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Without rhyme or reason: A poet’s guide to surviving troubling times

I often think of another garden I have encountered in the form of an artwork I once came across at a gallery. I cannot recall its title, or the artist’s name, but I remember it clearly. It was a wall of framed photographs. Each photograph was that of a single bloomed rose: the first bloom of each spring. Each rose was a year in itself. The wall: 30 years of rain and sun, of life and death.

There is a garden I carry within me, a companion for over 30 years.

There is a garden I carry within me, a companion for over 30 years.Credit:Lucy Stone

Over the past year, I have been putting the finishing touches on my next book, and also writing new poems. People sometimes ask me what my poems are about. I do not always know how to answer. A poem is its own mystery, and its own paradox. I rarely begin a poem knowing what it will be about. I rarely leave a poem understanding what it is I have written. What I do know about my poems is that they are often love poems—by which I mean poems that examine the presence or absence of love (sometimes both at once) in this world.

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I am interested in what it means to be human with respect to our capacities to love. In these uncertain times, I set my hands and heart to the daily work of loving others, in large and small ways. We all have our own gardens within us. Tend to them. Be gentle with them, and with yourself. Be patient – sow, water, feed, and harvest in the right time. I return to my garden daily through words, and in my poems. I will keep doing it for as long as I can. I hope you can, too.

Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet and the author of eight books. Her work has been shortlisted for several awards, including twice for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Her next collection of poetry, A Thousand Crimson Blooms, will be published by University of Queensland Press in April. www.eileenchong.com.au

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