I live in a wonderful place called Bridgetown, in the southwest of Western Australia. Its population is about 4 000, and so by Australian standards you would have to call it a small community. I often wonder what my Chinese friends would call it: when I lived as a teacher in their country some years ago they said their town, Shao Xing, was a very small town – with 140 000 residents!
Our rural setting – beautiful vistas, neither aircraft roaring nor road traffic snarling, various parrots of many colours feeding in the backyard – is ideal for me. Of course, there is a little apprehension now and then in summer, when the possibility of bushfires is at the back of everyone’s mind, but that’s far outweighed by all the blessings of living here. I can immerse myself in writing and music-making so much more easily here than I could in the bustling cities where I formerly lived. And yet again I think of China: in spite of all of the super-abundance of humanity, its clamour and incessant movement, plenty of great writing emerges from its people.
The really unusual (I’m tempted to say unique) things about Bridgetown is that, while small and rural, it also has a wealth of features normally associated with much bigger towns. There are several excellent cafes and four hotels, each with its own style of food. A wide variety of events in visual and performing arts stretches throughout every year. And it seems that almost every residence houses an artist or musician to boot!
So it will come as no surprise for you to learn that we have at least one writers’ festival each year. The latest – Words in the Valley – finished just hours ago. It’s so stimulating and informative to spend a day or two with fellow writers, whether they have dozens of publications and prizes under their belts or are just feeling their way.
I was particularly inspired by a workshop led by Andrew Lansdown, another Western Australian. (See his website at http://andrewlansdown.com/) His fiction has been engrossing people all over this country and overseas for many years, but he is perhaps even more admired for his poetry. His focus on ways of using imagery and form in poetry lit a small bonfire of enthusiasm in me for a type of writing I more or less discarded long ago. I had to write poems again!
And so when that workshop ended I came home and immediately sat on the deck, overlooking the dreamy valley in the late, gentle sunshine of June, and wrote my first poem in more than ten years. As happens every day at 6:oo p.m. and at noon, the many bells of Bridgetown rang their sweet contemplation across hills and through valleys, and I thought I must be one of the luckiest people in the world to live here.
I’ll close by sharing with you the little tanka that appeared on my paper.
Day slides off smooth sky.
Unguarded, night fingers forth.
Whither now the world?
Light denies what dark reveals.
Now hindered eye lets ear heal.