There is a major functional gap in my skill set when it comes to unraveling poetry and yet my philosophy of writing has come from poets
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
’These are the concluding lines of John Keats’ poem, ‘Ode On a Grecian Urn.’ As a child of Holocaust survivors, when I first read those words, I was provoked beyond provocation. Auschwitz was truth, where was the beauty in that? The Tempest was beautiful, but it was fantasy, far beyond truth.
Yet I know I have always striven to create beautiful prose as much as I have thought it paramount to tell the truth. But it was only through Keats that I came to understand that by writing about Auschwitz, say, without fear or faint heartedness, that very act of uncovering, of truth-telling, would contain an intrinsic beauty. Without truth there is only ugliness. And if I could convey the beauty of something with Shakespeare as my ideal, it might not have a basis in fact but it would contain the great truth that is beauty itself.
Then WB Yeats writes in ‘The Second Coming.’
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats filled me with foreboding and melancholy. ‘The centre cannot hold...’ An endless echo within a desolate universe. Yet those words gifted me with understanding of the very reason I write. My creative life allows me an impregnable place of refuge. I am in charge of the world I create. I am in charge of its centre. And I can make sure that the centre holds. Even should I decide that the centre will not hold, I cannot be the victim for within that world I hold the power. Within it, no one can knock at my door in the middle of the night and haul me into the street, shove me onto a train, into an oven or a hole in the ground. And I need that world because, as a child of survivors, I have grown up knowing — and know still — that evil has great power, that all of us are this close to plummeting into the widening gyre where anarchy is loosed, that good people die and the centre rarely holds.
As well as being a writer, I am an editor and lecturer, most recently at the Jewish Museum of Australia.I struggled through an MA which Monash University kindly awarded me (as long as I agreed not to come back) and completed a Diploma of Creative Writing from Prahran College. I have had two adult novels (April Fool, Hodder Headline 2001; The Torn Messiah, Hybrid Publishers 2008) and one young adult novel published (Rachel Racing Time, Third Space 2014). My collection of short stories (Choose Somebody Else) was published by Wild Dingo Press in 2018. Cathi Lewis, best publisher ever!! I unexpectedly won an award in the Gotham Screenplay Competition (New York) for my screen adaptation of April Fool and was a semi-finalist in the Rhode Island Film Festival. I have written two full-length dramas for the theatre (On Edge, Universal Theatre 1991, Smash the Glass: A Celebration of Women, The Besen Theatre, Melbourne and the International Magdalena Festival, Brisbane, 2003) I have edited Generation and The Melbourne Chronicle—both literary journals and my short stories, essays and reviews have been published in the US, the UK, Israel and Australia.
I have edited award-winning Holocaust memoirs by survivors, most notably by Abraham Biderman (Random House Australia, 1995 and winner of the National Biography award and Banjo Patterson award for nonfiction, 1996). This was even more difficult than achieving my MA.
I have conducted creative-writing workshops for people suffering mental illness, startled and sometimes left breathless by their wit and originality. Recently I have begun advocating for those with disability, and perform stand-up comedy to raise public awareness. To date I have appeared at Passionate Tongues (Brunswick Hotel, Melbourne); The Comedy Lab: Stand Up for Disability Rights, in conjunction with the Victorian College of the Arts; Raw Comedy auditions at the Espy, Mad Pride—Melbourne Comedy Festival 2019. Tickets on Myself, Fringe Festival September, (2019)
So many more words to write. So little time.