Well good people, it is now less than two months before the mighty QLD Poetry Festival is here. Over the coming weeks, I will be shining the spotlight on a number of featured artists from this year’s festival to give you all a taste of the good things to come when it kicks off on August 21.
First up I shine the spotlight on Kent MacCarter.
What is the role of spontaneity in your creative process?
I wouldn’t say that my writing is catalysed by random acts of spontaneity exactly, but it is oftentimes jolted by ‘triggers’. I take this term, ‘triggers’, from North American poet Richard Hugo and his essays on teaching creative writing in the 1960s and 70s, The Triggering Town. For him, venturing in to new towns he’d never visited triggered in him a creative torrent and the impetus to harness it and write. For me, it’s frequently sounds – be it the blipping onomatopoetic notes emitting from a cash register in a supermarket, a song or the exhaust noise emitting from a motorbike in Vietnam. The poem that I have included here was triggered by the bleat of a wayward lamb and a crop duster revving its engine before take off. The poem relies heavily on the visuals my wife and I were absorbing while on a country stroll in rural New Zealand on Christmas night, but it was triggered by sound. Music and sound move most people into emotion, moving them to create X, Y or Z. There’s nothing new about that. For me, the result is poetry.
I wish I could claim that I’m an über-disciplined journal keeper and writing-exercise doer. But, I’m not. I write when these triggers and free-time coincide.
Eliot 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?
I am currently reading the final collection of Denise Levertov’s poetry, published posthumously. I’m also sifting through works by Charles Simic and John Forbes, both poets I greatly admire and would consider influences. As previously mentioned, Richard Hugo has been influential on me … though I am not at all a ‘confessional’ poet the way he was. I had the honour to attend one of Thom Gunn’s final readings before his death. He recommended a poet to me I’d not heard about at the time; August Kleinzahler. Terrific advice. The coquettishness of Frank O’Hara, amongst all the other worthy adjectives one could use to describe his writing, I find superb. The dry, verging on parched humour of Richard Brautigan also swirls around in the DNA of some of my poems.
However, I must admit that the people who have influenced me the most are not writers – or at least this label wouldn’t be at the top of their CV. Perhaps that’s breaching a cardinal rule of discussing authorial influence, but I’m happy to pony up the truth about that straight away. The photography of Max Dupain and his assistant, Jill White (www.maxdupain.com.au), has been a big influence on me since coming to Australia six years ago. North American photographer, David Plowden (www.davidplowden.com), is a master at capturing the abstraction and urbanisation of culture. Some of his plates wow me into sublime moments. Jeffrey Smart’s paintings also have this affect on me, as do various albums from bands like Stone Roses, Galaxie 500 or Built to Spill … even going back to jazz hothouse maestros like Django Reinhardt or Bix Beiderbecke.
Why perform/read your poetry?
Reading poetry aloud and with considerable volume is half the deal of poetry. At least half. The cadence and flow of words toppling over slant rhymes, enjambments and pauses are integral to the poetry I write and is fundamental to how I engage with poetry as a whole. Much of this goes missing when strictly reading from a page.
I am always interested in the thought processes and practices of writers. Would it be possible for you to share with us your process, in other words, what does Kent MacCarter do in preparation for writing?
I sure wish I had some sage acumen to share in answer to this question. I guess I’m still at the point, and early point in a writer’s career, where the impetus to write seeks me out more so than I am able to instigate it myself. I know that reads rather wanky, but it’s accurate. For now. Again, those triggers I mentioned above are very hard to say no to. And so, in that sense, I fuss around with words, lines and the succinct narratives that begin to appear. In that sense it’s like developing negatives into prints in a darkroom, only I’m not entirely sure what the final result was meant to be. This has created both dross and gems, but there we are.
Finally, where are you looking when you write?
I look directly into place. Textures of place. Tastes of place. Histories of place.
From another angle, I look directly at how my lines are forming, how the lineation is breaking down and shaping up. I look at how the words appear on the page. When and if I can get all these visual “plates” spinning on their axis at once, then I feel as if I’m making good progress. It’s like reading and writing in 3D.
Present in Makarora Valley
Remorseful a roadside lamb
bleats pointier than the razor wire
strung to keep it stock, not traffic.
The fabric-winged crop-duster
zips four-hundred fanfare bucks
off the grassy goat-mowed runway
a red windsock dangles expectantly near
like a cattle-dog’s exhausted tongue
co-piloting further search for drink.
Teen hoons careen in mum’s sedan,
Pickled exhales shift their gears
a stones-throw to a neighbour’s
place and into song. Red deer clop on damp top pasture
their character development
poises well-composed behind strategic pines.
Steeling in from a vanishing point
a lone Thai man like a country highway mouse
slaloms the dotted centre-line
and through a claim he’s pedalled the vast calligraphy
in from Christchurch on a ten-speed
he motions us to photograph. Twice. 10pm an atoll
re-gifts Christmas alchemy into this valley
we madly row to reach its trumpet belts of twilight
ricocheting huge above the local ungulates.
A stray wash-machine sweats out its ferrous rot
in weeds. To life it whirs and fills with infant light.
A native of the US, Kent MacCarter’s adopted home is now Melbourne. Graduating from Melbourne University with a Masters in English Creative Writing in 2006 completed an arc that started with degrees and an early career in Financial Accounting. His first collection of poems, In the Hungry Middle of Here, is now out after appearing for some years in Australia and international journals and papers. Place, sounds of place, textures of place and hungers for place are strong themes throughout the first collection.
Catch Kent at QPF 2009:
Saturday August 22 – 10:30am – 11:30am
Sky’s Early Stars: feat. Kent MacCarter, Neil Murray & Barbara Temperton
Saturday August 22 – 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Drenched with Desire: feat. Kent MacCarter, Janet Jackson & Marissa Allen
Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm
A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray
All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.
For full program details head to www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com