When I was offered a cottage at Hedgebrook to write poetry for six weeks – fully catered, fully funded – I broke down and cried. I’d left school in Year 10 and was ‘just a housewife’ for 25 years. I was radioactive with cancer treatment and quarantined from reality when I applied; I never thought I stood a chance.
At dinner on the first night I sat next to Gloria Steinem. Around the table were other literary luminaries – women with strong voices, ‘authoring change’ and being heard. I looked around the table and it was clear to me – I must have been their token nobody; I was undeserving of a place here.
I started writing ‘poetry’ at 50 years of age. I was on an expedition in Western Australia, gathering botanical specimens for the herbarium at the University of Western Australia. I forget how I managed to get on the team; possibly due to my volunteer work as a bush regenerator. I guess the fees I paid helped fund the trip.
Our driver on that expedition was a bush poet and he read his poems to us after dinner. It was my 50th birthday. Afterwards I said to Ann Dewar, my roomie: I can do that – and did. For the next twelve days I wrote a poem and read it to the group each night. Subsequently every time I go away on a bus trip I write a ‘poem’ a day.
Then one day I read an article on Arts and Letters Daily asking why people think they can write poetry without learning how. Would you try to build a cabinet without learning the rudimentary of carpentry? It asked. I said to myself, he’s talking to me! By that time I was 55 and old enough to be a member of the University of the Third Age, I found Elizabeth Grey, tutoring a writing course, ‘A Poet’s Voice’. Elizabeth gave us the tools to make poetry. Last Sunday I went to Elizabeth’s 90th birthday celebration and heard many stories of how she changed lives. One of them was mine.
I shared with Elizabeth my wish to apply to Hedgebrook. She agreed to edit my submission. Still quarantined, I emailed the work to her and she promptly emailed it back with her suggestions, giving me the confidence to send in my application.
When I mentioned my suspicion that I was a token nobody at Hedgebrook, the best selling author, Monique Truong grabbed my shoulders with both hands and gave me a good shake. Listen! You don’t get to come here if you can’t write. A six weeks residency at Hedgebrook is not a token! Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you, Hedgebrook. Thank you, Monique. Now I feel I can call myself a poet.