A poem is a garden made of words. A forest, sometimes. A field. It’s said the story a poem tells is how it speaks, not—or not merely—what it says.
Most of what it tells and what it means is how you feel entering it—the silence it reduces you to, the deeper sense of self, the wider sense of world.
As it is with a poem, so with a garden. Enter one and be changed.
So it was a thrill and an honour to be asked to spend some months writing poems to celebrate and tend a garden as old and rich and famous as the Sydney Botanic Gardens. In truth, though much of my poetry and prose writes places, writes landscapes, I’ve written sometimes against the garden—advocating a wilder writing, a wilder way of engaging with the more than merely human world. The gig at the Gardens for The Red Room Company made me change my tune. To garden is to grow a multi-cultural community of plants; and it is to grow a relationship with the green world that perhaps no end of walking in wild places can accomplish.
I wrote my six or seven poems by walking in the gardens three or four times, and by drawing very heavily on the backstories to the trees and beds that Paul and the Gardens’ staff told with such love and passion. During the project, I lived across the water from the gardens; I wrote most of my new shoots from a balcony in Kirribilli, and perhaps that near detachment, that dance of intimacy and distance, plays in my works. I found myself engaged by the whole garden and how it came to be, as much as by the individual trees and places in it, and this, certainly, shows in my poems.
My garden poems, like my wilder works, are geophanies: small and quietly ecstatic responses to a loved, tended and contended place on earth, a community of plants, their canopies, their back-stories and understoreys. Thanks to the trees and the gardens and those who love them and know them far better than I ever will, I found the moments that began among these trees took me deeper inside and farther afield and higher and wider in thought than I could ever have imagined at the start.
It touches me to know that the poems I made, with Eileen Chong and Eric Avery, for The Red Room Company and the Gardens will become part of a garden, itself; I’m thrilled our poems will stand where the trees our work dances with stand and speak with them, and about them—and about all the trees got us thinking about and feeling—to whoever walks in the gardens long into the future.
I’m very grateful for the invitation, and I hope I made works that everyone, including the trees, can be proud of. I am honoured to have worked with two such fine young poets as Eileen and Eric. Never has a job or work been so inspiring and nurturing—working with Tamryn, who works so kindly, astutely, and well, and with Michael and the team at TRRC, was like being tended, nurtured, fed. This work has made a garden of me. It has stood me under every single thing I never really understood and made more sense of me than I ever could have on my own.