Friday, April 20, 2012

Ashley Capes - Poet Series

Ashley teaches Media and English in Victoria, Australia. His first collection of poetry pollen and the storm was published with the assistance of Small Change Press in 2008, and his second collection Stepping Over Seasons was released by Interactive Press in 2009. A haiku chapbook Orion Tips the Saucepan was released by Picaro Press in 2010.

When did you first start writing poetry? What do you enjoy most about it?
During high school, I think I was about fourteen. They were a mixture of awful teenage poems and hopeless recreations of The Beats, and I think I was relying on the natural world a lot too. Probably the best thing about them was the simple fact that they could be finished in a reasonable amount of time. Not like a novel, and I liked that.
Tell me about the first poem you had published.
The first poem published was by the dubious folk known as, variously, ‘The International Library of Poetry’ the ‘International Society of Poets’ and the ‘International Poetry Hall of Fame.’ It was exciting for a kid, but after being given an ‘offer’ to pay a lot of money to travel overseas for their award ceremony, the shine was of course tarnished. It was about animals in a forest or a jungle (it seems to change a lot when I look at it now) and was heavy on imagery. And bad.
What is your usual writing routine? Do you write every day?
I do write every day, but it’s difficult. The time I have to write varies of course, and what qualifies as ‘writing’ does too. It might be part of a story, haiku, verse poetry, a lesson plan or something for uni. Like most of us, with obligations all over the place, that time gets eaten away – especially in daylight hours. I usually end up writing late into the night. It’s quieter and my mind seems to work better then, though in the morning I’m usually not impressed with myself for it.
What advice would you give a would-be poet?
Read widely, because in some ways that is your preparation – but just as importantly, don’t forget to actually write. Don’t think or talk about it, don’t plan to do it, just write. That one sounds obvious but sometimes it isn’t I guess, sometimes (in all fields) we can become obsessed with preparing.
I’d also suggest one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given – that is to switch mediums. If you hit a wall with writing, paint for a while. Or turn to music, or something else artistic – or even something not artistic at all. Just get some distance, recharge with that other art form then come back to poetry and you should have some more ammunition.
What’s your opinion of self-publishing? Would you recommend it?
I am a fan of self-publishing if you have two things: a good instinct (or editor-friend) for quality control and a base in a metropolitan area. Make that three things, if you’re personable. If not, I think it’d be hard to sell your books. When you self publish you’re afforded control of your work, from layout to cover art to content, which is awesome. It’s tough however, when you get to things like distribution – which is why I mentioned that second point. If you live in or near a city at least, you’ll have easy (and cheap) access to events and markets and you should thus be better able to sell your work.
Do you perform your poetry? What are the differences between writing for the page and writing for the stage?
I do, though not as much as I’d like. The difference for me is in the audience – because, of course, it’s live. It’s immediate. I imagine it’s a bit like acting or standup vs a film. In a film, the reaction to what you’re doing or have done, it delayed (or absent). On stage, you hear the audience, see the audience, and get an immediate sense of what your material is like. It’s very nice – it can certainly be daunting, but it’s something you get at no other time as a writer.
Have you been inspired or influenced by a particular poet’s work? How did it affect your own work?
In the beginning it was the Beats, and rock and folk lyricists, but perhaps the most important influence would be from haiku poets. I think whatever imagistic elements are present in my work are due to influence of the haiku masters like Basho and Issa. What they did, I believe, is demonstrate beyond a doubt (among other things), that narration can be achieved indirectly, through images created by just a few words. I’ve since then continued to struggle to achieve that ‘economy of words,’ and to prune back my natural tendency to overwrite!
If you had to choose a favourite contemporary poet who would it be and what makes them your favourite? 
Graham Nunn. For his ability to floor you as a reader – whether it’s through his imagery, his tenderness or his insight, but for his commitment to the art form and to those around him too. (I thought I should mention that I added that last bit to my answer not to detract from his poetry, or as an attempt to bolster it, but rather as a very serious and equally important aspect to Graham as a poet. I don’t feel the worth of poet should be just the measure of their (published) output, and so I’d like to suggest that Graham’s skill as an editor, promoter, organiser, motivator and supporter is just as powerful and valuable to the community as his written work.)
What about the masters? Who would you choose and why?
Here I can combine a few things together – this one is a haiku that Graham reminded me of when I interviewed him last year.
on Starvation Ridge
little sticks
are trying to grow

and it’s by Jack Kerouac, so there’s an Australian poet, haiku and The Beats all in one answer! What I enjoy about this most is probably the verb ‘trying’ or perhaps the simple, effective contrast between ‘Starvation’ and ‘grow.’ It’s also a great demonstration of why the 5-7-5 syllable count isn’t needed in English language haiku. This doesn’t adhere to those limits but it is undeniably a haiku, and it evokes a story through the image.
Please include a favourite poem of your own to be published with your interview.
other objects

my wedding ring is a plain silver
barrel band. same as dad’s, very modest
and very hard to keep smooth,
with scratches I can’t keep track of and
don’t want to hide. it’s no good pretending
the marriage is perfect, no use
hanging all our memories and every
step of the future on just one symbol. other
objects speak of love, too. the weeping
maple we’ve shifted to every house, the
cup we fill with knives and forks
or the handwritten address you gave me
the night we met, walking the city
and flinging orange peel into hedges, things
that endure, things that have lines
and marks to prove them.

Why is it your favourite?
Other Objects is probably my favourite because it’s hopeful without being treacly, and I usually find those poems really difficult to write. I think it paints a realistic picture of marriage, and it was through this poem that I was able to recognise a habit I’ve picked up, of writing about objects and the store of emotion we seem to place within them.
Where was it first published?
July 2009, in Island – a journal I’m very happy to have appeared in, it’s always beautifully presented and has such great material, cover to cover.
What was the inspiration for, or story behind, the piece?
I suppose it addresses my belief and concern, perhaps, that my marriage not become snagged on a single symbol, and that the wear and tear of the marriage is ultimately just as important as any other aspect. It runs through a few other objects that have memories attached to them, triggering for me, the night I met my wonderful wife. 

Find out more about Ashley here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nathan Curnow - Poet Series

Nathan Curnow is an Australian writer and spoken word performer. In 2007 he stayed overnight at ten haunted sites around the country and wrote a book about his experiences, The Ghost Poetry Project.
When did you first start writing poetry? What do you enjoy most about it?
Like most people I mucked about with poetry as a teenager and wrote some terrible rhyming stuff full of archaic language, but I truly began when I was first introduced to contemporary poetry in university and realised that it was more than I thought.  
I enjoy the challenge and complexity of poetry, although it leads to what Les Murray calls the ‘painless headache’.  You end up agonising over every little thing, teasing out the worth and power of every word.  Poetry is short but expansive, powerful but frail, hard work but also play at the same time, so I guess I enjoy the mystery and contradictions of it.   
Tell me about the first poem you had published. What was it about etc?
It was published in Swyntax No.4 in 2001 and is called She Swings Content in Sleepy Mood.  It’s about a girl swinging on an old tyre amid a sunny afternoon.  I was really proud of it at the time of course.  It was a big deal for me.  But on occasions like this when I fish it out of the box and look at it again I cringe.
What is your usual writing routine? Do you write every day?
I work in fits and starts around the demands of my family, and have done ever since I began.  But even when I don’t write for a day or two I still have my head in the project/s I’m working on.  Things have to stew for a while in the Crock Pot of my mind and that’s just as important to the process as banging on the keyboard. 
What advice would you give a would-be poet?
Read and write.  Do your homework on the journals and editors that you’re submitting poems to.  Know that grit, fire and dedication always pay off in time.  The path comes with significants costs and it’s easy to get bitter about them (but that’s the same with anything), there are many privileges along the way too.
What’s your opinion of self publishing? Would you recommend it?
Generally I would say that if you’re going to self-publish then wait until you’ve had a number of poems in journals or have a few awards under your belt, but things are changing so quickly these days, along with the stigma of self-publishing.  When I was starting out I self-published a novel as a bit of an experiment and although it didn’t get very far it was an important step (albeit a little misguided) towards considering myself a writer. So would I recommend it?  Sure.  If it doesn’t take off then it won’t be the end of the world, and you always have to back yourself.  Take risks. 
Do you perform your poetry? What are the differences between writing for the page and writing for the stage?
I have been performing for about as long as I’ve been writing, which has led to some good, some bad and some very strange gigs.
The page and stage are two very different spaces and filling them successfully demands different skills, but they’re also related, just as the line and the breath are related.  The blank page can be unforgiving and expose the weaknesses of a poem whereas the stage can throw up so many variables on the night that you have to be on your toes.  And yet whether you work on the page or the stage you still have to address similar questions ie.  What is my poem about?  What is its core/tone?  What’s the best way to convey it?  Where do I want to take the audience? etc.
Have you been inspired or influenced by a particular poet’s work? How did it affect your own work?
Kevin Brophy’s work has been a huge inspiration and I learn something every time I read it.  His poems showed me how to write about the things I knew, such as my religious upbringing, parenting/fathering and the domestic life.  I encounter play, depth, risk and passion in his work, plus an attention to the twists of language.  His work asks questions of poetry itself, and with such deceptive, disarming simplicity.   
What about the masters? Who would you choose and why?
I don’t have any hard and fast loyalties regarding the masters. Perhaps I can answer the question with poems instead.  Here are a few (among so many) which I will always love:
Kubla Khan (Samule Taylor Coleridge), Ulysses (Lord Alfie Tennyson), Beach Burial (Kenneth Slessor), The Secret (Denise Levertov), I’m Explaining a Few Things (Pablo Neruda), St Petersburg (Keith Eisner), Burro (Cate Kennedy), What the Light Teaches (Anne Michaels), Free Union (Andre Breton), Inside a Tree (Doris Brett), Stalingrad Briefing, 1943 (Ian McBryde), The Hand (Sharon Olds).
Please include a favourite poem of your own to be published with your interview and tell us a little about it.

Whaling Song (Norfolk Island)

each tier of a pine tree is a curved whale boat
launched into the sea at dawn, lost at dusk
beacons are lit, soft language upon the horizon 

a glowing ship marks the earth’s turned side
steering on mutineers’ blood, history is towed
like the Lord’s Whale, boiled down, into song

enjambed, the living upon these stones broke
stones to anchor old dreams, from the work
of hands the shore is made—rowing forward

heaving back, rowing forward—Come Ye Blessed
memory like shadow is best stored upon itself
though darkness refuses to pass without trade

claim the red earth turned for good, climb
like a seed, spread even on the wind, silhouette
upon the dawn, beneath the freshest star you are

here, departed, sing with us yourselves back home

I chose this one because it comes from an amazing experience I had on Norfolk Island, and was written as a kind of thankyou for the hospitality I received.   It was also translated into the Norfolk language by Archie Bigg, so I’m very fond of it.

I became fascinated with the history of the Pitcairners following their relocation to the prison-island—how they traded for what they needed from passing ships and taught themselves the skill of whaling.  If a whaling party failed to return by nightfall beacons would be lit upon the cliff-tops to guide them back home.  Norfolk Island is so small that if the men steered on the wrong course, were out by even the slightest fraction, then they ran the risk of missing the island altogether and becoming lost in the Pacific.  (The ‘Lord’s Whale’ is the name given to the biggest whale they ever caught).

It was first published in Island 119 (2009) and then in my collection The Ghost Poetry Project (Puncher and Wattmann). 

The Ghost Poetry Project - Published by Puncher and Wattmann 2009.  Available at Readings, Gleebooks or any good independent bookstore. ISBN: 978-1-92145018--1

No Other Life But This - Published by Five Islands Press 2006.  Out of print, but available from the author.
Interview at Verity La
Interview at The View from Here:

Indiefeed audio Made from the Matter of Stars: