The Emerging Writers’ Festival work, learn and play largely on the land of the Kulin nation, and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

EWF celebrates the history and creativity of the world’s oldest living culture.

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by Nina Mingya Powles
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On the other side of the world you are waking from a dream. In the same minute I’m watching the news, where they are interviewing a man who takes a photograph of the glacier every hour of every day. He puts the pictures together in a timelapse and watches the glacier change shape, become smaller. He watches it breathe in and out. I make note of this, wanting to tell you about it when I’m back home with you.


Songs named after cities make me restless. They make my stomach lurch, like when you can feel the plane begin to descend. These types of songs are like airports. They are structures made of glass built to contain arrivals and departures, both separate from the real city but also a part of it. In ‘Diary of a Song’, Bridgers describes her song ‘Kyoto’ as a collage. In the music video, cut-and-paste images burst and fade on the screen: a high-speed train, falling cherry blossoms, a volcano covered in snow. Bridgers glides above pink clouds as her voice floats higher and higher in the air, then coasts slowly back down to earth, back to spring, where the leaves on the plane trees have opened.


We ate fish balls and wontons with egg noodles at Changi Airport, next to the koi pond. We went to the butterfly garden but it had closed for the night, and you asked me whether I thought butterflies slept at night. I thought maybe they do. I wondered for a moment about the lifespan of koi, whether I might have visited these same koi before, years ago. On my last pre-pandemic journey, in transit at Shanghai Pudong Airport, I ordered a steamer of xiaolongbao and a bowl of clear ginger soup with tiny wontons floating inside. The city that had once been my home felt unreal and far away but I was somehow here again, still, in the upper food court of terminal two, planes taking off into the sky above me.


The lifespan of koi in captivity is 25-35 years. When I first visited Singapore as a kid, I thought the trees in the airport were all made of plastic. In between flights, Dad walked me around the glass gardens to show me that the leaves were real.


Twenty minutes after the plane takes off from the place I keep leaving, which is also the place I keep returning to, I look out the window and take a picture of the volcano in the middle of the island. On a clear day it rises above the cloudline, scraped ridges covered in pale blue snow. In the last week, there’s been a cluster of small earthquakes underneath the volcano. Upon landing, an hour to kill until my next flight, I send the picture to you and to my parents. The songs I’m listening to swells to contain this memory. It swells into a different shape each time I listen, always big enough to contain me and everything around me: the circle of volcanoes, the glass building filled with trees, falling snow, fault lines, the lights on the runway at night.

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