EXCLUSIVE: Fiona Capp talks MY BLOOD’S COUNTRY
by William Kostakis - July 21st, 2010
I’m currently reading Fiona Capp’s My Blood’s Country, and loving every word of it, so I thought I’d invite Fiona onto the blog to share some of her words with us, an invitation she has kindly accepted. For those that don’t know My Blood’s Country, it’s a memoir of sorts, as Fiona takes us on a tour of revered poet Judith Wright’s “Blood’s country”. This truly Australian story is a must-read for all poetry lovers, and lovers of language.
Visiting a poet’s world
I was about twelve years-old when I took a book from the shelf next to my oldest sister’s bed. It was Judith Wright’s sixth collection of poetry The Five Senses, published in 1963, the year I was born. At this time I was mad about Romantic and Victoria poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Tennyson. All dead white males. I knew that Judith Wright was a major figure on the Australian literary landscape. Perhaps this is why I assumed she too must be dead.
I looked at the biographical blurb and did a calculation, or perhaps I noticed that she was described in the present tense. Then it registered. Judith Wright was not only a woman and an Australian but she was alive. The whole lofty business of writing felt suddenly much closer to home. The fact that Wright was a living, Australian, woman – as opposed to a dead, European, male – changed everything. I had recently started scribbling poetry myself. I knew that tingling, dizzying feeling of a poem coming on, that sense of connection with forces beyond oneself that Judith Wright wrote about in her title poem ‘The Five Senses’. In my early twenties I realised that I was not really a poet, but I’ve never forgotten that feeling. A few years later Judith was invited to speak at my school speech night. I met her and began corresponding with her and this continued until her death.
This personal connection forms the framework for my journey through the landscapes that inspired her writing, which I made 30 years after we first met. I went to New England where she grew up on a sheep and cattle station, to Mt Tambourine in Queensland where she spent her married life and then to the bush property near Mongarlowe, 100 kilometres east of Canberra where she spent her final years. It was an incredibly rich experience, one that helped me better understand her writing, her activism and her life, particularly the tragedy that shaped Judith’s childhood, her complex relationship with her family, and the two great loves of her life.
Inevitably, not everything about these places was as I had imagined it from reading her poems and so this journey was at times a confronting and disturbing one as I struggled to reconcile my expectations with the reality. Above all, the experience of writing this book brought home to me what a visionary Judith Wright was; how she sensed in her bones that something had gone profoundly wrong with our attitude to the earth, long before the term ‘conservationist’ entered public discourse. Her work and her message remain as urgent as ever.