Red Room Blog
6th March 2019
"I was humbled to become a part of something greater than just being a poet alone" – Luke Sweedman reflects on New Shoots WA
By Luke Sweedman
I have always written poetry since my teenage years. I was inspired by a teacher I had when I was sitting my Higher School Certificate. I find writing poetry to be a quintessential method of compartmentalising streams of consciousnesses that are important to me. I am mainly a landscape poet, as I have always worked in the wild, natural regions of Australia and New Zealand. Poetry was a great way to record my experiences, in often a limited time.
Being included as a commissioned poet has been a great experience. On initially hearing of this, I was humbled to become a part of something greater than just being a poet alone. I was very excited and the subject of the mallee was one that I felt confident about as it is so close to the work I do. I am the plant collector for the Botanic Gardens in Perth at Kings Park, so I travel all over the state collecting seeds for the conservation seed bank. I have collected most of the eucalyptus species in Western Australia, which is around 450 species, and most of these are mallee species.
I think the idea of writing about mallees is unique. I am sure most people have little conceptual ideas relating to various forms of trees. I remember one of my mentors, the great Western Australia scientist, Steve Hopper saying to me when I was describing a botanical specimen, he would say, “Is it a mallee or a tree”? It took me a long time to realise that I had the word tree on the brain for any upwardly mobile plant form! I hasten to add that many species can be a tree or a mallee within the same species if both forms are found. I will explain this by saying the tree form will not have a lignotuber and be a single trunk.
Logically, I had an immediate response to the topic, and literally words and images began tumbling out. It provoked a seismic link to my work and I found poems forming every hour of the day and night. I wrote around 15 poems in the first two weeks, and many of these I thought were good.
It was so good to have been granted and provided such stimulation and I gave several impromptu poetry readings, one to my bemused elderly parents. I was also given another opportunity for a reading as a guest speaker for the Ravensthorpe Wildflower Festival. I was expected to talk about my role as seed collector for Kings Park, of course, but the opportunity to read a poem was overwhelming. Ravensthorpe is the crucible of eucalyptus species in the world. More than 150 species occur in the shire. I had to write a poem about Ravensthorpe, and on a Sunday afternoon in Hopetoun, just south of Ravensthorpe, I delivered the poem in front of over 100 people. It was enthusiastically received, as was my talk, and I offered the poem to the shire as a piece of artwork. I heard they are setting it to music at the local school!
All this happened due to the Red Room Poetry commission.
I have worked with Nandi Chinna before, in a less formal capacity, but it was really good to work with her and have her edit some of my work. I found this inspiring, and having a ‘real’ poet look at my work and act as a mentor in the creative process was new and compelling for me. I hope that what I have delivered and planted in the garden of poems will help to nourish the overall landscape. I feel now that my poetic credentials have been verified through the process. I think being connected through the project provides a profound sense of being part of a creative hub. It has been really transformative. I am planning to gather my collected works and have them published. Thank you for the opportunities and the process provided to get the poems out there.
Read our other poets' reflections on New Shoots WA:
- I like to just hang around the plant and see what happens
– Nandi Chinna
- I have always held a special connection to the Boodjar
– Daniel Hansen
- On a perfect summer morning, the eucalypts and I are breathing
– Renee Pettitt-Schipp