Sensory Landscapes - Part Two
In this series, Fiction, Poetry and Experimental Forms Editor, Lauren, introduces a new range of writing exercises and tips using the vastly different landscapes we find ourselves in as rural Australians, and the ways we relate to these landscapes as women. In Part Two of this series, Lauren explores how we can use elements of weather as ways in which to open up new perspectives in our writing. Our examples today come from CJ Talbot, 'Daughter of Rain', and Lauren's poetry collection 'Parts of a Whole'.
This week's post is really focused on engaging all of the senses in order to develop your descriptive writing, whether that be for writing poetry, writing scenes for fiction or creating a detailed description of a subject for a non-fiction piece. The senses really are your best friend as a writer and an observer of all things natural environment related. They help us to detect changes, large and small, and to understand our movements within it and, hence, our impact upon it.
Why focus on the weather, you ask, instead of the landscape itself? Weather is a force that acts upon the landscape; it is all very well to be able to write about a stable, static image (the equivalent of a still life painting), but it is another skill entirely to describe a process occurring that results in change or transformation in some way. And the change need not be dramatic, it could be as simple as a sunflower tilting its angle slightly to follow the sun. In fact, you should challenge yourself to describe these small changes rather than the obvious ones, because it is in the micro that the macro becomes most apparent.
A note on the senses themselves is worth making here. Usually, we talk about FIVE senses, but science in recent years has shown us there are actually more than this. You might be interested in employing some of these lesser-known ones in the activities below:
Touch: includes pressure, temperature, light touch (when light touches a part of the body), vibration, pain (including intensity, source radiation) and other sensations
Sight: including, amongst other things, colours, light and shadow, field of vision, depth and distance, movement, clarity and camouflage, blur and sharpness
Sound: including volume, tone, silence, pace, clarity, echo, speech or distinct calls
Taste: there are specific flavours that, in combination, cover all gustatory experiences: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and savoury or umami.
Sense of space (proprioception): relates to our sense of our own position and our sense of movement
Stretching of muscles and tendons
Detection and sensation of bloodstream in arteries/veins
Take an element of weather and describe it using a different sense than is ordinarily applied to it, thus presenting it from a different perspective. For example, wind is usually written about through aural imagery, so perhaps try and describe it's effect on a landscape in terms of tactility. The sun is usually described using visual and tactile imagery, so you might challenge yourself to describe the smell of the sun! Remember you are not only describing the element of weather itself, but also all of the associations, such as that of wind with leaves and autumn, and sun with waking and beginnings or endings.
Here is an example of using the sense of vision to describe the rain, something different to the often aural and tactile descriptions of the rain:
Others like the smells,
the sounds of rain and maybe they've never noticed
or had only a view obscured. The way the bark crinkles and swells with each downpour, peels from its trunk the shiny newness of the next skin revealed. The iridescent blue-edged storm clouds, a spectrum of greys and midnights; their colour no less fierce than their grumble of an unloaded swell. The harried pace of ants fast-forwarding to their nests, surveying paths cut and routes washed away by a giant’s drops. We could try opening our eyes to the rain.
Copyright Lauren Forner 2021
This activity will develop your characterisation and persona development skills. Choose an element of weather, and create a character from it. Consider its characteristics, its quirks, how it would behave as a human being or protagonist in its own story, how it would speak and what would it say, what kind of mood it would have and how it would be shown through its movements and expression.
You can end the activity there, or you can go one step further as CJ Talbot does in her poem, 'Daughter of Rain', and consider the relationship with humans this character of yours has. This poem is a worship of rain as an all powerful character, a reminder that we owe all elements of our being and our landscape to rain, and yet also captures the personal and intimate relationship between one woman and rain.
In explaining the way she explores rain in her poem, CJ Talbot says:
"'Daughter of Rain' was inspired by a sudden and torrential evening of rain in the early summer of 2021. The rain was comforting, reassuring - not to mention always welcome in the rural regions of the southern slopes - but also sombre, heavy with overtones of an almost indistinct grief. Landscape features in my own garden inspired some of the stanzas of the poem, such as the gumnuts on the grass, Eucalypt blossoms, and the Snow-in-Summer tree. The poem describes a garden sodden with rain, extends or even links this to the feminine persona, overladen with sorrow and duty at times, and imagines the inner processes of how we absorb, endure, grieve. This also plays with the idea that water has memory, and is an element of many forms."
Daughter of Rain
Sodden, ground and gum nut,
maple leaves drip bronze-gold
and crushed blossoms meet a sloping road.
Daughter of Rain
Curled under dim skies,
Sets down toil, listens,
As raindrops pool under her skin.
Fallen in the night,
misting porch, darkening
and lonely souls moist, flail in breath.
Daughter of Rain,
Stilled heart and dim,
Nestles in folds of cloud, listens,
As raindrops stream and batter.
Skylit face and waterholes,
Conducting young to sing their dreams,
Dampening, old ones lost in stars.
Daughter of Rain,
Spun with plain, stone and hill,
Casts out curve and patchy trail,
As raindrops wear through vein.
Safe now this time,
Skies wash crumbs of her earth
And winds coax pain to congealed ends.
Daughter of Rain,
awaken to her power
like snow-in-summer, rising,
as raindrops sink and remember.
Copyright Christie Talbot 2022
CJ Talbot is a writer and teacher who lives in the Riverina, NSW. She loves writing, reading, all forms of literature and philosophy, and loves composing poems about beautiful features of our shared environment, and personal interactions with nature. Christie's first volume of poetry published by Riverina Writing House contains reflections on the rural regions around Leeton, its people and farms, and impressions of a personal journey: 'Caloro: Riverina landscapes' Published by Riverina Writing House (riverinawritinghouse.com.au)