Seething since 2000*
In a nice piece of synchronicity, UK poetry website Metaroar has posted an article (view Wayback Machine version) by Angela Meyer in which she interviews Jill Jones (who testimonialised my book), Paul Hardacre (who is publishing my book) and myself (who, ehm, wrote my book) on the subject of our poetic practices and other burning issues including nationalism, the usefulness of poetry and so on.
From the apt imagery of a moment in time, to dark undercurrents, to an overload of mystical beauty, these three Australian poets are enjoyable and intense to read. Australia’s physical distance from the rest of the Western world can make its artists informed reflectors. It is a mish-mash of cultures, of opinions, of denials. It is still young. Mostly, modern Australian poetry recognises its roots but rejects becoming entwined with them. It wanders, delves, is frightened and influenced by a global environment.—Angela Meyer
Coincidence, or …? It’s a strange kind of article, where our responses to common questions are interspersed with examples of our work (in my case, mostly poems from Abendland).
I guess what interests me the most is the differences and commonalities in our responses, although Paul does put us to shame with the breadth and detail of his answers. As it turns out, he’s a big softie:
It’s taken me close to ten years to become comfortable with the fact that my poems are, for the most part, paeans to love.—Paul Hardacre
I may post some more thoughts on this softness soon. For posterity’s sake, here are my own answers to Angela’s bodacious questions.
What would you say are key themes in your poetry and how did these evolve?
Key themes would have to include death and loneliness, or more accurately, questions of mortality and the essential aloneness of people in the world. I guess these evolved from long periods of aloneness and being an inward-looking, bookish child. However, this isn’t to say my work isn’t funny—it is, just the kind of funny that makes you feel sad.
Did you have another life from which your poetic self sprung forth, or have the words to you always come?
I didn’t start writing poetry till I left school, and even then the first five years I was writing are best forgotten. I stopped writing poetry in the mid-1990s but took it up again in earnest when I moved to Melbourne in 1998. That being said, of course I have an imaginary life, wherein my poetry forms the language I speak, to myself.
What do you see as the role of poetry in society (Aus and global), if any?
Poetry provides a way of talking about things that is at once familiar and strange. Poetry was not invented especially for funerals, I suppose, but it’s amazing how well suited it is to these occasions. It also provides words to put on greeting cards. Sometimes I fail to see what role poetry has, other than to keep poets sane.
Do you write with your nation in mind as an audience or do you feel more part of the globalised world, speaking of ‘universal’ experience?
I reject notions of ‘nations’, except in an imaginary sense. There’s no such thing as universal experiences—sure, you and I can both be sad but that’s never the same thing. A person is a universe.
Are there things you wish your poetry can’t do, that you wish it could?
I wish it could bring down a government.
How does an idea or inspiration germinate, and how does it become the full poem?
Usually I respond directly to a phrase or a statement made by someone (eg in a comment on a blog, or in a newspaper, or a lyric, or a quote from a musician) which then usually becomes a title and then it generally writes itself. I never spend that long crafting poems that already seem finished.
Where would you be without poetry? Who would you be if not a ‘poet’?
I honestly have no idea. Maybe I’d be a father by now, or a country school teacher.
For contemporary poetry to be relevant, do you think cultural references (film, music) and intertextuality are inevitable?
I don’t know—it’s a bit chicken and egg for me—my poetry uses lots of pop culture, so yes it’s essential to my poetry. But I don’t think it’s inevitable.
Do you think these is a sense in your poems of nostalgia for a time before—eg. a time before technology, a time before reliability and capitalism?
Not really—perhaps a nostalgia for childhood, or a reconstruction of a perfect childhood, or something like that. A time before stupidity? Maybe that’s impossible too.
In the urgency of your prose poems (eg. Kunst-Wet) are you trying to capture a moment amongst all the confusion of contemporary life, as you express it, the ‘hyphen between breaths’. If not, what is this sense of urgency?
It’s a sense of impending doom that I’ve felt for the past few years—a fear of early death, or of not having said what I want to say before it’s too late. Maybe this is apocalyptic self-indulgence as well. That poem was really a love poem written across great distances. Trying to conquer impossibilities, or at least alluding to this, making believe that it is possible to be in two places at once, all the while knowing that you’re not, and writing a poem that expresses that impossibility.