Ursula Dubosarsky launched chalk borders by Sarah St Vincent Welch at the Shop Gallery, Glebe, NSW on February 12.
This is a love letter to my friend Sarah. We met when we were 17, in the Wallace Theatre at Sydney University, a first-year English poetry lecture. I saw her at a distance. Very still eyes, a delicate face, floating hair and an intense presence – she looked to me like a spiritual emissary, a nun I thought, not really knowing any other kinds of angels in everyday life. Perhaps what I really meant was that she looked like a poet.
There are a million incidents in such a long friendship, now of over 40 years. When you are 17 you don’t even think you will live that long. But we have and our friendship has lived too through all those years and is living still. In fact I can’t imagine living without it.
Writing and writing in a community has always been central to how Sarah sees her place in the world. I’m more of a lone wolf writer, so I notice it – and am awed by it. The poet’s search for meaning in Sarah’s case is not only for herself but for other people and the world we all have to live in. And she does this magnificently and courageously through both her prose and poetry and her remarkable teaching. The particular project that led to the publication of the book we are launching today is a Sarah adventure almost by definition. It is a collection of poems that she wrote in chalk on the pavements of her hometown, Canberra. something that drew on all her physical as well as mental resources – there is nothing easy about lying down on cold hard concrete slabs with a stick of crumbling chalk in your hand. But it was also joyful and full of significance, and she’s written a wonderful essay about it which I recommend to everyone. Here are just a few of Sarah’s own words of reflection:
The physical sensations of chalking can be delicious though, and recalls the enchantment of the substance of chalk as a child, standing up the front of the classroom at the blackboard, the trough of chalk dust at its bottom edge, at about chin height, the dry round feel of the bulbous stick of chalk, the sound of it, its soft and sure crumble and glide, the delight of the marks made, the wonder of proto-letters and stick figures, the surprise as the chalk stick breaks with the pressure of your grip, and shatters on the floor…ephemeral, impermanent, inherently playful. Think hopscotch. Hangman.
The words of the prophets were written as we know on the subway walls and the tenement halls, and were written even scrawled far and wide across the public streets of Canberra by Sarah St Vincent Welch, poet, prophet, emissary. And here they are in this beguiling and artfully published book – crossing the border from the pavement to the printed page. Can I sincerely congratulate Flying Island books as publisher and the graceful work of Dylan Jones as designer. Sarah’s confronting, funny and beautifully provocative poetry reaches deeply downwards and then charges forwards over the frontiers of what we think we know. Chalk is washed off or trodden away, but words, Sarah’s words, will last for always. The Book of Job unsurprisingly says it better than I can, and so I’ll finish with these biblical lines:
Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
– Ursula Dubosarsky
Ursula Dubosarsky is a beloved writer of children’s and young adult’s literature and was Australian Children’s Laureate for 2020-21. She has published 60 books and her work has been acknowledged with many awards but most importantly she has delighted children and their families all over the world with her stories, and encouraged children to read and join libraries. Sarah fondly remembers her playing the ukulele and singing on the steps of Fisher library during their student days at Sydney University. http://ursuladubosarsky.squarespace.com
Chalk Borders is available from https://flyingislandspocketpoets.com.au/product/chalk-borders-by-sarah-st-vincent-welch/