October 1, 2022

Poets from Tasmania and Sweden, who have never met in person, use online chats to co-write a book of poetry

When Tasmanian poet Therese Corfiatis needs to get away from it all, she need only ask her Swedish friend, Britta Stenberg, for an on-screen visit to her snowy home.

The two poets developed a close friendship via regular online video chats, despite living on opposite ends of the globe and never meeting in person.

“I love it when she takes the laptop outside and swings it around – it can be minus 30 degrees there and the whole world outside her house is white,” Ms Corfiatis said.

Ms Corfiatis lives in Ulverstone, in northern Tasmania.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)

But the physical distance did not prevent them from publishing a book of poetry together.

Bridge of Words is entirely the product of two new friends reading and responding to each other via the digital ether.

Close up portrait of a woman in a red collared shawl smiling at the camera.
Ms. Stenberg has collaborated with Ms. Corfiatis on a new book.(Provided: Britta Stenberg)

A juxtaposition of seasons and views

The couple were introduced by mutual friend Tom Langston, who died suddenly in 2020, just weeks before receiving an Order of Australia medal.

A respected musician and teacher on the northwest coast of Tasmania, Mr Langston enjoyed hosting musical evenings and Ms Corfiatis often attended.

He had met Mrs. Stenberg while on a Scandinavian vacation and thoughtfully suggested the two poets say hello across the world.

A man in a heavy raincoat stands in an icy landscape, a snowmobile behind him.
Mr Langston introduced the pair after meeting Ms Stenberg during a trip to Sweden.(Provided: Britta Stenberg)

“Britta messaged me and we started video chatting with each other, so the book is dedicated to Tom,” Ms Corfiatis said.

Both mothers, grandmothers and poets, they first chatted, then decided to write.

During the first year of the COVID-19 lockdown, they exchanged verses from the northern and southern hemispheres, reflecting on what was going on in their lives at any given time.

“When it was sunny here, it was minus 30 there, so there’s a nice juxtaposition of seasons, of political views, of relationships with people, with family,” Ms Corfiatis said.

A person builds a castle-like structure out of snow.
Snow sculpture in front of Mrs. Stenberg’s house in Swedish Lapland.(Provided: Britta Stenberg)

“I sent a poem about a glorious sunny day – I think Christmas Day – to Ulverstone.

“So she sent one back about her Christmas in the frozen wastelands of northern Sweden.

“When she writes to me, she calls me her sister and I do the same – and she’s my sister from the north.”

The power of language

Ms. Corfiatis started writing when she was a child. She was from a large family and said her migrant father often felt depressed and deprived.

A book cover for Bridge of Words, the abstract painting is the artwork.
Bridge of Words celebrates a friendship that blossomed through online discussions.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)

“A famous writer once said that writing was an instrument of survival. For me, it started as a diary,” she said.

“Later, I discovered poetry. I have always loved the power of language.

“I lived under Mount Wellington and was inspired by the beauty of the seasons; that wilderness, that deep spirit that is in everything.”

There are now nine published collections of Ms. Corfiatis’ poetry as well as four collections and numerous contributions to anthologies.

A mother’s “masterpiece”

Her first published writing was about how her son Paul was diagnosed with autism and was published in the Adelaide Advertiser.

“When Paul was about two and a half, I noticed he was different from the other kids in the playgroup,” she said.

“To sum up, he was diagnosed with autism in the early 1980s, when probably one in 10,000 children was diagnosed.

“Our lives have changed in so many ways – and for the better.”

“I was so shocked because a doctor basically advised me to put Paul ‘on the sidelines’ so my family could get on with their lives.

A man looks away from the computer screen towards the camera.
Mrs. Corfiatis’ son, Paul, is a talented musician and producer based in Burnie.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)

“I had to write about it. I knew that this beautiful little boy – and he really was like an angel in human form – and the light that shone in his eyes … there must have been so much inside.

“And he’s a handsome young man, now married and with a handsome son of his own. A gifted musician.”

Mrs. Corfiatis describes Paul as her masterpiece.

“He taught me to dig deep and find courage,” she said.

“While you work to defend their place in the world, your children are teaching you to grow and accept travel as it is.”

A close friendship

A middle-aged woman in winter woolen clothes in the snow.
Ms Stenberg was giving her friend video tours of the snow outside her home in northern Sweden.(Provided: Britta Stenberg)

For the poet “sisters” from opposite ends of the Earth, the next step on their journey to a lasting friendship is to finally meet in person.

“My feeling is that Therese and I are very, very close,” Ms Stenberg said via video link from Sweden.

“It was exciting for me to get to know Tasmania and Therese.

“Goodbye from Sweden, come and see me someday.”

Bridge of Words will launch in Ulverstone on October 8 and Ms Corfiatis will be a guest poet at the Tasmanian Poetry Festival event at the Imperial Hotel, Branxholm on September 17.