A Matter of Disturbance: Talking with Sandra Thibodeaux

A vocal mob are about to descend on our fine city, as the 2011 QLD Poetry Festival is literally just around the corner. I have been bouncing questions back and forth between some of this year’s featured artists, starting with Australian Poetry’s inaugural Poet-in-Residence, Sandra Thibodeaux.

Earlier this year you won the role of Australian Poetry’s inaugural Poet-in-Residence. What have been the highlights of the role so far?

I loved my two trips to Tennant Creek. There are some great (mostly Indigenous female) writers there who always make me remember the important things – the strength of words, the beauty of female solidarity when all the nonsense is stripped away. I sometimes go to Tennant in tatters and leave feeling whole.

I have enjoyed getting to meet so many poets across Australia, both virtually and in real life. I’ve had some great laughs with people like Coral Carter, Amelia Walker, Matt Hetherington, Derek Motion, Nathan Curnow and your good self, Graham!

It’s been satisfying to see people’s ideas spark in the workshops I’ve facilitated. I’ve seen some barriers collapse and some new writing journeys commence in the different classes.

Winning the comedy debate in Katherine – That Books are Better Than Bucking – made me gloat for a few weeks. I’m fiercely competitive in a debate.

My Friendly Street gig in Adelaide was memorable – I’ve never met such hardy folk! Their readings are like one-day cricket matches.

I’d still have to call my recent Darwin gig with Sietta my favourite, though. I really love that band, the crowd was pumped, the open mic was top-notch – a great night.

Your touring schedule has been quite hectic and there is no sign of it slowing down. How has this manifested itself in your creative output?

Luckily, I’ve grouped commitments together so that I travel for a month or so and then stay home for the same amount of time. This has been a good balance. In the home months, I’ve knocked out a play (almost finished now) about a politician who breaks his restraining order two weeks before an election. Also, in the home months, I’ve followed up with workshop participants and written new poems, many of which have been uploaded to the blog.

And, of course, being on the road has been inspiring – I wrote a few poems in Tennant and in Adelaide, and feel some inspiration coming upon me now for Brisbane!

Life on the road will soon land you in QLD, where, as part of QLD Poetry Festival 2011, you will be facilitating a workshop titled, ‘Disturbing the Poem’. Give us the lowdown on some of the techniques of disturbance you will be asking poets to consider.

I tailor-make these classes according to the participants’ needs – they email me their poems ahead of the class. However, in general, I find that we normally work around issues of voice, position, character, structure, metaphor, concrete details, titles and last lines. We do this through exercises, models and reflections. They are active classes, and the participants walk away with a few new poems. Rob Walker, in the Adelaide class, said: ‘I especially appreciated the huge amount of time and thought that you obviously put into our poems in preparation for the workshop. I was blown away that you’d actually gone to the Botanic Gardens to research my obscure trees.’ So, yeah – give me your trees, and I’ll help you bend them towards new sky.

You have been a part of the QLD Poetry Festival family before in 2005. What are your memories of the festival and what are you most looking forward to this year?

I like how you’ve used the word ‘family’! Well, that’s how it felt. I remember Graham and Julie holding hands in the audience once the lights went down. Cute! I was room-mates with Amelia Walker in 2005, and we’ve continued to be friends. I met Yvette Holt for the first time, and we went on to work together on several occasions. I was mesmerised by Hinemoana Baker and knocked out by Ian McBryde – I love his dry wit. I was also struck by the talent and integrity of Kevin Gillam, and we invited him to Darwin last year. And I must say … Graham Nunn’s MCing was superb – I much prefer the snapshot style of introductions you do. They’re so much better than full biographies.

Is there a poem you have recently written that has you more excited than usual?

The ones that have excited me the most are too long for this forum, I feel, but I don’t mind this one:


Camp dog draws an arc around your fire.
With a flick of your careless head, you allow
her into the warmth when you have a need
of her bristling fur beneath your fingers.
She approaches on careful paws, never asking too much.
Is this why you give her even less?
Her ribs are numbered. When you’re done,
you toss the bones into the ashes,
nudge her away with cracked boots
and leave the number of a disconnected phone.


Catch Sandra at the following QPF 2011 events:

Disturbing the Poem w/ Sandra Thibodeaux
FRIDAY 26 August
10:00am – 1pm

Join Australian Poetry Poet-in-Residence, Sandra Thibodeaux, as she takes you through the art of poetic disturbance. Sandra will be encouraging participants to ‘disturb’ their poems, shifting perspective, place, chronology and voice; playing with economy, resonance, metaphor, structure, colour, and the senses. Such disturbances may unearth new levels to the poetry or may lead to the creation of new works. This active workshop is designed for poets o f various levels. Though not essential, participants will get more out of the workshop if they email drafts of poems a week beforehand.

Where: Queensland Writers Centre, Level 2, State Library of Queensland, Cultural Centre, Stanley Place, South Brisbane

Cost: $20

To book please contact the Queensland Poetry Festival on 07 3842 9950 or by email at qldpoetry@gmail.com. Places are strictly limited, so get in early.

FRIDAY 26 August:
Of Rhythm and Rapture

Join us for the opening night extravaganza of 2011 Queensland Poetry Festival, Of Rhythm and Rapture.

Lighting up the stage will be poets Sandra Thibodeaux (NT), Sawako Nakayasu (Japan), Jacob Polley (UK), and singer-songwriter Kate Fagan (NSW).

Acclaimed singer-songwriter and poet Kate Fagan will feature with a very special one-hour feature set showcasing her musical and lyrical talents. This is also the first time Australian audiences will have the opportunity to experience the 2011 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence Jacob Polley’s ‘transcendental’ style, and the textured, eccentric work of Sawako Nakayasu.

It will be a night to set the stage on fire!

Tickets start at $15 and are available now through the Judith Wright Centre on 07 3872 9000 or via their website. Don’t forget to join as at the JWC for the rest of the weekend of FREE poetry and spoken word.

When: Friday 26 August

Time: 7.30pm

Where: Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 420 Brunswick St Fortitude Valley 4006

SATURDAY 27 August:

Shelter in the Flesh, 2:45pm, SHOPFRONT Space, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts (Free Entry)

SUNDAY 28 August:

Onward to Infinity, 7:00pm, THEATRE Space, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts (Free Entry)



Filed under interviews/artist profiles

2 responses to “A Matter of Disturbance: Talking with Sandra Thibodeaux

  1. Thanks, Graham. And I forgot I had a chance to send you a photo! The ABC (where this one comes from) did a very good job of making me look like a grumpy schoolteacher. Bad ABC – that’ll be 50 lines. x

  2. Sorry, Graham – someone has pointed out that I was at QPF in 2006, not 2005. This is true – I had my years mixed up. God, another scandal – lying to the poetry community?!?! I’ll release an official statement soon …

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