People and Places
04/10/2018
Indigenous poetry in motion By Liz Rogers

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Something very special is happening from October 7-14 in Somers. Indigenous poet and 2017 Windham-Campbell Literary Prize (Poetry) winner Ali Cobby Eckermann is mentoring three Indigenous poets at Kalang Retreat. This is exciting not only because of the quality of the work by this Yankunytjatjara woman born on Kaurna land in South Australia, but because it draws a line in the sand as far as showcasing contemporary Indigenous poetry as a force to be admired and learnt from.    

We chat about how poetry helped her healing as one of the Stolen Generation, how she takes solace in the brevity of the work, which leaves less room for debate, and how poetry allows her to focus on emotional strength through immediacy of delivery. She explains. “I always wanted to write but didn’t start until I went to the desert to reconnect with my Aboriginal family, who has a strong line of singers, dancers and creative people. It took me a long time to find them and it was only when I returned to country about 20 years ago that poetry helped me find sense in a world that was moving fast. I had visited Kalang Retreat a while ago as an individual artist and was excited when (owner/operator) Michelle suggested these workshops. I am looking forward to being a mentor to pass on knowledge and skills.” 

Ali had two mentors in the desert and says they were invaluable. She also says that the number of Indigenous poets has grown over the past 10 years. “Maybe that’s because we have more access to the spoken word, or perhaps it is that when people feel oppressed they respond in creative ways. We are all joined by a cultural conscience.”  

Ali is the first Indigenous writer to attend the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and is the first to receive the Windham-Campbell Literary Prize from Yale University. This prize covers four categories including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama and substantial prizemoney comes with it. Ali intends to spend the next 12 months hunkered down writing her first prose novel after having written numerous poetry collections, verse novels and a memoir.

Joining her at Kalang Retreat will be writer and poet Ryan Prehn, a Melbourne-based descendant of the Worimi mob in NSW; poet, actor and singer-songwriter Monica Karo, a Gunai/Kurnai and Gunditjmara descendant; and Emily Munro-Harrison, a Wiradjuri woman who grew up on Kulin Country in Narrm and undertook a creative writing summer school intensive at Columbia University in New York. 

The Collective Spirit seven-day First Nations Creative Development Residency will culminate in First Nations Poetry Reading at Whistlewood Gallery in Shoreham on October 13 from 5-6pm. Collective Spirit is supported by a State Government Creative VicArts grant.  

This is not to be missed. 

Contact Whistlewood on 5989 8282 to find out more about First Nations Poetry Reading or book at firstnationpoetry.eventbrite.com.au 

For information about the Collective Spirit Creative Development Residency at Kalang Retreat, contact Michelle Leber on 0419 312 843.

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