My poetry class
I chose the poetry elective because my teacher was going to be Ania Walwicz. An award-winning published poet, Ania was loved and revered even beyond the portals of RMIT where she’d taught writing for thirty years. I had another reason too, one that sprang from affection. At the social conclusion to my very first day at RMIT she engaged me in conversation, asking me about my background and aspirations. She lamented Australia’s sullying of my noble, dignified name and insisted on calling me Gerald.
From the first minutes of the first poetry class, I realised I had never had a teacher like Ania before. Her teaching method came directly from her heart, much like everything else about her. She’d pass around an example of poetry which we all read parts of aloud. Then she’d ask us to write a piece in similar style and read them out to the class if we wanted to. She rarely got into technicalities. It was a new type of learning for me. Theory and technique had always been cornerstones of my learning. I’d depended on them, fallen back on them when I got stuck, satisfied myself that at least I knew something about a topic even if I didn’t do much with that knowledge. And here was Ania telling me in effect not to bother with such matters, just proceed directly to inspiration with the only proviso that I imitate the example she’d passed around. But that fresh approach contained a mighty challenge: to open channels that had long been constricted by self-consciousness, insufficient self-belief, and a crippling aversion to being thought of as stupid or laughable. I detected no such strictures in many of my classmates, both young and old. I envied the depth and eloquence of their disclosures. Gradually, I allowed myself to be caught up in the momentum. In Ania’s class there were no rights and wrongs in poetry that expressed one’s relationship with the world. I could incorporate my senses, my emotions, my beliefs, my opinions. Poetry allowed me to do this in a way that prose didn’t. In poetry I was allowed to be flowery and emotional without a narrative. I could go straight to the arias without bothering with recitative.
The weekly class became an unmissable joy. I brought to it my love of music, sport, art, colours, cats, children; my hatred of right-wing politics, my outrage at the treatment of asylum seekers, my love of the country of my birth. As the semester progressed, my preferred style began to leak out. Many of my poems had a beginning and an end. I told a story or related an incident. My arias were embedded in recitative. Ania called it a narrative style. The class finished up at the end of the semester. I cannot tell, in explicit terms, how much it changed me. But I know this. These days I am much less averse to being thought of as stupid or laughable.
Ania passed away last year. Her loss is mourned far and wide. My affection for her will never diminish. She is in my heart forever.