Interview with Author
Filth & Other Poems
You live in a kind of appropriate area for a poet. I looked up your address in the Melways, and you’re surrounded by Milton St, Byron St…
Yeah, I haven’t lived this close to the poet streets for a while. I’ve never lived in one. I looked for a flat in Byron Street once. There’s a poem in the book that has about three of the names of these streets in it.
Did the love of poetry and the desire to write inspire you to study literature at Melbourne University, or was it the other way around?
I guess writing came first. I think I study because it feeds the writing. I just like the way it makes your brain tick over. When you sit down to write poetry you’re used to playing around with ideas.
Have you studied much poetry as part of the course?
I guess, although my readings of modern poets tend to be outside the course, because it takes a while for the university to catch up. If you want to study people who have written in the last twenty years you do it privately. There are very few poets on courses at university that are alive.
It would be interesting to consider the potential scenario if the author you were studying could be invited to the lectures on their work…
That sometimes happens with novelists. But a lot of contemporary poets are set as secondary texts. The likes of Forbes and Tranter are secondary VCE English, or whatever the New South Wales equivalent is, and presumably they go to schools and read occasionally.
I guess that would allow you to respond directly to an author if you liked, or even didn’t like their work.
Actually, I know a poet called Dimitris Tsaloumas who’s just been set on the VCE here. He’s been complaining about getting lots of letters from students. There’s one poem called ‘Antigone’ which mentions a pub, but they couldn’t understand how a poem set in classical Greece could mention a pub, because they didn’t have pubs in those days. Dimitris wasn’t going to tell them.
Have you ever been asked to explain your poetry?
Oh, I guess it happens. I sometimes get asked by friends, in which case I might do it, but generally the answer is that it’s not the poet’s job to tell you what it’s about.
Perhaps if it needs to be explained, the poet hasn’t done a good job?
Well, I like fairly clear, direct poetry, but I think very often a poet might use an enigmatic line as an effect and that’s totally legitimate. But to explain it would spoil the whole nature of the poetic effect. It might even be a completely irrational line. Somehow or another you might chance on a particular conjunction of words. It may not have an explicit meaning, but it works and if it works, it’s good.
The section of Filth… called Horse Lyrics was a poetic response to the Dirty Three album Horse Stories. Had you had any previous connection with the band prior to writing those poems?
Well, I’d seen them perform and I had their CD but otherwise, no. Basically I just had the idea to write some poems to the music. I was actually having a party - I was meant to be cleaning up the house but I got on the typewriter for four or five hours with the CD blaring. The next day when I had the hangover I got back on the typewriter and finished the job. So they were written in a fairly short space of time. Once I had the idea it was just a matter of getting them down.
And then you presented them to the band?
The next time they were in town I went along to the soundcheck and said ‘I like your music and I wrote some poems about it.’ They were really nice, they put me on the door for the next night. About six weeks later I got a phone call from Warren Ellis and he came along to see me at the Barwon Club. It just so happened that months later there was a Canadian film crew in town and they liked the music too. Someone told them about the poems and they contacted Shock Records and I was asked to stand in more or less for the band as part of this Canadian special on Australian music. Admittedly I got the job because the band were out of town but they filmed me reading the poems to the music at Flinders Street Station. It was fun.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading some poetry for an essay I’m writing at the moment. I’m reading on the poetry of Ernest Dowson, who wrote the immortal line ‘They were not long the days of wine and roses’, and Arthur Symons, who was a music hall reviewer involved with various dancers, actors and snake-charmers. Their poetry concerns itself, in Dowson’s case, with alcohol and whores and in Symon’s case, alcohol, ballet dancers and actors.