This exchange of poems began when Bronwyn Davies heard on email from Jane Speedy's friends in Bristol, United Kingdom, that she had had a massive stroke. Bronwyn responded by writing a poem, sending it to Jane's friends—as a contribution to their emails to each other, in which they expressed their shock and sorrow—and she posted it by snail mail to Jane, hoping one day she would be up to reading it. Some considerable time later, Jane responded with another poem, and so this conversation between two academic women, whose lives are changing in totally unanticipated ways, began.

I hear about Jane
and I too
find myself
knocked
sideways into silence
I can't comprehend it
It's a contradiction
in terms
I can't fit Jane
and silence
into the same
conceptual space
I read:
“every ten minutes,
someone,
somewhere
in Australia
will suffer a stroke”
So it's a
dirt-common
every-ten-minutes
affair
(and that's just in Aus)
that someone suffers
but Jane?
the emails tell me
I have to believe it
And then the newer emails
tell me she is working
her butt off in
a gym in rehab…
I'm knocked sideways
into silence
hanging
out for
Jane's
stories
for
what
she
will
eventually
make
of
it
in
her
writing
—Bronwyn
Dear Bronwyn,
I don't know
the statistics for the UK,
only the specifics for me,
(although a recent NHS
advertising campaign
claimed strokes
as the third largest killer
in the UK and USA.
Third after heart attacks
and cancer, that is. … )
I didn't know
that killing was a race
with prizes and winners. …
but I do know that
I don't want to be third
… . at anything. …
I am not yet dead or silent
just a little broken
and
surprised once again
by the life in this old body
which did, indeed,
grow silent for a while
I awoke from a nighttime fog,
surrounded by equipment
and mangled bodies
one of which,
a different
version of my self:
a difference mirrored
in the faces of my friends
and family
And there was a kind of silence, not unlike
the loud silence of a city
waking
after a snowfall,
but I don't suppose you have
those moments in Australia, do you?
Life was a little lopsided for a while,
until I had adjusted my mindset
and my skew-whiff gait towards a
more perpendicular existence.
I walk now with a stick,
which I brandish at young men
who do not get out of my way in the park.
I clomp along, not silently at all,
I have become rather noisy.
I dance now only in my dreams,
but in them I am still
a wild and roaring girl
a twenty-first century pirate/academical
just like I always was…
—Jane
On the Australian tablelands
my children
and I
woke
on rare mornings
to that hush of
startling white
and laughter and play
Your waking hush
though
with anxious faces looming
told an
unspeakable story
generating neither laughter
nor playfulness
And who might Jane be
without laughter and playfulness
who was it that might climb
out of that hush
and declare she would
be back
with laughter
wild and roaring
The anxious longing
on the faces that greeted you
spread its tentacles
to me here in Sydney
turning my face long and inwards
mouth puckered and
eyes straining with grief
heart clutched
uncomprehending
I had a great-aunt
who following a stroke
decided to ignore the doctor's
dire prognosis
and taught herself to walk
and then to run
around the block
in her small country town
each day
a little further
And another an aunt
who'd been a nurse
and was single
her lover killed in the war
who'd often cared for
ailing family members
who gave in completely
thinking it was
her turn to be cared for
irritating the hell out of my mother
who'd never got the hang of
caring
for anyone
Then I heard
on email
that you were making
the people in rehab laugh
so I knew you had not gone
from us
but were just
as you say
a little broken
So I wrote you a poem
mired in all that complexity
that was as true as it could be
to the wild and
roaring girl
to the piratical academic
to the belly-laughing Jane
who loved the unexpected
and the honest truth
whatever it might
become
I sought words that
might catch at some
of what was happening to you
to the extent I might guess at it
so desperately far away
and sent them
into the silence
to the
wild and laughing girl
terrified
at the risk I took if
my words lodged themselves
arse up
So now
we're both independent scholars
free of the constraints of the academy
writing poems to each other
each with bodies failing us
in one way or another
each determined to seek out
with passion what engages us
sending academic versions of love
not in clichés but in
the mutual struggle to
exist together with the world
and invent it in unexpected ways.
—Bronwyn
googled you/
new quirky specs/
same cheeky grin and scarf/
a strange geography brings you
closer/
your aunts I
feel I know well/
sitting at Aunt Mary's
applewood table/writing this
poem
it's as if
I could reach out/
And touch your spiky hair/
I just read Virginia Woolf's
work
“moments of
being”1 and know
now why you wanted to
visit St. Ives so much/to trace
her
I read you/
education:
“Tamworth Church of England
Girls School” it says on Google Plus/
bet you
were always
an independent
scholar/reinventing
stuff against expectations/arse
backwards/
I just heard/
I got my place
at Bristol Art School/so
this woman picks up other garments
and tools
to work with/
in exchanges where
posting cinquains/like life/
leaves far too many syllables
scrunched up piratically into the last line/
—Jane
A strange ecology,
tracing a line of writing,
music or painting. Those
are ribbons stirred by the wind.
A little air passes. A
Line is traced…2 
The strange geography of
your writing
drops lines down
into the ocean of self
tracing me
making me
recognizable
I spread myself like a fog
between the people that
I know the best
Virginia Woolf said3 
we are the fog in between
simultaneously in Bristol
and Sydney
desiring texture and color and line
becoming texture and color and line
Deleuze and Parnet write of
Mozart becoming bird
at the same moment that bird
becomes music.4 
Writing is very simple.
Either it is a way
of reterritorializing
oneself,
conforming to a code of
dominant utterances…
Or else, on the other hand,
it is becoming,
becoming something other
than a writer…
Everything which becomes is
a pure line
which ceases to represent
whatever it may be…5 
And it is always both
writing and art simultaneously
involve endless
repetitions
the same line again
and again the same
colors
and then a line of flight
a leap
woman becoming line
color
texture
in the space in between
page and woman
brush and paint
one artist and another
one writer and another…
birth of molecular woman in
continuums of intensity
blocs of becoming
emissions of particles
combinations of fluxes6 
—Bronwyn

I want to be apprenticed to experts in making/to get lost in making stuff/I yearn to cut etchings/engravings/sculpt bronzes/alabaster/soapstone and wood/spend days in rooms reeking of clays and ash glazes/resin and oil or acrylics/work soft charcoals/pastels or graphite and soak oily inks into frail handmade papers/shoot films that stay still or that move with a flicker/and saturate canvas with color and texture and light/I want to build pyramids/out of old Zimmer frames/wheelchair parts and lost left slippers/I have seen inside the studios/life drawing rooms/the print rooms/the huge windows/lost dreams in the long white gallery walls/I have stepped into the crevices beneath paint-splattered floors/I had an interview for the art school/it was me and five 18-year-old girls (one of whom liked the deep pink streak in my steel grey hair and wished her grandma had one too) together with our portfolios/and the tutor/in the print room/with the big old nineteenth-century iron press/back to Virginia and the Hogarth press/and cardigan pockets filled with stones/and finding our art starting in the middle/with a sentence such as/“Mrs. Dalloway decided to buy the flowers herself”/is this too much for me to handle in one year? Will I exhaust myself?

You talk of texture/color and line/ and I look out of my window and into the trope of Virginia's fog /stretching out between us/ the sharper/brighter colors of the sunlight in Aus/stretching across to the damper darker hues of northern Europe/the harsh burn of the sun on Uluru in the evening extending around the earth to reach the Celtic blue of Stonehenge/caught in the fog amidst our layers of sedimentary rock/we are in conversation.

Image by Jane Speedy.

Image by Jane Speedy.

NOTES

NOTES
1.
Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being: Unpublished Autobiographical Writings, ed. and intro. Jeanne Schulkind (London: Triad/Granada, 1978).
2.
Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 75.
3.
Woolf, qtd. in Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II, 30.
4.
Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II, 73.
5.
Ibid., 74.
6.
Ibid., 105.