Sunday, May 5, 2013

Susanna Freymark on the words we want to keep

Novelist Susanna Freymark writes for us about books, reading and especially about poetry and the words we may want to remember forever
How many books do you reckon a person reads in a lifetime? If I 'do' a book a week and live to 100 years, that will make about 5000 books as a generous estimate.

I consider myself a time-poor, avid reader. Usually I have several books on the go, there is always a pile of six or more sitting on my bedside table. Like a living, literary sculpture they whisper — pick me, pick me —when I climb into bed at night.

There are thousands of new books to choose from each year — books to re-read from my childhood,  recommended books, books to read before I die and books cast aside part way through because, well, life is too short to read bad books. Currently I am pushing my way through Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton.  I’ve stuck with the heavy memoir tome (636 pages) despite some long, plodding passages because he delivers moments of beautiful writing. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver is next in line. But I daren’t even read the opening line in case I become entranced and leave Mr Rushdie behind.

And then there is poetry. The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje is dog-eared on a poem I have read hundreds of times.
If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.
It is poetry that puts me into a writing space. I take my busy mind to my desk with a coffee and after a quick read of Shakespeare or a verse of a poem, my own words pour onto the page and ward off the mind's daily clutter of work, shopping lists and things to do.

Listen to the music of these words.

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross
Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings
Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
'The Swan' by Mary Oliver.

And this by an 80-year-old American poet,

It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.

an extract from 'Failing and Flying' by Jack Gilbert

And then there are the special moments in life like, weddings, funerals and christenings when you want special words that you will remember forever. Words that will bind the memory of the occasion.

I was married four months ago and instantly knew the poem I wanted read at our ceremony.

In a small country church, reclaimed by the community, my sister and her husband read aloud 'The Invitation' to family and friends. It is a beautiful, anti-romantic poem and its stark, honest message struck a chord and made the guests cry.  Here is an extract.
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

I can't write any more! I have books to read and words to love.

Susanna Freymark

Susanna Freymark works full time as a journalist. Previously, she was a primary school teacher at Amata Aboriginal School in Central Australia and years later, owned a children’s bookshop and learning centre in London. She holds a Master of Arts in creative writing from UTS and her short stories have been published in the UTS Anthology and numerous other publications. For ten years, she lived with her children in the Byron Bay hinterland where the lush landscape and twists and turns of life inspired her first book, Losing February.


  1. Susanna i really enjoyed your 'words' and i totally agree that some we want to keep as our own little treasures.i also enjoyed the poems you offered but was heart struck by Oriah Mountain Dancer's 'Invitation'. I have down loaded the fun version and am in love as these words are the unspoken words of my soul to my heart. It must have been a beautiful moment for all your loved ones at your wedding when it was read. Again thank you for sharing - your words are warm and delightfully infectious evoking one top dance in the music of beautiful words

  2. I am so pleased you liked The Invitation. It's truth struck me theorist I me I read it. Thank you for your kind words.