January 26, 2021


World Poetry Day 2015, United Nations, Geneva

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We make connections with one another in many different ways and, like others, I am fascinated with the simplicity of today’s virtual, interactive possibilities. Time and space no longer have the same definitions as I once knew them.

Sixty-five years ago, when a small child in Christchurch, New Zealand, my parents left me for several years in a boarding school while they accomplished their post-graduate studies in London. They travelled to and from Europe by ship. Every Saturday morning Matron took me to the empty study hall where she gave me a sharpened pencil and a piece of lined paper to write a letter to my parents. Writing was a very new skill that I was still acquiring and a blank page seemed quite a frightening space to fill. On Friday nights I often woke and worried about what I was going to tell those two adults who were beginning to fade from my reality. Sometimes I cried into my pillow, but my dormitory companions’ rhythmic breathing and the swish of the breeze in the curtains quietened my spirit and helped me to channel my flow of emotion. Even now I still wake in the early morning when ideas clamour to be written out.

I was fortunate to have Matron as my first creative guardian angel. She never corrected my spelling nor censored my letter’s content. Instead, she praised me, folded the letter into an envelope and taught me how to write an address. Every week I received in return a postcard from my mother with a printed text that was easy to read. Though my father only wrote once to me and that was when their returning ship docked in Perth, my mother’s cards and my writing efforts remained the loving link that enabled me to appreciate the importance of connections. In fact, when my mother died, I needed to bring her words to light before I could do the same with my own.

Just after my eleventh birthday we immigrated to the United States. Since then I have lived as an outsider from the land and the language that nurtured me as a child. I am cosmopolite – even New Zealanders ask me that classic question, “Where are you from?” But this query no longer contains the same sting. We can all connect instantly and if our secrets are harder to hide, our poems and stories can reach out much further than we ever imagined.

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