Diane Fahey and Robyn Rowland will be featuring at the Geelong Library on Saturday August 27th - see upcoming events. For our new blog we thought it would be delightful to get some of our guest poets to respond to a short email interview.
6 questions to our featured poets for August
1 - First poem you read (or was read to you)?
Diane - You’ve got me there! My mind goes back to grade 6, where we had to recite memorised parts of poems each day after lunch - but of course I would have encountered plenty of poems at school before then, in the wonderful Readers they had, full of great things. A poem with the refrain, ‘Margaret! Margaret!’ (or similar) returns to my thoughts today, but I don’t know what poem it was. A challenge that some MPU member might resolve, perhaps?
Robyn - This is easy as it was in my School Reader in primary school and I had to learn it by heart. It stayed with me but I lost its name and when I mentioned this at Woodend Winter Words one year, someone sent it to me. It’s called ‘The Australian Sunrise’ by James Lister Cuthbertson. You can find it online. I loved the swirl of descriptive language, its luscious roll of words, its true capturing of land and seascape. After that it was the old favorites by father used to –and still does – recite, particularly 'Clancy of the Overflow' with its 'everlasting stars'. In these I loved the narrative and the way words can sing. It’s the music of them. Again, the pictures of land and cityscapes.
2 - Pen or computer when writing poems – pros and cons...
D - Pen first, to get thoughts down quickly wherever I am, then the computer where it’s easy to copy one version, edit it, then go through the process again and again till the poem reaches its final version. But I also write on print-outs when developing and editing poems - sometimes rather chaotically, but if you’re in search of some new word or image, or trying to solve a problem, stirring the pot by scrawling associations or random ideas can help.
R - Ah … that changes with the times. I used to like pencil and then ink and then typewriter! Now it’s mainly draft in pen as I feel the flow – body, heart, brain, arm, hand. But often the computer itself breaks in, demanding speed and legibility. I print each draft. I try to keep all drafts, as often a poem will be edited many times but then I want to know – did a change I made really need to be made – and go back to something original.
3 - Describe your most recent published or performed work.
D - A House by the River (Puncher and Wattmann, 2016) is a poetry collection in four sections which centres on the six years I spent caring for my mother towards the end of her life; it offers a portrait of her and a tribute to her. But it also focuses on the natural environment and birdlife at Barwon Heads, as well as the space within my mother’s house where I pursued ’the writing life’.
R - I had two books out last year, both very different. This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915 is published by Five Islands press in Australia and by Bilge Kultur Sanat in Turkey. Sponsored by the Municipality of Çanakkale in Turkey, this is bi-lingual in English and Turkish (translations by Mehmet Ali Celikel), about the experiences of Australians, allies and Turks – soldiers, munitions workers, nurses, families, composers, painters and poets – during the battle for Gallipoli, and its pre-cursor the Battle of Çanakkale. A bit of background there: my brother married a Turkish-Australian woman, Sevil. Our shared love of archaeology inspired me in 2009 to take my younger son, almost 16, and head for Turkey. We spent 6 weeks travelling around the ruins and museums ... and watching soccer!
I fell in love with a golden period of Ottoman history under the great Sultan, Suleiman Kanuni, ‘The Lawgiver’, whom the West called ‘The Magnificent’. I was awarded a Literature Board grant, and began my work. On a second trip aimed at studying the period I’d adopted, I was shocked and captured by an experience in Çanakkale. Visiting the Naval Museum there, I learned the Gallipoli story from the Turkish viewpoint and the history of the Battle of Çanakkale, of which I was ignorant. It was uncomfortable to find myself identified with the enemy, the aggressor.
Line of Drift, from Doire Press was published with a grant from the Irish Arts Council. I've lived with a tension around dual identity that is now lived out, as I reside in both places equally. Poems swing between Australia and Ireland, and reflect that tug. Age brings its in memoriam poems and tributes e.g. for Robert Adamson, Theo Dorgan and Jacob Rosenberg. A central poem is an Epic about the Island of Inisboffin that could be a history of Ireland itself.
4 - What are you working on right now?
D - I’m finalising a collection of poems for Whitmore Press, titled Sanctuaries; it will be published in 2017. Most of the poems centre on birds, but in the third section, 'At Bundanon', I broaden my gaze to include wombats, cattle, kangaroos, snakes etc. The other two sections are ‘Zoo Birds’ and ‘Sea, River, Lake: on the Bellarine Peninsula’. At the same time I’m working on some poems recently written in Ireland, for a a book of poems called West. I’ve made two visits to Ireland, in 2015 and 2016, funded by Literature Board, to develop this collection which focuses on the West of Ireland. It is a great pleasure to work on both these collections.
R - I’m torn in a number of directions, working on a number of different books. One emerges from various poems I’ve written over recent years of travelling to poetry festivals in Bosnia, Serbia and India. Another is an intimate look at the period of Suleiman Kanuni and his brilliant architect Mimar Sinan. A third is an extension of my published Dead Mother Poems in a stand-alone book and a fourth is Turkey today!
5 - Australian poet you would most like to see enter politics? Or not if that's more fun.
D - I can’t offer a name, but it would have to be a woman, because of the great gender imbalance in Australian politics at all levels, and it would have to be someone, not necessarily in the Green party, but with strong sympathies for their best policies. But most of all it would have to be a woman of independent mind and spirit. It is hard to stand alone, but there are a lot of women out there who represent a passionate, enlightened and committed approach to improving the lives of people in Australia, and who could make a great contribution in political life - and would so be joining those women who are already doing just that in the state and federal Parliaments, and in local government. And someone with the creative problem-solving abilities that poetry and creative writing can foster, would be bringing a valuable resource, not to mention the fact that poetry and other literature can nurture empathy and compassion by giving insight into people in many different human situations.
R - Ha! Do many poets have the practicality required!? Actually, two people come to mind. Susan Hawthorne who has co-founded and run Spinifex Press for 25 years and written many political works as well as fiction and poetry. The other is Gina Mercer, who ran Island Magazine for over a decade and has remarkable organizational skills, ability to negotiate and mediate and tons of compassion. Both women can run publishing on a shoe-string so would be brilliant with the economy!
6 - Please share your thoughts/feelings on the Geelong Library (our August venue).
D - The Geelong Library - from its many branches, including my charming local branch at Drysdale, to the spectacular new building in central Geelong - is a wondrous resource for the whole community. I sometimes encounter groups of mothers and babies having a great old time, chanting nursery rhymes, or storytime for older children, and I am also aware of the wide range of literary and human interest events the Library offers. There are classes on new technological devices such as i-pads, and also loads of CD’s available. But most of all, there is a vast supply of my great love, books.
R - I’ve long been a supporter of our city library. For two years not long ago I ran the Poetry and Conversation series for them and we had great audiences. It is vital space with loads of forward thinking people involved. A true city asset.
Our thanks to Diane and Robyn for being good sports and providing us with honest, entertaining answers. You can definitely look forward to more of this type of article very soon.
It's all about keeping you glued to melbournepoetsunion.com (no need for a link, you're already here).