Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Travelling with books - finding favorites.

This is a story of my favorite book, Water Shining Beyond The Fields, by poet and artist John Brandi, while travelling through the same SE Asian countries he was writing about.

Before I tell you about this wonderful book, I have to tell you how I found it. In 2009 I set off on a six week journey through SE Asia. For the first part I was following the footsteps of my literary icon, the French writer, Marguerite Duras,  (The Lover) through Vietnam. She was born in 1914 to French school teacher parents who were living and working near Saigon (when Vietnam was part of French Indochina) and she spent most of her first seventeen years growing up in small towns along the Mekong River.

I started in Hanoi, searching for the ‘house near the small lake’ that Duras lived in as a four year old. I didn’t find it, but it did prompt the beginning of my S.E. Asia bookshop crawl, as I went searching for clues in any bookshop I came across. In the process I found some other book gems, so perfectly in-sync with my trip, that I often felt they were placed on there just for me.

John Brandi’s haibun journal was one such find. I was fresh from the two day boat trip up the Mekong River from Saigon to Phnom Penh when I wandered into Monument Books, a large aircon emporium of great books ( and as I was to discover, with branches also in Laos and Myanmar).

Whether it was the cover, the title, the size, the paper, the pen and ink haiga drawings, that made it leap off the shelf into my hand, didn’t matter. I knew my trip was worth it just to find this book; a haibun travel journal written about the places I was travelling to. Too perfect!

After reading (no, savouring) Brandi’s book, haibun has become my favourite genre.

Haibun is a prosimetric (def: combining prose and poetry) form of descriptive writing that can be traced back to the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. He used it in his own travel journals, most notably his famous Narrow Road To The Interior.

In haibun the author describes a place, an event, person or scene in a paragraph or more, then punctuates it with a haiku ( a Japanese three line poem). The haiku shouldn’t merely repeat the description but take the reader to a deeper level of reflection and perception. (Modern haiku allows the poet all sorts of leeway and deviation from the strict 5-7-5 syllable rule; see Cor van den Heuvel’s excellent English language collection: The Haiku Anthology).

John Brandi is a master at it. Born in California in 1943 he is an inveterate traveller/painter/poet who traces his influences to the West Coast Beat tradition, Federico Garcia Lorca and the Japanese haiku masters. His work, published by numerous small presses and journals in the US has won a number of awards.

In the beginning of Water Shining Beyond The Fields,  Brandi tells how since boyhood he has always written down small incidents of travel, but not until the late 1990’s did he start punctuating his prose snippets with haiku.

In outlining his haibun writing process Brandi says:

These journeys were recorded as they unrolled, details usually scribbled in spiral note books on a bus, in a temple corner, cliff hopping, riding a bike rambling markets or ducking underneath a verandah in the rain. Late evening or next morning, cross legged on the floor, in a cafe, or on a rare chair before a desk, the scribbled prose blocks, with occasional haiku in between, would be transferred to a larger notebook. At home, after travels, I took to transcribing the journals. Donkey work at times, but mostly a pleasurable chance to relive the journey and discover where, exactly,  I had been - from a comfortable distance. The biggest effort  was to remain true to the notebooks, the immediacy of the first hand “takes” - no alterations to make the travels into something they weren’t .

The fact that he was describing a similar process of writing to the one I was practicing on my travels  was affirmation enough, but when I stepped into his haibun writing, all I could feel was excitement.

Brandi records what he sees, makes lists of concrete detail, evokes the senses: the taste, scent and texture of things in the same way Natalie Goldberg advises writers to do in her Zen classic: Writing Down The Bones. “He gets inside and outside things” says beat poet David Meltzer who first published his prose poems. " His work seeks source and renewal in new geographies and in the act of travel with its inevitable encounters and mysteries." It’s the opposite to 'fancy' writing, rather very down to earth, like his description of the sellers at Angkor Wat:

A few water vendors are hanging out; children mostly; and a woman hawking pirated guides to the ruins. Even at this hour the humidity is strong:

the postcard seller
folds out all ten views
and fans herself.

 He even turns others’ thoughts into a haiku as he retells a conversation his Angkor Wat guide, Ponheary Ly, a genocide survivor (who I met on my next trip).

We talk about world leaders, their inability to dissolve their egos, conquer their own greed. Ponheary punctuated the discussion with her thoughts about war:

“even if you win
you have the word
‘lost’ inside”

His haiku of course can also stand alone.You can skim through the book just taking inspiration from poems like:

in the empty niche
where Buddha sat
bees at work

stone vaults collapse

roof becomes sky, stars shine
from rain pools

fields shimmer
beyond a gate
made of reeds

One of my favourite passages describes his last night in Phnom Penh.

More beers, then too a quiet, surreal, restaurant, furniture piled downstairs, big clock ticking near the door. Jeff treats us to mint-onion-lime spicy shrimp salad, basil-beef curry and seafood satay. The waiters have smiles and dirty sleeves; they bring candles, disappear into the shadows. The dining room opens to a balcony overlooking a row of jagged rickshaws parked between moonlit frangipanis, as if in a sinister Shanghai 1936 movie. What a wonderful meal; what a strangely perfect place to say goodbye:

in the kitchen
fish playing in cold water
under the butcher block

 A couple of days later I tucked Brandi’s book tightly under my arm and set off for Angkor Wat. No Lonely Planet Guide for me, but the words of a poet leading me through temple ruins which for hundreds of years had lain hidden beneath the Cambodian jungle.

The sun doesn’t completely burn through the moist shade. Growth is turbulent, the odor herbal. A sweet exotic rot. Locusts whine among broken eaves and fallen porticos:

not the gods
but the banyans

(c) Jan Cornall 2013
Italicised text is from Water Shining Beyond The Fields - Haibun Travels, South East Asia.
John Brandi.

 Buy now

Jan will lead Haiku Walking in Japan in Nov 1-11, 2016. This unique 10 day creative adventure will follow the footsteps of Japan’s famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho through an autumn landscape. Beginning in Tokyo we will follow Basho’s pilgrimage route staying in inns, hot springs and local hotels, walking 2-3 hours most days ( train and car in between) and ending our tour in Kyoto. Open to writers, poets and creative artists of all modalities. Daily creativity workshops will take their inspiration from our explorations of the haiku form. Bringing our attention to observing the small details of nature in the present moment, we learn how to take this stimulus into our chosen art form, creating a haiku journal of poems, observations, sketches and writings as we go. Itinerary, bookings and more info here

Jan Cornall is writer, performer and teacher who leads writing retreats in inspirational locations: Bali, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Bhutan, Japan, Morocco. A regular guest at festivals in the Asia Pacific region, Jan has performed her spoken and sung word at Ubud Writers Festival, Utan Kayu Literary Biennale (Jakarta), Hong Kong Literary Festival, Irrawaddy Literary Festival (Burma), Darwin's Wordstorm, QLD’s Reality Bites. Her novel Take Me To Paradise (set in Bali) was launched at Ubud Writers Festival in 2006. Jan is currently working on a book of short stories with Indonesian author Triyanto Triwikromo and a travel memoir that follows the footsteps of Marguerite Duras In Indochina.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Up Close and Bookish with Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s First International Literary Festival.

Jan Cornall

Things are changing fast in Yangon. If you want to catch the old Myanmar you had better visit soon. Even a year ago brand new cars were a rarity on the roads. Most of the taxis were clapped out old models with non-existent shock absorbers and though a ride across town was hot and bumpy, getting anywhere was a breeze. Now there are luxury sedans with tinted windows and shiny new SLVs clogging the main thoroughfares, turning traffic jams into a daily routine.

Luckily our taxi drivers knew all the back ways and short cuts to ferry my group and I to the inaugural Irrawaddy Literary Festival which took place in Yangon in last month.

Organiser Jane Heyn, the wife of the British Ambassador to Myanmar, first discussed the idea two years ago with Aung San Suu Kyi, not long after her release from house arrest.

A year later, following changes in Myanmar’s visa and censorship laws, the idea became a reality. Heyn gathered the support of BBC correspondent Fergal Keane and William Dalrymple (author and founder of Jaipur Literary Festival) and Daw Suu, (as Aung San Suu Kyi is respectfully known in Myanmar), became the festival patron.

By late 2012 the list of guest writers had grown to include some impressive international names: Jung Chang, Vikram Seth, Pascal Khoo Thwe, Caroline Courtauld, Jocelyn Dimbleby, Rory Stewart, Victor Chan, Rupert Arrowsmith, Rory Maclean and more, as well as 120 Burmese writers, scholars and poets,  including Thant Myint U, U Thaw Kaung, Pe Myint and poets Pandora, Zeyar Lyn and Nyein Way.

While it may have been Asia's best kept secret when I heard about it in late November, I put the call out to see who wanted to join me. Within two weeks nine writers had signed up for a writer's retreat that began at the festival and ended with four days workshopping their own writing projects among the eleventh century temples of Bagan.

The Inya Lake Hotel, with its classic sixties architecture set among lawns and gardens leading down to the lake, was the perfect venue (although some felt downtown would have been more accessible to local audiences). From February 1-3, the grand ballroom and terrace and three other conference rooms were in use simultaneously from 10 am to 7 pm.

On the terrace, intermittent performances of traditional music, story telling and marionettes entertained the in-between crowds. Across the lawns, stalls sold books, local food, craft and clothing, and a sunset boathouse housed spontaneous poetry readings and discussions.

With a jam packed festival schedule we managed to fit our daily writing workshops around the events, ducking off to various sessions and reporting back.

Some of my favourites were: George FitzHerbert's talk on the Tibetan Bard tradition in Oral Traditions and Literature in Tibet and Myanmar; listening to local and international poets discuss a new book of Burmese poetry, edited by James Byrne and Ko Ko Thett, called " Bones Will Crow and Other Works"; hearing how Jung Chang (acclaimed author of "Wild Swans") became a writer; and being enthralled by the photo journalist adventures of Rick Danzinger and Thierry Falise. 

Others in our group proclaimed it was worth coming all this way if just for the fascinating session with William Dalrymple and Rory Stewart: Return of A King: the Battle for Afghanistan 1839 - 42; or learning about Narrative Non Fiction from Indian author, Akash Kapur in discussion with Burma's Pascal Khoo Thwe ("From The Land Of Green Ghosts") and Burmese author/historian Thant Myint U (grandson of former UN Secretary General,  U Thant).

While the the festival had a very British feel, Australia was represented by Jane Camens, director of the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Association, who moderated a session with Michael Vatikiosis on his recent novel  "The Painter Of Lost Souls " set in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto in1998. And I landed a spot in the sunset poets reading, collaborating in song with Nyein Way on his poem, “Smile Of A Leaf.” 

Travel writers picked up invaluable tips from the differing techniques of British travel authors, Rory Maclean ("Stalin's Nose"), Caroline Courtauld ( "Myanmar/Burma in Style" )and London based journalist Monisha Rajesh ( "Around India In 80 Trains"), while Burmese short story writers: Lay Ko Tin, Shwegu May Hinn, Khin Pan Hinn, Nya Linn Phyu, humourously moderated by Min Khwite Soe San, illustrated the creative methods they used to get their message across under Burma's strict censorship laws.

When I asked how their writing has changed since censorship laws were lifted in August, the moderator answered,  " now I can write what I like, but finding a publisher to print it is another matter!"

Choosing which session to attend was often painful. I gave up Vikram Seth in conversation with Akash Kapur, to attend Trends in Contemporary Myanmar Poetry, expertly moderated by Burma's leading female poet and blogger Pandora, author of "Tuning, An Anthology of Myanmar Women Poets".

On Day 2 we sacrificed our penciled in sessions when we saw the queue to the afternoon ballroom event with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, beginning to form. We inched slowly forward for an hour or more only to have our hopes dashed when it was announced the session was full. However, we were told, Daw Su would come out and speak to us at the end of her talk ( which was also broadcast outside) as she was aware so many of us were waiting.

The pay off for our patience was we now had front row positions when Daw Suu appeared flanked by a crush of minders and volunteers, and spoke from the podium of the importance of literature as a way of understanding and learning about each other.

We listened closely but her words evaporated in the collective joy we felt at being in her graceful and principled presence (while also attempting to get the perfect ‘I was here’ snapshot).

Later in the day when the crowds thinned (no rest for Daw Suu who went off to another function in between), there was a better chance to see her in a panel session where Fergal Keane asked Daw Suu, William Dalrymple, Vikram Seth and Jung Chang, which book or poem they would take with them on a desert island. 

The irony was not lost on us that Daw Suu had been on such an island for 15 years, but she played along like a good sport, giving different examples of her favourite books to the ones she had mentioned in the previous session - George Eliot and Victor Hugo, whose characters " maintain their spiritual strength to the end." 

In that session, of her love of detective novels she said " I am the chair of the Rule of Law Committee and detective stories have helped  me. You know who the villain is the more you read. It helps you to work out people's motives. The detective story asks who is going to profit from this crime. It's very good for politicians."

Of western poets she listed among her favourites: Tennyson, Shakespeare and Yeats while her favourite Burmese poets are Zawgyi (1907 - 1990) and Min Thu Wun (1909 - 2004). Both were pioneers of Burma’s khitsan style of poetry of the 1930s which challenged the traditional literary forms.

When asked " if you were to write the story of Myanmar's last two years would it be a detective story or poetry?" Daw Suu replied, " Poetry - I hope our nation will be a nation worth writing about."

If the amount of publicity the festival has received in the international press is anything to go by, indications are good.  But as Jane Heyn and her husband move on to another posting, the question remains - who will step forward to make the festival happen again?

My group of writers would sign up for it tomorrow. Sated, inspired and exhilarated, we felt humbled and privileged as we shared stories of people we'd met, sessions attended, connections made, inspiration/information received, new experiences of a country and culture the world still knows so little about. 

At 5 am next morning while awaiting our flight to Bagan in the perfectly preserved Pelligrini’s style coffee bar in the domestic terminal, I found myself hoping (like Thant Myint U who spoke of his work to preserve Yangon's heritage buildings), that not all of old Myanmar gets swept away in the rush to progress.

But you can smell the money pouring into this town as a battalion of ATMs are wheeled into place. They are not quite functioning yet but it won't be long. Soon you won't have the inconvenience of bringing all your spending money in clean US dollar bills (no marks, no creases, no tears), for fear of it being rejected by your hotel or local vendor.

And yet inconvenience, discomfort, is exactly what a writer needs to get his/her characters jumping. Without it the story would be too boring, too bland - like global 7-Elevens on every corner wherever you travel, selling you the same old stuff.

There are no 7-Elevens on the plain of Bagan - just temples and pagodas as far as the eye can see - 2,200 of them. We take our inspiration from them as we did the festival; gathering stimuli, detail, sensory impressions, and applying them to our writing projects. 

Some of our stories are set in Burma, others in the heart of Australia or a far off mother country, but we use the notion of being somewhere completely out of our range of experience to take us deeper into the stories we know we must write.

On a sunset cruise on the Irrawaddy RIver we read to fellow writers (strangers before this trip) things we would never attempt read before. We are rewarded for our bravery, for daring to speak the emotional truth of our characters, for giving them not just IQ, but the "EQ" ( emotional intelligence) and "SQ" ( spiritual intelligence)  Daw Suu spoke of, when in reference to her favourite novel,  Les Miserables, she said, " what we need is a spiritual revolution."

The temples on the shoreline begin to glow as we drift soundlessly back to the jetty, golden light rippling in our wake.

There is no need to remind my group of Daw Suu's words, "Through books you learn.... about yourself. You find out your own troubles are nothing compared with others."

 (C) Jan Cornall Feb. 2013

Jan Cornall is a writer/performer who leads writing retreats in inspiring international locations - Bali, Fiji, Laos, Morocco, Burma. www.writersjourney.com.au

Find out more re all the writers who attended the Irrawaddy Literary Festival: www.irrawaddylitfest.com

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Writing Holidays That Inspire.

Writing holidays that inspire

By Jan Cornall ArtsHub | Wednesday, September 14, 2011
We all know writing can be a lonely business. I spent years wondering - was I was really depressed or did I just need to speak to another human being every once in a while. A decade ago when I began teaching writing, my motivation was purely selfish. I needed a workshop to find out if other writers were going through the same torture and thought perhaps I could offer a thing or too about my writing process that might be helpful. 
After leading workshops around Sydney, I began running weekends at a friend’s B&B in Braidwood and in 2004 I took a group to Bali in conjunction with the first Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which I was also helping out with. I’d been a student of meditation for many years and so it was second nature for me to develop a meditative writing method which I still use, to take writers deep into sense memory. It began producing startling results. People couldn’t get enough of it and so I was back and forth to Bali every three months working with local writers, expats and Aussie travellers who weren’t about to let the threat of terrorism ruin their writing holiday.

Around the same time I was approached by Raymond Hawkins, a walking guide who runs trips to the Central Desert and Tasmania’s old growth rainforests. I jumped at the chance to work closely with writers in these vastly contrasting landscapes and have just completed my tenth ‘walk and write’ with his company Into The Blue.

I decided to call my company Writers Journey because that’s essentially what I do – support writers on their journey in the most inspiring places I can find. At the moment I have four annual trips going out but I’m always on the lookout for more.

The Writers Journey year starts in March with Breakthrough Writing in Fiji. The first thing you notice when you get off the plane is the way Fijians walk. It’s the slow relaxed gait of people from a tropical clime. There’s no point in hurrying and besides it’s just too darned hot. The rush, rush of our city-folk ways seems suddenly ludicrous and as you begin slowing it down and remembering this is the pace human beings are supposed amble along at.

It is just the kind of advice writers need. We think we have to push, push, push, to get our work out there, but first we need to slow it down to below the beat of our heart. Daku Resort in Savusavu Bay on the second island Vanua Levu, is just the place to do it. This sleepy little backwater with only one main street doesn’t know the meaning of traffic jam or deadline. It’s all ‘rubber time’ here and so it should be in a writer’s world. That doesn’t mean we slack off or don’t turn up to the morning workshop, but in a week of breakthrough writing, we let time stretch out so there’s room for everything.

By the end of the week these writers can’t understand why they still feel so relaxed when they have all been working so hard. We pack our bags, sorry to leave, resolving to keep the slow Savusavu roll in our step when we arrive back in the land of the busy.’ Finish what you start’ is my parting advice and ‘remember, when it all gets too hard, just come back to the writing, that’s all you have to do’.

Next up at the end of June, is Desert Writers. Timed to coincide with the Alice Springs Beanie Festival we buy our outrageous fashion beanies to keep our heads warm on the cold desert nights ahead. By day we have sun hats and sun block out but for sleeping in swags under the spectacular Milky Way, nothing can surpass wearing a tea cosy to bed. Each day we walk (3-4 hours) and each day we write (as much as we want to) with workshops in camp and on track. Our first camp is below Mt Sonder, a women’s dreaming place, with day walks to Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge and along the wide riverbed of Davenport Creek. Then we swing around past Gosses Bluff to our Tjilpa camp, kindly provided by Traditional Landowners Mavis and Herman Malbunka, who join us for dinner to tell the stories of their country and take us off next morning for secret men’s and women’s business.

All week we work not only with the senses but the elements; earth water, wind, fire, space; noticing their action on the landscape we walk through, using them as prompts for revising writers craft and asking what our writing needs more of – the fluidity of water, the grounding of earth, the freedom of air or wind, the intensity of fire or the openness of endless space? We arrive back in Alice like journeyers who have been out back for a long time, hungry for the mod con’s of life, while already missing the sense of having connected so deeply with earth and sky and the camaraderie of fellow writers.

Backstage Bali, is a different version of my old Ubud writer’s retreat follows in July. Since the phenomena of Eat, Pray, Love turned this serene hill town into a grid lock of busloads of newly arrived western women (hoping the same thing that happened to Elizabeth Gilbert will happen to them), I knew I needed to find a new venue. It just so happened that my Bali publishers had taken over the running of their family hotel in Kintamani, high up on the ridge looking over the lake of Mt Batur, a majestic volcano rising up from its shores.

In her early twenties New Zealander Sarita Newson married into a Kintamani family whose ancestry can be traced to the earliest ‘tribe’ who arrived here. It is into the bosom of this extended family we land for our six day journey following the compass of Balinese cosmology around this magnificent lake. Each day after morning workshops we head out with tasty lunches wrapped in banana leaf, on excursions corresponding to the elements, senses and directions: to a temple of writing in the north, a forest hermitage in the east, the hearth of a traditional Bali Aga house in the south, the holy springs of Sebatu in the west, and finally into the centre of the caldera itself.

Our guides are Sarita’s son Kadek (environmental engineer) and her daughter Trisna (architect) although it seems everyone working with us from drivers to musicians to cooks are somehow related. We have also sponsored some local writers to take part, something I am committed to doing wherever possible. A young writer from Java, West Papuan poet John Waromi, Balinese artist Made Suryadharma, Bali poet Ketut Yuliarsa and local expat writers join us, adding an infinite depth to our workshops and insights into the country we are visiting for just a short time.

The week is over too quickly but for me it’s time to get busy with my November trips - two weeks by the Mekong River in the charming heritage listed town of Luang Prabang, Laos. Taken individually or rolled into one, the first week we will write all day and read by night while the second has morning workshops with afternoon excursions to source materials and inspiration for making small artist books and zines. Meanwhile temples, night markets, local restaurants and riverside cafes, perfect for writing in, are all within walking distance.

 If two weeks seems too short who’s saying you have to leave? There’s a clever publicity slogan being used by sustainable tourism operators all over Laos – ‘Stay Another Day’ This time when I wave my writers goodbye I will stay more than another day, for my own writing time, because in the midst of all this journeying, the idea of being a lonely writer again has somehow turned into a delicious fantasy.

Read more at www.writersjourney.com.au

Friday, April 6, 2012

Art Is Today - Gang Festival, 2008

Art Is Today - An Oz/Indo Celebration of Art and Urban Life

By Jan Cornall  published in artsHub | Wednesday, January 16, 2008
If you are lucky enough to have gotten a $150 ticket to see Bjork perform on the Opera House steps in this year’s Sydney Festival you might well be pinching yourself with excitement. You might also pause for a moment to muse on Bjork’s beginnings as an artist. Chances are it was in a rundown artist warehouse that has since been converted into million dollar apartments, the fate of most artist run spaces in Sydney in recent years.
But if you think today’s generation of young artists have gone to ground or moved to the suburbs, think again. They may get turfed out of their low rent, prime real estate spots and squats, but they are expert at sniffing out new properties lying fallow right under our noses. Such artist run collectives (isn’t it nice to see that word so in use again) are also expert at running all sorts of events and festivals on the smell of an oily rag, which is how ‘successful’ big fat festivals like Sydney’s own, get their start.

It seems odd in our abundance (compared to countries that have none) of arts funding and corporate sponsorship, that this would be so, but we all know there is only so much arts mulla to go around and there can be a certain freedom in not spending months filling out endless applications full of’ flavour of the month artspeak’ only to be knocked back because you don’t quite fit the latest criteria. You could use that time to MAKE ART for example, or just go ahead anyway, with contingency plans in place - Plan B - if we don’t get all the funding or a Plan C - if we hardly get any, or Plan Z/F – zilch! fuck it! we’re gonna do it anyway!

Gang Festival, taking place this Saturday in the laneways of Chippendale, Sydney is a great example of contingency strategies in action. When a substantial funding portion for their festival didn’t come through they were not short of alternate ideas, and resorting to Plan B, C or Z/F doesn’t mean their festival is diminished in any way. In fact it could well be more vibrant and exciting, as they call in the help of local artist communities and become super creative in finding the resources they need to get the show on the road.

This is a skill well practiced in Indonesia where the Gang team have spent many years as arts workers collaborating with arts communities there who receive little financial support for their festivals and street art events.

Their time in Indo inspired the first Sydney Gang festival in 2005/06 - an ambitious exchange project between Gang and the Yogja street art collective, Taring Pady. Twenty Australian artists travelled to Yogykarta as arts residents and ten Indonesian artists came to Sydney to take part in a number of exhibitions and events including the first Gang laneway festival in Chippendale.

This year Gang is hosting a number of events and exhibitions over Sydney’s summer period. Sisa - an excellent exhibition of Indonesian art with the theme - Reuse Collaboration and Cultural Activism, at UTS gallery has been and gone. Currently showing, another inspirational exhibition at Pine St Creative Arts Centre, Chippendale, is TUK – Works for the Environment .

The Gang festival day, centred around the Pine St Peace Park and laneways or gang (in Indonesian gang means alleyway), is called 'Art Is Today' in honour of the West Sumatran festival Gang participated in last year.

Gang’s partner community this year is 'Tanam Untuk Kehidupan, or TUK (Planting for Life) a dynamic environmental arts collective from Salatiga, Java, Indonesia. Gang took part in their Mata Air festival in December last year - an eight day environment based event centred around a natural spring in Salatiga village.

'Art Day is Today' will feature a sound stage and live sites with a line up of Indonesian artists, performers,and Sydney artists including Gypsy Dub Sound System, CuzCo (WireMC + Choo Choo), and the Uberlingua djays. Along with visiting artists from TUK - Ayok and Rudy Ardinato, the festival is bringing out Nova, who is one half of the rap duo TwinSista from East Java as well as accomplished author and poet Triyanto Triwikromo, and two artists from the environment arts collective Anakseribupulau, Djuadi Suami and Exi Wijaya, plus the breathtaking four-piece percussion ensemble Kuno Kini from Jakarta. There will be a makers market, zine fair, lane way art, writer’s alley, free screen printing (BYO shirt), rubbish workshops, and picnicing in Peace Park.

While the big city festivals trundle on over weeks or a month Gang gives us a short sharp shot of art. You have to be quick or you might miss it - it lasts only five hours, from 3- 8 pm. But as a cross-cultural happy hour fest where families can bring the kids and a picnic, make their own recycled art, taste new tastes, write on the story wall in Gang Tulis, sit down lesehan style and meet Oz/Indo writers and artists, listen and dance to an eclectic mix of sound, noise, music, Indo rap, and percussion and witness underground urban performers trying out their moves, surely it must take the prize for being the most interesting and innovative of Sydney’s festivals.

Spontaneous, alive, new, fresh, inclusive, engaged –the Oz/Indo art mix is alive and irresistible. Not slick and corporate like big festivals that become too big, nor predictably the same as very other suburban festival you have ever been to, neither can it ever be equated with bad art. The new aesthetic being created by artists who exhibit their work in Gang related events in Indonesia and Oz is thrilling and exciting.

Co - directors Rebecca Conroy and Ali Crosby, both passionate art makers, are committed to a process of creating places where people can make and experience art. Any one who has traveled or worked in arts communities in Indonesia will recognizes this special flavour and spirit present in the Gang festival and events. It is a raw, grass roots, people inclusive, engaged art vibe, that has been missing from our lives for too long.

Bjork I am sure would feel right at home in Gang. In fact I think an invitation is being dispatched as we speak - only I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

Storm of Words Reach out Across Seas - The New Anthology Terra.

Jakarta Post 06/11/2007

Jan Cornall, Contributor, Sydney
A new storm is brewing across the small stretch of sea separating northern Australia from its neighbors. One of its by-products is a bilingual anthology from WordStorm, the Northern Territory Writers Festival, held in Darwin.

Some of the best writers and poets from Indonesia, Timor Leste, Singapore and Australia are represented in a new book titled Terra, launched June 2 at the Sydney Writers Festival.

All the writers have one thing in common: They have all been guests of the WordStorm festival since its conception in 2004.

This impressive volume of 65 short stories and poetry by 45 authors -- including Indonesian writers Ayu Utami, Nukila Amal, Linda Christanty, Triyanto Triwikromo, Iswadi Pratama and Dorothea Rosa Herliany -- is edited by Sandra Thibodeaux in Darwin and Sitok Srengenge in Jakarta, with most pieces translated by Kadek Krishna Adidharma in Bali.

Funded by the Australia-Indonesia Institute and ArtsNT, Terra is published jointly by Indonesia's Kata Kita and the NT Writers Centre.

Hot off the press only days before, it sold like hotcakes at the launch venue overlooking Sydney Harbour, where a crowd had gathered to hear select readings from Terra.

Editor Thibodeaux explained the history behind the book and its title, then the audience were treated to some moving readings.

Readings featured a short story by Aboriginal elder Alec Kruger was read by co-author Gerard Waterford, as well as a play excerpt about Indonesian and Malaysian students in Melbourne by Alana Valentine, a sad yet funny Martini story from Frank Moorhouse and an ode to Sydney by Mike Merrill titled Night Knows.

Indigenous Australian poet Romaine Moreton read her poems, Beside the River and Freedom Now, followed by their Bahasa Indonesia translations read by Jarrah Sastrawan, a high school student.
The power of this moment was not lost on those in the audience -- Indigenous Australian writing read by a young man who carried more than a hint of Indonesian poetic tradition in his voice as his father, Balinese poet and musician Ketut Yuliarsa, looked on.

It is also fitting that the Utan Kayu International Literary Biennale, based in Jakarta, and the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) in Bali, would be launching Terra this year. The movement of writers and their work traveling between new festivals in the region has nurtured the latest cross-cultural literary wave just starting to break on our shores.

The triad of WordStorm, the Utan Kayu biennale and the UWRF has nurtured a strong flow of communication between writers, publishers, translators and the reading public.

A series of readings at various cultural centers across the archipelago are planned for the Indonesia launch of Terra at the two international literary events. Supported by the Indonesia-Australia Language Foundation (IALF), readings will also be held at all IALF English teaching centers.

Terra, like Utan Kayu's bilingual festival publications, provides a great model for other festivals to follow. Funding for translators is key to turning this wave into a significant movement.

The benefit to the literary community goes without saying: When some the best writers from each featured nation are compiled in a single volume, readers who wouldn't normally travel so far afield are able to partake of a literary feast without leaving home.

No travel warnings or visa problems here. Instead, a bunch of neighbors have reached across terra firma and written up a storm.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writers Journey Alumni

In the past decade a number of the writers, artists, poets, performers and film makers I have worked with have gone onto publish books or produce their scripts and creative works. While my mentoring role is just one part of the complex process of creating and completing a work, it has been my great privilege to be of assistance in planting the seed or helping to bring the works below to fruition. Some of those creators include:

Ingrid Woodrow - my first literary mentee, who I mentored through the Hunter Writers Centremany years ago. Her book Goddess and The Galaxy Boy, Penguin, was shortlisted for the Vogel Award.

Lorraine Mcloughlin Barbara Robertson - An Australian Artist's Life and George Tetlow and Mark and Jill Pearce, Lives in Art. Independent (Art/ biography)

Ruth Salmon There Are No Coincidences Independent (Travel memoir)

Janice Mantjika. Bali 1964 - 2009, The Shadows that Dance in and out of my Memory. Saritaksu Editions (Memoir)

Anne McLeod  Adventurous Spirit, the exceptional life of Marie Byles. Independent (Biography)

Colleen Keating  In Touch With Poetry and A Call to Listen Ginninderra Press.(Poetry)

Desak Yoni  Renditions of My Soul - Story of a Balinese Woman. Saritaksu Editions (Memoir)

Minnie Biggs  Shards of Ice Ginninderra Press.(Memoir)

Michelle Leber The Yellow Emperor  Five Islands Press. (Poetry)

Tamarra Kaida - Ogoh- Ogoh Balinese Monsters Saritaksu Editions (Photography)

Biff Ward In My Mothers Hands, Allen & Unwin.(Memoir)

Jennifer Smart  The Wardrobe Girl, Random House. (Novel)

Niromi De Soyza  Tamil Tigress,  Allen & Unwin. (Memoir)

Hilary Linstead Growing Old Outrageously, Allen & Unwin.(Memoir)

Kate Veitch Moments Alone, Griffith Review. (Article)

A.D. Scott  Beneath The Abbey Wall, North Sea Requiem, Simon & Schuster USA.(novels, mystery)

Marguerite van Geldermalsen Married to A Bedouin, Virago.( Memoir)

Anne  Lovell Connie's Secret, Allen and Unwin. (Memoir)

Margaret Wilcox Gone, Penguin. (Memoir)

Margo Lanagan Tender Morsels, Allen & Unwin, Random House, Knopf, Johnathon Cape UK. Sea Hearts, Allen & Unwin.( Fanatasy novel)

Catherine Therese The Weight Of Silence, Hachette Livre. (Memoir)

Yvonne Louis A Brush with Mondrian, Murdoch Book. (Memoir)

Mary Delahunty Public Life, Private Grief, Hardie Grant. (Memoir)

Raymond Hawkins The Electronic Swagman, Halstead Press.(Memoir)

Walter Mason Destination Saigon,  Destination Cambodia, Allen &Unwin.(Non Fiction, travel)

Gabrielle Wang  Poppy series of YA fiction were conceived in a dry river bed on Desert Writers.

Margaret Stepenson- Meere The Child Within the Lotus, Rockpool. (Non Fiction)

Bridget McKern  Living The Journey, A&A Publishing.(Non Fiction, biography)

Marg Carroll The Man Who Loved Crocodiles and Other Stories, Allen and Unwin.(Non Fiction, biography)

Betty Grenenger Dare to Look Deep, Best Legenz. (Memoir)

Elizabeth Vongsaravanh  Dharmageddon - (Poetry)

Deb Batton Regrets, I've Got a Few, (Physical theatre piece)

Pamela Cook  Black Wattle Lake Hachette ( Rural fiction)

Sonia Bible Recipe For Murder, ABC documentary.(Film)

Sunny Grace Short Films Producer including award winning Dik.(Film)

Helen Cummings  Blood Vows, Five Islands Press. (Memoir)

Donna J Lehl Karma Finds The Cameleon,  Aberdeen Bay. (Memoir)

Jacqueline Buswell Song of A Journey Woman Ginninderra Press (poetry)

Monique O'Donnell Mr Right and Other Mongrels Amazon (Novel/romance)

Kadek Krishna Adidharma - articles for the Jakarta Post, blog, arts writing.

John Waromi first ever novel by a Papuan author Anggadi Tupa, Harvesting The Storm Lontar  translated by Sarita Newson.(Novel/magic realism). WJ sponsored John to attend two Bali retreats.

The Writers Dozen,  a group that continued on after our year long First Page to First Draft course in 2005 at NSW Writers Centre, went on to publish a collection of their writings in Better Than Chocolate.

Robert Schneider, came to one of my early Bali retreats to work on a novel. He has since made a career for himself in Cambodia as a freelance writer and is finishing off a memoir set in Cambodia.

Bronwen Logan came to our Fiji retreat in 2012 to work on her young adult fantasy novel. Not wanting to lose the momentum of the retreat she started a blog to keep the discipline of writing. Have a look here.

and many more...

PS. My apologies if I have omitted your publishing or other creative accomplishments. Please send me the details so I can update the record asap!