I AM FOR
Miriam dedicates much of her life to writing poetry, running poetry workshops for children and runs a regular open mic poetry gatherings — Poetica — where people speak truth, beauty, politics and community. Last year Miriam was commissioned by ACOSS to write a piece for their 2018 National Conference, which she titled, ‘This is the call’.
We are honoured to have Miriam’s partnership because we believe that creativity and art must surely have a place in any flourishing society. As we write in pillar six, “Our communities are places of music, fun and playfulness, kindness and generosity… Artists, musicians and storytellers have pride of place in our culture: we relish the joy, insight and meaning they bring to our lives.”
In creating Australia reMADE, it was clear that the arts are essential not only to a good life, but are an important part of getting us there. As one participant said, “That’s when we flourish — when the artists are leading the conversation… there are people who are born to tell stories about the human condition.
Art enables us to be honest about uncomfortable topics… even if I don’t understand it or like it... art means that people walk away if not feeling better, at least feeling different.”
In July, Miriam was a part of an Australia reMADE panel speaking at the Jewish Social Justice Summit in Sydney. Below is a transcript of Miriam’s speech as she talks about her work, her hopes and the importance of vision.
We are so pleased to have crossed paths with her and to have her help us to tell, and to hear, stories that move us.
I AM FOR
First up I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, past, present and future – we are all blessed to be here. I’d also like to thank my poetry partner at Fourlines where I publish my poetry, Ella Mitchell, who produced and directed this video and of course to Australia reMADE for bringing me on board this exciting and bold project. And to the Social Justice Summit committee for inviting me today.
I wrote that little poem I AM FOR for the launch of Australia reMADE last year. In my discussions prior to writing it I chatted at length with Australia reMADE’s Secretariat Louise Tarrant and National Coordinator Millie Rooney, about what it was they were looking for from this spoken word piece. We talked about anger and about frustration, and how these feelings and emotions are part of any attempt at changing the status quo. But we also all agreed that we wanted to encourage people to dig a little deeper.
I took my sadness, my frustration, my anger and I turned it on its head. I spun it for all it’s worth.
So rather than just react to what is happening around me I wanted to also recognise what it is I really want for my Australia and for my life and my children’s future. Oftentimes we get caught in the battle and forget what we are fighting for. Sometimes we are so far from what our heart is yearning we forget to even enquire. As I began my own soul search I remembered a writing prompt that I had been given when I was in high school. It was quite simply - “I AM FOR” and we, as high school students, had to write what we were for, what we liked, what we stood for, what brought us joy. I remember writing lines such as, ‘I am for running to the mailbox and seeing my name on a letter. I am for the sound of the flywire door swinging when people are over for a family lunch on a hot day. I am for’.
I have played with that prompt since then in my own poetry so I returned to it for this challenge. And I meditated on my own status quo and all that is around me. And I took my sadness, my frustration, my anger and I turned it on its head. I spun it for all it’s worth. And I threw in my fury, my joy, my calm, my wonder and of course my intellect too and what happened in that moment was that all of a sudden there were possibilities.
Out of the disillusionment rose the power of opportunity, the power for change, the power to stand for something and have a vision that has legs. If we only react then we are still playing the game. We are in it and sometimes we get lost. We can’t see the forest from the trees. As I wrote the poem I observed the energy shift in me. ‘Oh yeah – I want that! Oh yeah, wouldn’t that be great if there was a common prayer in Parliament? Wouldn’t it be great if there were more rainwater tanks and murals on every street corner?’ Let’s be that country.
I can quote so many great poets and great thinkers of our time about this feeling of rising to meet the challenge. You must dig deep. You must choose your words and your battles carefully and you must decide on how you will show up to the battle — armed or moving from a different place.
Do not forget your heart’s yearning.
Yes, a poet can say such a thing.
I follow a fantastic source for knowledge – Brain Pickings by the incredible Maria Papova. Each day in my feed I receive insights, gems, new and old ways of thinking that encourage me to keep moving forward. Here’s a snippet from one of Maria’s articles on a fairly well known poet, Leonard Cohen. Cohen was asked by a journalist why he removed some verses from his song Democracy. He responds:
I didn’t want to compromise the anthemic, hymn-like quality. I didn’t want it to get too punchy. I didn’t want to start a fight in the song. I wanted a revelation in the heart rather than a confrontation or a call-to-arms or a defense.
And now I quote Maria Papova:
In these present days of outrage and confrontation, how much of even the most elegantly argued writing aims for “a revelation in the heart”? And what might our world look like if this is what we aimed for instead of belittling and badgering those we find at fault?
So what are you for?
I’m sure when you go home today or even while you are here today and you start with this prompt you too will see how empowering it is to get clear on what you are for rather than what you are not. And it doesn’t have to just be the big things, political. What are the little things that bring you back to yourself?
I run a poetry club at my daughter’s school and have given this prompt to them. I always encourage them to investigate their senses, think what the world feels like, smells like, looks like. What brings them joy? When do they feel nourished? Humans generally want the same things and when you break down what those things are — it all comes back to the basic human needs.
Here are a few from the Year 2 kids:
I am for the sound of rain falling from the grey sky
I am for being with my dad and reading to him
I am for seeing my parents smiling at me
I am for the smell of after it rains
I am for hugging my sister in the morning and night
I am for seeing my mum after school
I am for the smell of fire
What are you for? Let’s just start there.
Australia reMADE Poet Laureate, artist, mother and visionary