A number of years ago, on the sandstone cliffs of Gadigal lands, I once had a particularly mythic dream. I was riding my bicycle when I passed an elderly woman – wrapped in rags – who suddenly stumbled to the ground. I immediately hopped off my bike, and before I even reached her, I knew she had died.
But as I went to crouch beside her, she disappeared into a miniature plasticine figurine sitting on a piece of paper. So I instinctively cupped my hands around her and summoned for Hecate (Greek Goddess of magic and crone of the underworld) and Prometheus (who crafted humans from clay and gifted them with fire) to assist me in bringing her back to life.
At once, she started to grow again in my hands, but what emerged from the swaddled rags was not the same woman. Instead, she had morphed into a crying baby, who I brought to my chest and cradled as if she were my own.
Though there are many different methods for interpreting dreams, at the heart of this imagery for me is a glimpse into the mysteries of death and rebirth. As it turned out, I was embarking on my own rite of passage, encountering what felt like a second adolescence in my mid thirties, returning in psyche to complete rites that I had no model for when I was a teenager.
It’s no wonder then that the Greek myth of Persephone, the archetypal story of the transition from maiden to queen, had been floating around in my poems, dreams and waking symbolic encounters.
I decided to look into this further, pursuing studies in myth, fairytales & folklore, researching stories of the transformative trials the young heroine undertakes in finding her own sense of self, power and place in the world as an adult. In order to do this, Persephone must greet the full spectrum of herself, learning to marry dark and light, in order to hold the great paradox of spirit and matter in her everyday life.
My interest in ways to creatively facilitate this transition with contemporary and cultural relevance also led me to training in rites of passage using ceremony, ritual, and nature-based practices. It was during this 9-month process that the loose threads of my inquiry began to weave together into a container for my unfolding self.
And so it is from this place that I offer my first collection of poetry. Gathered from my journals over the past five years, this collection of 25 poems speaks to the themes that run through the Greek myth of Persephone and her journey through the transformative waters of the underworld.
One of the key components of many rites is the presence of community, and I could not have brought this chapbook into being without the support of you, my friend, over the years. Having readers is no small thing to a writer. Thank you for walking with me along the way, and may these words offer something back to your own mythic journeys of transformation.
With kalimba tones and the pitter patter of winter rain,
// Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke
// Do not move stones by Rose Riebl
// Big Weather exhibition at NGV
// Dreams by Marie-Louise Von Franz
Art by Arielle Bobb-Willis
Just over a year ago, I moved from the gloriously distracting Sydney coastline to Melbourne, in the hopes that the notoriously bad weather and thriving arts community would provide a creative cocoon to nurture my writing practice.
Little did I know I’d be spending six months of 2020 in complete lockdown, in an urban one bedroom apartment with my partner, unable to venture more than 5km from my doorstep.
Aside from throwing the odd tantrum and working through a seemingly endless list of online courses, I’ve spent a good deal of lockdown tending to ritual fire as a way to commune with the non-human peoples and places that I’ve so dearly missed: the clear waters of the Sassafras creek, the wild winds coming off the southern ocean, and the soft cushion of pine needles on the Sequoia grove floor.
I’ve also initiated a depth inquiry into my ancestry, following an abiding longing to connect with the paternal lineage of my african grandmothers, my black roots, and in doing so have uncovered a nourishing network of support sitting just below the surface all along.
Needless to say, I got the creative hibernation I asked for (and more).
The poet, Billy Collins, describes poetry as “the history of the human heart”. This winter I have found a new note in my poetry through unlocking chambers that contain hidden stories, both from my own past and those who have gone before me. And so it occurred to me that while I've been traversing through this seasonal rite of passage, my identity as an artist has also been in transition.
As we grow, so too does our creative self-expression. As best we can, may we companion our growth with curiosity and presence, to stay with the edge of what is alive for us in the sometimes daunting terrain of our own hearts.
In other words, let art change you, and let your art change.
With chocolate-coated coffee beans and daydreams of faraway lands,
// Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages, edited by Chris McCabe (and this talk by the editor on the intimate relationship between poetry and language, for those who want to hear more).
// The album Wanci by Tarawangsawelas
// Mask art by Magnhild Kennedy (Damsel Frau)
Burmese map of the world, courtesy of New York Public Library
"The world is full of riddles that only the dead can answer."
I read this line last night in the novel I'm currently reading, The Famished Road, by Ben Okri. To me, it's one of those lines that lingers on the tongue, especially because it's these very riddles that I've been exploring over the past month, through connecting with the wisdom of my ancestral lineage.
I've recently learned that ancestor reverence is a central part of the (often misrepresented) animist religion, Vodun, that my father's people practise in Ghana. In fact, many cultures around the world have been practising some form of ancestral care for centuries.
But like many of us, I did not grow up with the concept of cultivating a relationship with my ancestors. According to one of my current teachers, Dr. Daniel Foor, our "western culture" stands as a minority in having composted these practices somewhere along the way over the last thousand years or so. This gap in understanding what it is that we inherit often carries implications for both individual wellbeing and, importantly, cultural and ecological healing and accountability.
So perhaps one of the riddles we're now facing as a collective is, how can we know where we're going if we don't know where we've come from? How many of our current challenges and conflicts are in some way related to intergenerational trauma? And in light of that, what are the gifts and strengths that have been handed down to us to carry forward for the benefit of our communities?
Something I'm uncovering is that blessings and burdens can be two sides of the same coin. This follows the same principle that the antidote is found within the poison. For example, the expression of vision or imagination can equally become distorted as anxiety when repressed: a nightmare of fantastical images spun into webs of fear.
Similarly, the author Martín Prechtel talks about the relationship between grief and praise. He says that, "If we do not grieve what we miss, we are not praising what we love. We are not praising the life we have been given in order to love."
What if we were to harness the power of our imagination and channel this electricity into our creative self-expression? Perhaps the joy generated from this energy would mobilise the grief in our heart, and allow us to pour forth the boundless love that it contains.
The ancestors may be "dead" to our modern psyche but that doesn't mean they aren't in fact a vital part of our humanity. Tending to our relationship with the ancestors reminds us that we come into this life with everything we need, if only we adjust our vision to the bigger picture of the systems that support us.
With lion tears and white rum libations,
Art by Carl Jung
Did you know that there is an octopus in Tasmania that crosses the road? According to anecdotes from local fisherman, female octopuses attempt to migrate from the waters of Norfolk bay to the ocean to release their eggs into the sea.
To do this, they have to cross the Eaglehawk Neck isthmus, a narrow strip of land - and road - that connects the Tasman and Forestier peninsulas.
(It's a true story! I learned this from an author named Erin Hortle in this year's Melbourne Writer's Festival, who was inspired by this phenomenon for her novel, The Octopus and I.)
For me, this wild imagery conjures up the notion of ferrying intuitive and creative ideas from the watery realms of our deep imagination. We too go through a process of incubating fertile dreams before carrying them over the threshold, from the intangible to the material.
Of course, not all of these unborn ones make it across the channel. We are not here to do and be everything imaginable. But the ones that do emerge, the ancestral visions that call to be birthed, go on to create new life in the world.
The role of the muse is to accompany us on this journey, to help us midwife these creative imprints. Regardless of whether we are conceiving a new project, chapter, or stage of our identity, the muse is an ally in the body of work that is the unfolding of our life story.
My online course, MUSE, begins on Monday.
So if now feels like a fruitful time to dive into the mythic realms of creativity and soulful self-expression, this Sunday the 23rd is the last day to enrol.
May the glimmering inkling of your creative visions bloom.
With silver princess gumnuts and eight-limbed reveries,
Art by Joan Miro
Over the weekend I attended a seminar on “Writing in therapy” with a small group of kind-hearted people. Through expressive writing exercises, we shared stories of our experience of life in lockdown and beyond... ⠀
The isolation and the vulnerability. And, also, our increased attentiveness to the small moments of beauty, grace and connection. If I could weave our collective stories into a central message, it would essentially be this: ⠀
I have been tossed by the waves in many a storm, and yet, here I stand: soft and scarred, bruised and luminous.⠀
This pandemic continues to remind me that what I thought was "secure" or stable is actually always subject to the Great Mystery and inevitable cycles of change. It’s our inner resources that really come to the fore in these times.
The mystic, Meister Eckhart, alluded to this when he once said, “What is it that remains? That which is inborn in me remains.”
What remains for me is:
Love and Beauty.
Story and Ritual.
Soul and Mystery.
When all else has been pared back, what remains for you? What are the pillars of your interior life? And what strength can you draw from these in this time?
With endless cups of rooibos and flourishing fiddle figs,
// Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe
// Lanny by Max Porter
// Demian by Herman Hesse
// The Weekly Service
// Black is King visual album by Beyonce