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Acclaimed writer, artist and musician Luke Beesley reflects on In the Photograph, a collection of prose poems that captures the exact moment of writing. The book was released in July 2023.
When I started a PhD many years ago, I feared my creativity would get the bends, so I set up this whole other life before dawn. I searched up the only café in Thornbury that opened at six a.m. and went there every morning with my pencil and notebook.
I’d write for 20–30 minutes – still waking, in the slipstream of a dream, following any connection that my mind would offer, without thinking, not reading the previous day’s writing – an unconsciously plotted ‘novel’.
Months later, when finished, I was scared to stop. I thought to myself: I’ll now write short fiction. That ‘short fiction’, drafted over the following years, typed up eventually, edited during Melbourne lockdowns, would eventually become In the Photograph.
The morning routine, keen to connect to the productive place between sleep and wakefulness, helped me to observe at a distance and take risks, in the middle of writing. At times I found I could swivel in the middle of a sentence and a wave broke and I found myself face-first in the sand of my childhood. Funny how the swivel would often dissolve into memory. So, not automatic writing – the novel-practice allowed me a touch of concentration once I’d begun writing with the first image that had come to me that morning.
And there are the images on the edge of a photograph. And there are the images you create in your imagination when reading a novel or daydreaming or thinking about a conversation. And of course there are the strange images of dreams themselves. How do these images compare to what we think of as memory? This strange imaginative cinema comes together to form memoir or the self, doesn’t it? Over years of editing, the often-surreal images of these poems have become as strong, if not stronger, than my own memories, particularly given they play out in very specific places – our backyard, on the Mernda Line train, in the medium lane at Northcote Aquatic, walking to my son’s school. They connect to words like memoir, non-fiction, fiction, meta-fiction, etc. yet coalesce, find a home, in the abstraction and generosity of poetry.
Given my process, I feel I’m in the same position as the reader – looking back on these pieces, trying to figure them out. I’d prefer to think theme is embedded in the body of the writer – an ethics transferred through trusting the shape of the subconscious. You pick up theme like you might the scent of mandarin on the fingers an hour after you peeled one.
— Luke Beesley