Flute of Milk – Susan Fealy PLUS bonus poet interview

Flute_of_Milk

Another massive thank you is in order, with poet Susan Fealy being very generous in her replies to my questions, I am slowly building up a nice little reference site of Australian poet interviews with the following poets all having recent works reviewed and being interviewed here (links on names are the links to the interviews):

Bruce Dawe 

David McCooey 

Alan Loney 

J. H. Crone

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Tina Giannoukos

Eileen Chong

Michael Farrell

If I can figure out a little more of the WordPress details I would like to set up a separate section on the blog featuring only the interviews with poets, bear with me whilst I learn to overcome my luddite tendencies.

To date the interviews have been with four male poets and four female poets and today I am now adding another female to the list, with more in the wings, and am very conscious of ensuring equal representation here, publishing numbers may not be equal, however I will do my upmost to ensure interviews and reviews are as gender balanced as possible.

Onto Susan Fealy’s debut work “Flute of Milk” another publication from the “poetry club” at the University of Western Australia Publishing, I have reviewed the first four releases from this collection and am now about to embark on the following six, and with another four due in May it appears I may be a little busy!!!

The collection opens with the ekphrastic “Made in Delft; after The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer”, a copy of the painting is here

milkmaid

(image courtesy of http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/milkmaid.html#.WOgcbtKGPIU )

 

“One can almost taste the milk/Escaping her jug.” Flowing perfectly to the title poem, “Flute of Milk”, which is a reference to John Banville’s novel “The Sea”, the opening two sentences of the novel reading;

They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes.

And Fealy playing with the milky light;

Inside the dairy, washed so white
it approaches blue,
muslin-draped pans of milk
dream into their silence
and two steel milk-churns
(sentries in flat hats)
burn with white rosettes:
light held from the sun.
(from “Flute of Milk” p16)

This collection is a vibrant kaleidoscope of colours, whites, blues, “A paintbox:/a flock of parrots” (p20), reds and pinks of sunrise. With poems such as “A Confluence of Blues” – containing the Henri Matisse quote “A certain blue penetrates your soul” – celebrating the palette of colours in flowers, and the Brett Whiteley homage “For Cornflowers to Sing” celebrating his vivid use of blue.

The common thread being light and refraction, less shadows, more celebration of brightness, light, with the novels by John Banville, “The Sea” and Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping, two early references, both of those books containing light and the natural world as themes and threads.

A subtle collection, laced with metaphor;

crystalline as crème brûlée
and sometimes as acidic
as an ants’ nest undone by rain,

and sometimes as welcome
as the neighbour’s dog –
the one that meets you behind the fence
just as you reach your door.

(from “What Memory is Like” p 26)

And subtle readings, slow contemplative poems that linger long after the page has been turned;

A Poem

is close
to a musical instrument
It’s a place
to leave your fingers
and your lips.
A poem aches to be
a woodland flute
but is more a piano.
Some poems are conch shells,
familiar as bone
in your hands. A poem
gleams in the arc-light –
sparks from atolls in the dark.

(p35)

Section two of the collection opens with a quote, the closing section, from Robert Hass’ short prose poem “A Story About the Body” (a copy can be read here),  The following poems then focus on the bees in that story, the danger that lurks beneath the surface, the collected detritus, the underlying truth.

This is a collection of light, “This whiteness assembles/only whiteness” (from “Southern Ice Porcelain” p68), colour and vibrancy,

The Wabi-sabi Storage Jar

It’s large enough to lair an animal.
Gravelled, rich-red, its slabs
Roughly rhyme around its opening.
One smooth black lip binds its craggy lip:
Night kisses a mountain.
It is pocked in sliver as if
Fire dragged its starlight to the surface:
A crime of green
Found a home here
When flame collided with clay.

(p69)

Creation (porcelain and pottery) and the natural world (clay, plants and flowers). A sparkling array of poems, another welcome addition to the UWAP Poetry Club collection.

As always I thank the poet for making the time to answer my questions, and her honesty and in-depth replies. I have repeated the questions and answers verbatim, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

Q. Brett Whiteley is known for his vivid use of blue, and you capture that in “For Cornflowers To Sing”, the collection opens with a rendering of a Vermeer painting, is ekphrastic poetry an attraction for you?

I find that a poem arises when there are collisions between 1/ my internal world 2/attentiveness to the outside world 3/ an image or linguistic trigger. I have learnt that to produce a poem the experience of these collisions has to be immersive, and place me into an ambiguous space where tension between images, ideas and tonalities are worked through associatively. I write to help understand what I am experiencing and I write until I surprise myself. When the associations take a rhythmic, musical and structured form it can make a poem.

Ekphrastic poetry is an attraction because the visual arts place me into that immersive space quite readily. They also give an experience that has conceptual and sensual elements that are beyond my own understanding. Sometimes, I am filtering the aesthetic and seeking to grasp the creative energies that went into the making of the artefact. It might seem fanciful, but a deep engagement with a work of art approaches a radical intimacy. It can feel like I am engaging with the creative process of its maker. When I think about it, perhaps ekphrastic poetry is attractive to me because I mostly write in free verse and so the painting, photograph or other artefact provides a kind of container or boundary.

I find it fascinating that some art works produce an ekphrastic response, while others do not. I was lucky enough to attend Robin Hemley’s lecture on the ekphrastic essay (at the time, he was a visiting professor at RMIT university). He noted that creative writing in prose arrives to try and resolve the dysjunctions or ambiguities found in a painting or photograph. Locating these may be a necessary condition for utterance to arise but it does not seem sufficient as many works of art have mystery and complexity. I think poems only take off for me when the artwork resonates with my internal world.

Q. John Banville and Marilynne Robinson are just two references you use in section one, writers who play with light as a theme, something you’ve done throughout your collection. Why the attraction to refraction?

The recurrence of light and shadow may be a consequence of my imagist style and the fact that paintings and photographs have triggered poems. Light and shadow work with the painterly motifs of this collection but they also resonate with the exploration of hope and transcendence versus despair. Housekeeping and The Sea have ghosts that haunt the present and they are immersed in water and light; their immersive, haunted qualities help build the flow as it were.

Q. Robert Haas’ work “A Story About the Body”, which you quote to open section two of your book, can be interpreted in many ways, danger beneath the surface, underlying truth beneath a pretty veneer, being just two readings. What is your take on this poem and how has it influenced your work?

The power of this poem for me lies in its multiple meanings—each of which—mercurial, resist exact definition. I like the layers of the poem and the way the unresolved tensions charge it with electricity. I like its simple language and its interrogation of the human condition.  The meanings of the gesture from the spurned older woman spark with the meanings of the young man narrator receiving the gesture from a woman whose culture and aesthetic he is entranced by, but does not understand. But perhaps most of all what I like is how the poem hints at the possibilities for poetic language to contain and transform difficult experience. The poem buzzes with the sensual and the symbolic. It has the aliveness of her recent action and the shock of his response. The small blue bowl contains the allure and eroticism of rose petals, the history of her breast, the history of the erotic charge between them, and the sting of its dead, failed consummation. Numerous rose petals and numerous bees evoke the tactile and the swarm of her feeling. How different it would be ( as it were) if the small cultural artefact contained one of each! I aspire to write with such deceptive simplicity and charge. I chose an extract from this poem to open section two early in the development of the collection. It introduces the trope of bees and the ways in which artefacts might be containers, but it also alerts the reader to the allure and sting of relationships, and life cycles lived in the body.

Q. In “The Vase Imposes” you create the stillness, the meticulous preparation and the contemplation by the use of short lines and space. Is poetic “form” one of your more enjoyable pursuits?

The crafting of a poem always involves the working through of how best to yoke form and content. Yes, I do enjoy that process. When I began to write poetry I liked using traditional forms because they were reliable containers. I am less wedded to them now because I have found from experience that energy, strangeness and originality are more likely to arise when I let the page net the first draft.

Sometimes a poem finds its bones very quickly and often the structure of the line sets much of itself down in an early draft.  At times, I draw on Judith Beveridge’s advice to structure the poem in a number of different forms. It gives me distance and helps me apprehend what the poem is telling me it wants to be. When I wrote ‘The Vase Imposes’, it was clear from the beginning that the minimalist aesthetic of the Flower- Master and the tension of adopting its extremity was best conveyed by short, clipped lines and white space around small stanzas. The making of this poem meant working with the paradox of how simplicity is wrought from control. A control that suggests a kind of violence. The surprise of the poem for me was to see a link between the art form and the control of women in that era and culture.

Q. You end the collection with the poem “Writing with the Left Hand”, highlighting awkwardness, but also leaving the reader with a sense of personal honesty (“I will use the ink from my dead hand”). Was completing this collection a struggle, leaving such a large part of yourself on the page?

That is a really loaded question to ask a clinical psychologist! I have thought a lot about the relationship between the self and the artefact. I feel comfortable that by the time the poem has been shaped, it has become itself even if its genesis began with elements of lived experience or my imaginary life. I shaped the collection over a number of years and nearly all of these poems have been published elsewhere. By the time the collection was done it did not feel like I was leaving blood on the page.

‘Writing with the Left Hand’ was placed last in the collection for a number of reasons. The body and mortality are themes in part two. Blood is a liquid of our mortal body and of course I wanted to end the collection with flow. This poem flows into new possibilities but acknowledges that the rupture of change involves loss and this demands a kind of redress that paradoxically reconnects oneself with the past. I am glad that you sense the personal honesty in the poem. It was a classic case of seeking to write in a voice that is not one’s own becoming an accidental way of discovering insight into the self.

Q. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

I like to really immerse in what I am reading, rather than skim over it on the way to something else. I read with the demand that it surprises me, moves me, challenges me spiritually and intellectually, offers me the possibility of being changed by what I read. I want to be jolted by language that is pushed to its limits. So, as you have asked me about what am I reading, and why, I will tell you about the work that is offering me, consistently, these kind of experiences.  I have returned to Peter Boyle’s magnificent translation of The Trees: Selected Poems 1967-2004 ( Salt, 2004) by the Venezuelan  poet Eugenio Montejo ( 1938-2008). Reading this poetry feels like walking through a cathedral of ancient trees while pierced to the quick by his profound insights into the human condition. These lines from the critic Perez quoted in the introduction by Miguel Gomes capture something essential about his work: ‘when we read his poetry we succumb to the sensation of being reached by the past, which has become a hidden aspect of the present, something we must uncover in order to restitute both memory and immediacy to their original state of communion.’

Jen Hadfield’s Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe, 2008) is a language of delight, verve and play that startles and invigorates. Even her brief poems contain whole worlds. Her subject is everyday lived experience in wild, cold climates and language itself. Her language is rich, deft, audacious, has something of Shakespeare and Hopkins. It is a radiant mix of the imaginative and scientific close-up observation.

In the wake of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s death I have returned to his Selected Poems (Penguin, 1962) translated by Peter Levi and Robin Milner-Gulland, and found video footage of him reading his work. It still leaves me breathless.

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I am writing lineated poems interspersed with prose jottings. At this stage I am not sure where it will lead. I am happy to let it run its own course until I work out what it is telling me to do.

I have just finished my first review of an art exhibition ( O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism at Heide Museum of Modern Art). I decided to focus the review around ‘making’ and work towards an understanding of what modernism meant for each artist. I developed the review from responses to individual paintings because I trusted that this would provide a fresh response that I could shape. I had to keep in mind that the art world is not ready for a review written in verse! Seriously, I was never in danger of doing that, but I did learn that close observation and negative capability help to review an art exhibition just as they help to review a collection of poetry.

I have been rereading some of my early poems and reflecting on the fact that I write fewer overtly political poems. Making myself write a particular type of poem is a guaranteed way of making a failed poem but I want to think more about what political means in the context of the poem and be open to where this takes me.

 

Thanks again to Susan Fealy for her time and her wonderful replies. Coming up on the blog I have some questions with an “experimental” poet and am hoping to have this interview with you in the coming days too.

 

Voss – Patrick White – Read Along

voss

The Patrick White read along for “Voss” finished up today so here are a few quotes I have found about White and then “Voss” itself, all to whet the appetite for my opinion that will follow.

‘…Patrick’s gift for hatred almost exceeded his gift for literature and, it would seem, welled not so much from vanity as self-hatred. He despised so many of us. He behaved obnoxiously. But we still wiped the clay from his feet and propped him back on his pedestal. Perched up there he grumbled away, criticising the view. But at the end of the day we had to keep Patrick enpedestalled, as our official hero. Because if we hadn’t had Patrick as a hero, who the hell would we have?’

  • Phillip Adams (broadcaster)

‘Well, I still hope to see the Bunyip before I die. It might even be Mr Patrick White who produces it; but not till he learns that, whatever life may be like, the English language is neither hugger-mugger, nor transient, and that it is never safe to break it into small pieces as a means of writing a novel. When so few Australian novelists can write prose at all, it is a great pity to see Mr White, who shows on every page some touch of the born writer, deliberately choose as his medium this pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge.’

  • D. Hope (poet)

Voss was written about ten years after World War 2. In an interview, White recalled two influences: his reading of a book on the German-born nineteenth century Australian explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt; and his own experience of being in the North African desert during the war provoked by the “arch-megalomaniac,” Adolf Hitler. The broad outline of the narrative is based on Leichhardt’s ill-fated journey of exploration in search of an overland route from Sydney to Darwin. Voss and his party are financially supported by a group of Sydney merchants and Voss develops a strange but compelling relationship with Laura Trevelyan, the step-daughter of one of them. The relationship between these two misfits appears to continue through letters and some kind of psychic and spiritual companionship long after the expedition has left civilisation. The relationship may not be realistic but it is convincing.

Voss’s expedition passes through the magnificent settled lands of the Hunter Valley where they spend time on a station belonging to the cultivated Sandersons and then on to the more primitive farm of Boyle on the outer edge of the Darling Downs. With two Aboriginal guides, the party then strikes out into “unknown” country and confronts not only physical but also psychological and spiritual challenges to their sense of themselves as civilised subjects. There are struggles between the various members of the party: between those who are more practical and those whose motivation for joining is more altruistic, more personal or more concerned with inner understanding. The challenges faced by the expedition are of course both practical, physical ones as well as psychological and spiritual. The ways in which various members of the party deal with suffering is one of the interests of the middle part of the book.

But in Sydney, there are challenges to be faced as well, though not of such an obvious kind. For Laura and for her step sister – the apparently well-adjusted Belle Bonner – there are different needs. The emerging culture of colonial Australia requires both men and women to find new ways of relating to society and to nature. Laura takes on the responsibility of bringing up Mercy, the daughter of the servant, Rose and also opens a school, while Belle becomes the facilitator of social interaction among the increasingly diverse population. At the end of the novel, the citizens of Sydney unveil a statue to celebrate Voss’ probable achievement. The highlight of the ceremony is the appearance of Judd the ex-convict who is the sole surviving member of the expedition. Judd’s memory is possibly faulty, Laura’s understanding of Voss may lack substance, and the citizen’s need to memorialise something may have very little to do with the actual achievement of Voss yet there is a clear sense that the community as a whole has grown and developed, that the ways of interpreting experience have been enlarged and increased and that the possibilities for living fully and meaningfully in Australia have expanded.

This is for many readers White’s most demanding and most impressive novel. The language is not always easy and the relationship between Voss and Laura is difficult to accept in realistic terms but the reading experience is powerful, unforgettable, and deeply engaging.

  • Alan Lawson (ed.)Patrick White Selected Writings, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1994

Personally I found this book, the inaugural Miles Franklin Award winner, Australia’s pre-eminent literary award, along the “demanding” lines, I am firmly in the A.D. Hope camp of “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge”, however that does not mean it is not an impressive work.

Very much like the title character Voss and his journey into the unknown centre of Australia, my reading journey was arduous, at times felt fruitless and I wanted to abandon the journey, however, also like Voss I persisted, and unlike our protagonist, I came out the other side.

Human behavior is a series of lunges, of which, it is sometimes sensed, the direction is inevitable. (pp8)

Voss, “sufficient in himself”, Laura, “happiest shut with her own thoughts” and the harsh new land of Australia, are the three main players here.

Everyone is still afraid, or most of us, of this country, and will not say it. We are not yet possessed of understanding. (pp23)

…he was drawn closer to the landscape, the seldom motionless sea of grass, the twisted trees in grey and black, the sky ever increasing in its rage of blue; and the landscape, always, he could become the centre. (pp169)

There are obvious homosexual references, obviously a less frequently appearing theme in the 1950’s and the depiction of the Aboriginals is less than savoury, however we do need to keep in mind that even at the time of publication the right to vote for the first peoples of this Nation was not even law. Having said that, the 1958 novel “To The Islands” by Randolph Stow has a much more sympathetic portrayal of the indigenous peoples, although set in a different era and possibly reflecting the missionary view of the locals rather than Voss’ view of a recent arrival in colonial Australia.

The arduous journey that Voss undertakes is, at times, clearly explained, in other places it shimmers as an hallucination, dreamlike, mystical in the portrayal;

Then it began to rain again, and did not hold up. Nobody could conceive of eternity except as rain.

Men and beasts were grown very thin as they butted with their heads against the solid rain. Some of the men were hating one another worse than ever. Animals hate less, of course, because they have never expected more. But men grow green with hatred. Green slime was slapped upon the ground across which they were floundering. On that side of the river there were trees of shiny green with long, dark lances for leaves, which threatened the eyes and eardrums. Yet, in the condition to which they had come, the men’s souls were more woundable than flesh. One or two most dispirited individuals confessed to themselves that their greatest pleasure would have been to die. (pp 268-269)

A novel that is an exploration into the harsh new country, an exploration into one’s own self, a revelation of reserves, a mystical relationship where the lines of human connection become blurred. The isolation coming through as you personally work your way into the book.

When the girl was gone, she prepared herself as if for a journey, with shawls, and plaids, and a book of sermons that she always held in an emergency, and presently her husband came, who could no longer sit alone in the desert that the house had become. Not suddenly, not tonight, not to Mr Bonner alone. These two people, looking at each other at intervals, in the hope of rescue, had begun to realize that their whole lives had been a process of erosion. Oases of affection had made the desert endurable, until now the fierce heat of unreason threatened to wither any such refuge. (pp361)

Yes, a desert for all.

Now I have two of the Miles Franklin winners under my belt, maybe that’s a new challenge, the remaining fifty-nine make a nice list (I own about ten, and really do not want to read about a further ten, but never say never).

Did you join in the read along? Did you find it “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge” or “powerful, unforgettable, and deeply engaging”?

Border Security – Bruce Dawe PLUS bonus poet interview

BorderSecurityIt takes many types to make up the poetic landscape in Australia, and Bruce Dawe is one of the unique characters in that landscape.

His latest collection forms part of the University of Western Australia Publishing’s (‘UWAP’), Poetry Club, their first release being four books and all of them have been reviewed here. As per most of my recent Australian poetry reviews I have contacted the poet to conduct and interview and in Bruce Dawe’s case I was hoping to get an understanding from an ageing man about the progression of poetry in Australia over the last 60 or so years (Dawe was born in 1930) but my attempts at depth were in vain.

To start off with Bruce Dawe is, in his own words, “a PCP (pre-computer-person), so these answers will come courtesy of my wife, Liz” not the same person who receives a credit for typing in his collection “Border Security” (that’s Mary Coffey). He was also not that willing to share a whole lot, but I believe the simplicity and shortness of his replies gives an insight into his character and also into his poetry so I have chosen (as always) to publish my email interview verbatim.

The collection itself is not really my style of poetry with poems about Australian Rules Football matches “The Cup and The Lip”, walking the dog “Dog Heaven”, knitting, simply “Knitting”, or a poem titled “Considering Clouds on a Sunday Morning”, these examples, titles only show you that the collection has a very earthy, suburban, battler feel.

How do we sum up just how much we owe
To those who care for us when we are down,
When nights are long and days just come and go
And the sick body bids the spirit frown?
– taken from “Caring”

“Caring” the poem an “appreciation of my experience as a patient at Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, August 2008”

The least favourite of mine from the first four books in the Poetry Club collection, I can fully appreciate that there would be numerous Bruce Dawe fans out there who would relish a new collection, and can understand that this style of honest “battler” Aussie bloke poetry is something people appreciate. Unfortunately it’s not my thing. Therefore I will leave my comments short and head straight over to the interview – apologies for the curt, short replies

Q. You show that the everyday can be poetic, in this specific collection we have broad subjects such as an AFL match, walking the dogs, can you explain how you identify with something being poetic and how that translates into the urge to write?

I don’t ponder over the possibility of the poetic – I have never had a distinctive view of the term.

Q. Even though the title of this collection is from one poem, a number of your works contain “borders”, for example blocks of land, how did you choose the title of this collection?

Like most people, I see ‘borders’ everywhere in the world: social, political, personal. I watch the TV show Border Security regularly, aware of how often people seek to redefine or challenge borders.

Q. Rather than a sequence of poems this book appeared to me as a collection, how do you order the poems in a collection of this sort?

I don’t choose the final poems for a collection, believing I’m often ‘too close to the scene of the accident to be objective’ – I get a trusted (ie unbiased professional) friend to make the final choices.

Q. Referring to “Employment Problem” have your legs returned to employment?

‘Yes. The legs are okay again. Bursitis is slowing them up a bit, despite acupuncture.

Q. You’ve probably been asked this many times before, however I’m interested in your sequence of “careers”, how does one move from the RAAF to poetry?

I joined the RAAF because being a postman (on a walk round) took up a lot of the day (sorting at 6.00am, on the round until 10.30; back again at 2.00pm until 4.30pm…). What the RAAF gave me was time to study – not being much of a drinker. Uni study was a good discipline for me in my spare time.

Q. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

I’m reading possible texts for my next U3A course – Mythology. I teach new texts every year, thus retaining most of my U3A students who are like a third family. I’ve taught U3A now for over twenty years, before that I taught for 20 years at tertiary level.

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I’ve worked (over several years with a fellow dramatist) on various versions of my two political verse plays (published originally by Picaro Press): Blind Spots (Gillard/Rudd) and Kevin Almighty (guess who!).

As always I thank the poet for his time in answering my questions. I am hoping to run with an interview after approaching a more experimental poet in the coming weeks, stay tuned.

Patrick White – Voss – Read along

voss

Tomorrow the read along of Patrick White’s “Voss” will commence. White is Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, and winner of the inaugural Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s, self-proclaimed, pre-eminent literary award. The Miles Franklin Award was won 60 years ago in 1957 and the Nobel in 1973.

The Guardian’s “100 best novels” rated “Voss” number 77 on their list, commenting;

Until the 1950s Australian poetry and fiction, like American literature in the 19th century, was in thrall to dusty English models. Angry and often obscure, deeply intellectual and gay, Patrick White liberated his readers from a cultural prison. Parts of Voss, notably the treatment of Indigenous Australians – “black swine” to the explorer – remain contentious but White is a founding father of the literary independence movement that followed in the 1970s and 80s.

The Guardian article also notes that “the distinguished Australian poet AD Hope once said of White that, although he “shows on every page some touch of the born writer”, he nevertheless lacked style, choosing “as his medium this pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge”.”

As you start your “Voss” read along you may find the literary style and wordiness “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge” something I hope a few of you comment on during the reading.

A couple of other questions for your journey;

From the first chapter is it obvious the three players here are Voss, Laura and the harsh new Australian colony and landscape?

Like Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is it obvious that Voss’ journey into the interior is also a march towards self realisation and oblivion?

As I mentioned in my post in December when I decided to start a read along of this novel please join in the debate whether here via comments, or Twitter @messy_tony I’m also more than happy to open my blog to guest posts, and would love to have as many people as possible join in for this one off event.

A number of well known bloggers are joining the journey, so please join in, the more the merrier.

Good luck with your journey of this iconic Australian novel, may your reading be pleasurable.

Star Struck – David McCooey PLUS bonus poet interview

starstruck

The University of Western Australia Publishing (“UWAP”) has this week released six new poetry titles, the second release from their new “Poetry Club” imprint. Before I get to these titles I still have two from their October releases to look at, Bruce Dawe’s “Border Security” and David McCooey’s “Star Struck”.

A few months ago I looked at J.H. Crone’s “Our Lady of the Fence Post” and Alan Loney’s “Melbourne Journal: Notebooks 1998-2003”, both reviews also including interviews with the poets.

Today I have a wonderful extensive interview with David McCooey and thank him for the amazing effort he put into answering my questions, the full interview is at the end of this short review of his collection.

“Star Struck” opens, and closes, with “This Voice”, not forming part of the four sections of poems, these 2nd person poems act as parenthesies for the whole collection, the sounds of “phantom traffic, and the/enduring noise of a goods train” letting us know that the everyday noise drowns out our voices. Although the tone is isolating, removed, the reader knows that the singular multitude of voices throughout the collection are being amplified over the mundane.

Section 1 “Documents” opens with an epigraph from Renata Adler’s “Pitch Dark” (1983), advising us of the innocence of children, with the fifteen following poems, again using the second person, relaying the poet’s experiences whist in hospital for cardiac surgery. Clinically removed, the poems open with a family reality, the possibility of being entombed in a labyrinth, this juggles against childlike play where the realities of the impending critical surgery loom.

The human connection is brought home in “Music for Hospitals” and “Cardiac Ward Poetics” where numbered catalogues and lists suddenly move to “The Hunter” where the ‘male nurse’ shows photos on his phone. From “1. Hospital light, like any other/light is rarely ‘lemon coloured’” and “v) Everything happens at once;/a nurse with a needle;/the synaesthesia of breakfast.” to “ Then he turns to the other patient/who is sitting in bed in his striped pyjamas/and too far away to see anything./He holds the phone aloft like an offering/or a promise.”

“Second-Person”, although isolated, removed, explores the post-surgery rebirth, a new future:

Delivered by green-clad
medical staff to this place,

you enter the realm
of second-person singular,

a new you
to ghost the old,

the one on the other side
of a recalibrated life:

a body lying in
a bed, alive to

the homespun sounds of
each unprecedented sunrise.

Section 2, “Available Light” explores extremes, not simply light and dark, but man and woman, space and underworld, shouting and silence.

A collection peppered with literary references including Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”, Muriel Spark’s “Not to Disturb”, “The Takeover”, “Territorial Rights”, “The Driver’s Seat”, Tomas Transtömer’s “Selected Poems”, Roberto Bolaño and Georges Perec. Readers will be digging into their bookshelves with renewed vigour, looking for the references, and enjoying another reader’s view on them.

Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities uses a rigorous mathematical structure, and McCooey touches on these themes in his poem of the same name, also using the Oulipo approach to his poem “Georges Perec: A True Story”.

Section three, “Pastorals (Eighteen Dramatic Monologues)”, a collection of poems using pop culture, music (Mick and Bianca Jagger, Brian Eno, Tori Amos, Man at Work to name a few) as well as movies (Easy Rider). Who would have thought William Blake’s “Oothoon” could be compared to Kate Bush’s “Never For Ever” album?

The collection closes with “Two Nocturnal Tales”, with a Tove Jansson epigraph (from “The Summer Book”) these longer poems exploring romance, identity, the supernatural and, again, returning to the innocence of the child’s observations.

A very assured, enjoyable and varied collection, that contains a plethora of layers to explore.

Over to the interview I conducted with David McCooey via email, again I thank him very much for his time and efforts in putting together such extensive and interesting replies.

David Mccooey

February 2017

Q. Two poems titled “This Voice” act as parentheses to your collection, and the work contains a multitude of voices, for myself the use of the 2ndperson in these two poems creates a feeling of isolation, alienation. This also becomes very apparent in the opening section “Documents”. What is your attraction to multiple voices and forms of voice?

A. Yes, there are plenty of voices in Star Struck. The third section, ‘Pastorals’, is made up of dramatic monologues; that is, poems in which the speaker is not me. This was largely a reaction against writing autobiographical poetry, which I was getting a bit tired of. It was fun to pretend to be another character (including real people such as Joni Mitchell and Jim Morrison), and it allowed me to do things that I had never done before. It also allowed me to be a bit more expansive at times. By taking on a persona, I inevitably became more interested in narrative. My first book of poems, Blister Pack, is full of very short poems, but in Star Struck I struck out a bit more, and I enjoyed the prospect of a poem going past 20 lines!

But to get back to the use of the second-person address in ‘This Voice’ and ‘Documents’, I think there are a number of things going on there. In ‘This Voice’ I consciously wanted the use of second-person perspective to be alienating, and to undermine simple ideas of my poems simply expressing ‘my voice’ (whatever that is). In ‘Documents’, which is made up of poems that deal with my time in a cardiology ward and having surgery, I used the second-person because I didn’t want the poems to be too much about me. The poems are in part about the experiences (including some observations about the oddness of hospitals), rather than how I felt about those experiences. I wanted a sense of distance to avoid ‘confessional excess’, if I can call it that. Also, at some level, one does feel somewhat estranged from difficult or traumatic events as they happen to you. I guess I also wanted to put the reader in the position I was in, so that might account for the feeling of isolation that you mention.

Lastly, I am interested in the voice from a sonic point of view. My album of audio poetry (or ‘poetry soundtracks’), Outside Broadcast (2013), is in part a response to my frustration with the limitations of the poetry reading or the ‘straight’ recording of a poet reading her or his work. As in Star Struck, I wasn’t interested in my ‘real voice’ per se. Rather, I wanted to use audio technology (and music and sound design) to process, distort, and ‘stage’ my voice in ways otherwise impossible.

Q. When I interviewed Melbourne poet Michael Farrell about musical references in his work “Cocky’s Joy” he said “Pop music is a big part of the way I think about words/phrases, and to some extent poetic form…. I want to write equivalents of great songs – the feel as much as the form.” Reading section 3 of your collection, “Pastorals (Eighteen Dramatic Monologues)”, and with your musical background, I have a sense that you have a similar view. Is that correct?

A. Absolutely, though the poems in ‘Pastorals’ are mostly responses to my life-long immersion in popular music, rather than attempts to find a way of writing song-like poetry or to compete with the last 50 or 60 years of song. Many of the poems in ‘Pastorals’ are about finding a place somewhere between the lyric and narrative poetry. But in all cases, the song or musician evoked informs the imagery or architecture or concept of the poem. ‘Before and After Science: Brian Eno in Hospital’ is a good example; quite a few ‘tropes’ from Eno’s songs (as well as the liner notes from one of his records) inform that poem. I wanted it to be, perhaps, the poetic equivalent (impossible though that is) of Eno’s album, Before and After Science, which has been one of my favourites since I was 14.

Q. Who would have thought Roberto Bolaño writing about gazelles could be linked to Manus Island and Australia’s refugee policy, can you explain how you came up with that link?

A. The poem in question, ‘Election’, was written for Writing to the Wire, which was an anthology edited by Dan Disney and Kit Kelen. The anthology is a collection of poems about, and in some cases by, those seeking asylum in Australia. I very strongly wanted to be part of that project, but like a lot of poets, perhaps, I was struggling with writing a poem about such a charged political issue. My anger was making me inarticulate. I was re-reading Bolaño’s By Night in Chile, which is a short, powerful novel about how writers can and can’t write of, and against, repressive regimes, and how they can be complicit with those regimes. (Obviously, despite the contempt I feel for our current Federal government, they haven’t yet, thankfully, reached the criminal depths of Pinochet’s regime, but nevertheless, some of what is going on here is criminal in a literal sense.) Anyway, I came across the line about gazelles in Bolaño’s novel—‘We move like gazelles or the way gazelles move in a tiger’s dream’—and it seemed to open up a way of thinking about these things that retained the anger, but was also poetry. Of course, the epigraph (the translation of which is by the Australian translator and poet Chris Andrews) is the best thing about the poem.

Q. “’Whaling Station’ Redux” has vivid imagery and the story a child being shown the whaling industry as a “tour”, this is now too shocking too graphic to show a child. Is this simply a reflection of progress or a reflection of different generational sensibilities?

A. Hopefully it’s both. In 2017 it can sometimes be hard to think of progress, but it still shocks me to think that in the early 1970s it was considered acceptable for an operational whaling station to also be a tourist attraction. That’s profoundly shocking. And equally shocking is the fact that my parents thought that this was something appropriate to take their children to see. I have now written two poems about that experience, which suggests I have really struggled with the awfulness of that experience, in part (as you suggest) because of what it says about the assumptions people had in the past.

Q. You are obviously extremely well read with a large number of literary references throughout this collection (Italo Calvino, Muriel Spark, Tomas Transtömer, Georges Perec, Roberto Bolaño to name just a few), there is an attraction to the OulipoSchool, do you use any Oulipean constraints in your work? And I always ask this question, what are you currently reading and why?

A. Well, my day job is an academic in literature and writing, so I suppose it’s not surprising that writers and writing should feature in my poetry. But all literature, one way or another, is a response to other people’s writing. The writers who are named-checked in Star Struck are there because they fulfil a function in any given poem, though it’s true that they are all writers I admire a lot. Perhaps I’m trying to get a little bit of their magic by evoking their names. Evocation is an ancient poetic form of power, after all.

The Oulipo poem (‘Georges Perec: A True Story’) was another case of a writer fulfilling a function. I wanted to tell quite a banal domestic story, but I wanted to do it in an interesting way, so I simply gave each member of my family a letter (‘A’, ‘B’ etc). When I realised that my daughter, who now lives out of home, could be ‘E’ and therefore absent (like the missing ‘e’ in Perec’s lipogrammatic novel, La Dispiration, which was written entirely without the letter ‘e’), I thought that was a nice joke. It also seemed like a happy Oulipo outcome. But no, I don’t usually use constraints like an Oulipo writer would (though I am very interested in writing programmatically to a degree; that is, to have a project and write to it, rather than wait for ‘inspiration’, which I largely don’t believe in.)

I’ve just finished reading Rachel Cusk’s latest novel, Transit (2017), which is quite simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It’s one of those books that makes you think, ‘I’d happily give up writing’ if this is what one has to aspire to. I’ve also recently read Rod Jones’s first novel, Julia Paradise (1986), which is part of the Text Classics series. I was completely bowled over by that, too. I think Jones’s work breaks down the boundaries between prose fiction and poetry. I’m currently reading the Selected Poems of the New Zealand poet Jenny Bornholdt, whose work I admire enormously.

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

A. That’s a good question! I haven’t quite got into my next poetry book yet. I’ve written a few poems, but I’m not sure what shape a whole collection will take. Meanwhile, I’m finishing off my second album, which is called The Double. It isn’t audio poetry this time, but it does use samples of voices and some text-to-speech synthesis. I’m very interested in the way the spoken word—which isn’t a poem or rapping—can work within music. I think that interest comes out of my love of the complex soundtracks of movies, which mix together music, voices, and sounds. I love the observation by the French film director Robert Bresson, who writes the following in his Notes on the Cinematograph (1975, as translated by Jonathan Griffin): ‘The eye (in general) superficial, the ear profound and inventive. A locomotive’s whistle imprints in us a whole railway station’. That almost gets us back to the beginning, and talking about voices.

 

 

Our Lady of the Fence Post – J.H. Crone PLUS bonus poet interview

fencepost

This may sound like something from “The Twilight Zone”, the image of the Virgin Mary appearing in a fence post at Coogee Beach in Sydney, at a monument to the terrorist attacks in Bali, one year after the 9/11 attacks in New York, killing 202 people including 88 Australians. Yes we do things a little differently here in Australia – if you’re interested in the newsworthy event here is a link to a commercial news report of the time.

J.H. Crone’s “Our Lady of the Fence Post” debut poetry book is a “response” to the news reports. Taking the Marian apparition report, the documentary maker and poet, has created a collection of poems using part fact, part poetic licence to reflect on a range of political issues, the “war on terror”, the ingrained and ignored domestic violence, ISIS suicide bombings, terror cells in Australia, and a whole lot more.

A narrative sequence of poems, using a range of poetic forms (more on them later), the main players are; Joe, who paints the memorial, Mari who runs the local bakery and sells photographs of the apparition, Jesus (short for Maria de Jesus) who lost a son in the Bali bombings, and Mae the news reporter.

Jesus originally notices the apparition and points it out to Mari, and early in the collection we know that domestic violence is prevelant, even though ignored, in ‘Dough’ “Joe gave her the briny taste of a fat lip.” And in ‘An Odd Looking Sight’… “…she’s too full of grief to notice the tawdry,/mauve-rose bruise on Mari’s lip.”

Inherent racism is also simmering just below the surface, for overseas readers the East of Sydney was the scene of race riots in 2005, with the poem ‘The Silly Season” telling us “Squinter, towel-heads even/ crawling over Sunshine’s clean sand,/ looking to a post to save us./He’s not a racist, but who can say/ they’re not terrorists? Wogs should have/ never been let in this country.”

The feminist themes coming to the fore in the long poem “The Inquisition”, a verse exploring the Virgin Mary through many historical lenses;

…The more the
Virgin
is elevated, the lower the status of women of ordinary birth.’

Feminist theologians discover that the ‘Virgin’ was given birth
by a Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew word
for girl. Yet, even as virgins,
we are not allowed to breathe
a homily to life.
Wearing dresses, you priest appropriate the female sex.
Mary’s rebirth at Sunshine Bay encourages our sex.
Trick of the light, or apparition, our words are freely given life.
Cardinals, tend your marble Virgins with bated breath!

As J.H. Crone explains later this narrative includes many poetic forms, the French triolet and rondelet and the English roundel, a Ghazal, a triple sestina (the poem quoted above “The Inquisition”). For the non-poetry readers here how about a short lesson to demystify three of those terms?

The French triolet:

The triolet is a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. The requirements of this fixed form are straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme. Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines. (Taken from Poets.org)

The sestina (triple is three of them)

The sestina is a complex form that achieves its often spectacular effects through intricate repetition…[a] thirty-nine-line form…[which] follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi. The lines may be of any length, though in its initial incarnation, the sestina followed a syllabic restriction. The form is as follows, where each numeral indicates the stanza position and the letters represent end-words:

  1. ABCDEF
    2. FAEBDC
    3. CFDABE
    4. ECBFAD
    5. DEACFB
    6. BDFECA
    7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

A poetry publication that not only uses multiple forms it also approaches multiple themes, from the role of females in the church, terrorism cells in Australia, the role of the media, sexism, racism, violence, this is a complex multitude to explore. J.H. Crone is throwing out bait, can you take the little enticement or is it worth awaiting a tastier titbit offered by the very next poem?

This debut publication forms part of a new initiative by UWAP (“University of Western Australia Publishing”), the “Poetry Club”, established last year “in response to the reductions in poetry publishing nationally”, with eight collections published each year, released as a set of four. I will review the others from the initial collection here also, hopefully including interviews with the poets.

J.H. Crone kindly answered my questions on the collection via email, as per all my “interviews” I publish these unedited, the questions and replies are below.

Q. The violence happens on many levels, domestic, Bali bombings, Cronulla riots, what attracted you to this theme?

I wanted to write about the changes that I saw happening in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and more generally across Australia during the crucial ‘war on terror’ period, which has played such an important role in shaping the ways Australians understand ourselves and our place in the world as well as producing ongoing crises or perceptions of crises in relation to terrorism both domestically and abroad. We are still living through the era shaped by those events. It seems clear to me that these aspect of violence and ideas about violence don’t only play out on the world stage. They affect people on domestic and psychological levels as well. For example, I don’t think it is an accident that women became worse off in terms of equal pay and lost funding for crucial services such as women’s refuges and single mothers pensions during the period that Australia was responding to the tragic events of 9/11 and the Bali bombing by idealizing the Anzac spirit and repackaging it in the form of the contemporary Australian identity. I wanted to make those links explicit.

Q. The voice of Joe is quite often a simple one with repeated messages, for example “The current whereabouts of the founder/of Al Qaeda is a mystery”. Why this technique for Joe?

I used the French triolet and rondelet and the English roundel forms for some poems in the book. The triolet and rondelet have three repeated lines and the roundel has a refrain repeated three times. Some of these poems are in Joe’s voice but some are in Mari, Mae and Professor Maire McCormack’s voices too. In addition the book has a ghazal written in Mari’s voice which repeats the refrain at the end of each couplet. There is also a triple sestina in which the word endings of the first stanza are repeated in every subsequent stanza in a prescribed order. So I think it is fair to say that the book as a whole includes a lot of repeated messages. Certainly the media is full of repetition. That said, it seems to me that every time a phrase or word is repeated it acquires a subtly different meaning and I find that aspect of repetition quite interesting.

Q. Although Mae is the journalist in this collection, the whole work has a journalistic feel, do you think that may come from your documentary background? Could you explain that a little more?

There is no doubt that my documentary background had a big influence on shaping the work. I did a lot of research and many of the themes and much of the language came from factual sources that I reworked in the poems.

Q. Mari, although beaten physically, and threatened for the Mary being a hoax, is no “victim”, to me she is the tower of strength. Was it your intention to make her the “backbone” of this work?

I am glad that you found Mari so engaging. Yes I agree that her story is the backbone of the narrative and I found her blend of skepticism about organized religion combined with her idiosyncratic ‘spiritual’ beliefs quite intriguing.

Q. You’ve used many forms here, sculpted, shaped poems, prose poems, refrains, every second line a different text, do you enjoy using numerous explorative forms?

I love playing with poetic form. In ‘Our Lady of the Fence Post’ I used quite a lot of structured forms but there is quite a lot of free verse too. In the early stages of writing the book I couldn’t write a poem unless I had a form to work it into. Now I am more interested in finding form within the syntax and structure of the poem.

Q. This work is essentially a narrative with main players, Joe, Mari, Mae, how did this concept take shape and what was the catalyst?

Initially I planned a documentary poem. But then I realized that in order to explore all the themes that I was interested in I would have to fictionalize the characters. Being released from the need to adhere to factual accuracy unleashed my imagination and allowed the work to acquire visionary elements that I hope readers will experience as psychologically authentic. I was also fascinated with the fact that religion had become so central to events in the world and I wanted to try to figure out why that had happened.

Q. As I ask all my interviewees, what are you currently reading and why?

I am reading the American poet Alan Dugan’s Poems Seven which is more or less his collected works. I heard of him through an essay by Louise Glück, the poet who I am writing my PhD thesis about. His poems are tough and spare and daring and he has a completely original voice.

Q. And finally, is there anything in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

I am working on some new poems, working with a composer on a musical theater adaptation of ‘Our Lady of the Fence Post’ and I have to finish my PhD!

I would like to thank J.H. Crone for spending the time answering my questions and wish her well with her PhD completion. Trusting you’ve enjoyed yet another poet interview.

Carrying The World – Maxine Beneba Clarke PLUS bonus poet interview

carryingworld

After reviewing and interviewing the collections from poets Eileen Chong and Tina Giannoukos, “Painting Red Orchids” and “Bull Days” respectively, I am now onto the final poetry collection from the shortlist of this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s “Carrying the World”.

At the end of this short review, I also have an interview with the poet, Maxine Beneba Clarke, about her work, and would like to thank her for taking the time in her very busy schedule to answer my questions.

Shortlisted for both the Non-Fiction Award, for “The Hate Race” and the poetry award for “Carrying The World”, Maxine Beneba Clarke has had an extremely busy 2016, with numerous appearances at writer’s festivals, including the opening address at the 2016 Melbourne Writer’s Festival, getting her books ready for US release and a whole lot more. Read on to find out what else she is currently working on…

“Carrying The World” is a collection of 38 poems, arranged in alphabetical order by title, although spanning a “decade-long international poetry career” (from the back cover) the poems are not dated and besides the short explanation on the cover the sequence is not discernable. This is not a distraction as these are very powerful works indeed, the title poem appearing early in the book and covering racism, self destruction, an eternity in a rocking chair;

the rocking chair strains
under weight of it all
the ole woman’s frail
but she’s carrying the world
as she knits one purl
she knit knits one purl

with the African diaspora never too far away, Delilah advising us;

delilah / nobody cared
what happened behind
closed doors / with the body
of a brute who can’t bleed
bruised against yours

a fierce black woman
beating your way forward
in a world made
for mythical white men

sick of swollen purple eyes
washing bloody fingerprints
from curved thighs / scared
but ready to try anything

In the long poem “demerara sugar” Maxine Beneba Clarke recounts an overseas trip, an education of her children through visiting relatives in England and taking the kids to the “international museum of slavery”, this is powerful poetry, not beat poetry, not simply slam poetry but unflinching protest poetry an investigation of her roots and then an unwavering presentation of the uncomfortable facts. In “disappeared” there is the tale of insignificance of a black kid dying;

the immigration minister
of the day / he said
these Sudanese
have a real problem
with integration

a black kid did not come home that day
and that was his eulogy offering

Here is a confronting collection by a writer who pulls no punches, even the white prejudice of children’s literature does not escape the poet’s ire, “fairytale” opening with;

the teacher reads snow white
in our fairytale
my daughter will scar herself
with household bleach tonight
crying mirror on the wall
erase this face as black as night

A collection that forces the reader to stop, think, reassess your prejudices,, to look through the poet’s eyes at the racisms, the privilege, a situation less published in Australian poetry, the land of white male bush balladeers, and Maxine Beneba Clarke still has hints of the iconic poetic motif, the great Australian landscape creeping in, even homage to indigenous songlines (from “marngrook”);

back when songlines hummed
a way through grey-gum
(which was not yet called grey-gum)

This is a wonderful collection that addresses a raft of issues, including homelessness, poverty, feminism and more all outside of the black celebration and protest, presented in a very readable and moving style. Not a capital letter to be seen, there are even poems about poetry;

poetry and i / we broke up last week
we just kind of grew apart
it wasn’t him / it was me

Another diverse collection on the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award shortlist and another worthy contender for the award. I would like to thank the poetry judges, Samah Sabawi, Emilie Zoey Baker, and Alicia Sometimes (convener) for presenting a wonderfully diverse collection of poets, all females from migrant backgrounds, but all very difference in style and approach, one of the better shortlists I have worked through in recent years.

Why this work should win the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize

Approachable, controversial, powerful and memorable, all components that could lead to winning the main gong, as well as being from the pen of a recently popular writer. Covering a decade ling period these works are multi-faceted and cover a raft of territory.

Why this work will not win the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize

With “The Hate Race” also up for the Non-Fiction Prize the judges may sway towards more “conventional” poetic works, and the polished firm writing of Chong or the esoteric sonnets of Giannoukos. This is a very hard shortlist to break down, all three works being worthy winners in their own right, all for very different reasons.

I interviewed Maxine Beneba Clarke via email, and the questions and answers are repeated here verbatim. Thanks again to all three poets for taking the time to be interviewed by myself, I will be awaiting the announcement of the winner on 31 January 2017 with bated breath.

Q. In ‘demerara sugar’ you write of opening old family wounds whilst exploring your roots (“don’t she know/there things we ole folks/don’t talk about”), memoir, whether poetic or through your book “The Hate Race” forces you to wrestle publicly with many demons. Can you highlight a few of your “yes/no” memoir moments?

A. I think there are two very distinct processes for a writer – the process of writing or creating the work, which is usually a very closed, very private act; and the publishing of the work, which puts the finished piece of art into the public domain and which usually requires the author to then engage with their own work in public.

As such, I don’t consider myself to be wrestling publicly with demons. By the time my non-fiction work (including my poetry) gets to the shelf, the artistic process is already long finished. With memoir (and the suite Demerara Sugar in my book Carrying The World is also memoir, even though it’s written in poetry), I feel it’s important to be open and as generous with experience as possible – even with things that don’t particularly cast you in a glowing light. Otherwise, what’s the story for?

Q. You must be immensely proud of being nominated for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, coming from handing out free poems “on the corner of gertrude and smith” in Fitzroy, not being a PhD bush man or a “working class hero”, you’ve broken the stereotypical poet’s image with your recognition. Besides the non-fiction listing too, I have a feeling your poetry shortlisting is special to you, can you tell us how you felt about the award listing?

A. Having been a publishing poet for a decade and a half, I’m particularly thrilled to be shortlisted for the 2017 VLPA for poetry. Poetry’s my first love, and always the first form I reach for. Attention to the sound and structure of words, and practice in the condensing and fracturing of language, is what’s made my fiction and non-fiction stronger.

Q. You’ve been extremely busy this year, with readings galore, opening night at the Melbourne Writers Festival, amongst the many appearances, do you find the role of spokeswoman on race, colour and African “diaspora” tiring? A mother as well I am shocked that you can find time to write! How do you juggle this workload?

A. For me, the impulse to write is almost like the impulse to breathe. I’m not precious about when and where I write. It can be on the back of a shopping docket in the supermarket line, on the fridge with a whiteboard marker while I’m making dinner, or at my laptop in my writing space. It’s much more difficult to negotiate public commitments than it is to find time to write at home.

I don’t really see myself as a spokesperson for the African diaspora. My experience, in terms of history, is pretty specific in that my family came to Australia from Africa via the Caribbean, then England. The African diaspora experience in Australia is so broad and varied. There are so many different stories that need to be told.

Q. What is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about? What are you currently reading and why?

A. I’ve just finished collaborating on writing an adaptation of my memoir The Hate Race for stage at Malthouse theatre with Melbourne writer Erik Jensen. My reading list has been wedded to this collaboration: I re-read Jensen’s book Acute Misfortune (a biography of artist Adam Cullen), then read quite an extensive play list that included Jane Harrison’s Stolen, Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Kate Mulvany’s adaptation of the Craig Silvey novel Jasper Jones. It’s really exciting to be tackling yet another form, and also bringing the language of poetry and spoken word to the Australian mainstage.

Thanks again to the poets for their time, stay tuned for an interview with the winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2016 Sarah Holland-Batt.