The miracle of words

To coincide with the Melbourne Writers Festival and our own season of films and books, we’ve invited the poet Cameron Semmens to be our writer-in-residence at Collins Street.  As part of his residency, Cameron has offered two writing workshops, one last weekend called micro-memoirs and another this Sunday, creativity and spirituality.

As a writer of prose, I’ve always thought of what I do with words as the art of fleshing things out, describing, explaining, painting pictures with a volume of colour.  It’s expansive.  As a poet, Cameron is about an economy of words, reducing things down to their simplest form, the most careful selection of words, but those that get to the very heart of things.  And he does it beautifully.  Not only so, but as he worked with a group less experienced in such things, what he drew out of us was powerful.

Listening to Cameron and watching his passion for words reminded me of a short essay I read a few months back by the English novelist Mark Haddon. It’s in a quirky collection of pieces called Stop What You’re Doing and Read This.   Haddon recalls his early infatuation with words that could transport him to another world and his subsequent passion as a writer with the arrangement of words that will transport others.

“It was not simply the way these writers lit up inside my head, but the fact that they did so by selecting and rearranging words you could hear at the bus stop.  Thirty four years later and I have to keep reminding myself how extraordinary this is. No rabbit, no hat, no camera, no canvas. Select the right words and put them in the write order and you can run a cable into the hearts of strangers.”

This really is the miracle of writing: a simple act of arrangement and those ‘words that you could hear at the bus stop’ become those that burrow into the heart and change things.

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