ULIA SAMPLE, 'Once, high on the hill', 2017, Zinc plate etching with text, Magnani Incisioni paper, 220gsm, 39 x 61.5cm

The Spirit of Nature 2018 Manly Art Gallery Poetry Alive Reading

What happens when poetry and art mix? Magic, that’s what!

On 4 November 2018, twenty poets gathered to read their ekphrastic poems to a full and appreciative house at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum. The word ekphrasis comes from Greek and broadly translates as ‘description’. An ekphrastic poem may be a vivid description of a work of art, or more generally be inspired by it, seeking to amplify and expand upon its meaning. 

The Spirit of Nature poems responded to images from the Natural Collection, an exhibition of prints showing at the Manly Art Gallery from 19 October 2018 – 17 March 2019. The Natural Collection features the work of artist’s from the Warringah Printmakers Studio, a community based not-for-profit teaching and access studio on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Each work presents an artist’s view of the endangered and vulnerable wildlife and habitats of the area.

Verity La are proud to present three of the Spirit of Nature poems. All twenty poems are available to read online at the Australian Poetry Collaboration.

Coping with salt (Justine Poon)

after Bernadette Facer’s ‘Coping with salt’

the channels all converge here.
from the air a tightening
weave of river delta and dense
rhizomic shrubland
crawling outwards
like the atomic bloom
of your stems in close up,
furred with salt.

your leaves a spine of succulent tongues
entwined at the edge of the land,
snaring feet and sheltering small animals
beneath an unruly lattice
that holds down the salt breath
where the liminal zone exhales.
but it is becoming too much —
like human tastes, there are degrees
to which you welcome the jolt
of brittle crystalline minerals
leaching into your bones.

we can dissect the disaster in slow motion,
parse out the parts that are dying
in the hope that knowledge
will fight the retreat of your wild domain.

hold the image close —
remember, death comes
cell by cell.


BERNADETTE FACER, ‘Coping with salt’, 2017, Intaglio photopolymer Magnani Incisioni paper, 310gsm, 29 x 20.8cm


Brittle Midge Orchid (Judy Johnson)

after Rebecca Baird’s ‘Bauer’s Midge Orchid’

Perhaps he saw in you his own redemption.
                 Ferdinand Bauer: the Leonardo of Natural History painting.

In his lifetime he remained un-lauded.  Barely published
                 or exhibited.
                                   He left no portraits behind.  No diaries of his journeys
to chart the floral and faunal minutiae
                                                                  of his newly discovered world. 

At best, a handful of letters remain
                                  and they are guarded.  No way to read the man behind the man. 

It is as though, as artist,
                                                  he desired his acts of replication, if they must include him
                                                                  to do so, not in a realm above his subjects
                                                                                  but instead in the measure
                                                                                                    of just another

environmental curiosity: a shy creature read only by the tracks
                 that his brush left behind.

As artist aboard Investigator, Bauer circumnavigated Australia
with Matthew Flinders. 
                                                   There is that half-true cliche that no man is
an island, but the other half is that an island

eventually erodes the most diffident of men, exposing the stark cliffs,
                                  the perilous
                                                             battering waves of his loneliness.

After Flinders’ ship was condemned,
                Bauer stayed behind in Port Jackson, an aging bachelor,
                                                  longing to pick up the faint scent
                                                                                  of his last chance at happiness.

Instead he found you, and in you, his true reflection. 

You were the last plant he collected and painted in 1805
               just before he sailed home, alone, to England.

                                           Like a wife, you took his surname: baueri.

He called you Brittle Midge, for your fragility and for
the diminutive flies who were your pollinators. 

                                                                                   He raised you above
the obscurity of your retiring nature, as he never quite
                                                                                                    managed to raise himself.

I think of both of you:
                                          elusive, clinging to the margins. Neither of you haunting
                                                                the habitats of showy blooms

               —those other native orchids who brazenly jut from rocks
                                on sandstone peaks
                                                 or else find a high perch in the fork of a tree.

               The artists who push themselves forward for posterity—

You were both more at home in leaf-litter’s camouflage.

Back in London,

                                I imagine Bauer dreaming
               that your single cylindrical leaf,
                                                                 wrapped tightly around your stem 
                                                                                                                                     for protection

                                and the cloak he gathered snug to his body
in winter, as he wandered the banks of the Thames
                                                                                                  were one and the same. 

He would have known back then what it was
                                                                  that would make you endangered.

Your impossibly fussy,
                                                incurably romantic habit,
                                                                 so like his own,
of waiting year after year

                                                  to be stimulated into flower
                                                                   by the perfumed intoxication
                                                                                    of the perfect texture of droplets
                                                                                                     in the exact volume
                                                                                                                                     of autumn rain.

He must also have realised, the world does not cater
                                 for the likes of you two.

It was enough that you took his name as your name
                                 (no woman ever did). 

And in return he took the tiny, perfect red bloom
inside you
                as emblematic,
                                                 a miniature replica of his secret heart.


REBECCA BAIRD, Bauer’s Midge Orchid, 2017, Genoplesium baueri Relief block, etching, blind embossing, hand-colouring, Magnani Incisioni paper, 220gsm, 50 x 35cm


orchid inventory (Magdalena Ball)

after Rebecca Baird’s Bauer’s ‘Midge Orchid’

it’s always a matter of scale
incremental changes remain invisible
until it’s too late, blind embossed
the image of an orchid receding
a body in motion
so easily unhinged

it’s always been a matter of when
fleshy terrestrial sister

I feel the brush
stems, stalks, bracts
against my face

body brittle
unhinged by the lightest wind
by growth, progress, heat, and of course
hunger, the ever-present danger
your beauty a curse

it’s a matter of urgency
size doesn’t indicate importance
or the speed of decline

sound is slipping back
a Doppler shift
birdsong altered into silence
dry sclerophyll forest, moss over sandstone
the abstracted impression of what
you once were


*Cover image: Julia Sample, ‘Once, high on the hill’, 2017, zinc plate etching with text, Magnani Incisioni paper, 220gsm 39 x 61.5cm

Artists’ Statements

Bernadette Facer, ‘Coping with salt’

My artistic processes are often influenced by the sombre and contemplative black protest paintings of Ralph Hotere, who is a highly regarded New Zealand artist of Māori descent. The use of black on black printing methods serve as a dual representation for memory and of the depletion of resource, an aesthetic that hints at the Victorian notion of memoria. My work explores the notion of outbreeding and self-incompatibility using imagery depicting seed embryos and microscopic pollen grains from the plant.

Rebecca Baird, ‘Bauer’s Midge Orchid’

The tiny scale of the Bauer’s Midge Orchid gave me the idea of also working the image small and setting it in a location map. My intention was to incorporate many layers into the print by using both relief and intaglio techniques. The sparseness in the work reflects the predicament that the Bauer’s Midge Orchid currently faces in its natural habitat

Julia Sample, ‘Once, high on the hill’

Etching is an area that I have only just begun to explore. My usual printmaking medium is photopolymer plate with imagery based on my own photographs. My choice of zinc plate etching as a medium for this project brings me back to my love of drawing. Through the Natural Collection project, I have also discovered the beauty of North Head and the unique and endearing nature of the long-nosed bandicoot. I have chosen to work the image around my poem, which illustrates the story of the long-nosed bandicoot colony at North Head.


Justine Poon writes poetry, fiction, and law and humanities scholarship. She has been published in Going Down Swinging, the UTS Writers’ Anthology, Lip Magazine and Demos Journal. In 2017, Justine’s writing was commissioned to feature in the Greater Together exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. She is completing a PhD at the Australian National University on refugee law and critical theory.

Judy Johnson has been writing poetry for over twenty years. She has published six full length collections and several chapbooks. She has won the Victorian Premier’s award and been shortlisted in the West Australian and NSW Premier’s Awards. Her verse novel Jack was on the syllabus of both Sydney and Melbourne University. Her latest poetry book Dark Convict’s concerns the life and times of her two African American First Fleet ancestors.

Magdalena Ball is editor-in-chief of Compulsive Reader and is the author of several published books of poetry and fiction. Her latest novel is Black Cow (Bewrite Books) and her latest poetry collection is Unmaking Atoms (Ginninderra Press).