not one river running

I’m not sure what Rhyll means. I think I’ve asked her, I think it maybe means some small kind of river, although interwebs says it is a holiday town on Phillip Island in Victoria, named after another Welsh seaside village. It certainly isn’t fashionable to think so, but I have always felt that names had great power and that naming a child must be a certain kind of powerful. Why I am light? Why does Rhyll feel like water to me?

Rhyll Tonge and I have been collaboratinglightly, fluidly – with Chantel Keegan on a piece in response to Wayne MacGregor’s ballet, Infra, for Words or Whatever this Friday. The reasons for the collaboration have changed somewhat for us all over the last month, as have the outcomes. We are still collaborating, we are still performing, but having each one of us set our intent, we have manifested something different. Apparently you can never stand in the same river.

So it’s interesting to me, when asked to describe herself in metaphor, that Rhyll replies in poem.

Often a little river,
Begun in the raw dry earth,
The mountains, the NSW Tablelands.

Trickle the body slowly
A stony, silty gypsy.

Rearranging cells/self against
Winding warmth of platypus banks
Holding my rapids.

Little rivers are called
Crawling to deeper waters,
Pulled toward the ocean
Meeting it tidal
At my mouth.

For someone like Rhyll, it is not surprising that she is inspired by things as diverse as love, friends, politics, healing, talking with her eyes closed and her hands out, grasping for something that then grasps her. She feels poetry as country speaking – the rhythm that can hold you at the base of your spirit/gumtree. For Rhyll, country is what connects, inspires and writes through her, “pushing old currents of Biami out my fingertips onto stages of deep earth and pages of dust”.

Equally, for a woman moving with such energy, it makes sense that she doesn’t have one favourite poet. While she may be addicted to Ursula Le Guin, she also loves experiencing poetry and performance, seeing the raw words for the first time on the stage.  She considers herself an aspiring poet, acknowledging that the label of “poet” feels more easily attainable when “you trust yourself, empty your spirit/story onto the page in any way that makes you feel whole”. Whether in telling it to a friend, or to a tree, she tries to be open to critique and to do that which feels uncomfortable in order to grow.

Her place as a woman has shaped her life in society, and she feels that through an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual struggle of survival, her experience of surviving this world as a woman has made her resilient and strong in ways that she is yet to understand. In her words, she says:

As a writer and a womyn, supported by many womyn with similar experiences, I view the world and express myself to the world in ways that are different, I want to collaborate, I want to speak the words that have been silenced in my life and others, I don’t want to do a five minute poem about how ‘Kool I AM mofos!!’ (Which is another thing I love about Brisbane poets, the men, thank you for being creative with your mind and souls and not your ego!!) So yes in ways that I’m not writing here very well, being a womyn in this world shapes me and therefore shapes my writing and expressing!

As for what to expect on Friday night from Rhyll – well, ‘shhhh….” Because even Rhyll doesn’t know what to expect, and if she doesn’t know what to expect, then you folk can just get ready to go wade in the water.

‘Direct instruction is devoid of culture…’ Norm Sheehan

Rhyll has words etched onto the inside of her lungs, inhaling to write and performing/sharing pages to exhale. During her gypsy days in the Americas, Rhyll was inspired to start performing, what she had always known as air, sharing and learning performance poetics at many open mikes along the road. Rhyll’s poetry hold stories to ears and hopes they will find their way to lungs. She is known to collaborate with other poets and musicians to fill the room with layers of thought, sound and contrast.

Rhyll has featured in Arcata, California at Muddy Waters and in Vancouver at Nyala collaborating with two local musicians on slide guitar and drums, at Words or Whatever, Turnstyle, Brisbane Aboriginal Rights Coalition events, Under bridge events, Brisbane Emerging Arts Festival, Island Vibe Festival and on many verandas such as – With Baited Breath.

Influences include many unnameable strangers, lovers and lands, Ani Difranco, Lou Rhodes, Andrea Gibson, Lauren Hill, Lamb, Tim Winton, Maya Angelou, breathing in the eucalyptus bush.

By Eleanor Jackson

Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer, cyclist, writer, gal about town, feminist, freewheeler, and friend.

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