“My desire is for my poems to act quietly and subconsciously, as a form of environmental activism”- Rachael Mead
Swimming in the Southern Ocean
I shed everything in the dunes and come to the sea
wearing only the curves and tones of the winter shore.
Wind surrounds me, an angry hive stinging
my skin with the fierce braille of its story.
I step over the lip where the sea tastes the sand
and wade into the green-glass gathers of the tide.
Everything burns with cold. I’ve crossed a border;
beyond my depth even though toes clutch the sand.
The waves slap my chest and drag their weight
against the backs of my thighs – out here
I am nothing more than weed-wrapped bone the sea
has finished with, passing it back to the air and earth.
This long, cold beach holds distilled abundance,
a plush emptiness, exotic as a foreign tongue.
Long after I’m back in camp, clothed and fire-warm
the sea’s strange consonants roll in the shells of my ears,
inescapable, underlying everything
like a dark childhood – and roaring.
Zalehah talks to Rachael Mead, past Café Poet at the State Library of South Australia
Z.T.: What inspired you most about the Café Poet program?
R.M.:I found the Café Poet program to be quite challenging as well as, inspiring. I’m usually a solitary person and I do most of my writing tucked away in a quiet corner of the Adelaide Hills. So sitting in a buzzing café next to a sign saying ‘Poet in Residence’ was a large step out of my comfort zone. At first, I felt quite self-conscious but I was surprised and inspired by how open and curious people were about this business of being a poet. Engaging people in conversations about poems they remembered from school or childhood, the poems that were read at their wedding, spoken-word poetry or whether lyrics can be considered poetry was an unexpected pleasure.
Z.T.: What was it like being a Café Poet in the State Library of South Australia and what did you use your residency for?
R.M.: After an uncomfortable first visit, I committed to putting my shyness aside and spent a couple of hours each week in the café engaging people in conversations and trying to meet the challenge of weaving the subject of poetry into every interaction. Then I’d move into the Library and concentrate on finding a quiet nook to write. Each week, I tried to find a fresh aspect of the State Library to write about and by the end of the residency I had the bones of a collection.
Z.T.: What was the collection of poetry you were working towards in your residency?
R.M.: The collection is called, ‘The Archaeology of Silence’ (but it’s still in its draft form since I’ve cut the Library section back and included sections on other quiet places.)
Z.T: Did you feel part of a community through the Café Poet program and did it help develop or change the way in which you write or work?
R.M.: The Café Poet program definitely made me feel a part of the Australian Poetry community and helped me take my writing to new places. Until the residency, I wrote primarily eco-poetry based within my quiet and sparsely populated rural landscape. Plonking myself in a very public space with the objective of writing a collection of poems about an urban environment teeming with people was challenging but I came out the other side unscathed and hopefully a better and more rounded poet.
Z.T.: Are you a current member of Australian Poetry and do you have any thoughts on how the organisation helped you (even if it is in the past, through the Café Poet Program)?
R.M.: No, I’m not a current member of Australian Poetry but I think the organisation has done a great job of promoting Australian Poetry and providing publication opportunities through the Australian Poetry Journal, the Members’ Anthology and Sotto. The Cafe Poet program was an exciting outreach initiative and a valuable experience as it both broadened my practice and transformed me into an enthusiastic poetry advocate.
Z.T.: How has being part of the community of Friendly Street Poets in Adelaide, including publication, helped your poetry?
R.M.: Friendly Street Poets is an Adelaide institution and it’s the place where the majority of local poets have their first experience of reading their work to an audience. The Friendly Street community has helped me tremendously, giving me support, encouragement and a range of reading and publication opportunities. Friendly Street has been the foundation of the poetry community in Adelaide for over forty years and I can’t name many local poets who haven’t been helped in some way by Friendly Street at some point in their careers.
Z.T: Is writing about South Australia and swimming in the Southern Ocean or other particular experiences important to you and if so why?
R.M.: Writing about my local region and the Australian environment is incredibly important to me. The majority of my work explores human relationships with and responses to non-human nature. I’m interested in what lies behind our perceptions of the natural world and how literature can provoke and promote empathy for non-human life. My husband and I are frequent travellers and we hike, kayak and camp in wild and quiet landscapes several times each year. Then I go home and turn my experiences and observations into poems. My desire is for my poems to act quietly and subconsciously, as a form of environmental activism.
Rachael Mead is a South Australian writer and the author of three collections of poetry: Sliding Down the Belly of the World (Wakefield Press 2012), The Sixth Creek (Picaro Press 2013) and The Quiet Blue World (Garron Publishing 2015). The Sixth Creek won Varuna’s Dorothy Hewett Flagship Fellowship for Poetry in 2011, a Varuna Publisher Fellowship with Picaro Press in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Literature Awards Unpublished Manuscript Prize in 2012. Her latest unpublished manuscript was awarded Varuna’s Dorothy Hewett Fellowship for Poetry in 2015 and was shortlisted in the 2016 Adelaide Festival Literature Awards. Rachael was the Australian Poetry Café Poet in residence at the State Library of South Australia from 2012-2013.
You can find more about Rachael Mead at http://rachaelmead.com/
Featured Writers Part 2: Past Australian Café Poets- Curated by Zalehah Turner
Read about the Australian Poetry Café Poet Program (2009-2014)
Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based critic, writer and 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