On the NAHR Eco-poetry Fellowship, June 2019

By Rachael Mead

I stepped off the bus in the small northern Italian village of Sottochiesa to begin month long eco-poetry residency with NAHR (Nature, Art, Habitat Residency). Sottochiesa is one of several tiny villages in Val Taleggio, just over an hour’s drive north from Milano in a region known as the Pre-Alps.

My task while here is to write a long poem sequence exploring the ecology and culture of the valley and the historic Taleggio cheesemaking process. I was nervous, to say the least. Completing a project based on an unknown landscape and culture where I didn’t speak the language began to feel like an outrageous over-estimation of my abilities. Fortunately, fear of failure has proved a wonderful motivator.

The first three days were filled with a whirlwind of workshops on the ecology, cheesemaking traditions and culture of the Val Taleggio. Brains now bursting with fresh ideas, the eight residents from various artistic disciplines were set loose on the valley. 

I swiftly settled into a routine of exploring the valley and high pastures each morning by foot before returning to my desk to spend the afternoons writing. So far, it’s proved incredibly productive and I aim to have a chapbook’s worth of poems drafted by the end of the month.

My sincere thanks to Ilaria Mazzoleni and the selection panel from Australian Poetry for this incredible experience. The landscape is breath-taking, the people are welcoming and the cheese is exquisite (and a world away from the culturally sterile cheese production that happens in my kitchen at home!)