Day Six: 14 March
I had an opportunity to visit a new group whilst I was in Whyalla. On Monday evening I was taken to a hotel where in a back room The Ripples group had their regular meeting. The group was ten strong, all women and formidable in all the right ways.
Ripples is first and foremost a support group for parents of ice addicts. They have plans to develop education and preventative activity within the community. They have plans to grow into a political group who will demand resources to tackle what they see as an epidemic that has destroyed their families and unchecked will go on to destroy others.
I felt very naïve and a little helpless as they explained the force of addiction and the speed of destruction that this drug causes.
I work with very vulnerable people with complicated issues and I work in environments where pain is obvious and just under the surface. My support in these sessions is literature. I am just a writer, with no particular skills in counselling, but I believe that voice, and the ability to tell your story in your way is a right everyone should have.
I went into my usual patter about how poetry was for everyone, how technique was always secondary to honesty and bravery and I tried to assure the group that they shouldn’t be scared.
I was then told very firmly that everyone in the room had watched a loved one destroyed by drugs and addiction and that after that experience there was nothing threatening about poetry and a poet. ‘Bring it on’, they said. The motivation to communicate simply and powerfully was not an issue.
This was a group that desperately needed to tell their story. They believe that the wider they can share it the more good it might do for other people.
This was a group that desperately needed to tell their story. They believe that the wider they can share it the more good it might do for other people. Whyalla is a small town and there is no anonymity when you join a group like this. These women were prepared to be loud and open about the experience they lived through and they didn’t fear judgment.
So we wrote. We wrote as a group initially, another instant poem that tries to capture voice and the dominant concerns of the room. It was a very easy task as clear, powerful and eloquent ideas flowed. The group have obviously affiliated to the level where discussion and debate is natural but it was gentle, genuine and respectful. I didn’t conduct this orchestra. I just set up the microphone and recorded them playing. The task of creating a finished piece became weightless and I just watched it fall onto the page.
I read the final piece and I knew we had created something powerful and satisfying. The work belongs to the group and they will share it as part of their education material.
Everyone went on to write an individual piece. I challenged the group with a range of forms and techniques and true to their word they attacked them with confidence and were comfortable enough to read and discuss the final results.
As I was wrapping up and thanking the group for their focus I was slipped a print out of a poem one of the group members’ daughter had written about her addiction to ice. It read as a long and harrowing apology to a mother who had to watch their child in a hopeless situation.
The session had been punctuated by laughter and compassion but this piece of writing had no lightness and it reminded me of the struggle that this group faces and the pain they have already had to endure. It’s a weight I can’t imagine – even as a parent of a teenager myself – but the power of these women, their writing, their words and even their performance was tangible. Literature is a useful tool for them and despite the scale of the battle they fight they used it with real respect, sensitivity and solidarity. – David
This is a SA Writers Centre project that will take place on the traditional lands of a number of Aboriginal nations in South Australia. We acknowledge Aboriginal people’s ongoing relationship and spiritual connection with the land, and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.
Supported by Arts South Australia’s Community Arts and Cultural Development project fund