Rebecca's book will be launched at Bookoccino Bookshop on Sunday, 17 May, from 3 p.m. You can RSVP here.
The organ in St Mary’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Road, Sydney has a beautiful console in the nave, designed I think by Eric Wisden and consisting of brass piping across horizontally slatted wooden backings that form part of a complex wooden sound structure. The piping is remarkable for the precision of its varying heights, remaining consistent in the increments by which they become taller and by which they recede. Indeed, they seem, toward the back, almost fan-like in their arrangement and the stronger, bigger and taller pipes at both sides add to this symphony of the delicate with the robust.
When I first saw it I thought it was, aesthetically, a little like a book of poems, some short, some medium and others long. My new book essentially began here and became the reason for the religious overtones of the poems within.
Of course, I was not at St Mary’s by accident but, rather, was attending a weekly service as a Catholic. To the non-religious person it truly is impossible to explain what it means to worship God in this ritualistic fashion other than to profess a faith I have had since a child, a faith that was given to me by my parents, vis-à-vis my education.
The experience is extremely personal and rewarding in the sense the quietude of prayer, that dark space behind closed eyes in which you are with your soul, your heart, your feeling, directs you toward calmness. It is as though in drawing together your hands and kneeling you are facing yourself at your most composed and most beautiful: your most un-self. This is integrity and through prayer and worship, I follow it as my God and my light, my truth.
At the same time I am with God, I am recognising a divine presence and sharing my most private life with him. I sometimes laugh at how useful that word, God, is, because it means in the one address, for instance, the beginning of prayer with “dear God”, I am really saying hello to the Trinity, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Which in this sense means I am also addressing my church. So you see, prayer can be complicated!
This point brings me to an important question a few people have recently asked: “how can you reconcile what has been happening in the media lately with your own faith?” This, more precisely, refers to the innumerable sex crimes the church tried to hide.
Well, my answer is very simple. Sexual abuse is everywhere. It is happening next door or over the street from where you live. It is happening to your best friend or friend of a friend. It is perpetrated by lovers, by strangers, by new acquaintances or teachers; and, sadly, by priests. In light of this, to my mind, the church has been disproportionately singled out by a media spotlight that, almost through bemusement, won’t beam the light of exposition elsewhere. So I continue in my relationship with God and go to Mass etc. because there are a lot of people in the world and some are bad, some so-so and some good.
Now to poetry…
My prayers are not poems. One comes to mind that could be with potential but, no, onthe whole they are quite different. They were written to share with others the experience of prayer, of being quiet with yourself and looking around at the world, of appreciating life and the loves you have in it, the people, animals or favourite moments.
Some of the poems were inspired by walks in the botanic gardens, others at the beach whilst others were more sudden, for example, a child break-dancing or at my feet, sunlight catching the iridescent colours of a pigeon’s neck.
One of the greatest tests, I think, for any person, is accommodating tragedy into the pace of everyday life. Halfway through the book, my dad became quite sick with cancer and died after a four-month battle. Spending time with him during his illness and in the last weeks whilst composing my book I remember making a very firm decision that this would not ‘become’ the book. I wanted to be sure the book showed enough resilience and faith to take my life past what I was about to lose. So there are a few dad poems, but not too many!
To be honest, when I was first bedside with dad (an architect and later, church architect) I didn’t want to write any poems about his illness or last days. I was annoyed at Dylan Thomas for writing his exquisite poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” because to my mind he had cashed in on a personal tragedy. Yet write about it I did. And take the book past the fact, I did too.
I have always written poetry. In my early twenties I tried out short fiction and was published, even shortlisted for a national prize; but, in all honesty, this is not my genre. Nor would anyone want it to be if they read any of my attempts.
This book is poetry because it is the closest I get to prayer without telling the world my most private, intimate thoughts or worse, introducing you to the God I talk to before falling asleep.In My Days and In My Sleep is personal but not private, shared publicly because I think what I have witnessed, lived and loved is important.