Red Room Blog
17th September 2015
Rhyming The Dead - Reflections - Renee Pettitt-Schipp
By Renee Pettitt-Schipp
Many poets believe that their key role is to pay attention. On the Cocos (Keeling) Islands when I first discovered a Radio National Poetica podcast of Judith Wright’s work, I was deeply struck by her ability to do just this, from witnessing the ‘wild embroideries’ on a rockpool’s edge, to her cry of pain and anger in Australia 1970, as the natural world to which she became so attuned, was destroyed around her. Judith Wright’s presence, the immediacy she expressed in her poems, opened my eyes wider, opened me more fully to experiences of wonder at the natural world.
Spending time with ‘Judith Wright’ during this project has been like realising an old acquaintance has become a good friend. While I fell in love with her poems on the atoll (earphones pressed into my ears, passing shy egrets and sunfish waving lazy fins at the sky), it was learning who Judith Wright was as a person on my return to the mainland that has been such an incredible source of inspiration. I am filled with deep respect for a woman of unflagging integrity so ahead of her time. Judith Wright did not simply join environmental and social justice societies, she began them. She did not apologise for the heart she brought to matters of the mind, as unfashionable as emotions were (and are) in public and intellectual life.
But opening to our emotional life comes at a price. As I hear the white-tailed black cockatoos on my verge exchange their see-saw calls amongst the marri trees, our current government is promising a highway through my local wetland, helping to push this endangered species toward the brink of extinction. How do I immerse in the awkward beauty of this bird and not leave myself open to heartbreak and grief? Austrian poet Rainer Mariner Rilke called this witnessing ‘unshielded-ness’. This refusal to put up barriers to the ‘other’ of people, creatures, even the country around her, deeply impacted Judith Wright’s life and legacy. In the poem Prayer she writes ‘but let my heart’s old pain tear me until I bleed.’ In her sorrow, Judith Wright embodied the fullness of who she was, she lived her ‘life’s whole truth’, and in being that fullness, carved out her capacity for joy, hope, and most importantly, love.
In this project I feel I have found poems that will walk with me for the rest of my life, and a poet whose courage and tenderness has fuelled the best in me.
Renee Pettitt-Schipp has lived in the Indian Ocean Territories for the past three years, however 2014 saw her return to the port city of Fremantle she calls home. Her recent work shares her experiences of living in our nation’s most marginal territory, as well as her reflections on returning to the Australian mainland... read more »