The role of place in writing for two Australian poets

This paper takes its lead from the poet John Keats’ notion of ‘negative capability’ (1891: 48), exploring some of the key methodologies of representing landscapes in writing, specifically using place to effect the process of ‘… being capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubt, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason …’ (48).

Keats refers to the poet as ‘taking part’ in the life of the poem; and being in the poem. This paper features our own poetry, located in two different landscapes and with its own understanding of place, which captures a sense of connection to rugged and remote terrains. To evoke this sense of connection, Keats’ negative capability comes into play—understood in this paper as a metaphysical space where a meditative state provides the writer with a ‘glimpse’; a recognition of that moment of connection without which ‘poetry cannot happen’ (Oliver 1994: 84)

Our writing, as will be discussed, is individually informed by knowledge about environment and notions of poetic space, where ‘aspects of the unconscious move into consciousness’ (Hetherington 2012: 8). This paper explores the commonalities and distinctions between our work, using brief examples.


Keywords: Poetry – place – glimpse – Keats – edge country


1. Context
The role of place in writing, and specifically how place is evoked and echoed in words, and how it connects to readers, is the focus of this paper. The moment of evocation and echo is described here as the ‘glimpse’. We will discuss poetry that exemplifies this ‘glimpse’ and, in doing so, explore notions of creativity connected to our individual creative practice. Our creative work is situated in the Australian landscape in an area we describe as ‘edge country’, although the ideas we present can be extrapolated to works in other languages and contexts. The notion of the ‘glimpse’ transcends language and culture, allowing for a way of inflecting how place affects and informs the writing and reading of poetry.

The Capricornia region, and particularly the coast, is a place of contrasts. The seemingly limitless space and black darkness at night of Central Queensland frequently feels intimidating. The landscape is dry and unforgiving, but the sub-tropics on the coast has a great deal of wildlife and rich pockets of rainforest, broken only by dry sweltering scrub to the west and the iridescent Pacific Ocean to the east. Sitting in the middle of these extremes provides an interesting contrast, emphasised by the at times formidable weather: crushing humidity and the real threat of cyclones, floods and storm surges. Life in Capricornia can be considered a negotiation between expectations of human habitation and the realities attending to the landscape and ecology of the place. Writing in Capricornia is often about the unstructured and unrestrained, and the inherent beauty of being in a vast place that can seem to consume human inhabitants. This is the focus of Lynda Hawryluk’s work.

Leni Shilton lives in and writes about Australia’s Centre, residing in Alice Springs, the main town in the region with a population of around 30,000 people. It is located at the southern end of the Northern Territory, more than 1,600 kilometres to the nearest beach. Alice Springs is set in the desert country of the Arrente people, called Mparntwe in the Arrente language. Rivers only flow after rain. The country is a physical representation of ancient Indigenous dreaming stories. It shows the journeys taken by creation beings as they travelled across the land making waterholes, mountain ranges and rock formations (Turner & McDonald 2010; Rubuntja & Green 2002; Brooks 1991, etc.).

A journey along a certain bush road is important because of past journeys taken, as well as the current one. The landscape is recognisable, and even with dramatic changes in vegetation over many years, it is familiar. For non-Indigenous Australians it can seem that appreciating the way in which the country is understood by its Indigenous inhabitants is a constant (and possibly life-long) part of learning and reconciliation. This connects to an understanding the ‘glimpse’—a moment of knowing and becoming. Australian poet and academic Martin Harrison in his analysis of such a process says:

The eye and voice which can invent such vision [in poetry] and invent it out of such a momentarily remembered fragment can only come from a poet operating on the boundary of known and unknown areas of awareness (2007: 59).

Writing poetry might be considered a distillation process insofar as knowledge, experience and memory work together to produce a tone or thought for the poetry to work. Poet and academic Jay Parini, writes that to be a poet is to be mindful of the nature of the art. He continues, ‘especially in terms of language as a kind of echo-chamber in which the origins of words enhance their … denotations and connotations’ (2008: x-xi). Understanding the gulf between ‘mental images and real images, between spirit and nature’ (x), allows the poetry to have its own ‘inner logic, an inner necessity of its own’ (Pretty 2001: 3). Similarly, Tom Lee talks about poetry as ‘the most direct way to account for the complexity of perceptual experiences’. Sensory moments are ‘read’ through our skin (2013), thus the poet can express what takes place in a moment.

2. ‘Negative capability’
John Keats posited the idea of being open to the uncertainties of doubt in relation to the process of creativity. He called this ‘negative capability’ in a letter to his brothers (Keats 1891: 46-48). We take our lead from Keats’ insight, extrapolating it to describe that place where the poet is putting oneself willingly into a space and place (both within and without) of doubt. This is a place of risk and it may provoke the act of creativity, and facilitate the practice of creativity.

The negative element of this process, of course, is that it may not be an entirely comfortable one—the poet may not feel at ease with what they are seeing, going through and feeling. Australian poet and academic Kevin Brophy discusses an acceptance of the moment, saying ‘Perhaps it is enough that the piece of writing disturbs the surface of our lives for a moment’ (2003: 222). It is a period described by Dominique Hecq as a ‘disturbance’ (2012). Hecq recalls walking around as she writes a poem, and being physically in the moment, but that moment being one of agitation, a feeling of imbalance. This walking around allows the process of creativity to be enacted; the lines come to Hecq and she is able to let the poem arrive, the act of walking providing a rhythm for the line to rest in.

Being the recipient of words that arrive in a moment predicated on the acceptance of imbalance, echoes Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of the muse and the ‘maddening capriciousness’ of the arrival of creative ideas (TED, 2010) and the sometimes active role the writer must play in being receptive to such moments.

3. Taking part in the life of the poem
We call this sense of being receptive ‘taking part in the life of the poem’. In relation to Keats, this means being receptive to and being in the moment; of existing in the poem and giving yourself up to it. This knowledge is frequently informed by location, and influenced by a sense of space and belonging. Les Murray in the writing of his poetry, has been described as ‘watching with his mouth’. In his poem ‘Three Interiors’ he ‘courts the senses, pointing as [the poem] does to sight, sound and touch’ (Steele 2012: 177), ‘The books themselves, that vertical live leather brickwork /… have all turned their backs / on the casual tourists and, clasped in mediation, they pray / in coined Greek …’. Knowing a place or situation intimately provides the poet the opportunity to write into the moment. Harrison calls this use of memory to enrich the writing ‘a sense of late light brought momentarily into consciousness’ (2007: 59).

Inhabiting a sense of the space of the poem and the landscape in which it is set opens up possibilities for revisiting this sense when reading and responding to the work. Feelings of imbalance and uncertainty connected with the original act of writing the poem are, at least to some extent, transferred to the reader, and a symbiotic connection is formed, where a sense of the ‘glimpse’ and its effects are felt. This process, we argue, is expressed by Keats in his letters (1891:10) as he describes his agitation in the writing/creation of a poem. The agitation is subtle—more like a tremor, if felt at all—and is held in the symbols and metaphors within the poem. For example, in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819) this agitation is expressed in the juxtaposition of ‘the coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine / the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves’ with the notion that ‘to think is to be full of sorrow’ and the evocation of ‘leaden-eyed despairs’.

4. The methodology of representing landscapes
Understanding and knowledge about the history of place provides a point from which to write. Historians, anthropologists and creative writers are all contributing to the growing canon of post-colonial writing which investigates and challenges attitudes and preconceived notions of history in Australia. For example, Jay Arthur (2003) in her exploration of how language has historically influenced attitudes to place, observes, as others have before her, that colonists in Australia consistently viewed the landscape in terms of English perceptions of country and landscape (2003: 1-3). This was despite that fact that the colours and vegetation and landscape of the English countryside were in stark contrast to the Australian landscape, which was often viewed as dry, barren and empty.

Ross Gibson, quoted in Bird Rose’s Nourishing terrains (1996: 18) comments on the European imaging of country. He says: ‘Every Old World hectare has been ridden over, written over, and inscribed into an elaborate and all engrossing national history.’ Further to this Patrick O’Connor mirrors Gibson’s observations when speaking about the laying of history in Ireland:

the landscape is thoroughly humanised. It is therefore imbued with cultural meaning, being the concrete expression of the states of mind, now and in the past, and just like a book or a parchment much written upon and written over, its interpretation awaits the discerning reader  (1992: 8).

In Europe then, the country is written over by the people while in Central Australia it may be argued that the people are ‘written over’ by the country.

Nicholson Gill proposes that the desire of early European settlers in Australia to change and mark the land comes from a wider assumption of colonialism, part of the late-19th century ‘European expansionism’. He explains that:

The wilderness landscape is essentially unformed, chaotic, innocent and uninhabited. Classically, the garden is a step towards culture. It is the crucible of domestic life and the active transformation of the earth for human ends (2005: 79).

Novelist Eleanor Dark in her epic trilogy The timeless land (1941) depicted the birth of the Australian nation and the experience of the first settlers in establishing their colony. She explores the ‘dis-ease’ early Europeans experienced in the landscape. Although her novels are depicting early convict and settler colony, the sentiment of ‘belonging’ has parallels to the experience of white people arriving in Central Australia a century later. She says of the experience of trying to belong:

They dreamed their various dreams of a contact, a relationship, a union with [the land]—to use it, to know it, to impose a pattern on it, or merely share its space and its tranquillity; to sow and reap, to explore, to govern, to merely live with it. There was pain in the slow adjustment of their sense, effort in the attunement of their ears and the re-focussing of their eyes, a struggle between nostalgia for an old, and craving for a new abiding place (1948: 295).

The land was already and continues to be inscribed and mapped with the stories of the Aboriginal owners. The texts which describe the dreaming stories and legends, including Ted Strehlow’s work The songs of Central Australia (1971), The Arunta (Spencer & Gillen 1927) and more recently The Arrernte landscape of Alice Springs (Brooks 1991) speak of ‘knowing’ and ‘being’ with the land (Gill 2005: 78). Yet writers of historical texts on language and culture until recent years have written as if looking through a ‘white lens’, as observed by Attwood:

Historians … have to rely on texts created by white people. We never have Aboriginal voices [in history] unless white people recount (and invariably reformulate) these in their writings (Attwood 2005: 159-60).

Paul Carter writes of the process of writing history, place and exploring characters to make a new history:

This process of bringing places ‘into being’ dissolves the distinction between autobiography and history; to affiliate successfully to the new environment was to be initiated into a new history, but also envisage different ways of telling history. (1996: 25)

The enactment of the ‘glimpse’ is about looking deeper than the surface of the landscape, the act of writing into it and acknowledging its history and how it informs our understanding of the place.

The ‘glimpse’ acknowledges the echoes of resonance in the landscape, the connection between the poet, the place and to some degree the reader. This corresponds in particular to the work of Dening (2006) and Griffiths (1996) who describe history with a powerful sense of the present, and depict it as affecting place in an active way. Oodegeroo Noonuccal pointed to this in her landmark poem, The Past: ‘Let no-one say the past is dead. The past is about us and within us’ (1966). Writing about the evocation of place is the subject of several works by contemporary poet Mark Tredinnick (2003). This practice includes the sensation of seeing the landscape, as described by Lopez (1999) and Hill (2001). As acknowledged by Bell in Women of the dreaming (1993), we see country as a culmination of lived experience of the place. The landscape is and has a lived history.

5. Poetry examples: Australian poets capture the glimpse
In the following examples, we demonstrate this sense of becoming and being with reference to Australian poets whose works respond to their environment and evoke a sense of belonging, demonstrating our perception that the glimpse is an effect and process triggered by the work.

Judith Wright:

fromDust’

This sick dust, spiralling with the wind,
is harsh as grief’s taste in our mouths
and has eclipsed the small sun.
This remnant earth turns evil,
the steel-shocked earth has turned against the plough
and runs with wind all day, and all night
sighs in our sleep against the windowpane. (1995: 23-4)

Barry Hill:

FromBack’

Returning inland
      seasons later
                  a lizard waits for me.
Clatter in the kitchen.
      Length across the frying pan.
                  I thought its thump
and scuttle
      a bird on the roof
                  it has striped rings
runs of sand down its tail
                  eyes like ants (2001: 49)

Bronwyn Lea:

From ‘Seven feet and where they’re from

The Aboriginal Foot

The woman’s features
are preserved on the eastern end

of the gorge, and her story is
preserved in a dance at the base
of the red rock, her daughter’s feet
dragging through the sand to leave
the meandering tracks of a snake (2001:10)

Deb Westbury:

From ‘Leaving Wollongong Harbour’

the trawlers
are already parting the pink ripples of sunrise
out beyond the breakwater.

the black wharf glitters
with great drifts
of wet-silver scales (2002: 18)

Two final examples are drawn from the work of poets writing into and about the locations of our own poetry.

On Central Australia; Meg Mooney:

From ‘Christmas’

Grey bead curtains of rain
over the waterhole
mud red water bubbling
in our drains around the tarp.

gums danced golden
in fields of couch grass
the rock wall beamed
red as ininti seeds  (2005: 57)

From Central Queensland, Kristin Hannaford:

‘Intertidal Zone’

only the trace of clayed footprints wind through the mangroves.

for here is the landscape full of bodily sounds, heaving itself fricative and hoarse reinventing terrain over and again with each shifting hour.

Scents of decay claw and rise quick with water when it comes
(2004)

6. Mary Oliver and the ‘glimpse’
We contend that the ‘glimpse’ is that moment of distillation and inspiration that leads to the generation of a poem, achieved by complete absorption in the moment, observation of the senses and a deep awareness of the landscape. Poets have described this moment of revelation variously, as being in the physicality of the moment and immersed in the landscape; or spiritually, where a revelation takes place—for instance in a moment of meditation, or in a dream (Magee 2009; Gilbert 2009; Lawrence 2012). But however the moment or ‘glimpse’ may appear, it is not completely random. It presents as a result of intense knowledge and understanding of place through both lived experience and through research, translated through poetic craft into words and imagery reflecting those places.

As poets we strive for this moment of capture. When it is achieved, the glimpse evokes emotion and nostalgia. As we write this into the landscape, we are also writing about the past—the history of place. This compels us to write of the troubled history as well as the beauty that rests in the land; the poems arise from an intuitive awareness as well as a deep consciousness.

Hirsch describes this process:

the words [come] off the page into my own mouth—in transit, in action. I generate—I re-create—the words incantatory, the words liberated and self-reflexive … in poetry the words enact—they make manifest—what they describe (1999: 9-10).

The ‘glimpse’ may be related to the idea of the muse (Gilbert 2009) and the creative spark but our understanding of it relates to the inner versus outer landscape. The writer or reader needs to bypass normal thought processes to access the richness of thought which will become a poem  (Dillard 199: 10-11) This is where advice about turning off the editor comes into play. Natalie Goldberg suggests ‘Let everything run through us and grab as much as we can of it with a pen and paper’ (1990: 33), thus permission is given to get back to that moment, the ‘glimpse’, and in doing so the reader can touch and reach that space and therefore that place. Described by Doris Lessing as ‘wool-gathering’, the process of switching off and entering an unconscious space of creativity—she calls it ‘The creative dark’ (Brophy 2003: 220).

For the writer, there is often a need to go to a place or location to write about it, and once there, to let go of external influences and allow oneself to be as fully immersed as possible in the outer world and landscape. The inner of this scenario is the writing; using external knowledge to create that moment. Poet Mary Oliver says of such poems that they ‘brim from the particular, the regional, the personal, and become—as all successful poems must—“parables” that say something finally about our own lives, as well as the lives of their authors … they glow with unmistakable universal meaning’ (1994: 80). The poems speak and allow a truth to arise, often in a moment that can provide a surprise to the poet as well as the reader.

7. Poetry examples 1
Here, we look to excerpts of our own work and the evocation of the ‘glimpse’ within it. This is the ‘glimpse’ in action, potentially bringing the reader to the place the poetry derives from.

A tropical heart
                     – Lynda Hawryluk

A tropical heart hidden deep
In a rainforest of lush undergrowth
Ferns like fingers reach around the trunk
Of a figure in celestial repose

A canopy covers everything
Sheltering ventricle vegetation, and other organs
With their particular sounds
But they are quieter in deference to the steady thumping
Of a tropical heart
Keeping the beat for everyone
In this tiny little town
 

The eye of a needle
                           – Leni Shilton

Voices echo
from inside
the gap:
Aranda men calling
camel commands
in Arabic—
the rocks speak
as clouds lick at the cliff tops.

8. Echoing and evoking the sense of longing
The themes of place evoked in these poems resonate with a sense of nostalgia, using what Steiner calls a ‘language of a condition of special use’ (2010: 72). Steiner’s position on language and the use of words captures the sense of a place in the sound of the words, echoing perhaps the sound of the landscape.

This specialised language triggers emotion, pointing towards the ‘glimpse’ (Heaney 1995: xv). The glimpse provides moments of revelation in the inspiration for the work and the distillation of emotion released through the reading of the poem, somewhere between what Hetherington calls ‘the unconscious and the never-really-known’ (2012). This is the poetry of ‘edge country’, creating a sense of longing for what was, or what could be, within the place and the emotion of the place.

We conclude this part of the discussion with what we would suggest is a visual demonstration of Paul Hetherington’s notions of poetic space, expressed in ‘Squeezebox’ (2013) thus:

The images swim their way through time,
awkward, willed, articulate,
inhabiting an incorrigible space,
filling absence like a cry—
as if a watchful, mirrored self
severalised into a world.
 

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9. The glimpse as affective resonance
What is experienced by viewing the places to which we are referring is called affective resonance. We can relate the effects of the glimpse in terms of affect theory, espoused by Silvan S. Tomkins in 1962, because while this idea has its origins in the discipline of psychology, affective resonance has a similar outcome of evoking response in the body.

In the aptly named Affect imagery consciousness (1962), Tomkins describes nine discrete affects operating on a scale from positive to neutral to negative.

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Presented here, the positive affects include enjoyment, which at its peak is described as joy, interest and its extreme; excitement, then moving from neutral affects where a surprise becomes a startle, into more negative affects. Shame descends to humiliation and distress becomes anguish. The progression of these affects is seen bodily, often in facial expressions.

Much of the writing referred to here makes connections with the positive end of the affective response scale, and in a very subtle way. Tomkins’ affect theory acknowledged the innate nature of affect; our responses occur bodily, and often unconsciously. Evoking a feeling, a sensation of place in the reader is so too an innate reaction but it comes with the permission of the reader who is seeking to feel that which the poet felt and experienced. The experience provides a moment where Daniel Nathanson, who contributed the prologue to a later edition of After imagery consciousness, says the reader, ‘react[s] innately to the expressed affect of others as if it were our own, and therefore enabled to know a great deal about the inner world of those others’ (2008: 5).

Tomkins called this affective resonance—how humans respond to each other via the ‘transmission of affect’ (Brennan 2004). In writing, a related kind of experience is exemplified in the glimpse, which resonates with the reader, who is provided with a sense of the location being described; the scenery, atmosphere, almost the sensation of being there. Resonance is a form of responsiveness and this responsiveness is often physical. Affect, Tomkins said, ‘makes good things better and bad things worse’ (Brennan 2004: 2). This corresponds to the experience of the ‘glimpse’. The ‘glimpse’ attempts to provide a kind of experiential synchronicity for the poet and reader. This is evoked in the way a poet like Vivian Smith responds to place in his work about Tasmania’s rugged landscapes.

Tasmania

Water colour country. Here the hills
rot like rugs beneath enormous skies
and all day long the shadows of the clouds
stain the paddocks with their running dyes.



the hills breathing like a horse’s flank
with grasses combed and clean of snow (2011p. 594)

In these words we see the evocation of the ‘glimpse’, written as a moment in time that echoes through the mind and into memory. The language in Smith’s work here is sinister and evocative, beautiful yet alarming. In much the same way the discrete affects sit on a sliding scale, Smith acknowledges the dichotomy of the landscape, provoking a sense of dis-ease and discomfort that affects both writer and reader.

The ‘glimpse’ evokes a feeling in the reader in a similar way to the function of Jacobson’s Organ, as explained by Lyall Watson (2000). Jacobson’s Organ is a little known cluster of cells in the nasal cavity which acts as a kind of memory transmitter. This is what is working when an odour evokes powerful responses including associated memories. The effect can be a physical response such as retching or crying; involuntary actions that inhabit the body at an affective level. Affect theory provides us with an understanding of innate responses to stimulus, virtually out of our control.

How a writer provokes and stimulates this is with language and the effectiveness of description that brings a scene to life in more than just words. Stephen King explored this in the opening to the short story ‘The Body’ (1982):

The most important things are the hardest things to say. These are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them—words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out (Introduction: n.p.).

King describes here the frustration of not being able to capture something in words, or retell it to another so they have an understanding of its importance. The antithesis of this experience is the evocation of the ‘glimpse’—although even in such an evocation, only part of the experience is ever able to be conveyed in language.

As posited by Tomkins, affective response is the innate reaction to an emotion, and in relation to our understanding of the ‘glimpse’, this can be evoked by a word or phrase. It is the job of the writer to provoke this response in the reader, to provide for them the sensation they experienced at the moment of realisation. A place that has made a poet smile and pause or take a deep sigh is captured in language that evokes those feelings in the reader. It allows them that glimpse of the moment in the reading of the work. The glimpse then is a bodily reaction to words as much as an evocation in words.

A similar phenomenon is described by Emily Dickinson: ‘if I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry’ (Hirsch 1999: 7). The Australian poet Deb Westbury puts this in practical terms, explaining that ‘the work is greater than its parts. Ideally it will cause the reader to feel something, to touch you, so that the reader is changed permanently by his/her encounter with the work’ (2013).

This then is the ultimate goal of the writer; the process of allowing the reader to see and feel what they did at the moment of the glimpse: a permanent change, enacted upon the body and expressed in language and description. Poetry about place and landscape does this effectively; it provides the words geographers couldn’t find (Porteous 1984). This corresponds to the ideas expressed by our colleagues in the field, of ‘empathetically shar[ing] the writers’ sense of landscape’ (Berry 2013: 85) and ‘captur[ing] the essence of the places and landscapes’ (Boyd 2013: 99) in verse.

10. Poetry examples 2
The following selection of poems demonstrates our sense as poets of our respective places, some of our responses to them and the sense of longing that the places evoke in us. These are presented in full with accompanying exegetical annotations:

The sky is darker at night
                                 – Lynda Hawryluk

A balmy breeze blows through palm trees
Grounded deep in their natural environment
Half-asleep watching faint lights flickering in the distance
They might belong to a car, a house
Or something you don’t want to think about

Every tree could be an abrupt ending to the journey home
And every shadow beckons you closer towards the dark
A thousand eyes line the roadside
Watching and waiting for the next car to pass
A kangaroo court of voyeurs, ready to pounce

Driving along through endless inky night
Belying a vast empty country; it’s out there somewhere
The car is cool and comfortable
And gives a false sense of safety
But it could all be over in seconds

The sky is much darker at night
Without the benefit of the reflected light
Of a humming cityscape
A different kind of city sits out there in the dark
Hiding behind bushes, away from the headlights of an oncoming car

Annotation:
The night sky has long been a subject of wonder among poets and scientists. Writers from such divergent backgrounds as Byron (‘Darkness’, 1816), Wordsworth (‘The Sun has Long Been Set’, 1804), Rilke (‘At the Brink of Night’, trans. 1949), Frost (‘Acquainted with the Night’, 1928) and Sexton (‘The Starry Night’, 1981) have sought to capture the appearance and depth of darkness at night. DH Lawrence’s ‘Grey Evening’ (1916) acknowledges what science knows: that the night sky is more complex a range of colours than simple darkness. Far from there being an absolute shade of black to the human eye, the absence of light is in fact a shade known as eigengrau, or ‘intrinsic grey’ (Blom, 2010: 170). The sky in outback Australia looks darker at night due to the contrasting effect of stars, and the deeper one gets into isolated spaces, the darker this night becomes.

The Bortle Dark-Sky Scale (2001) provides a range of locations and their suitability for dark sky viewing according to visibility of stars and interference from light pollution. A large city (Inner City Sky), full of reflected light and neon, will prevent the human eye from detecting stars and is considered the worst location for dark sky viewing. The best locations are of course far away from cities, with their flood lights and high-rise buildings. The further one gets, the better the opportunity to see colourful and clear zodiac symbols and constellations in full.

Of course, the perception of the Australian Outback is that is a place with a dark heart; a place to be fearful of. From early depictions of the bush we see a reliance on imagery creating a sense of fear and distrust, which correlates with a pathological fear of the dark, scotophobia, a word derived from the Greek word for darkness. In pathological terms, Lyons (1985) says fear of the dark may not arise from being afraid of the absence of light but because ‘one does not know what may be out there in the dark’ (75).

Dream Language
                       – Leni Shilton

The Language felt in the rocks,
on the air through grey leaves.

A land language I hear on my skin
as it moves like a veil over my face.

Sound that touches under skin
like water seeping through sand,

that birds know before it is sound.
A scent cushioned on wind, on currents over hills,

in cloud,
in rain when it finds itself falling.

The flick of a bird’s wing,
dust that falls as it turns.

And light, ragged on the horizon
brushed orange in the mountain’s profile,

a misted rainbow of colour;
fading to dark, with dotted stars

lanterns to guard the cold night.
All sound, like a long held note.

The language fades from my ears,
but echoes loud in the land.

I move through rock,
creep in the dark, watch the night animals come.

The dark a type of home,
a tranquil breath

of giving in,
giving up, giving over.

A small moment
where all others wash off
into dreams
and I stop worrying for the first time.

Annotation:
Historian Paul Carter examines the association between ‘travelling and dreaming’ as expressed by 20th century explorers in Central Australia, in particular in the writing of Ernest Giles who named the Petermann Ranges. Bertha’s dream state is explored by investigating the parallels in this imagined dream poem of Bertha’s with Giles’ writing: ‘Darkness began to creep over this solitary place … I coiled myself up under a bush and fell into one of those extraordinary waking dreams which occasionally descend upon imaginative mortals when we know that we are alive, and yet we think we are dead … At such a time the imagination can revel only in the marvelous, the mysterious, and the mythical.’ In his discussion of Giles’ writing Carter states: ‘[with this reverie] the writer seeks to persuade us of the universality of his experience. Such transcendent moments are part of the explorer’s credentials. They are an indispensable element, if the biography is to be complete’ (Carter 1987 pp. 84-5).

11. Conclusion
This paper has explored and described our relationship to, and understanding of, the ‘glimpse’—an evocation of place that provides an underlying philosophy inherent in our work. Our position is informed by demonstration of our work and the work of other poets, who use the moment of becoming and knowing to better express their connection to place, and allow a reader this moment in their own space, obviating problems of distance and location.

 

 

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