Written words spoke volumes

May 04, 2018

Writer Alan Mathews with his book Blackbird Singing.

At last, the cool has arrived and the big clock seems to have re-set itself like a dropped watch.

For a while, we thought it was the start of the endless summer we have been threatened with.

But no — it’s finally autumn, the dying season.

The fading of the warmth has brought with it sad news.

I learned last week of the passing of Alan Mathews — Orrvale orchardist, thinker and poet.

Alan was one those rare types of gentle men who said a lot through silence.

When he did speak, it was with a voice so faint his words threatened to float away on an invisible breeze.

You had to lean in close to hear Alan, but it was always worth it.

However, when he wrote something down, his words rang like a bell.

His poems and short stories contained the nostalgic clang of school, the tinkling of cheery seasonal cymbals, or the yearning of the church bell — sometimes all at once.

Alan was an extraordinary writer with a deep understanding of the way words work.

I first met him more than 20 years ago at the now defunct Country Festival of Writing in Shepparton where he was a convenor who introduced guest speakers so quietly I sometimes had no idea who they were.

It didn’t really matter, because Alan was always equally as fascinating as the speakers.

He was a man of the earth who watched the turn of seasons with the eye of a bird and the patience of a tree.

He spent his life growing pears and raising children with his wife Beverley in Orrvale — but I always got the impression he spent as much time gazing out to the horizon like all thinkers do.

Over the years I interviewed him several times about his three published books, numerous literary prizes, membership of the Goulburn Valley Writers’ Group and his editorship of the venerable tamba literary magazine.

I always felt his stillness and humility belied a sharp, inquisitive mind, and his writings are proof of that.

He cherished words and their evocative power and he was a craftsman in an age of slipping standards brought by the hurried phone text and social media post.

I have a well-thumbed copy of his 2006 book Blackbird Singing, which still sits high on my bedside table.

He signed it for me, and I am always humbled by his message.

Occasionally, when I need a reminder about the value of keeping things simple and true, I pick out a piece of Alan’s writing and I drift away.

I will leave you with his wonderful poem about the fading of the day:

Waiting for the evening!inspection

The cannery gates are closed. The trucks stand

as though some child god had placed them in lines

there, then tired of the game and gone.

The late sun flares across the great yard, boldening

their colours, dramatizing

the fruit bins they carry.

And here and there

in a stirring of the shadows

are the men, gnarled sticks poked

into old clothes. And the talk

is always of the crops and quotas

and low prices and late payments,

and what the canneries and the government should do

to save the industry.

But the quiet infiltrates them.

Their thoughts wander home

to meal time and family.

The working day is over,

People are doing other things.

Only they remain, beached on the vast city’s rim.

And the shadows of the huge buildings

reach towards them.

— Alan Mathews

John Lewis is The News’ chief of staff.

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