You can tell that Caresse Cramwell is both a writer and a thinker. It comes across quite clearly when you ask what she does. “I’m a facilitator of educational experiences. An eco-philospher, an educationalist and counselor,” she said when I posed the question. But I’m talking to her mostly because she’s a spoken word performer.
When Dust Temple held the first ever Gold Coast heat of the Australian national poetry slam, Caresse Cramwell tied for first place and went on to represent our humble city at the Statewide finals in Brisbane.
“I’m kind of trying to employ myself in a sense. To create work opportunities around environmental education: bridging the relationship between us and the earth,” she told Blank. She says she has “pretty much” always worked in adult educational settings. “Transformative education. It’s the discovery process that I really enjoy.”
It wasn’t the environment but asylum seekers that Caresse focused on for her winning poem, titled Refuge.
“But it had the ocean as an underlying metaphor,” Caresse reflects. “I guess what I’m really trying to do with what I do is take a big theme – like refugees which touches me really deeply – and then to personalise it and look at the human dimension of it all.”
“We’re all humans on this planet and we have to learn to live together somehow,” she said.
Caresse framed her piece around words that have been used politically and she says she then tried to turn them into an everyday experience of ‘who it is we don’t want in our space.’
It’s only been the last couple of years that Caresse has explored writing and delivering her own material, though she has been on stage as a kid for eisteddfods and later at performance poetry events.
“I just really like the way that by actually getting up there and putting words out there it enables conversation and dialogue across the differences that we are,” she said before reflecting on the actual State final event.
“Oh, I was a bit nervous really. It was a bit daunting. Walking on stage and lights are full on in your face. You’ve got no contact with your audience and that’s what I really feed off – establishing that connection. I got a bit stiff and I wasn’t strong in my start-off. So I don’t think people got what the piece was about, unfortunately.”
Caresse is disciplined with writing. She writes a poem once a month in preparation for Dust Temple’s monthly slam. She says it keeps her focussed.
“It keeps me in a kind of discipline. When the poetry slams were on I was much more prolific in my writing. You get into a midset about it and you start thinking about what you might do and what’s touching you and what you might say,” she said.
“I sit down with an idea and then it unfolds. That’s where it starts – how it’s touching me. Then to personalise it. To try and construct something that people can really relate to – that taps into their experience as well. I’m searching for the equalising experience and the metaphors just flow out of it.”
Caresse speaks warmly of Isla and John Wilson who run the Dust Temple. She first started writing and performing her own poems when the Wilsons had the Ira Café in Tugun.
“I went along and listened, then I went home and wrote a poem and I was there the next week. People really liked it. It was a great experience and I enjoyed it. I have enjoyed that performance aspect of things.”
“I love it (the Dust Temple), you know. It’s a real commitment to creating community across difference. Being a place where all sorts of people can come and just listen and experience one another and kind of break down the barriers to one another. I love it. I love the atmosphere and people who turn up. It’s really good,” Caresse said.
“A friend of mine says, in terms of creating work for yourself and the world, do what you love and see what happens.”
“Even being here talking you, I’m laughing at myself – I haven’t seen myself as having an ambition – it’s just following what you love and letting the world respond.”
Caresse feels strongly that women’s voices need to be heard in the performance poetry arena and she tells me how the national final had a great imbalance in gender.
“The last five years men have won it (the final). And so, it just sort of set in me a kind of hope that women’s words, my words, that our words can be heard, because I think that they’re really important,” she said.
And so, what does the future hold for Caresse? She says she just wants to keep on writing.
“Keep on improving my ability to actually engage in the political conversations… so that we kind of think about who we are on the planet and how we treat eachother and what we want in life and how we can do it better.”
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Refuge by Caresse Cramwell
How is it that you snuck in
Washed up sought refuge on my shores
How is it that I let you slip past my patrols
That I wasn’t vigilant enough
To turn you back
How is it you seek residence in my soul
I just want to quarantine you
Send you to another’s shore
Separate detain you in some lost forgotten corner
Where your stories
Your too public tragedy
Doesn’t set me all at sea
Immersed drowning in the histories of your misery
I just came to sit on a quiet shore
And have the waves wash over me
To Submerge all my cares in her forgiving fluidity
You know they way water moves
Where the troughs and grooves multiple diffractions
all just work together in an harmonious pattern
It just all flows the differences cohered in a unity that just is beauty
I just want that flow inside me
Not this dissonant sea
where now I’m seeking refuge.
I sit stop this fomenting
let myself sink into that see that looks sees seeks heart
I find myself afloat in ark
Where two by two hands reach Across grief
Beyond killing beliefs
Old ground is drowned by the flood tide of love
storms pass Rainbowed Arcs leap skyward like doves
Multiple colours cohered in one bow
As if the gods bowed down
To whisper their promise
That the arc of history it bends towards justice