Some weekends are too good not to share, you know?
In the next valley over from my sleepy town, is a place so different from here it could be another country. A place of buzzing cafes, scorchingly good coffee, spicy chai and wood-fired sourdough bread. Tiny children with matted hair and hand-spun woollen jumpers play in cafes and on the street with wooden clicking toys painted in rainbow colours.
This place has a gravitational pull for artists of all kinds, a vortex that pulls creative people irresistibly to it. Sitting in between two capital cities with 500km on either side, there is precious little work or money to be found in the arts – but sustained by the area’s natural beauty and vibrant community, they make their own fun in the bush :).
This weekend I attended my first Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival, as a volunteer. I figured that after winning the festival’s first prize last year of a weekend trip to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival – all without attending the festival or even physically entering the competition – that I owed them something.
It’s perhaps not surprising that in a writers festival, it is the words themselves that have left their imprint upon me. One woman, a renowned performer and festival guest wore this badge on the night of the festival’s biggest event, the poetry slam.
Ha! The part of me who is still 14, and loved to wear provocative badges (I had a communist pin that I wore to school to irritate my teachers and a no bullshit badge that I wore because I thought it was hilarious…)
…that 14 year old part of me wanted that badge, oh my :). However, the nearly 40 year old, prissy part of me said “Where on Earth would you wear that, honey? To school to pick up your children perhaps?”
Poetry is big here, and the poetry slam (a spoken word knock out competition over three rounds) is the must see event of the festival. After we had done our work taking money, issuing tickets and stamping wrists, my volunteer buddy and I squeezed up the back to watch the show.
My favourite poet, visiting spoken word artist Omar Musa, introduced as Russell Crowe’s personal poet on the grounds that he recently performed for Russell at his request, wore a shirt that said:
His brand of contemporary Australian spoken word poetry completely wowed the audience. One of my other favourite poets on the night dedicated his second round poem to a woman’s derriere:
I should like to use your bottom as a writing desk…
A young man rapped his response to our Government’s hardline budget, and a man with a Santa Claus beard and an artist’s beret compared life in Bellingen to a paper shuffling, pen-pushing existence in the city.
Somehow I have managed to live my life not having experienced one of these events. I have written poetry all my life, but finding it (mostly) very dull to read, had never identified as a poet. And then I won first prize in a poetry competition, and now this. I get it now. Words of love, longing, beauty, sex, rage, disappointment, wonder and futility pour over me and enter my brain as a revelation. I shiver as I bathe in words, and know that I have come home.
I even imagined myself up there, on the stage, strutting my stuff, filled with confidence and enchanting the audience. How do they do that…and I wonder if I could ever be brave enough? I chatted with a friend from my writer’s group, and she said out of the blue, “You know, I can see you up there on that stage. You have quite a presence.”
The YHA backpackers where I stayed overnight was Bellingen-esque as well – a two story weatherboard guesthouse, with verandahs overlooking the river and the mountains to the north. In my room, next to the Buddha/Lotus print was a banner with this quote from Nelson Mandela:
And of course, the writers and the books. Oh my, the books. I bought My Year Without Matches by Claire Dunn, a book written about her experience of living in the wild for a year, making her own fire without matches and re-wilding her soul. How could I resist?
On my wishlist:
The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie
Lovesong by Alex Miller
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
The Women’s Den by Elizabeth g Arthur (I just found out that this book can be downloaded for $3.99 on kindle! Yippee!)
The women really shone this weekend. Brave, smart, articulate, confident and making a difference. I want to be one of those women!
On Sunday evening, when the days’ events were over, and rooms cleaned and packed up, I headed home. The Bear had held down the fort for the weekend, coaching soccer, organising sleepovers and spending quality Dad time with the Warrior Princess.
I arrived home, and opening the door to the bathroom, I see tea-light candles dotted around the room, the bath steaming and lindt chocolates and red wine perched in easy reach. The house was clean, dinner was on, and the children at a sleep over at their grandparents.
Am I the luckiest woman ever?