It was early last September, if I do try to remember
when the road that I had found myself had brought me to a fork.
I sat at my desk and chair & thought about the open air
and how one path would take me from Melbourne to New York.
It had all began with Clancy and the road he took to fancy
was one that I had always dreamt of droving on now too.
But to take the risk and chance? I gave it barely but a glance
to quit and study poetry up at NYU.
But as I thought I'd do what's 'right' the thought kept me up at night
and how was I to carry on, day in and day out.
For the banking world demanding and its duties now commanding
I nearly had forgotten what I really was about.
Just because I was afraid, didn't mean that I must stay
and give up my desire, to give it all a go.
So with my application I looked for the validation
for if I was good enough, I needed just to know.
With my acceptance letter fleeting, I got in mornings' meeting.
I knew right then and there that this was now my chance.
To leave my bank profession for a quite natural progression
to go and study poetry instead of world finance.
I quit I left my desk and chair, I flew and then I landed there.
With Minnie at my side, as words strung in my head.
2 months so awe inspiring, the poets so admiring
For "Poets here are born not made" Banjo once had said.
* * *
With my student loan in tow I thought to England I would go
and I drove around a Mini I had borrowed from a friend.
But he will not know til now, that I barely knew quite how
to drive the nimble manual that he kindly did so lend.
Thus I learnt by doing, for the place I was pursuing
was where I had been born just North on the M5.
Though my efforts were commended, it is not recommended
to use the English motorway to teach yourself to drive.
And on the roads so narrowing, only two times quite so harrowing
from taking off a jumper while I crossed a Scotland bridge.
Don't know what I was doing, on that hill start in Polruan
when I nearly, very nearly, drove us off a ridge.
Alas from Birmingham to Ambleside to Edinburgh and England wide
I stayed with all of those I knew from days that have gone by.
And through the lakes and down the coast and to the point southernmost
I drove around the sweeping bends and let my thoughts go fly.
With the friends that came to greet me and their families to meet me
I found that what I 'used to do' is really what I was.
And I find that this September, back from a trip that I'll remember
as the one in which I call myself a poet now because...
I in fact had changed with Clancy
I had took my turn at droving while the seasons came and went
With Minnie, in my Mini, the best time I've ever spent.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
On my 24th birthday this year I had my first class at New York University. The first day of an intensive month of workshops, theory and generative projects in modern and traditional poetry. Three days earlier I was sitting at my desk at a global bank in Australia.
My parents filled my childhood with books and music and an unending canvas for imagination but at 12 my mother introduced 'Poetry Night' dinner parties to my horror. Guests would have to bring a poem of their choosing and then perform it. My recitation of Banjo Patersons' 'Clancy of the Overflow' in a confused international accent, to this day seems to be one of the most unforgettable moments of her life. I seem to have blocked this particular event out. (If you do not know the poem, for the purposes of this article and general self improvement read it: here.) We had moved to a small town outside of Chicago 5 years earlier from England where my sister and I were born.
It wasn't until I attended school in Australia that I realised the sunburnt country ran through my veins. Despite countless visits back to the Riverina towns from which my family beckons, it was this year in particular I recognised my innate Australian-ness. My discovery of Banjo Paterson was a life altering moment that spoke to my love of the land, but also a certain knack I had for rhyming. Though my mother would introduce my sister and I as "my sister - the singer, and me - the poet." At the time I cowered, and cursed her for it. I was not a poet. But like Banjo says: Poets are born not made.
I used this knack to write in a rhyming narrative to give poems as presents at Christmas, or birthdays, or if we were without a hostess gift. I use it when I write books for children which includes a series of books about the toy dog 'Minnie' that I have had since I was three (hopefully soon to hit your local bookshop.)
Smash cut to 9 years later. I am 23, working at one of the biggest investment banks in the world. Before my employment here, I had been working in a deli in a suburb of Melbourne. Not equipped to work in front of house due to my 15 years and counting of vegetarianism, I was placed in the back larder putting dips into containers and customising their expiry dates - in 40 degree summer heat. A dream job really. When a recruiter called me the day before Christmas Eve and asked if I could be at my future employer in 2 hours, I left the deli in my denim cap and apron (actually) and said I had a family matter. I raced home, changed into my only professional ensemble and interviewed before racing to Deniliquin to spend Christmas with my family. On Christmas Eve I was offered the job. I will say now that I was in the right place at the right time. I had studied History and American Government and Politics at the University of Sydney and on my first day at the bank I learnt quickly that when someone talked about a hybrid they were not talking about a Prius. I had previously sworn that I would never work in finance as my sister and father both hailed from the banking corridor and I dreamt of living off the royalties from my unpublished childrens stories... Alas prior to working in Melbourne I had been a temp in London, and prior to that I had worked on a Polo stud in Scone NSW, and Midhurst UK. While these jobs were rich in experience, they did not pay well. Thus I had a credit card to pay off, and the bank was my lot.
I started off going to work every day and stared out my window thinking about how my creative soul was being slowly but surely suffocated. I would recite Clancy of the Overflow to myself as I walked into the impressive but hollow lobby each morning and each evening. My spirit broken I forced myself to recognise that I had been given a golden ticket into a firm that could give me a wealth of opportunities for travel or at least a little bit of wealth (or at LEAST help me out of debt.) The harder I worked the more I was encouraged and in my short 18 months there I studied for and received my trading license and was moved into the tax team that consisted of 4 accountants, and me. My team leader, a woman with unrivalled work ethic, intelligence (and jewellery) was the one whose words of encouragement gave me the final push to apply for the poetry program at NYU.
When I found out that I had gotten in to the program I slowly started to tell my colleagues that I would be leaving the tax game and would be moving to New York to study poetry (a natural progression, obviously.) Every person I told was supportive and curious of the stories I write for children. To leave my steady job for NYU was a risk I couldn't not take. I had to give myself the chance to take an opportunity that I would always regret giving up. Thus at the same time as applying for NYU, I applied for a student loan - so I had the career spec to back it up. And they say only fools rush in (these people are sort of right.)
My acceptance into NYU, and the 4 year old girl I babysat asking me 'What happens next to Minnie??' time and time again, were the first two steps towards me introducing myself as a poet, not just my mother.
At NYU my peers were overwhelmingly talented and on my first day (my birthday, don't forget) I felt wildly intimidated by their ability to turn words and speak confidently. No one else's poetry was about animals and pets or for children, but luckily for me, my peers laughed out loud (with, not at) my poems. They pushed me to write out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to write in ways I had never imagined. My teachers were inspiring and supportive. I am truly lucky to have attended such a brilliant program and I was honoured to be able to read an original poem at its conclusion.
I had two incredible, unforgettable, and unbelievable months in New York City. My sister had recently moved there for work and I never had a dull moment. I made friends I will have for life and I am forever thankful to them.
Since I had my quit job and had a loan to burn, I decided to head back to the UK. I had a plan to buy a cheap old car and drive it around England when a friend offered me his car that he wasn't using. At that point in time, and until the point in time he reads this he did not know that the only manual cars I had driven were a four wheel drive on the farm and a 2001 Nissan Patrol of an ex-boyfriend. These differed slightly to the nimble clutch of his racing green Mini Cooper. Alas I started on the M1 up to Birmingham with a 'learning by doing' mentality. This is not recommended.
Bar the tragic attempt of trying to take off a jumper while simultaneously changing gear, and the equally traumatic 90 degree angle hill start in Polruan, most days went off without a hitch.
I drove through long and winding roads in the Cotswolds and around the coastline of Scotland. I whizzed around the corners in Cornwall and paraded down the promenade in Brighton. Each sweeping bend would bring a jaw dropping view that at times would provoke me to stop and write a poem (actually.) I was free to go wherever I wanted, when I wanted. For a person who loves routine and certainty I was faced with the, sometimes daunting, task of whiling away my time. For when I wasn't driving, I was walking. New York and London alike, the vast cities take time to get around. But despite not having any money or any form of a sense of direction, the one thing I had was time. Instead of a fast paced commute and a fleeting hour lunch break, I had moment after moment of discovery and adventure. I had the privilege of taking a wrong turn and discovering that I had actually found something I didn't even know I was looking for - like Graham Greene's house! (FYI it's just off Clapham Common.)
As I drove away from each destination I held on to the exquisiteness of the luck and laughter I was sharing with the old friends who greeted me and enveloped me into the lives of their own friends and family. So much so that at times, when I was there in each moment, I already felt nostalgia for it - for the good times and the free time. The land of rolling hills and cliff faces never did disappoint. Banjo was right when he talked about the splendour in the sky.
Alas I made it, my adventure that covered 2,447+ miles in 4 weeks. My co-pilot Minnie (previously mentioned) and I went from Clapham to Birmingham to Northumberland, Edinburgh, Perth, the Lake District, Lower Apperley, Bristol, Clevedon, Polruan, Newquay, Brighton, Midhurst, Port Grimaud and many more countless villages I got lost in. Everywhere rich in history and in most cases, poetry. In every place I went I visited someone's home, a pattern I realised in Cornwall. Aside from the Lake District I stayed with people that I knew. Though in Grasmere and Hawkshead I visited the homes of William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Two writers with whom I have my own relationship.
I have lived many places, and in ways, many lives. At times I feel a strain on my bones from the lives I'm not living. I slip in and out of versions of myself when I go to places I used to hold an address in. My accent can morph into a sharp British tongue or a soft Australian drawl, with the occasional American twang. What I recognised most of all was when I visited the homes and the family homes where my oldest friends grew up, was that I felt at home. For I do not know where is home myself. Born in the UK, spending a large amount of my childhood in Midwest America, while pumping Riverina and Victorian wine country blood through my veins - my home has been wherever I can find it.
I do not know what is next, but I do know what I am. I am a poet.