A Token Nobody

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.


About Mary Tang

An urban orchardist everyday, a volunteer regularly, a poet sometimes and a blogger since March 2015. I travel when I can. Food is a constant.
This entry was posted in Memoir, Poetry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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