Stitching with Regent Honeyeaters

When we began this project in 2018, our primary intent for it was to be a creative practice collaboration. The number of talks and publications from the project since then might suggest that no longer to be the case. Yet in the background we both continue to make creative works in response to what we learn about avian extinctions and the birds we focus on. For me, cross-stitch is a method for deep focus, reflection and processing all of the emotions – joy, grief, surprise, anger and more – that this work elicits.

Since January 2021 we have visited the captive Regent Honeyeaters monthly at Taronga Zoo, except during the 2021 Sydney lockdown. At the end of last year, in a process that took about two months, I wrote a poem about Regent Honeyeaters, allowing me to make the stitching plan above. I’ve began stitching the work and expect it finished before the end of the year. (I say that with an unfinished Laysan Duck work started at the residency in 2019 and an unfinished Kakapo work on my office wall, also begun then. But, it will all happen, joyfully.)

I’ve wanted to experiment with the villanelle form for years. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night‘ by Dylan Thomas gives Interstellar, one of my favourite films, a particular tone. ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song‘ by Sylvia Plath is another I return to. (Thomas’ poem seems eery when read in the context of extinction.) The Regent Honeyeater poem draws from our zoo visits, trying to give visceral form to the species’ extinction vortex. The brief talk I gave as part of Visualising the Invisible symposium in November 2022 also informs the poem. Whether ‘Hold the silence’, my poem about Regent Honeyeaters is any good or not, I don’t know, but I know it is time for me to abandon it and focus on stitching. When in doubt, I go back to Andy Warhol: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

Hold the silence like your lover
Hold its story, hum along
While in these stitches grief seeks cover

On the ghosts throw a cover
We won’t know a new song
Hold the silence like your lover

Unkind strangers howl: a bloody plover
She and I know, the deathwork is wrong
While in these stitches grief seeks cover

Upon ‘freedom’ the children discover
A home gone, its memory long
Hold the silence like your lover

Listen into the absence to uncover
How we bought the lie and went along
While in these stitches grief seeks cover

Here on the precipice the endlings hover
We clutch the last notes of a forgotten song
Hold the silence like your lover
While in these stitches grief seeks cover

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