I’m writing this from Cape Hart, a place we go to on Kangaroo Island. It’s an isolated spot on the south-east coast of the Island, on the Dudley Peninsula, the only part of KI that was not burned last Christmas/New Year. It has been interesting – not sure if that’s the right word, maybe ‘enlightening’ gets closer – to watch as the locals have slowly hauled back their sense of self and a possible future. Though bookings on the ferry over to the Island still seem thin, and farmers (and wildlife) will obviously not recover for years, if ever, many tourist sites are doing well. The wineries that throw such great brunches are reporting that business is up to levels seen this time last year. And the tradies are doing ultra-well, in such demand for fixing and new work that they are hard to pin down for ordinary maintenance. Most of the visitors are, of course, from South Australia, re-finding, re-knowing, re-adventuring in their own backyard.
Which of course we are all doing now, though some of us have it easier than others. We are living in our actual and metaphorical backyards. The backyards of our past. Life will simply never be the same again. 2020 was the actual tipping point. It’s done. The backyards of our minds. Too much introspection forces you back and back further and further inside. Not necessarily bad for a writer in the long run but confronting for anyone as it is happening. The backyards of our relationships. We have all lost loves and innocence during this period, poor humans squeezed between unrelenting global forces. Perhaps some have gained some. I hope so.
What has this to do with theatre, you ask? Well. Not sure. I don’t want to rehearse yet again the perfidies of government funding programs or politicised economic assistance for particular groups of citizens in a disastrous situation not of one’s own making. Nor the contraction of opportunity that was going on anyway. Nor which stories by whom are deemed to be appropriate when and how. Just don’t have the stomach for that particular discussion right now, except to say, let’s hear it for nuance, maybe?
In a world where even the illusion of control has vanished, theatre feels like a particularly risky business to me. Hard to put on, vulnerable to shocks, dependent on others’ decisions to happen at all and then on multiple, sometimes competing inputs to get the written template over the line. Whereas writing prose? Or poetry? At the very least it is more suited to the artist-entrepreneur model towards which we have all been encouraged for the last nearly twenty years. You write the stuff on your own. You publish it and it’s all your own work so no shades of grey as to its ultimate success or failure. If a commercial publisher turns up their nose, one good advance concurrent with the times is that today you now have the option of proactive self-publishing, and then, if you have the right skills set, proactive distribution. And maybe the necessity for this kind of proactivity is just the sniff of things to come, so maybe it’s good to get realising if not yet actually doing it. And… a side benefit of the Covid-19 experience is that the knowledge and skills to do so can now be accessed from wherever – but in particular the Writers’ Centres that still dot the landscape – by whomever.
Well. Don’t want to get depressing. I am sitting looking at the wild, blue Southern Ocean. Things could be a lot worse. Here’s a poem about Blue. It was published in the Grieve Anthology for 2017. It’s about death, of course, but given how much the beautiful person I was mourning brought into my life, how could it be entirely sad?
Look how the silk shroud of the sea
is edge to edge with that far shout of
sky. The sky’s a thing flung so
clean and high that the idle birds,
surfing for echo, wheel and cry,
pulsing its impossible
only to float
to the sheeny sea, softer than down,
notes, that’s all, each a moment,
Or is it a loom? On the benign
horizon, is that a line of blue, barred
by bolts of steamy, shuffled sun,
where seabirds shuttle up to light
and down again to blue?
No. This sky’s nor song nor
craft for cloth for covering.
No. It’s a body of blue – long ribs
of blue, straight thighs of blue,
cool curve of bony back of
blue. Oh you. The bird knocks
in your breast. Rest.
Step through the hinged dark. Cold calls you down.
Shadow blossoms like bruised rose, like a de-shelled star, like
smoke in a jar. There is no bell of being human
here, just a cage of silence that waits with the
I seem to see you always just ahead of me, your moth-soft dress, your limbs like cobweb, the
rasp of your breath in this strange air that sits in the lungs like hot loose
I lose you, then there is a flicker in the silent trees ahead and –
I stretch because it seems that it would take just that one stretch but it
and you never do