31st July 2017

"The poet must reveal themselves to the poem" - Elena Gomez reflects on New Shoots

By Elena Gomez

Photo by Christopher Phillips


we grew a little slower sometimes
we needed to protect ourselves
we self-seeded on the cliff face
we splashed out real nice

~ from 'Enter the Yellow Tower' by Elena Gomez

Elena Gomez features in New Shoots: A Garden of Poems in the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. The launch tour (booked out), follows poems 'planted' in the gardens, an installation of 'poetic pathways' which will remain indefinitely.
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I’ve never been any good at gardening. My mother holds that talent in my family. When I was young and part of her little garden child crew, she tells me I would find the most comfortable position to sit in while I plucked out the easy weeds, even if it meant moving at a snail’s pace. I daydreamed a lot while I did it, which meant I was frustratingly inefficient.

As an adult, while I was working for a historic houses organisation I edited a series of features about various historic gardens in Sydney, and in the process learned about the skill and care and dedication gardeners and horticulturists require—it’s a special kind of practice, a blend of art and science and creativity and patience. Since I can barely keep a pet succulent alive, I have a lot of respect for the designers and carers of gardens, whether public or private, professional or hobbyist. I suppose that’s why my initial hesitation at being invited to contribute to this wonderful project quickly gave way to cautious excitement. By spending time in the Arid Garden, reading about its inhabitants and especially writing poems through and for them, I had a chance to get a little closer to this world in which I felt so otherwise incompetent. For this I would very much like to thank Red Room Poetry and Australian Poetry for inviting me to take part in this special project and for their guidance and support throughout, and Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria for sharing their space and expertise.

I was immediately drawn to the Arid Garden for its plants—they are gloriously grotesque. Some are small and deceptively soft-looking; others are gnarly beasts. These are plants designed to thrive in harsh climates. When I visited the first time I noticed immediately the signs alerting me to CCTV cameras. Later I learned that this was the site of some brutal vandalism a few years earlier, when machetes were taken to some of the cacti in the display. I started thinking about survival & resurgence and all those sorts of messy and beautiful things, and how violence seems to be everywhere. And then my poems spiralled out of control and I began to write scraps and fragments that were grasping wildly at the floppy plants and the brittle plants I’d chosen, and never quite capturing them. But the process of writing and rewriting and discarding so many false starts in this project led me to a space where I was freed up suddenly. I was able to see these chosen plants as precise yet wildly universal living things with their own language, which it was my job to learn. This is why I love poetry—you work at it for so long to make it something, but sometimes it’s like an excavation—it’s there already, under the confusion & heaviness of your thoughts, and you need to gently (or not so gently) dig to uncover them. A poem can seem like it’s revealed itself to its author, but it requires patience, discipline and creativity to make it so. Perhaps it is the poet who must reveal themselves to the poem.

Elena Gomez is a Red Room commissioned poet for New Shoots Victoria.

Elena Maria Gomez is a poet and editor living in Melbourne. Her poems have been published in Cordite, Mascara Literary Review and The Claudius App, and her chapbooks are CHILL FLAKES (SUS press) & PER (Make Now Books, co-written with Eddie Hopely)....read more »