Close and Personal: Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong is a writer and visual artist. She sells her work at Inka Gallery and Saddlers Court, and has in the past sold pieces at Gallery on the Square, Goulburn St Gallery, Grand Chancellor, Cotton Duck Gallery, Geeveston and Tasmania Shop and Gallery.
Last year, Karen published a poetry collection with Ginninderra Press. If We Could Fly is a beautiful collection that documents the death of a close friend to cancer. 50% of Karen’s royalties, and $4 out of every $18 from copies of the book sold privately, are donated by the author to the Cancer Council of Tasmania.
If We Could Fly is one of the Tasmanian Writers Centre recommended reads for April and we are very pleased that Karen took some time to answer our questions about the book, along with other aspects of her creative pursuits.
Congratulations on the publication of If We Could Fly last year, Karen. Can you tell us a bit in your own words about the process of writing the book?
At the beginning of her illness, Reg and I started a journal that was to be tossed at the end. Reg was determined to recover, I knew she wouldn’t. As her condition deteriorated I continued writing: my private thoughts in, as they say “no particular order”. The story is a bit long but a visiting writer came to know of it, predicted that I would keep it, that it would become a book which would help people. It has: I’m fortunate and honoured in that I’ve received so much feedback. The actual process? Many, many failed drafts, many poems left out, I simplified language whenever possible so that it would appeal to the general population as well as writers, gave many drafts away to folk who related to them in some way.
Do you have any favourite poems from the book?
Perhaps The Walrus and the Carpenter Walk with us. Reg began reciting Lewis Carroll’s work on Oncologist-appointment-day. Widdershins, because I almost but not quite overcame my hospital phobia, If We Could Fly: I truly wished I could fly us both to somewhere safe.
What was the reaction of Reg’s family to the collection?
Reg’s family are supportive in all ways; happy that book sales are; now and perpetually (if only in a tiny way) will go towards helping the Cancer Council of Tasmania.
Can you tell us something about how and where you write?
I write everywhere and anywhere, wherever there’s paper and a pen. Inside and outside my home.
You are an artist as well as a writer, can you tell us something about the interplay between your visual and written art?
I seem to be unable to, or to at least have difficulty in writing poetry on certain subjects, the only good thing about such drafts being the title! Whenever possible I keep the title; it becomes a visual image.
Do you think creative practitioners need a sense of community in order to provide support and direction? If so, how do you think that can best be created?
Yes; absolutely. It would be amazing to feel that I was part of a writing community. More established writers could invite less established writers to be part of their own community, perhaps Writers Centres or established groups could more actively encourage it.
Who are some of your own favourite writers and recent reads?
I tend not to have favourites. This year I made it a project to re-read the classics, I’m presently working my way through Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte. However a contemporary book; Gaining a Sense of Self by Karen Laura-Lee Wilson caught my attention. I’ve read only parts previously, now, when I can I’m reading it cover to cover. It’s a brave and honest book.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?
Finishing the process of revising old poems, writing new works, my muse went AWOL, seems to be slowly returning. I’m in collaboration with children’s writer Bel Messer, who has written a book inspired by my Skypeople paintings. I’ve illustrated her rhyme, it’s called The Skypeople.
Can you give us a couple of sentences that will encourage people who are new to poetry to pick up a copy of If We Could Fly.
If We Could Fly is an honest book, as was our original journal. Others have responded to this honesty, in various ways. The book has helped them understand what others “on vigil” go through. Have been able to drop guilt about various feelings, needs they had whilst “sitting vigil” themselves. And in the end, why they must keep on living after losing someone they love. Every book sold will help raise just a little more for the Cancer Council of Tasmania.
If you would like to buy a copy of If We Could Fly please get in touch with the Writers Centre and we’ll connect you with Karen.