By Dr Susan Bradley Smith
‘I don’t know what the result will be, but I have made up my mind to write at random…I have just crossed out four words; that’s cheating…Let me warn you at the outset: be careful not to give too much importance to what I am setting down now.’—André Gide - So Be It or The Chips are Down.
I was feeling so bloody lonely. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from an old friend from high school called Michael who is now a patent attorney. It said he’d been wondering about me and that he would like for us to regain contact; he wished me and my family well. A long time ago, he was in love with my girlfriend. Deb had a headache one morning, a brain aneurism in the afternoon and she’s been dead ever since. When we were seventeen, she looked more like Deborah Harry than Deborah Harry and she just kept getting prettier.
Richmond River High School in the 1970s was like no other school. It was the Age of Aquarius and our school sat in the heartland of the Nimbin communes. Paying for drugs was a foreign act of commerce; teachers would collect students, hitchhiking after their early morning surfs, to our school. We were taught by devoted locals ranging from artists to eccentric mathematicians and young, talented teachers who were forever sunburnt and involved in some kind of activism. It was the last egalitarian moment for public schooling, the last moment before the establishment of private schools began their horrid vivisection of community life. Deb’s parents and her many siblings lived on a farm outside of town. Her boyfriend, Michael, was my neighbour.
In Year 10, our English teacher had all of us writing poetry. I still have all of mine – my first chapbook – though I don’t know why. Sometimes I read them to my students at university to relax them, to let them laugh and to encourage them to start writing. Sometimes I read them to my children, who enjoy using them as rich and playful teasing opportunities to confirm that I’m weird/a hippy/need to get another job because, of course, the poems are timid stretches towards craft and their teenaged lives are far more sophisticated. My signature theme hasn’t changed much: I love him he loves me she loves me I love her oh it hurts so much and so on until the cows leave their cowshed because it is the weekend and time for the local garage bands to rock us all night long. So many bands. So many nights of dancing and kissing and restringing guitars.
On hot, slow afternoons after school I used to write my poems sitting on Michael’s bedroom floor with Deb. She and I listened to him playing his Gibson. Michael had been well-trained as a musician, but those gifts were not nearly as impressive to a teenager as the fact that he also owned his own amplifier. Michael played and Deb sang. Michael – a recent immigrant from England – introduced us to the new world of Roxy Music and the Sex Pistols; he talked of London as the land of Clockwork Orange. We were young and so full of wonder; we were bursting with love for every strange delight, for music and kisses and poetry and the beach and the sheer shininess of being young.
Music meant so much to us. For me, it was always about the lyrics. Some writers say that the cadences of the King James Bible are all you need to be a good poet. But add to that the poetics of punk and the high drama of 1970s optimism (which lived off its own special breed of opium) and there you have a style that can’t do anything other than stamp you for life. It has to mean something that the prose poems I wrote about our lives then – as silly and raw as they are – still exist and Deb doesn’t. Those two friends were the first ones that really listened to me and gave to my writing their undivided attention. We all listened to each other so very much. So very, dearly much. After that kind of original attention, no other review matters.
Dr Susan Bradley Smith is a Senior Lecturer Creative Writing at Curtin University. This article was originally published by Antithesis Journal online in 2016.