For Kirli Saunders, art and poetry were a way of "finding peace and joy in between the absolute chaos" of the past few years, a time of upheaval and change both for the world at large and for herself.
The Gunai woman has blended her words and her artworks in the newly released Returning, her second poetry collection and first fully illustrated book.
Each poem is paired with art, exploring themes of decolonisation and returning to kin, culture and Country, human rights, justice, and matriarchy and feminism.
Ms Saunders lives on Dharawal country and wrote the book as bushfires ravaged Australia, the COVID pandemic turned the world on its head, and the Black Lives Matter movement gathered momentum.
Some of her poems document such events and her response to what was going on around her; one, for example, is a fiery retort to former prime minister Scott Morrison's incorrect claim there was no slavery in Australia, when she knows her own grandfather wasn't remunerated for his labour.
But Ms Saunders' work also celebrates love and Blak joy, and expresses love and gratitude for elders and family who taught young people to be "strong in their culture as a way to stay grounded through all of these big things happening in the world".
Other poems chronicle the changes she was experiencing in her own life, including a health diagnosis, her coming out, and her entrance into the world of art-making.
The book's artworks were created through painting, print-making, plant dyeing, possum skin cloaks and weaving, all "in an effort to bring people into this conversation of text and art, and to think about some really big themes".
For Ms Saunders, pairing her poetry with her art was a natural fit because "good poetry... dances across the page".
"The way it looks like an artwork in my mind... When you're listening to poetry, I think I always see the pictures, I always see the sounds as almost an illustration when I'm listening to poetry," she said.
"So I wanted to be able to bring that visual element in and maybe open up the world of poetry to people who don't always read poetry."
Compared to her first collection Kindred, Ms Saunders said Returning was more raw and her most honest work yet.
"When I was writing Kindred, I was kind of in this celebration and this grief of discovering more and connecting more to my culture in the community that I was living in, whereas Returning feels a lot more grounded in community and a lot more informed," she said.
This book was also more collaborative, she said, and a process of uncovering and exploring her creative process rather than only responding to what was happening.
There were close to 20 First Nations artists, custodians and academics who guided her and informed her work, among them locals Aunty Sharralyn Robinson, David Cragg, and Stephanie Beaupark.
She also thanked Dr Tamryn Bennett, a Wollongong poet and one of her mentors, for her guidance.
Returning is published by Magabala Books, an Indigenous publisher.
Ms Saunders will mark the release of Returning with Collins Booksellers Thirroul at a poetry event at Ryan's Hotel on Wednesday, November 15. To RSVP, email email@example.com or call 4267 1408.
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