Director of the Aboriginal Writers Retreat, award-winning Yankunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann offers a yearly mentorship to an unpublished Aboriginal poet she believes writes poetry that ‘has the capacity to heal’.
For 2019, Ali has chosen Bega Valley poet and performer Meaghan Holt.
Above: Meaghan Holt: Photo by David Rogers Taken at Giiyong Festival 2018
Meaghan, who performs her poetry as Sassi Nuyum, was born on Gunai/Kurnai land. Meaghan says her mother’s spirit guides her writing along with her very large bloodline of ancestors and her writing can pack a punch, hence the “Sassi Nuyum” title – Nuyum meaning spirit.
Ali first met Meaghan on Yuin country in 2017, during South East Arts’ Giiyong Aboriginal Writers Forum at Jigamy, Eden NSW. Ali and other guest writers were deeply impressed by Meaghan’s story and her words, including author Bruce Pascoe, who published Meaghan’s poem in Australian Short Stories edition 66. In 2018 at the inaugural Giiyong Festival, Ali was in the audience when Meaghan performed her poetry live for the very first time and received a standing ovation.
Meaghan says of the mentorship “It’s a little bit surreal actually, I’m very thrilled, and I feel my ancestors brought Ali and me together. There are many resonances with our backgrounds… I hope to explore my work in some hard areas and soften this through poetry. Writing is a tool for me, for self-expression, but also a healing tool. I have chosen some broken paths, writing has been a saviour. Through my writing I will be able to gift back to the lands and its people that have embraced me.”
The Aboriginal Writers Retreat is a small Aboriginal Literature initiative. First established at the old General Store in Koolunga on Ngadjuri country in mid-north South Australia, the AWR is now a library and writing space inside a caravan,which can move around the country.
The mentorship aims to give guidance, skills and insights into literature and healing practices, will develop routines, techniques, and manuscripts, will provide encouragement and introductions to publishers, prizes and also cover travel costs, accommodation, meals and stipends, and includes a short retreat, which Meaghan will undertake with Ali in South Australia.
Ali Cobby Eckermann is a Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha kunga woman born on Kaurna land. Her first book of poetry little bit long time was published by the Australian Poetry Centre as part of the New Poets series in 2009. little bit long time sold out in months and has been reprinted by Picaro Press. little bit long time introduced Ali Cobby Eckermann’s work to an Australian audience and firmly established her as a strong and vital emotive voice within Australian Aboriginal literature. Ali believes that Aboriginal Australians can overcome much sadness from the healing power of literature.