The Red Room Company is devoted to creating poetry in unusual and useful ways and their project this year, New Shoots, poems inspired by plants and trees, will see poetic pathways in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, Bundanon Trust and the Sydney Olympic Park. Launched at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney on 21 May at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, New Shoots encouraged participants to walk through what Director, Tamryn Bennett, referred to as “fertile ground for growing poetry” to find poets positioned close to the flora that had inspired their work. She explained that the poetic pathways of New Shoots would allow the audience “to listen to the poems that have been growing” in the Royal Botanic Garden. The act of listening created a bond between the poets, their inspirational sites and their audience.
The New Shoots commissioned poets, Eileen Chong, Mark Tredinnick and Eric Avery read and discussed their poetry all evoked by sites in the Royal Botanic Garden from the ‘Wollemi Pine’ to the ‘Lotus Pond’ at the places that had first inspired them. Each poet’s emotive response reflected the different and varied ways in which the sites had affected them personally. According to the poets, listening was part of the poetic process of writing poems inspired by plants and trees. It informed their understanding of the Royal Botanic Garden, creating an instinctive and almost, synesthetic connection between the poets and their sites.
Director, Tamryn Bennett wondered “how we might listen to the trees” with a project such as, New Shoots and the poets responded. Eileen Chong had been deeply struck by the irony of naming a tree, such as, the Wollemi Pine which had existed in nature for so long without either human awareness of it or a name until, as recently as, 1994. Before reading her poem, ‘Wollemi Pine’ she claimed that, “I’d like to imagine that if I listened hard enough, I would hear the Wollemi whisper its real name.” She also read ‘Banyan Tree’ which was written about waiting for her mother after Kindergarten under a large Banyan Tree. As she waited, she claimed she felt comforted by the large tree and childhood her friend but at some level she also felt abandoned. To her surprise her mother was not upset by listening to her read the poem in morning session.
Mark Tredinnick claimed that, “Writing poetry properly is nine parts listening.” He added that, writing the ‘Lotus Pond’, “was a listening from the beginning” and that there was a beauty in reading the poem were it was written. Although, he stressed that his new apartment in Kirribilli overlooked the Royal Botanic Garden and so, he was fortunate enough to be inspired by just looking out from his balcony.
Indigenous multi-disciplinary artist, Eric Avery played Bach by a Strangler Fig which is overtaking a Paper Bark tree in the Royal Botanic Garden. For Eric Avery, Songlines, the music of his ancestors recorded in stories and drawings, are an incredibly important part of remembering the history of the land. The audience listened as he played his violin, accompanying Bach with one of the songs of his great grandfather. After which he read ‘Passage of Time’ with lines like, ‘dances of listening,/ Listening to truth,/ Through our songs and stories,/ The land is our proof,’ only further drawing the audience’s awareness to the need to listen to the land and the necessity of healing after a history of conflict.
For Director, Tamryn Bennett, New Shoots was a wonderful project for The Red Room Company which “exists to make poetry a meaningful part of everyday life” by engaging with various communities across the country “as a way of unearthing poetry that lives in those spaces.” Through each poet sharing their own emotive response to their chosen sites of inspiration, New Shoots created deep, resonating connections to the plants, trees, sculptures, and history of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney within the audience.
Since its launch on Saturday 21 May, The Red Room Company has taken New Shoots to Bundanon Trust, the previous home of Australian painter, Arthur Boyd for the Eucalyptus Eco-Poetry Project (EEPP). According to Bundanon Trust, “This poetic art project will respond to site-specific eucalypti and ecological communities to enrich narratives, student engagement and connections with the many eucalyptus species at Bundanon Trust.” With New Shoots poet Eileen Chong in residence giving workshops for local schools and community groups, the appreciation of native flora and fauna, the importance of conservation and the love of poetry as a form of self-expression is sure to engage many at Shoalhaven. The Red Room Company is also taking New Shoots to the Sydney Olympic Park where Lorna Munro’s poems will be embedded into the Badu Mangroves boardwalk.
Over the next three years, the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney is building a New Shoots website which will map the poems created to the sites that inspired them. The website will also have further information on the specific sites that inspired New Shoots poems, from science, ecology, history and literature. Both The Red Room Company and the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney encourage the public to take part in writing poems inspired by plants and trees.
Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/09/welcome-zalehah-turner-rochford-street-review-associate-editor/