In August 2006 I was awarded a mentorship through the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), which entitled me to a year's instruction with a mentor of my choice.
I'd taken a creative writing / poetry class Dorothy Porter gave while she was writer in residence at Melbourne Uni in 1998, and her advice and views on poetry had a strong impact on me. So it was a great honour that she was able to make herself available as my mentor during 2007.
We had meetings throughout the year at the Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill. Hers was a Sauvignon Blanc, mine a mineral water(!). We'd chat about what we were writing and how we were writing it; what we'd been reading, watching, listening to. We exchanged books, CDs, DVDs and talked at length about their arcane properties and effects. I was given further insight into the scenes, cliques, politics and history of Australian poetry. By way of barter I offered what I could in terms of insight into the current state of rock & roll (I compiled several mix CDs as evidence, each a labour of love), electronic media and online poetry...
Dorothy's sage advice came thick and fast throughout the year, but in particular, there were two acts of generous and wise counsel from Dorothy that will continue to reverberate...
First of these was Dorothy's passing on of the vision of her own mentor, the late Bruce Beaver. Some of his poems had been familiar to me beforehand, but Dorothy was able to offer a much more fully realised picture of his life and life's work. Not only did Beaver provide Australia's own enduring answer to the Confessional Poets (Plath, Berryman, Lowell, et al), he is also one of 'our' great visionaries. For the uninitiated, Dorothy's brief biography of Beaver and selection of his poems over at Poetry International Web will provide some proof for these claims.
The second piece of especially wise counsel was Dorothy's insistence that I re-read Euripides' The Bacchae. This was to be partly considered as research for my book-in-progress, How to be hungry, with its themes of drug use, (dis)connection, alternate ways of seeing/experiencing the world, and how the status quo demands to be threatened by Bacchic/Dionysian rites. All of these themes are mirrored (and magnified) in The Bacchae. A very good call on Dorothy's part.
Thank you, Dorothy, for everything. And thankyou to the ASA for offering and organising this brilliant opportunity.