The Poetic Portraits Project
The Poetic Portraits Project
It was the easiest pitch I've ever made. I was invited to write a short sentence that encapsulates how I feel about ageing. Now I could have gone two ways. Eighteen months prior, I had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis of one kneecap, and a cyst inside the other one. So on a physical level, suddenly age was catching up with me for the first time. My dance teaching career was over, and I was still struggling with knee rehab. But rather than hobbling out a pitch about disintegration, I focussed on what I perceived to be the meaning of my ailment. For many years, I'd struggled to juggle dance with writing, and the knee diagnosis freed me from that struggle; allowing my writing to take centre stage – finally. So my pitch was simple: I'm just about to peak!
It worked. I got in. Successful applicants were invited to attend a full-day poetry workshop at Yarra Ranges Civic Centre, where we would produce pieces of poetry for a proposed anthology.
As workshop day approached, my geriatric cat was suddenly unwell. I dropped her off at the vet for dental work on the morning of the workshop, which means I had to be available for phone calls. I was 'that person' who was distracted by their phone all day! I was reminded of working a day-job with a sick child. So as hectic as my nervous system was on the day, I produced enough notes to end up with three poems to choose from; as well as having some conversations with local poets about art, and living in the Yarra Ranges.
The project was organised by a team of artists, in partnership with Yarra Ranges Council, and was launched at the council's Over 50s Festival. Many thanks to local writer and mentor, Lorelei Vashti; editors Cassandra Atherton and Jessica L. Wilkinson and the friendly admin staff who wrangled us all into cohesion. In the months following the workshop, emails went back and forth, until the team had completed a print-ready proof.
I felt honoured to have been selected to be part of this project, and feel proud of the work we have all accomplished, together. It's always rewarding to be in the company of other writers, and to see our shared sensitivities and thoughtful reflections flower into art. What often surprises me about meeting other writers, is their isolation. For the past few years, I've been attending so many writing related courses, groups and talks that I frequently burn myself out. There are so many interesting events for writers, and our libraries often offer them for free. Many of the poets expressed interest in connecting again, but were unsure how. I want them to know about my Facebook Group for local writers, as well as the Lilydale Lakeside Writers Group, and Miller's Homestead Open Mic events. I hope our team of poets continue to cross paths and share their work.
The launch was a rewarding peak to the project, where many poets stood at a microphone and presented their work. For many of the poets, this is their first published work; so the room bubbled with excitement. The catering staff also deserve a special mention. I had no idea there would be such a good spread laid out on launch night – and I wish I hadn't had dinner beforehand!
My heartfelt thanks also to Libby Mitchell, Niesje Hees, Lucinda Jane O'Brien, and Paul Gallagher – Writer, for coming along to the launch and cheering me on. Writing can be a lonely endeavour, and to stand with friends at a writing event made the night so much more special and memorable. It was a little bit like a wedding, in that time was accelerated, and I found myself wondering: Did I eat? Did I talk to anyone? Why didn't I have time to look at the actual exhibition? And why didn't I buy an extra copy of the book?
All copies of the book sold out on launch night, but reprints will soon be available at Yarra Ranges Museum. The exhibition of our photographic portraits and poems is still on display at Lilydale Civic Centre. I went back there, with my daughter, to have a proper look. And there just happened to be another one of the poets, Maroulla Radisavic, sitting in a yellow lounge chair gazing at our work. What a delight it was, to stand together in a gallery space as proud artists.
There's a documentary being made about the project. I'll add more information to this post when I know something about it.
This isn't the first poem I've had published. Back in the nineties, I had a poem published in an anthology called, New Expressions (I think). So little did I value my work then, that I told no one, and I didn't even keep the book! So to see my two poems in print has healed the wound I inflicted upon myself, the day I sent that book away in a box of discards.