Day 5:48 pm
Christine V. Courtney’s first career was as a professional dancer, moving from Adelaide to Britain to dance with the Ballet Rambert and directing her own small ballet company before returning to Australia to work as a teacher and producer. She first visited Venice while leading fine arts tours to Europe in the 1980s. The city provided the inspiration for her first book, Venetian Voices.
What is your favourite memory from your time in dance?
My favourite memories are of the incredible camaraderie we shared under difficult conditions in the Ballet Rambert. We were on the road 42 weeks a year, in a different city each week, and travelled by train on Sunday between venues. Our six-week tour of the Middle East in 1963 opened my eyes to the world of Islamic sculpture, architecture and the history of that extraordinary area. We all coped with Dame Marie Rambert’s quixotic nature and those she did not break grew stronger. Fortunately I fell in the latter camp. The six years I spent with the company as a young artist (joining at age 19) were the most exhilarating of my life. I was doing what I believed I was born to do, and travelling, two of the four pillars of my life. I will leave you guessing as to the other two.
Would you ever move to Venice?
I would love to have the opportunity to move to Venice for a year simply to gather material for a second volume on the city. Ideally, I would move from district to district and island to island soaking up the atmosphere and local stories. To live in a Palazzo on the Grand Canal for a month would be a dream come true as I would be following in the footsteps of Richard Wagner and Marie Taglioni, the famous Italian ballerina, and many others.
What do you find to be the most difficult thing about writing poetry?
Distilling the essence of what I want to say, working as many drafts as needed, then being disciplined enough to put it aside to rest for some days. Coming back one sees the work with fresh eyes. Some poems came in one rush while others involved an arm wrestle to forge them into shape. When time and circumstances opened up in 2000 and I wrote my first poems I did not have a clue what I was doing except that some imaginary door opened and I stepped through it into the world of words. I’d found a pathway back into the exhilarating feeling of being creative and truly alive. It has been a struggle to find my ‘voice’, and I am still not sure I am there, wherever ‘there’ is. I’ve been plagued by self doubt, but upheld by a belief that I have something to say and needed to find a way to express myself.
What will you be working on next?
This is hard to predict. A new poem about Venice flew into my mind last week following an exchange with a friend relating an experience when he and his wife visited the city. Another local poem jumped out during the Wonder Walls event at Port Adelaide. Dr John Couper-Smartt wants me to again get involved in the reprint of Port Adelaide Tales from a ‘Commodious Harbour’ which we co-authored in 2003. For the time being I am enjoying reading other poets and keeping all my options open.
What is your favourite Italian food and why?
That’s simple: it is whatever I am eating at the time. I adore Italian food. The first orange gelatti I ever tasted was in Spoleto and had the ice-cream poured inside a whole hollowed out orange skin. It was the most beautiful refreshing juice I had ever tasted. One just squeezed the orange and sucked; a sensual experience. Likewise the Baccala Manecato provided at the launch of Venetian Voices was absolutely delicious and a food fit for the Gods. While reading Donna Leon’s books on Commissario Brunetti I become inspired to cook some of the dishes she describes.
What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
As an admirer of C.J. Dennis’s work, I loved every aspect of An Unsentimental Bloke. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the works by Dr Philip Jones such as Boomerang and Ochre and Rust. The monographs on artists like Robert Hannaford and Nora Heysen are always a pleasure to peruse. If I could read everything Wakefield produced it would be wonderful, but my life is now running short and I still have much to do, so it is a case of balance!