Luke Sweedman reflects on his poetic commission for New Shoots: WA in 2019.
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.