QLD Poetry Festival Fever: interviews with Emily XYZ & Jeremy Balius

Well the street press are brimming with interviews with some of the artists who are just days away from turning Brisbane into the poetry capital of this country.

So for those people who can’t pick up a copy I have decided to repost them here. First up here is the interview with Jeremy Balius from this week’s Time Off Magazine:

A MAN OF HIS WORDS

The Queensland Poetry Festival takes over the Judith Wright Centre next week; HERE HELEN STRINGER talks to one of its performers, Perth poet Jeremy Balius.

The mention of spoken word poetry might conjure images of a smoky basement room filled with black-cloaked figures gently clicking their fingers in approval as a pale, malnourished, art school dropout woefully laments the demise of intellectualism in rhyming couplets and a dry monotone, but it’s a misconception that Perth-based poet and performer Jeremy Balius – soon to be in town for the Queensland Poetry Festival – is quick to dispel.
The reality, he explains, is a lot more engaging and evocative than the traditional “Beatnik berets and black turtlenecks” perception would suggest.
“Spoken word as a scene or an experience is a lot closer to what you would experience in theatre,” he says. “So the reasons for going to the theatre would outweigh the reasons for going to the cinema because the actual human emotion element is happening in front of you. That’s what’s going on with spoken word poetry. You’re experiencing it in real time; it’s happening in front of you. It’s a whole lot more engaging than the cliché back-room hokey perception.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Balius – who describes his own work as “more vehement and excitable than the usual” – came across spoken word through music: “the writing of it came from being heavily involved in music and being lyrically bent. The more and more you head down that path you end up coming to the end result which is poetry.”
His immersion in the world of poetry – aside from writing and performing he’s also ventured into indie publishing with Black Rider Press – has lead to his appearance at the Queensland Poetry Festival, an honour, he jokes that must be a “clerical error”. As he says, “it’s completely amazing that of the people coming from WA I’m coming up with Andrew Taylor and Andrew Burke, two stalwarts in WA. These guys are pinnacles in the poetry scene and that alone is a huge honour for me.”
While performance is obviously inherent to all spoken word, Balius is particularly diligent in delineating between printed and spoken poetry.
“I’m probably more militant on this issue than most people… It’s hard to separate myself from the performance aspect. When I read work that I’m going to perform bound within it is the delivery and the movement and the drama of it all and the personal engagement with the audience… It’s about being able to step up on stage and deliver and people just being so blown away that they’re actively responding; they’re so in the moment and not containing themselves.”
Indeed, he’s probably one of the few poets who can claim the dubious honour of having evoked a response so uncontained they’re forced off stage for fear of provoking a riot. Admittedly, the event in question occurred after a band Balius was performing spoken word with was mistakenly booked to play a Bhangra – a very specific type of Indian dance music – festival.
“It went sour so fast and people responded with such vehemence and youthful jubilee that quickly the pandemonium rose to where there’re guys starting to fight and there’s just complete chaos. We got cut after the second song.”
Thankfully, audience responses are usually more positive and rarely involve violent retaliation.
“My favourite response is not even a favourable one but I use it as my mantra. Someone came up to me and he said, ‘You should probably know that we don’t get people like you around here that often…I think I liked it but I don’t know if I should.’” It’s an apt mantra for a spoken word poet: I liked it, but I don’t know if I should.

WHAT: Queensland Poetry Festival
WHERE & WHEN: Judith Wright Centre Friday 27 August to Sunday 29

And here is a recent interview with Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence Emily XYZ from this week’s Rave Magazine:

New York performance poet EMILY XYZ tells ZENOBIA FROST about her residency at The Judith Wright Centre.

You could call Emily XYZ a punk poet – a brilliant spoken word renegade who’s been making words sound good for 30 years. Brisbane wasn’t even on her radar before 2006, when an invitation from the board of the Queensland Poetry Festival came “completely out of the blue.” The poetry community liked her so much that four years later we asked her back, this time as Queensland Writers’ Centre poet-in-residence – a coveted three-month stay in an apartment above the Judith Wright Centre to write and to engage with local poets and audiences.

But XYZ didn’t start out life wanting to be a poet. “I was in a punk band in my 20s,” she tells me, “but the band broke up. I wanted to continue writing lyrics – but I realised that in order to do that, for the lyrics to stand on their own, they were going to have to be really compelling.”

XYZ studied poetry in college (dropping in and out of a few degrees before dropping out for good), but found more inspiration in the music of Patti Smith and David Bowie than on the page. “Somebody lent me Ziggy Stardust when I was 17,” she muses, “and it just made sense to me – the whole idea of a concept album, something with direction.” So it was that words came to be “secondary to music” in Emily XYZ’s work. Rather than detracting from its poeticness (I hereby deem that a word), XYZ’s influences and aims culminated in a powerful, rhythmic style, further honed once she joined forces with performance partner Myers Bartlett.

I was very much a beginner when it came to poetry in 2006, and until then I’d found more solace in print than on stage. Seeing XYZ and Bartlett perform was just damn cool, and certainly made me reconsider the way I thought about the sound and rhythm of my work, even on the page – but their 2006 visit spanned a mere weekend. This time we have 90 days to learn from Emily XYZ. Weekly workshops at Queensland Writers Centre have been such a success that XYZ hopes to extend the series well into September. Her performances around Brisbane have taken her from Avid Reader to SpeedPoets to alongside Ghostboy & The Golden Virtues at Swallow & Exit.

“People actually care about the writing scene here,” says XYZ, putting Queensland’s dwindling arts funding situation in perspective. “In the US, there’s the Lincoln Centre and the Getty Museum, but that’s about it for funding. No arts organisation the size of Queensland Poetry Festival would be able to import talent!”

Since 2005, QWC and QPF have been making sure international poetry makes a zing in the lives of local poets through the residency program, and each writer has left a unique legacy. One of Emily XYZ’s major writing projects is an unusual venture – a Twitter poem called 90 Days in Brisbane. Dip into it for a daily taste of her vibrant work: that ride home after workshop is sweet / focus over, story bridge is like a carousel & judy glows at other end friendly blue in the dark.

Book a workshop through the Queensland Writers Centre: www.qwc.asn.au, or come and see EMILY XYZ at the Queensland Poetry Festival, August 27 to 29: www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com

And finally here is a link to another interview with Jeremy Balius in Scene Magazine.

The excitement is building…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

Filed under events & opportunities, interviews/artist profiles

One response to “QLD Poetry Festival Fever: interviews with Emily XYZ & Jeremy Balius

  1. Graham,
    that is wonderful. thank you for sharing it.

    “I think I liked it but I don’t know if I should.” – that is so wonderful, i don’t know if i can like it. so much honesty.

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