“Who do you write for?”
A couple of days earlier, I had sent Rhiannon a list of more than 15 questions. She sent me her response shortly after. It totalled over 2,000 words. As we walked through Wollongong’s Botanical Gardens, I realised this question had been missing.
“For myself,” she answered.
Three things came to mind. The first was an earlier conversation with Rhiannon. I had asked where she got her inspiration. Her response came in the form of a short story about a man and his goat. There was once a man who regularly came into the butchers where Rhiannon previously worked. Each time, the man told her the same story: his goat was driving him mad. So he tied it up. He got it under control. At first, she dismissed the story as idle chat. But the man kept coming into the butchers. And he kept telling her the same story. He had a goat. It was driving him mad. So he tied it up.
He had a goat. It was driving him mad. So he tied it up.
He had a goat. It was driving him mad. So he tied it up.
Eventually, when she didn’t know what else to do with the man’s story, she made it into a poem.
A Retiree and Goat
(First appeared, in an earlier version, Seeking the Sun: Australian Poetry 2012)
Combat in our final years, assembling the fence. Spying
the goat contriving, flaunting her power,
to expose frailty,
kicking up her heels.
Watching wearily, tomorrow I will toil
with fence posts and wire.
Watching from the window she remembers a time
when I was attentive to other passions. Snagged on a nail
yellow dress slipping
off pearly shoulders.
A time when fencing could wait, just to
touch breast, navel, thigh.
Retirement meant more time embracing our passions.
Time that we dreamed of. We found novels, movies,
individual lounge chairs.
I fight with the goat.
The second thing that came to mind was another earlier exchange we had. I had asked which of her poems was her favourite.
“Demokratizmi,” she said.
I asked her what it meant.
She told me the title is Georgian for democracy. The poem was written in response to an imprint created by Gela Samsonidse. She explained that the imprint was Gela’s attempt to express his identity and explore language. He starts by writing words in Georgian script, and then scribbles over them until he can longer make out the words.
Rhiannon wrote Demokratizmi by looking at the imprint, allowing words to flood her mind, and then cutting out words until she was left with the small number that make up the poem. She never did decipher the actual words that Gela wrote.
I re-read the poem.
after an imprint by Gela Samsonidse
(First appeared South Coast Writers Centre website, July 2012)
chanting from the people
mouths widen, marching
mi to the ballot box,
curving in a crescendo
climaxing in October 28, 1990
striking the floor, blood
(სისხლი) blood shed on canvas.
I asked her if she showed Gela the poem. She said she hadn’t. He wouldn’t like it, she explained. He doesn’t like his artworks to be made political. I also asked her how she felt about people misinterpreting her poems and she laughed.
“I misinterpret people’s poems all the time.”
We continued walking through the gardens. I reminded her of the two stories she had shared and repeated her answer to the question of who she writes for.
“So you write for yourself?”
She laughed softly, “Yeah, I guess…”
When we finished walking through the gardens and parted ways, I re-read over her responses to the questions I emailed her. When asked why she writes, her desire to create comes through strongly.
“I love the feeling I get when I know that I have written something half good. I feel like I have really achieved something. Having a creative outlet has been really important for me, particularly while I was doing my honours research last year. I can’t dance, paint or sing, so writing is the only form of creative expression that I get a real buzz from.”
She went on to talk about her process.
“Often the words appear in more of a trickle than a splash. But, there is always something that stimulates and inspires me, like a painting, a piece of writing, an event, my surroundings, or a combination of these things.”
A sense of silence and space came through strongly.
“I need a lot of time to write. I have to be able to slow down and forget about work and uni for a bit. It is kind of like a meditation, once I am calm, I can devote myself to pondering over the ideas that have been bouncing around my mind. I always have ideas for a poem. I pick ideas up from work, uni and everyday life, but it is not until I am able to remove myself from these things that I can concentrate on one image.”
Rhiannon’s responses seemed only to further the idea that she is a woman who very much writes for the other, cares for the other, wants to observe and understand the other.
One of her poems in particular, Café Rosso, paints a picture not just of women with windswept hair, lovers leaning across tables, cocky men and stout women waiting to pay, but of a woman, sitting in the background, immersed in observing and understanding what is going on in the world around her.
(First appeared Sotto, August-September 2012)
grey thunders Bowral skies
two women with windswept hair
warming over cannelloni, their cappuccinos cupped.
Lovers lean across tables, faces almost touch;
Order seafood – Grigliato Misto, white wine.
Big men, cocky as sunshine yellow parrots,
chucking back macchiatos; riffling work schedules,
envy every casual diner.
Waitresses flitting across the room,
enjoying sweet meringue aromas,
the delicate perfumes
of stout women waiting to pay.
The poem speaks loudly of the quote Rhiannon has posted at the top of her blog homepage:
To be a poet one needs the six P’s – the pencil, the paper, the perception, the passion, the persistence and the unshakable persuasion that the poem is in fact possible and attainable.” – Grace Perry
The third thing that came to mind when Rhiannon said she writes for herself was a quote by George Steiner.
There is language, there is art, because there is the other.”
I mention the quote to her and she shrugs, “I guess I have never really thought about it before.”
Rhiannon Hall was a café poet with Australian Poet and has been published in Seeking the Sun: Australian Poetry 2012, Sotto, the UOW LitSoc Zine, Tertangala, Unfolding (an art exhibition catalogue) and on the South Coast Writers Centre’s website. To read more of her work, visit her blog here.