Marion May Campbell is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and poets. Erudite, engaged, her prose enchants and enfolds. There is a dark warmth there, the abject jumping to caress. There is also lightness, and breath. A friend told me about her 2008 book Fragments from a Paper Witch, specifically the section titled ‘Spectacular Motherhood’ a few weeks ago.
I was sure I’d find it in the library catalog, but it wasn’t there. Request. One week later it arrived, thanks to document delivery, from the University of Adelaide. On the first page Gail Jones, in her forward, quoted Susan Sontag writing that “a poet’s prose is the autobiography of ardour”. I was already in love. A flick through confirmed it.
Am / am not; am amniotically buoyed between am / am not. Am shutter, am threshold, am revolving door, just pulsing muscle, in-out: I sing my continence through my leakage. I think of my baby, this other within, and I strain the membrane of thought.
Fragments from a Paper Witch, p 28
Writing that is a mirror, but also not. A voice that mine echoes, even though I have never heard it before.
I knew, immediately, that I a copy of Paper Witch needed to live on my shelf. Internet searches yielded nothing. Rare book seller’s websites, Salt Publishing (its printed home), the big guys, I even tried eBay. Nothing. Twitter! And there she was (@Beigesang). But the last time she’d been active was 2009. I sent a forlorn tweet.
Then I remembered this: my Post Grad diploma at Melbourne Uni, hearing Marion speak at a symposium, and knowing that my tutor, Antonia Pont (who wasn’t a doctor yet) knew her.
So I sent this:
From: Karina Quinn
Subject: Fragments from a Paper Witch
Date: 6 September 2012 11:05:41 AEST
To: Antonia Pont
I’ve just fallen deeply for Marion May Campbell’s Fragments From a Paper Witch and can’t bear to give it back to the library. I’ve done a fair bit of online searching but haven’t been able to uncover a single copy.
So I turned to Twitter and discovered Marion has an account, and have sent her a message. She’s sent 4 tweets in her whole life though, and these were in 2009 so I suspect she may not receive my message.
I’m writing this in the hope that you have some contact with her, and that you could forward this email on for me? My other hope is that she has a secret stack of Fragments on a shelf somewhere and that I can pay her a premium for the joy (indeed the jouissance) of having a single copy on my own shelf.
Antonia forwarded my email with a brief introduction, and shortly after I received this:
From: Marion May Campbell
Subject: RE: FW: Fragments from a Paper Witch
Date: 6 September 2012 12:44 PM AEST
To: Karina Quinn
You are very welcome to have one of the copies I have left. As I said to Antonia, an appreciative reader is to be cherished. Yes, I’m afraid I am not a twitterer…
What’s your address and surname and I’ll put it in the post for you.
Very best wishes,
The very next day a parcel arrived on my doorstep. A beautiful hard cover edition of Paper Witch. On opening it, this:
Paper Witch is in my hands because I don’t sit at my desk all day, myopic, immersed, to the exclusion of all else (except when I do). Paper Witch is in my hands because I go to symposiums, and make connections with other writers and academics, and take good advice. But mostly, Paper Witch is in my hands because of Marion’s generous spirit, because a writer will always be happy to have been read.
I am reading Paper Witch now with great care, with love. This book with its hand written note feels portentous. There is something about this project, whatever it is, that seems destined. The words literally pour from me. It can’t not be written. And a note like this seems to say keep going, keep going. I feel so very blessed today to be living a writer’s life, amongst other writers. To feel a sense of community, belonging even. I have not-written for most of my life. To be, finally, here, is nothing less than miraculous.