Last Saturday I was at the brilliant Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre, which was sold out, thronging with writers emerging and otherwise. It’s the second time this Melbourne-born and raised event has been held in Sydney, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
The session I was most keen to see was ‘New Nature Writing’, partly because it relates to my PhD but also because of the calibre of the two speakers – poet and scholar Peter Minter, and writer and academic Rebecca Giggs. The session was masterminded by Sam Twyford-Moore (who moved to Melbourne on Monday to become the new director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, replacing Lisa Dempster, who’s the new director of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival – dynamos both).
For anyone interested in ecopoetics, nature writing new and/or old, Australian literature and ‘landscape’ (a contested term), the ecological crisis, or smart talk about poetry and ideas, this conversation and the ensuing discussion is a must-listen: the podcast is here New Nature Writing.
To whet your appetite, here’s some of what Minter and Giggs touched on:
Minter said he’s been thinking about the idea of post-nation, especially following ‘Frankenstorm’ and its association with climate change, a planetary issue beyond the national. (Minter prefers ‘planetary’ to ‘global’, a word he associates with the Euclidean attempt to divide up space.) He’s also been thinking about land in relation to ecopoetics and the obsession with land in Australian poetry, wondering what it might mean to take the land/landscape out of Australian poetry, which would mean rethinking what these words – land, landscape (Australia?) – mean. For him this relates more broadly to the idea of removing the nation from the way we think, ‘a decolonisation of our discourse in Australian writing, especially of our discourse about nature, about the land’.
Where Minter mused and ruminated (he led the conversation with Giggs acting more as interlocutor), Giggs made compact, thought-provoking statements such as ‘every act of designating ecology is an act of making the unknown known’ and ‘it’s not the nature we have left to speak of, but the way we speak of nature that’s important to thinking about the ecological crisis today’.
In other bookish news, literary critic and author Geordie Williamson and I will be talking about Australian women’s writing at 6-7pm on Wednesday 5 December at the Metcalfe Auditorium at the State Library of New South Wales. The event – Sleeping Beauties: Reviving Australia’s Forgotten Women Writers – is organised by the Stella Prize, which I’ve written about here before.
I’m very excited about this event – and have lined up some of my favourite, overlooked (and sleeping) Australian women writers to talk about. I’ll write more about it closer to the date.
In the meantime, looking over my ‘notes from books’ – in this case from Proust’s Swann’s Way – and expecting to be seized by one of its many passages on the power of books and reading, I was instead stopped in my tracks by this:
‘And Swann felt a very cordial sympathy with that Mahomet II whose portrait by Bellini he admired, who, on finding that he had fallen madly in love with one of his wives, stabbed her, in order, as his Venetian biographer artlessly relates, to recover his spiritual freedom.’