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Inspired by a family reunion, KSP launches award for unpublished WA poets

Flora Smith, long-time KSP Writers' Centre member and well-known poet, is the sponsor of the new Flora Smith Encouragement Award, which has been launched as part of KSP's Poetry Awards for 2016.

Flora's reasons for establishing the Award are deeply personal, inspired by her cousin, Annette Cameron, who Flora met late in life at a KSP Open Day. 'I saw an old lady in the garden, leaning heavily on a walking stick, so I fetched her a chair. I realised it might be Annette; it was, and we became friends for the rest of her life. I was only able to know Annette and to love her, because KSP had united the two of us.' Annette had come to the Centre to remember her close friend, Katharine Susannah Prichard. Flora explains their unique connection: 'Annette had found herself to be pregnant and unmarried. (This fact was somewhat unwelcome in our conservative old farming family, especially as Annette was also a Communist.) Katharine took her in and the two remained close friends for the rest of Katharine's life. Annette typed many of Katharine's novels. She would type at night so that Katharine would have fresh copies to work with each day, this being an invaluable help to Katharine, who dedicated her last novel to Annette.'

I had the privilege of interviewing Flora about the creation of this Award.

How does it feel to be the proud sponsor of the Flora Smith Encouragement Award?

'It feels a little embarrassing because I am a reticent person, to be honest. Next year I think we should change the name to the Annette Cameron Encouragement Award, because I want to do this as a way of saying thank you to Annette; whose family (my family!) did not understand her "reactionary" ideals in the 1930's. I can then explain in a few short sentences who she was and why she lived with KSP when I present the award.'

What was your motivation for creating this Award with KSP?

'To encourage a good poet who has not had a collection published. It helps a great deal to have a book in your hands. You can then believe that you are a real poet; that you are not wasting time scribbling.'

Flora Smith (right) with Ron Pretty AM (co-founder and former Director of Five Islands Press, which has published over 200 books of poetry), working in the KSP library, 2015

What satisfaction do you receive from supporting unpublished poets?

'A quiet satisfaction.'

How else have you been involved with KSP?

'Thirty years ago I was on a Committee at KSP for a short time. We were doing simple things like finding surveyors pegs in the garden, trying to get the gutters fixed etc. Then when I returned in 2003, I had encouragement and publication opportunities for my short stories. I was also a facilitator of the Thursday morning group (mixed short stories, biography, and poetry) from 2004 to 2006, which I greatly enjoyed. Now with my third return, I have publication rights in our little anthology each year and critiquing for my poems. As old age is approaching, I find I have less energy and am only a sporadic attendee at the Poets at KSP. We'll see how it goes next year. Hopefully better.'

When did your interest in poetry begin?

'I had wanted to write poetry since I was 13. Short stories wanted to come out in the early 1980’s and four of them were published. In the late 1990’s, I wrote a few more short stories but one day the wheels turned in early 2004, and I have been a poet ever since. You can get your ideas down quicker and polish them for days, months, or even years.'

Who is your favourite poet? What is your favourite poem? What effect did these have on your creativity?

'There's not one poet, or one poem that I can really single out as being my favourite. I do find Judith Beveridge's Bahadour memorable because it is about India, I presume. I am a great lover of India and things Indian. She has written a travel poem about a whole country, simply by talking about one poor boy and how he takes some precious minutes off work to fly a kite. Awesome, literally awesome. If only I could write like that!'

Where do you get your inspiration for your poetic works?

'From people. I write stories about people. A longer poem may have several verses and each verse may have a different person's experience in it. I may watch a TV documentary on a famous artist (e.g. Albrecht Durer) and write a poem in his voice, telling his story. My ancestors were English and Scottish people who all came to WA early on and I know many of their stories. I love travel and this gives me poems about other people as well.'

What book are you reading at the moment? (Poetic or otherwise)

'Iris the biography of Iris Murdoch by her husband John Bayley. It was made into a film starring Judi Dench.'

Will you publish other creative works besides poetry?

'The first short story I sent away was published in the Westerly in 1984, to my great amazement. It was at a time when the Westerly had more government money, it came out four times a year, and had a direct mandate to publish emerging writers. I had two more published in Thirst and one in Readers' World. In 1978/79 I wrote a short WA family history titled A History of Houghton with my father, Donald Barrett-Lennard, which sold over 1000 copies.'

Unpublished WA poets can view details and enter the Flora Smith Encouragement Award through the KSP website.

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