Nicholson's South of the Border
Bumble-bee Books, 2008 : 14th
February, 2009 at Hobart Bookshop.
Im sure there are many
writers in our community who, today, would love to be launching Betty Nicholsons
long awaited poetry collection South of the Border, so I feel most privileged to
have been asked and I thank Bettys family, her editor, Fiona Cooke and
representative of Bumblee Books, Robyn Mathison, for this honour.
Betty played a major role in my
life, not only as a family friend, but also as adviser to my rather obscure poetry back in
the days when I was learning the craft and I lived with her for several months when my
first marriage broke down. She fed me rice cakes, Pritikin bread and soup and she helped
me to rebuild my life. She had good values, old school values, and she was one of the
kindest people I have ever known.
Betty lived where the cooking
was, this is where she communicated with her many visitors and lodgers, sitting near the
open fire, around the long kitchen table, eating and sharing lovely wines, in moderation,
that she used to order by the crate load from interstate. People were expected to be
there, she was a centre for the arts. I like to think of her as a one woman writers
centre. She turned her home into a meeting place for artists of all genres, exotic or
plain, it didnt matter to Betty. She was just happy to be amidst the hub of
intelligent and flowing conversations. She was always the mediator and she loved being
surrounded by people, whether they be family, political figures, writers or refugees.
I would often sit in on the
writing workshops or literary functions at Bettys house, with my late parents, Norma
and Colin Knight and we shared these afternoons with other writers in the community such
as Robyn Mathison, Fiona Cooke, Lyn Reeves, Liz Winfield, Ralph Wessman, Fran Graham,
Jenny Barnard, Liz Winfield, the late Terri Moore and Vera Read. I first met Anne Kellas
at No. 52. She probably doesnt realise it, but her amazing original style of writing
greatly influenced me when I was finding my own voice. Anne pays a superb tribute to
Bettys life and poetry on the back cover of this book.
Even the late Dorothy Porter
conducted a workshop at No. 52.
And of course there were always
familiar faces that regularly attended the various literary functions and workshops.
During these constructive writing workshops, wed share bottomless pots of tea and
lavish spreads of afternoon snacks as we crooned to Bettys accepting cat, Putana,
who used to float in and out of the kitchen throughout our conversations. And, before
wed leave the famous No. 52 Montagu Street, New Town, Betty always treated us to a
positive reading of our futures by reading our palms.
And now to Bettys book.
South of the Border is a rest
stop and roadside attraction between the US States of South Carolina and North Carolina.
Its mascot is Pedro, an extravagant Mexican in poncho and sombrero. Signs featuring Pedro
appear along surrounding highways that start 175 miles away. So I think the title of this
book is very relevant as Bettys home was certainly a rest stop and attraction and
she was certainly an extravagant and colourful character.
Throughout this collection of
over 130 poems, Betty writes of family, love, history, travel, war, nature, science, her
work as a physiotherapist and her patients. Quite a vast range of subject material.
As Bettys son Frank,
states in the introduction to this book, that this collection reflects a lifetime of
pleasure in making sense of the world through poetry.
Betty writes sensually about
blondes with half-moon hips and teacups so fine youd want to bite
Readers can witness the
childhood magic of Xmas Eve where Betty describes the tree, glowing, laden, rich as
a sultans purse and there is a wonderful poem about a dog she loved, called
Tess, a dog of great sensitivity.
Bettys titles are
deceptively simple, this is how she wrote, mainly on the spot, she didnt like to
edit too much as they were a spur of the moment emotion that you will all feel when you
read these refreshing poems. She had plastic bags full of handwritten lines, written on
scraps of paper and on the back of shopping dockets. Her writing was pretty
indecipherable, they read almost like a doctors prescription as she would jot down
her ideas quickly in various parts of the house, in taxis on her way to and from work, and
on her exercise bike that lived on the back verandah, amongst the threatening beehive.
I really love her poem
Special which is about a grieving mother who lost one of her 17 children to
fire and I quote:
- He had a gift.
- He talked to the flowers.
- They opened for him.
- He made them grow.
There is also an extroardinary
piece titled Rape Camp on Page 118, which relates to the horrors of any given
war, the title, so stark, too unbearable for me to read aloud today. This is, however, my
favourite kind of poetry.
I was also taken with
Bettys ode to a mouse, with a name of Henrietta, who gave up her life for cellular
research. And the last lines of this poem read:
- Henrietta Lax
- You may rest easy.
- Your sassy little cells
- Have done you proud.
There is a unique childlike
quality in Bettys work that also reveals rich life experiences. In her poem To
Alfie she bluntly states:
- We need to feel the fine edge of
- We are dead for so very long.
My favourite poem out of this
large body of work is Willows Creek because of how Betty has combined the
fragility of life and nature, the beauty and the horror..
South of the Border
has been grouped into eight themes, each with its own section and photos, that cover
Bettys early childhood until the week before she died at the age of 77.
In West Africa, when an elderly
person dies, it is said, a library has burnt down. Im sure those who were fortunate
enough to know Betty and her famous house, No. 52 would relate strongly to this belief.
It is with great pleasure that
I launch South of the Border and I urge you to purchase a copy or two to share with
your loved ones and friends.
- KAREN KNIGHT continues to dazzle audiences with her original and
quirky poems, which she performs at festivals, in pubs, on the buses, and on radio. Her
poetry has been widely published in Australian and international anthologies, newspapers
and literary journals, including Blue Dog, Island and Best Australian Poems 2005
edited by Les Murray.