A conversation we need to have: Amanda Anastasi launches ‘Messages from the Embers’

Amanda Anastasi virtually launched Messages from the Embers: From Devastation to Hope: Australian Bushfire Poetry Anthology, edited by Julia Kaylock and Denise O’Hagan, Black Quill Press, 2020 on Wednesday 14 October 2020. 

Thank-you for asking me to say a few words as part of this launch, Julia, Denise and the Messages from the Embers team. When asked to read an anthology of bushfire poems – 140, approximately – in order to write the Foreword for this book, I was honoured but also knew I had quite the task to capture the spirit and scope of this anthology in few words. 

I come to you from Melbourne in Naarm. I recall the time when the bushfires were still burning in January this year and going along to the Dan O’Connell Poetry readings on a Saturday. There was still a little smoke in the air at the time. It seemed that every poet who got up to read on the open mic, with their unfolded piece of paper or iphone in hand, read a poem about the bushfires. It was on the forefront of everybody’s mind. As poets, we were trying to grapple with what had happened, using our tools of story-telling and language to write our way through the vast devastation and somehow articulate this frightening new reality. 

When reading Messages from the Embers, I lingered with each poem to enter the story and internal world that each piece inhabited. Although these poets are responding to the same event or series of events, each writer brings their particular perspective and internal experience in relation to the disastrous external circumstances in which they have found themselves. Though these pages, I could see and smell the proximity of those fires. 

I believe that each and every poem on this subject is important, especially those poems depicting the frontline experience. These poems span from Cobargo to Glenbrook to Mallacoota to the living rooms of city dwellers. They are a part of the broader climate change experience for Australians and communities worldwide. These poems are part of the conversation we need to have. 

I am currently writing about climate change as part of my poetry residency at the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, the only climate change communication organisation in the Southern Hemisphere. At the Hub, there is much discussion regarding strategies on how to communicate climate change to people who are unfamiliar with it, who deny it, or do not comprehend the high urgency of the issue. 

Studies have shown that to engage people on the subject, you need to make climate change personal. Most people are not going to read the IPCC report or be able to interpret a complicated graph or have the time to properly research the science. So, as it has always been, it will be story-telling that will be needed to get through to everyday people and hopefully cut through the mountains of disinformation from a very active, heavily funded climate denial industry and a media largely distracted by other matters. 

The power of personal stories at a localised, domestic level of extreme weather events, such as those featured in this anthology, cannot be underestimated. These relatable, intimate ‘messages from the embers’ are more likely to stir a climate sceptic’s empathy than an online debate containing stubborn, fixed opinions – most of which are ill-informed – or a partisan political speech. People do not feel preached to or talked down to if you are telling them your story – how an event has affected your day-to-day life, your home and your family. It speaks to our shared experience and humanity. Suddenly, the issue that seemed distance, a vague idea or unconnected to our daily lives, becomes immediate and pressing. These stories are important to tell during a time when people need to be confronted with them. In these bushfire-related poems, the future is here. 

In the final section of the anthology, the pressing question is: what lies ahead? Where do he go from here? In Melbourne, we currently remain in Stage 4 lockdown. In these COVID times, there has been a reported increase in the writing and reading of poetry. I imagine it provides a source of solace and a way for critical thinking and expression during a difficult time. During lockdown, when our routines and ordinary lives come to a halt or are significantly slowed, we seek answers and wish to somehow capture these unique times through the written word. When seemingly necessary parts of our lives are no longer present, room is created for a new kind of reflection. These times have brought out both new and established poetic voices, as the bushfire crisis did and as this anthology does, as we try to find order and meaning going forward. In many ways, poetry can be the vehicle to rethinking the kind of world we want to live in and to reimagine a new future. To quote the poet Carol Ann Duffy ‘We need the voice of poetry in times of change and world grief.’ So, keep writing poets. This is our time.

 – Amanda Anastasi

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Amanda Anastasi is a Melbourne poet with work published both locally and internationally, from Windsor’s Artists Lane walls to The Massachusetts Review. Her debut poetry collection is 2012 and other poems and she is the co-author of The Silences with Robbie Coburn (Eaglemont Press, 2016). Amanda is a two-time winner of the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize and a recent recipient of a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship. She is currently Poet in Residence at the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, where she is raising awareness on ecological issues and the climate crisis through the writing of poetry.

For further information on how to buy Messages from the Embers go to https://blackquillpress.com/messages-from-the-embers-2/

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