by Kim Kelly
Hollywood stars receive free perfume and bling in their Oscars showbags. Sports stars receive free running shoes. Writers traditionally receive diddly, except for words.
‘Can you read my manuscript?’ For free, we are asked.
‘Can you help me get published?’ Laughter is also free.
But now and again, and increasingly for me, I have received some precious, priceless words.
Poetry. I received some this afternoon, a collection written by a woman I don’t know, the mother of a cyber friend, in return for a favour. Her name is Norma Houen, and when she died not long ago, her son, my friend, Charles, and his sister, Jill, decided to publish her work themselves.
As I opened the slim volume, entitled String of Pearls, her first poem, ‘Edna’s Butterflies’, caught my breath:
Embroidering her dreams
our mother shaped our lives
as hers was shaped by ours
her children danced and whirled
floating sequined wings
in silvered light
one she netted
one set free
or that was how it seemed
finer than gossamer spun from love
her fragile nets embraced
supporting confining reclaiming
when her children’s children danced the dream
and she filled their lives with light
And my eyes filled with tears. Poems were among my first journeys in words, and such poetry as Norma Houen’s are the songs of our everyday. ‘Edna’s Butterflies’ returned me immediately to my grandmother Ivy’s flat in Coogee, cluttered with her paintings and her fabrics and her giant, sparkling weirdness. It returned me to my young motherhood, too, making sequined wings from wire hangers and an old pair of nylon stockings for one of my boys when he was small. My love beating out into a big blue sky afternoon, willing him endless wonders with every stitch.
Most publishers today consider poetry to be worthless, and as ever women’s domestic reflections are worth quite a bit less than that, but these words – Norma’s words, every poet’s heart-wrought words – will always be treasure for me.
‘Edna’s Butterflies’ reproduced here with many thanks to Charles and Jill