It’s autumn in the mountains and the Blue Fringe Arts Literary Awards have been announced.
On Wednesday night I attended the awards ceremony, held in the beautiful ballroom of the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba. The awards celebrate “the creativity of people living with or having experienced mental illness”.
Blue Mountains resident Eden Riley (pictured right) won the category of Most Inspirational fiction for her story, “The Stone”. It begins:
The day I was born, the Universe slipped a stone into my pocket. It wasn’t a particularly big stone. I barely noticed it at all.
My stone grew jagged edges. It was so heavy and I just couldn’t put it anywhere. It belonged to me for life. I hurt myself a lot. On purpose. Wrong jobs and wrong men and wrong situations.
Eden’s story, like many of the poems and short fiction published in the awards anthology, Celebrating Life: through verse and story, conveys an aspect of what it’s like to live with and recover from mental illness.
I was lucky enough to have been asked to judge the poetry category. The poem I chose as the most outstanding is one called “How to Bury Your Mother” by Dawni Sky. It begins:
Start with the feet, push down
handfuls of earth over stubbed toes
and childhood injuries
(remember the time she pulled your hair,
called you a bitch and said your father
could never have wanted you).
Walk away and in a half year’s time
return to her grave site, and dig a hole…
…bury the bitterness alongside a seed
(preferably her favourite flower).
Even though I was familiar with the poem, when I heard it read in full on the night, my hairs stood on end. In a few lines, the poet had taken me on a journey, showing me an emotional truth that resonated through my whole body. That’s how I knew it was poetry.
For me, it doesn’t matter if a poem – or a story or a novel – makes perfect sense. “Great” writing, for me, resonates in the body, picks me up, throws me into the air and doesn’t care where I fall. On Wednesday night, I heard some work that rhymed, that charmed, that made me laugh. But the prize-winners all had a dangerous edge.
Discussing the editor-author relationship recently, Charlotte Wood said: “The more I go on, the more I am convinced that a great book is one which leads its readers away from the worn path of what they already know, to a wild and unfamiliar place where new logics and understandings can take hold.” Those are the places where writers like Eden Riley and Dawni Sky take me. Away from safety, into the wild.
Congratulations, Eden. Congratulations, Dawni. And all the other prize winners and entrants of the Blue Fringe Arts Literary Awards. May I show just a little of your courage as I continue to write.