Mark Smith: Reflection on EWF Regional Literary Exchange

As part of EWF 2016, we teamed up with Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, and Ibis Hotels to connect writing communities from Melbourne, Bali, and regional Victoria.

On exchange from UWRF, poet Adimas Immanuel featured in several EWF events, and during his stay in Aus we connected him with regional Victorian writer, Mark Smith, for a cultural and community exchange. We asked Mark to reflect on his experience hosting Adimas and what it was like to share a taste of Victoria’s literary community beyond the City of Melbourne with him.

As part of the 2016 Emerging Writers Festival, I hosted Adimas Immanuel, an Indonesian poet, through the Regional Literary Exchange supported by the Ubud Writers Festival, Writers Victoria and the EWF. I was a little uncertain about how we would get along, given that I am twice his age, I am a novelist and he’s a poet, and my knowledge of Indonesian stretches no further than “hello” and “good morning”. I shouldn’t have worried – we had great time sharing our experiences of writing, bonding over food and beer and enjoying the festival.

Adimas is a passionate and celebrated poet. I urge you to seek out his work online – it is extraordinary. As a guest of the EWF he took part in sessions where he spoke about his love of poetry and what inspires him to write. Sitting in on one of those sessions, I saw a quietly spoken and thoughtful young man.  Later we met up at our hotel and headed out into the night to find some food. A couple of  pizzas and a few beers later we were discussing everything from Australian’s perceptions of Indonesia, to Timor Leste, to asylum seeker policy. And here, it seemed to me, was the great benefit of exchanges like this – two people from different cultures, with entirely different experiences of life, connecting over food and drink and writing and conversation.

The following night we hit up some great Asian fusion food at Magic Mountain. Adimas was in his element – lots of chillies, noodles and seafood. As we became more relaxed in each other’s company, he opened up about what it’s like to be a poet in Indonesia. While poetry and storytelling are deeply imbedded in Indonesian culture, it is still very much an undervalued area of the arts, particularly among younger people eager to adopt a more western lifestyle. Adimas works full time as a copywriter in an advertising agency in Jakarta to support his writing. (At this point I’m sure there are Australian poets reading this and thinking the situation isn’t much different here.) All that aside, what comes through when he speaks about his art is a deep sense of its importance within the Indonesian literary scene.

Part of the Regional Exchange involved introducing Adimas to life and literature beyond Melbourne. So we travelled into the night, arriving at my home in Anglesea in the cold and dark of the Victorian winter. Adimas was struggling with the cold but after a good night’s sleep (he is absolutely convinced the greatest invention by human beings – beyond the wheel, technology, space travel – is the electric blanket!) he was ready for our tour of the beautiful west coast. The idea was that we drive along the Great Ocean Road and I would introduce him to the books of Australian writers who have used the coastal environment as settings for their work – Greg Day in Aireys Inlet, Jock Serong in Apollo Bay and Peter Temple down around Port Campbell. We didn’t get quite that far as Adimas found the windy road a bit much for a system still recovering from jetlag! But we did make it to Cape Paton, from where he could see the coast stretching off in the distance towards Cape Otway.

After a long afternoon nap to recover from his car sickness, Adimas and I had a date with the Write Here In The Surf Coast group in Torquay in the evening. This was a gathering of a small writing group established by Gail Chrisfield (one of Writers Victoria’s regional ambassadors) who were eager to hear Adimas speak about his poetry, do a couple of readings and discuss his reactions to the literary scene here in Australia. The night was a great success, with some in the audience reading their own work too. Again, it struck me what an important connection was being made through this exchange – not just with me but with the wider writing community on the coast. Adimas fielded lots of questions about his writing influences, his knowledge of Australian writers and his observations about life on the coast. And, of course, we were mesmerised by his readings of his own work.

Finally, we headed back up to Melbourne the next day and went our separate ways, promising to keep in touch and to exchange writing into the future. This has been a great initiative by the EWF and I hope it continues into the future. It provides a connection through something we are all passionate about – writing, which transcends borders, nationalities and cultures and brings together artists with a common language. I heartily recommend other writers from regional Victoria to apply next year.

Mark Smith

Mark Smith’s writing has appeared in Best Australian Stories 2014 & 2015, Review of Australian Fiction, The Australian and the Big Issue Fiction Edition, among others. He has won a number of awards, including the Alan Marshall Short Story Prize and the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize. His debut novel, The Road To Winter, was published by Text in June 2016. Mark is a regional ambassador for Writers Victoria.

Check out this piece that Adimas wrote about his experience with EWF and the Regional Exchange.