Donna Ward

I married eight weeks ago. Earnestly searching for the right words at the right moment with the right man, I pleaded help from poetry aficionado and friend Donna Ward. Donna, in turn, asked Mark Tredennick – a poet I had met when we were co-panellists at a writers’ festival a few years ago – and he suggested a piece by Rainer Marie Rilke. The piece was perfect. I used an extract on our invitations and my darling dad read the piece in full during the ceremony.

For people not lucky enough to have poets and their patrons on speed dial, there is now Australian Love Poems 2013, the first imprint from Donna Ward’s Inkerman and Blunt publishing house. ‘Really?’, I asked Donna when she told me of her new venture. ‘With all the doom-saying about traditional publishing you’re opening a press and starting off with poetry?’

‘You might say I’m like a salmon that instinctively swims upstream toward the ecstasy of creation. It appears the hardest way to get there. But the truth is, I ache to create books. I have always loved reading books, but more than that, I’ve loved them to have and to hold. They have filled the shelves of every house I’ve ever lived in and now I would say they are my home. My books, in many ways are an extension of me, contain and have taught me everything I know, everything I have come to believe’.

The passion Donna evinces for creation is sublimely evident in the book which is a strikingly beautiful object. The black cover with its copper-gold design is not what one immediately expects from a book of love poems, but it works. And how. As Donna explains:

‘It was so tempting to go for something pink and throbbing with hearts, lipstick, lace and roses and a dash of eucalyptus or waratah to indicate some kind of Australiana. But it struck me that if Australians were to turn to this book when they needed words that resonate with their kind of love, it needed to be elegant, it had to have an eternal feel to it, something that suggested it held real wisdom within its pages’.

Poet Mark Tredennick edited the collection, whittling down the 1500 submissions to just 200. The love they speak of is a specific love. It is (mostly) not the love of parent for a child, of old friends for one another, of self-love and the perils of its absence. Instead, this is romantic love in all its heaving, sweaty, painful, surprising poses.

The collection is composed of ten parts which explore the metamorphoses of romantic love; from the heady shock of recognition (‘Unruly Days’) through the inevitability of trial (‘But I have known you in the winter, too’) to loss (‘We outgrow love like other things’) and bittersweet recollection (‘There is another universe in which our song is not yet finished’). For anyone who approaches poetry with trepidation (and I admit to being one), there’s nothing to fear about Love. Yes, there are oblique poems in the collection (much like love itself I guess). But equally there are wry and funny poems (‘That sort of poem’ by Yann Toussaint made me snort-laugh), poems reverberating with grief (‘Oranges’ by Dennis Haskell and ‘Le Petite Mort’ by Kate Lumley sent my hand fluttering to my heart), and poems so passionate you feel you’ve blundered into a private moment (‘On her wedding day’ by Michael Crane).

By my second read-through of Love Poems my attitude had shifted from ‘what was Donna thinking?’ to ‘why didn’t someone think of this before?’ Whether we relish or suffer it, love is universal. It remains one of the few experiences that we ritualise. So how wonderful to have a collection about love in a lexicon that is our own. For this collection really is Australian love. As Donna puts it

‘We Australians paint ourselves as a nation of people who express love in awkward minimal tones, yet I have met many romantic Australians who express their love in well chosen words said in warm and dusty tones by still deep waters and against an ancient and unrelentingly passionate landscape. We simply don’t have a collection of work that shows us Australians how we love, and how we express our love differently to other people and I wanted to create a space in our literary landscape devoted to how we do love; to create books that people could turn to when they are in love and lost for words and want an Australian voice to guide them’.

And here it is.

S.A. Jones is a regular contributor to Kill Your Darlings, author of the novel Red Dress Walking and an Editorial Board member of the Margaret River Press.