!

Share a memory, make a statement, express yourself in a simple stanza…

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