• Peter Ramm

Writing Days in the Gardens

Updated: Jul 8

Day 1:

Today's the first day of lockdown as COVID tightens its grip on Sydney once more. In the gardens there were a few people, but really the numbers were only a winter shadow of a few weeks ago.


I took a quick walk through the succulent collection this morning to see some of the desert flowers in winter bloom. Many aloe and cacti were striking in their seasonal pose.

On the Northern edge a garden bed of ground covering and shrub banksias brought me back to the Australian Dryland collection. So much to draw on for the series of poems I'm writing whilst here. Below is my view from the writing desk—looking out of on of the Crattloe Cottage's windows, this year the gardens are celebrating the building's 100th year on the site.

Day 2:

All of greater Sydney is in lockdown now which means I’m working from home. A couple of runny noses in our house today and a COVID test for Ash. The writing was a little slower today as a result, but I did get half way through a new poem. The weather has turned fine for the first time in a few weeks and the sun shows itself ever a welcome guest on the cold days. The neighbours have a fire pit roaring and woodsmoke sits low in the valley.


Day 3:

Ash woke up to a negative COVID test which was a relief, but the little ones are also feeling it with fevers in the night. I'm editing and tidying up the end of yesterdays poem and on to another in the garden.


Days 4-5:

We are very much home dwellers now and its a shame to miss people as we lockdown, but it seems most people are following the directives and we might see this one through. I booked my COVID vaccine, but I have to wait until the end of August for them to become available for me.


Some more edits of the manuscript today, some more reading (Mark Tredinnick's Walking Underwater, Philip Levine's The Last Shift and some Seamus Heany) a Poetry off the Shelf podcast and a look through Lewis Turco's Book of Forms, for the beginning of a new poem.


Day 6:

Missing the opportunity to walk the gardens today, so I took Finn out for a walk to the remnant Yarrawa Brush/Robertson rainforest/Nature Reserve, which we love to visit through the year on our adventures around town.


We grabbed some hot chips and a coffee (babyccino for him) at Elways food truck and slowly made our way in the drizzle.


His loves the tree moss and the vines, but he's not too keen on sitting and listening for the birds, which are remarkably hard to spot in the canopy.


The trip was the last inspiration gathering for a poem I've been writing for a week or so, and a great time with the little guy.


Day 7:

Well into the writing days now. I've worked on a run of short poems set in and around the gardens and sent some off to competitions. Here are two in the Korean Sijo form. They're somewhat akin to the Japanese Tanka, but longer in line length at 15 syllables:


I

Today the sun's dialled down and winter rises in the shapes

Of swamp cypress. I chase my son through azaleas. He's hiding,

As always, with a smirk —the world unburdened in his smile.


II

Sulphur crested cockatoos, minding dusk in redwood branches

—Imprints of white oil on ink sketch. The steel city dims its lights.

We are towering infernos, quieted in the night sky.




Day 8:

Continuing in the shorter poem forms, I wrote a run of Tanka and Haiku today, little snapshots from the walks through the gardens before lockdown. It seems to drag on, but it provides time at the desk and like the day's hours, the case numbers are turning down.

Here's a couple haiku:


I

Red cedar unspools

Its roots in mud—golden glass

Of evening whiskey.


II

The silver dollar

Plant banks all one hundred leaves,

I clutch at pennies.


III

The sky speaks summer

But the bulrushes lay flat

Like broken matches.


IV

In the rose garden

My boys play superheroes

—while gardeners prune.




Day 9:

The winter days have turned out some sun and we ventured for a walk to Nellie's Glen, just five minutes drive from home. A beautiful spot for the family. The water temperature almost zero and the kids brambling over the rocks. There's a poem here I'm sure, when it wants to come. I wrote another at Barren Grounds which was Highly Commended in the Tom Collins Poetry Prize last year. I had news that two of my poems have been selected for an anthology later in the year as well. One on the bushfires of 2019-20 and my first run of Sijo I wrote last winter. It's always nice to have poems find a home. I look forward to announcing and sharing closer to publication.




Day 10-11:

The winter days have cooled, -4 overnight, but they're beautiful for mid-morning walks. Making the most of the sunny weather, we've taken the boys out to the local park a few times. Our stay-at-home orders are coming to an end, just in time to go back to work next week. There was a spectacular front yesterday morning and the boys had a great time making imprints in the grass and cracking the ice-topped puddles. The regeneration area along Caalong Creek has been some respite from the lockdown. On yesterday's walk the matt rush was steaming off the frost in the morning sun, almost like the land was breathing on a cool morning. This morning a pair of eastern rosella's was hopscotching between the river white gums.





Elwrays as always was a must. Especially, after a 2:30am start for the zoom award ceremony for The Rialto's Nature and Place competition. What a privilege to place third in that competition judged by preeminent poet Daljit Nagra. My congratulations to Simon Costello who's poem "They say you sleep 1/3 of your life in the dark with animals" placed first and the other poets Dipanjali Roy (2nd) ‘the eighteenth brumaire’ and Jane Lovell (Additional Prize) ‘Reasons for Sanderlings’. It was such a pleasure to hear the poets read their stunning poems. They'll be printed in an upcoming edition of The Rialto. My deep thanks to Michael Mackmin, Matthew Howard, Joanna Holland, and John Fanshawe from The Rialto, RSPB, BirdLife International and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative for all of their work in conservation and supporting the Arts, and especially poetry in its unique ability to connect the human and natural world.


Other poems have taken flight in the last two days as well. Some Ghazals set in the gardens and on our walks.