Showing up on the page: Bron Bateman shares how advice from a friend helped keep her writing on track
Bron Bateman’s latest collection of poems, Blue Wren, is structured around a suite of Frida Kahlo paintings that provide a powerful way of healing, of reclaiming the past and of embracing the beauty of now. But in this article, Bron shares how the collection might never have been without some key advice from a friend.
I used to write poetry by waiting for inspiration to strike me and then dash off a poem or two or, if I were less lucky, a line or two that I held onto determinedly, waiting for the rest of the poem to arrive in my mind. This was a singularly less than productive use of my time and one that didn’t eventuate in a collection of my own for many years.
My first collection, People from Bones (with Kelly Pilgrim), only had me produce thirty pages of poems, which were as a result of a serendipitous Creative Writing program at Curtin University. After writing them I was at a loss as to how to produce my own solitary collection of work.
My second collection, Of Memory and Furniture (2020 Fremantle Press), therefore took me twelve years to produce and there was a time I despaired of writing anything new. However, the confidence I gained when Fremantle Press took a chance on me and decided to publish my poetry saw me try a new method of writing, thanks to the inspiring words of one of my writing friends. He sent me a note, with the following advice:
Show up at the page. Good or bad, that’s not our job, man. But show up at the page and you’ll be there when the divine music starts to play.
I realised that I had been waiting for my muse to appear, and for me to be a conduit for that muse, without necessarily putting in any of the hard work and grit and determination needed to create a body of work. When I started making writing a part of my weekly routine – not even daily, but a few hours a few days per week – I found that my creativity increased exponentially, and yes, while there were times when ‘the divine music played’, the best poems were often the ones I wrote with just an idea in mind and with the grit and determination to start with a small kernel of an idea and to see where it progressed.
This lead to my third collection, Blue Wren. This is, in my mind, my most satisfying and mature collection and one which has benefitted from hard graft, and lots of metaphorical perspiration along with some inspiration as well. The saying that work is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration has never rung more truly in my mind. And my favourite poem in the collection, the titular ‘Blue Wren’, is one where the main idea, a lament to the loss of innocence in a small child with the death of a bird, came to me as an emotional puzzle to tease out, rather than being one that was ‘inspired’ by true events. The truth of this poem is realised in an event that was emotionally true for me as a parent and writer. And ‘showing up at the page’ by asking myself how this event would be realised saw me write a poem that was immediately published when I sent it out. Not a coincidence to my mind.
So that note from my friend, to ‘show up at the page’ has seen my productivity skyrocket, my satisfaction with my work increase exponentially and the probability that I will have another collection ready in a few years more of a reality than a dream. A very satisfying outcome for an emerging writer, who really lacked confidence in her writing only a few years ago.
Show up at the page – you don’t know where it will lead you!