By Sally, 64. Wynn Vale, SA

When I was about forty years of age, I met a woman named Barbara. She was about twenty years older than me — so, was about sixty when we met. We remained friends for many years. I was a person who made the occasional friend. I didn’t make immediate friends. I was friendly with many people at work, I had a group of friends from my teens. I was a bit friendly with some other parents of my son’s friends. I had a partner and a family. This seemed enough to me. But Barbara was a person who embraced making new friends as if it was her reason for being. Barbara would meet people at bus stops and become friends. I was always amazed by her people skills and the way she attracted and maintained new friends.

Barbara always encouraged me to make new friends but I was usually too busy with work, mothering, being a wife, and a daughter to ageing parents. Several years ago, Barbara rang me and said she was having a lunch at her house and could I come? By this time, my parents had died, my son had joined the military and my husband had run off with another woman. Of course, I said yes. Then, Barbara went on to explain that she had a new friend who had emigrated to Australia from Argentina, she was turning 40, and she had no family or friends to help her celebrate her 40th. So, Barbara was organising a party for her. There was nothing unusual in this.

I got myself ready, prepared a nice plate of food to share, got a bottle of wine, and happily went to the 40th birthday party of someone I had never met. When I arrived, there was a group of women at the lunch, there was a happy buzz of conversation and some quiet music playing. It was a very festive gathering. I said to Barbara, “Which one is the guest of honour?” Barbara explained the woman from Argentina had some relatives in Sydney and they had sent her airfare to go to Sydney for the weekend to celebrate her 40th. No one minded, and we all had a lovely lunch party without the guest of honour.

At this party, I met a woman called Pauline who was another friend of Barbara’s. Pauline said to me, “I am going to start a poetry group, would you like to come?” I heard myself saying, “Yes — I would love to.” Where did the desire or interest to attend a poetry group come from? I mused to myself driving home. This is something I had never thought of before. I was retiring soon so on the lookout for things to do, empty hours and days stretched before me into the future. I had given my contact details to Pauline but would not have been surprised if I never heard anything about the poetry group again. It was not really my thing. I had belonged to a book club once and found it quite tedious. Reading the same book and then feeling like the odd one out when we discussed the book. I always loved the books everyone else disliked, and disliked the books everyone else loved. I fairly quickly decided book club was not for me.

Pauline rang me and invited me to her home for the poetry group. I was required to write a poem and bring it and be prepared to read it out. I agreed to come to the group. I didn’t tell Pauline the only problem was I had never written a poem before. I could not even remember doing it at school. I had never read a poetry book, I did not know the name of a poet. So, my mind swirled with thoughts for several days. What had I gotten myself into? I had been an amateur artist for years and at that time I was painting a gum tree, and the bark of the tree was on my mind, I was trying to get the look of the bark hanging off the tree. This is not an easy thing to do in a painting. So tree bark was on my mind. I wrote a poem about tree bark, my first poem ever.

Bark, bark, bark
What a harsh word,
Barking dogs
Bark your knuckles
Think again
Gum tree bark
Beautiful, colourful
Dry, dripping
Languid, falling
In strips and in sheets
Showing the smooth
Gorgeous grey trunk
Red river gums
Scrubby mallee gums
Blue gums, silver princess
Ubiquitous, everywhere
Take some time to
Really look at the
Bark, bark, bark.

When I look back at my first attempt I am quite pleased but now also could see some improvements. I went to the group, had a great time with some interesting people, and they liked my poem. So I was off on an adventure into the world of poetry. What an interesting world full of interesting, friendly, non-judgemental people.

It was cathartic, marvellous, and empowering to write a poem … I felt fresh and free.

I quickly moved from writing a poem about tree bark to writing about myself and my life. It was cathartic, marvellous and empowering to write a poem and let go of STUFF. Once it is in a poem, it is gone from the ‘list of things to worry about’ in my head. It is on the page and not rattling around in my head. I felt fresh and free. I started reading poetry and attending poetry slams with my new friends from the poetry group. I performed one of my poems at a slam and started attending writing workshops. I attended poetry readings and read poetry books. I was loving poetry group and the people in the group, including Barbara. It became the highlight of my month when I retired.

After about a year Barbara suddenly and unexpectedly died. The poetry group became a support group for our grief over losing Barbara. We supported each other through this time. I realised I had made some good friends in the group. Barbara had passed onto me some good friends and I am sure wherever she is now she would be pleased I have some new friends. Barbara was never too enthralled with poetry!

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7 months ago

Very intersting side of Sally’s life I did not know. Great she challenged herself to do something different.

Mary Smits
Mary Smits
7 months ago

What a lovely snapshot of part of your life, I enjoyed reading it, thank you for sharing.

Maxine Donald
Maxine Donald
7 months ago

I really enjoyed reading about Sally’s ‘life after where she used to live’ and the joy that new friends and interests have brought to her life!