To be human is to know loss in its many forms. Losses tumble into our lives continually; their sources are multiple: personal, ancestral, planetary.
The poet, Stephen Dunn, writes:
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air
to breath itself, anyone's.
Experiencing loss is difficult; telling it does not come easily either - and hearing or reading accounts of loss can be challenging as well.
Encountering loss may leave us uncertain, anxious, heartbroken; may snatch away the destinations and maps that had previously guided our lives - requiring us to learn to think differently, acquire new meaning-making skills, as we make space for the unthinkable, the unbearable.
French essayist de Montaigne advises us to "survive love and loss".
The writers in this anthology give us stories, essays, memoir and poems that both speak the mind and express the spirit of their losses. These works are physical acts of creation that take place in spaces that may feel emptied of meaning.
Wounded by loss, we may need to be cared for, but these writers also care for others by sharing their loss and the expression of it - both the wound and the gift. The rawness and randomness of loss transformed into art .
They may provide roadmaps or at least companionship - the consolation of commonality of experience - a sense of connectedness, community, to offset the loneliness of loss with the knowledge that we are all in this together.
This last decade has been a veritable cascade of losses for me: the illness and death of both my parents, of an aunt and two of my uncles, a beloved sister in law and close friends and mentors; the loss of closeness to some family members and friends through divorce or estrangement; the serious illness of my daughter and other family members; the loss of body integrity and vitality through surgeries for cancer; the diminution of the laid-back island life I once enjoyed, as Hobart becomes increasingly stuffed with traffic and emptied of affordable housing, and the quiet country road I live on metamorphosed into a maelstrom of speeding commuter traffic by 5.30 each weekday morning - symptoms of the ecological crises that are depleting our earth and threatening its survival.
In any turmoil I turn to the poets and philosophers. Many writers have testified that, unable to find the book to meet a certain need, they were forced to create it themselves. It was in this spirit I conceived this project - my 33rd community writing project - the culmination of which we are celebrating this evening.
At a Tasmanian Writers' Centre luncheon I approached Gina Mercer, a colleague who later described herself as almost having been defined by loss, and asked whether she would be interested in collaborating - to create an anthology on the subject of loss. She readily agreed. That took care of the next five years!
We sent out a call and were overwhelmed by the response. We trawled through hundreds of submissions, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and Manus Island: reading, rereading, sifting, adjusting and readjusting the 'yes' 'no', 'maybe' piles, till we arrived at an unwieldy total of 99 pieces (written by 89 authors) that we felt we could not do without. Surprisingly, there were only a couple of pieces on which we had to agree to differ.
Then came the work of informing authors, collecting bios, collating the volume - placing pieces in the order that most augmented their strengths and complemented neighbouring entries - and seeking a publisher: a lengthy and difficult task; most publishers baulked at the topic, the size of the volume, the diversity of approach, the multiplicity of authors.
We were almost ready to give up when Stephen Matthews of Ginninderra Press agreed to take on the manuscript, and thus we now have the beautiful book that is The Sky Falls Down: an Anthology of Loss. Stephen has received a number of well-deserved awards for his services & and we are both grateful for his openness and generosity, for his efficiency and for the beauty of the completed book.
However, our work was by no means finished: there were innumerable details still to attend to, several rounds of proof reading, fundraising in order to provide each contributor with a copy of the anthology, plus a small fee if possible.
When we contacted the writers to tell them we'd found a publisher, most were surprised that we'd persevered so long. We updated their contact details and added their subsequent writing credits to their bios; a few we lost contact with, so if anyone is in touch with Tamara Jones in England or Wes Lee in New Zealand, let us know.
Gina will offer our more detailed thanks to particular individuals and organisations, but I would like to offer a few of mine: to my colleague Gina, for her professionalism, her dedicated attention to detail and her I.T. skills, to my family and friends who so generously gave their financial support to this project, and to my husband David who kept our household running, and uncomplainingly lived every moment of this project with me.
We're proud to launch The Sky Falls Down. We believe this book has good work to do in the world - and feedback so far confirms this. We are also proud of the writers and the range of losses they have both survived and written about so tellingly.
Terry Whitebeach has published work in a variety of genres, including poetry, young adult novels, radio plays, children’s picture books and biography. She has taught creative writing all over Australia, edited several collections of writing, and helped establish the Indigenous Creative Writing programme at Batchelor Institute, Alice Springs. She has a BA in English Literature and Philosophy, a MA in English Literature and Creative Writing and PhD in History – Biography. She is the 2019 Tas exchange writer on Prince Edward Island, Canada.