Zenobia Frost is one of the feature poets at Brisbane’s newest poetry event, Under a Daylight Moon, which kicks off this Saturday February 28 from 3pm – 5pm at Novel Lines Bookshop, 153 LaTrobe Tce, Paddington. This Lost Shark took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the urge to write great poems, poetic influences and her debut collection. Along the way we get sidetracked by dragons and pirates… but believe me, the journey is richer for it.
What is the urgency of poetry in your life?
I guess you could say I have a word weakness, in that my brain is something of a sieve and when I pour a lot of words into it—as I do regularly—they can be pretty insistent about how and when they leak out again. Many of us poets know how inconvenient or even embarrassing this can be on long car trips or at the cinema, but when you gotta write, you gotta write.
American poet Donald Hall said, “I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems.” As a young writer, what is your take on that?
Writing has been my only consistent passion in a sea of fads and hobbies over the last decade or so, so I think I owe it to my poems to try and write them as well as I can. The thrill of challenging oneself to improve or try something out of one’s comfort zone is probably the driving force behind practitioners of any artform.
I decided to take writing seriously—actually, I don’t know if I ever take anything seriously, so scratch that. I decided to write often and with frivolous abandon when I was nine or ten. I like looking back on old pieces to see how both I and the writing have changed; my goal may be to write great poems, but so long as what I’m writing now continues to be better than what I wrote six months ago, I’m satisfied.
Perhaps poetry’s one of those adventures where your quest is to save the princess from the dragon, and along the way you narrowly escape ensnarement by a goblin, get drunk with elves, learn to swing dance from a fairy who intends to imprison you as a pet, and find a magic amulet or two—all of which make you stronger, but by the time you find the princess, she’s saved herself and is eating dragon kebabs over a roaring fire. Yes, that’s definitely it.
I think it was Eliot that said, “Poets learn to write by being other writers for a while, and then moving onto another one. Who are the people who have influenced you and who are you reading now?”
The first time I tried to write a novel, I was nine and was going ‘above and beyond’ on the word limit for a school assignment, which I was meant to write in the style of Enid Blyton. In my teens, I tried to become Oscar Wilde, but I wasn’t witty enough.
Honestly, though, I’m not good with names and I tend to read a bit of this and a bit of that. I think I could probably cite Goethe, Baudelaire, Rilke, William Carlos Williams, Madeleine L’Engle, e.e. cummings, Tom Waits, Spike Milligan and even fairy tales; just don’t ask me to list titles. I like simple poems with strong, sensory descriptions. I appreciate whimsy above all things.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the influence of the poets of Brisbane upon my poetry, which went through a series of rapid evolutions when I started attending readings and critique groups. There are a great number of fine wordsmiths here, and I’m very grateful to them for their insights.
Lately I’ve been reading the marvellously short poems of Richard Brautigan (they suit my attention span) and Susan Firer’s latest collection, Milwaukee Does Strange Things to People.
SweetWater Press is due to release your debut collection. Tell us about its evolution.
A university manuscript-writing project gave me an excuse to compile a chapbook, so I’ve been working on the collection for a year or so. It’s a quiet little thing, but I quite like the way it’s come to life. It’s funny that you chose the word ‘evolution’, because the chapbook, The Voyage, began as an excuse to bring together all of my oceanic love poems, but somehow it grew legs and crawled onto land with a series of poems about bugs, reptiles, people and finally houses. (However, if we follow the book’s idea of the ‘natural flow’ of evolution to its conclusion, then a tall gin and tonic is the height of civilisation. Maybe I’m onto something?)
The Voyage will be launched around April before I set off on a voyage of my own (with a box of books!) to enjoy the Midwest-American summer.
Finally, where are you looking when you write?
There are a lot of answers to this question depending on how it’s read, so here’s a selection of them. I look:
for my glasses.
out the window. I’m a daydreamer.
to nature, hoping to find small metaphors for bigger things.
into my contact juggling ball, hoping it will show me the future. Or David Bowie.
out to sea. I think this answer’s probably the truest.
Indulge me for a moment while I quote, of all things, a Disney movie. At the end of the first Pirates, as Jack Sparrow is distracting viewers by stroking the helm, he says, “Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails—that’s what a ship needs, but what a ship really is…is freedom.”
Poetry allows me to go anywhere. It’s not just words and enjambment and rhythm—they’re what a poem needs, but what a poem is is freedom.
Is that corny? Okay, I can deal with being corny. Just pretend I’m wearing a pirate hat and it’ll sound better, I promise.
I close my eyes to the clutter
of the to-do list on the fridge
and I dance to Elliott Smith. I scrub
the sleep from my eyes, scour the grime
from the sink and swing my hips
in my grandmother’s apron.
I give the slip to furtive panics,
easily wiped over with a dishcloth
in 4/4 swings as I bottle up and go
Find Out More:
Reading the Ceiling’s Pine Calligraphy: Zen’s poetry blog
Stylus Poetry Journal: Issue 31, October 2008
Mascara Poetry: Issue 4