If you’re lost with someone else does it count as being lost?
– Erin Donohue
Kia ora koutou,
4th Floor 2016 is a diverse, energetic and original collection of writing. The theme – Lost and Found – sparked writing that traverses the losses and reveals the ‘findings’, the treasures, that come with being alive in this world.
When I first selected the pieces for this journal it seemed that the focus was more on what is lost than what is found. There is the loss of a parent, the loss of health, of voice, of continuity, of light. There is rain that washes nearly everything away, there is the loss of home, of religion, of face, of culture and of place. There is the loss of a job, a home, privacy. There is the loss of a breast and the loss of a brother. There is a lost sock, a lost youth and lost freedoms. But, as Grace Paley noted, every story is always two stories (at least), and I know that poems are always multiple – layering meaning and possibility. So I looked again. I read back through the stories, the essays, the poems, and saw how, despite the losses, or embedded in the losses, there were important findings: the memory of a shed full of beautifully preserved food to feed twelve sons is ‘found’ years later on a Sydney street corner; for the homeless mother and daughter everything seems lost, except being a mother and being a daughter, which isn’t lost; a character invents possible lives for a friend who has been missing a long time; musicians lose and find each other as they play.
Writing itself, the shaping and sharing of our version of the world, of those things we notice, is another kind of finding. Essayist Steven Harvey writes that ‘The urge to shape begins in loss. All of us are losers, of course, because we are human, but artists console themselves, redeem loses, with their creations.’ So in the end, perhaps, it’s difficult to untangle loss and gain. The stories, essays and poems in this journal suggest this to be true.
I asked some of the writers if they would write about what they have needed to lose or to find in order to turn towards their work, to get words on the page. Their responses are a tool kit for any writer, new or experienced. Two themes that come through strongly are facing down fear and keeping at it. Lynn Jenner, in a response to the fear of not knowing exactly what you are creating writes, ‘That is the point. If you did know, you would be holding the door shut on the thing you most want; new ideas.’ The wonderful Renée talks about leaving fear behind to take up with poetry and sees real blossoms produce real fruit. Helen Lehndorf describes losing comfort and finding ‘the hustle’ as she steps into the writer’s life. Adrienne Jansen writes about a highly regarded Lao poet who is a refugee, and his experience of losing his identity; a loss that is tempered by their collaboration as poets. Maggie Rainey-Smith remembers taking careful note of the cadence of her writing teacher as she waited for the sound of approval, noting that she misses ‘those heady days when a simple “good” with the right inflection, was like literary mainlining’. She notes that: ‘Each new dream once achieved, becomes a loss, and I find out something more about myself.’
It has been a great privilege to be Guest Editor for 4th Floor this year. My connection with the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme goes back a long way and will, I’m sure, continue into the future. Over many years I have worked for Whitireia full time, part time and casually. I have had, and continue to have, extraordinary students. The work in this journal reflects the close observation, the freshness and the courage I have come to expect from students and tutors of writing at Whitireia. Thanks to students and tutors, past and present, who make up the vibrant and increasingly fearless Whitireia writing community.
A huge thank you to the excellent publishing students and 4th Floor team: project manager Grace Thomas; editors Anoushka Mackey, Estelle Best and Rebecca Gibb; website producer Stacey Kendall; and marketing and publicity manager Jasmine Gabrielle-Hinchey. Thanks to publishing tutor Mitch Marks and programme leader Odessa Owens. Many thanks also to Whitireia Creative Writing Programme leader, Mary-Jane Duffy, and the invaluable Kasey Burns. Thanks to Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking who were happy for us to launch this journal during Wellington’s fabulous LitCrawl weekend! It has been a real pleasure to work with you.
And to you, esteemed readers, enjoy losing and perhaps also finding yourself in 4th Floor 2016.