Peter O’Mara’s Eulogy

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Peter O’Mara with Tony Soccio

Venie Holmgren was that rare, demanding, complex inhabitant of the writing world, a poets’ poet.

She wrote simple truths. Her truths. Actual experiences reflected with essential clarity and an underlying resilience. Her writing is intricate, observant, touching, and at times saddened – occupying that place of meaning between the everyday and the unspoken.

As I see it, a resolute, honest seeking for human understanding and ultimately parity and restoration in the world that lay before her.

As said of her work, poetry of fact.

Always directly articulated.

In form, Venie presented to the page without clever abstraction or inflated prose. She was immediate. And in this, she asked that her poetry be read with a strident, critical eye, always measured to high standard. There was no inclination to polite critique. Uncomplicated of word, she had high expectation, always ambitiously alert.

She was always looking for that next poem.

Late to the written word, in a publishing sense, her fifties no less, Venie arrived with a rampant appetite.

It was a late and productive poesis.

Almost wilfully, a clear articulation had awoken, a voice almost fully formed, skillfully purged from life experience.

Venie had uncovered an inexhaustable itch.

She was always going to live to ninety-three.

Eight published books, numerous anthologised works, writing awards and a remarkable CD collaboration followed. Last year, a feature article in The Guardian, promoted her inclusion amongst Australia’s 100 Living Treasures, highlighting praise of her colloquial idiom and lyricism and the sheer expanse of her written work.

Venie published her final work, The Tea House Poems, aged ninety-one, all written here at Melliodora, where today we gather. These poems, my personal favourites, are spare and considered, revealing a poetic of loss, beauty, family identity, question and renewal.

Many of the poems ache like a hole in the bosom.

Others fold out into unexpected openings, perfectly distilled, and effortlessly crafted.

Always there is a delicate telling.

Like a refined audit between each word.

As I spoke at her launch, it makes the reader look outside in. And then back out. Despite the simplicity, or maybe because of it, you never quite find your grip.

In writing, Venie was adamant that her work was void of literal imposition or procured sentimentality. She wrote only that which is needed. As she said in the authors note of her collection, ‘War and Peace’.. It is a risky business, looking back over your shoulder, especially for someone who brags, as I do, of not being sentimental.

Even still, I remain a little uncertain of this.

We take from words as we will.

Complementary to writing talents, Venie was a formidable, almost imposing public reader. She knew how to hold the floor. Almost demanded it. She had remarkable delivery. Standing, peasant-like, firmly squat on cruelled bunyoned feet, she spoke her poetry with assured resonance, occasioned with an affected, almost stilted, quiver. Even in her late wavering, Venie unashamedly filled the room.

Venie asked the world to tilt back toward her as she spoke. And not just slightly.

You could do nothing but listen.

In closing, I would like to speak from something other than literary position.

My heart, and you might say my poetics, is a complex, and, on occasion, moderated place and I am unsure exactly how Venie squeezed herself in.

I don’t think I was given no choice.

She had a certain way.

And there she now lay, deeply felt.

Thinking back, our relationship was of small pleasure, mostly poetics, mostly cups of tea, and mostly about Venie. Age can avail oneself such tenure. At times I found it difficult, and at times beautiful, most especially when she gently held my hand.

As I see it now, all Venie asked of me was to be present – that essential human condition – not trying to change what we find, but to listen, share and hold, so this intimate experience can find its own home, both with us and of us, together felt.

And then, as now, we are asked let go, release, say good-bye, holding memory amongst our own delicate finitude.

And that of all life around us.

In passing, as in being, Venie has opened something in me.

I am grateful & thankful to that.

Venie, my love to you

And then return.

I will miss you.

Farewell.