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Break Open and Burst: Talking with Jacqueline Turner

For my final interview in the QPF series, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to a lady who has had a profound influence on my own work, Jacqueline Turner. Jacqueline is a QPF favourite, so it is wonderful that she is returning for her third visit.

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Your first visit to Australia and QLD Poetry Festival was back in 2005 as the inaugural Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence. What is your memory of that first visit and how did it change you as a person and poet?

That visit had an incredible effect on all aspects of my life. First, what stands out in my memory is the amazing people I met from getting off the plane and going straight to lunch with a room full of poets at the Red Chamber to the folks at the Judy, to all the small town writers up the north coast to everyone who came out at NOGO in the outback and then to cap it off, all of the spectacular poets who performed at the festival to huge sellout crowds. Literary types, musicians, performance poets, bush poets all mingling in green rooms and then pushing it out on stage. It was a version of a poetic life I couldn’t have even imagined existed.

The land had a huge impact as well — my work deals with place so the tectonic shift of locale for me was significant. The light, look at the light! I kept saying. I was also slightly traumatized by the kangaroo road kill on trips to regional Queensland and mesmerized when the jacarandas in New Farm Park burst out. The stars were different in the outback and I felt like I was on the edge of the earth, could feel the curve of the planet.

The time and space to work on my writing changed everything for me. Personally, it allowed me to step out of my life for a moment and reinvent myself outside the domestic sphere I had inhabited since my early 20s. In terms of my poetic practice it created a loosening, an opening up to the vast potential of language beyond the ways in which I typically operated. I engaged with the lyric form in a new way and the credibility of the position gave me even more confidence to go with my particular poetic inclinations. I stopped censoring myself. I experimented with connections to music that events like SpeedPoets provided. The flow of the river my hair blowing on the CityCat and me opening. The world. Really it meant everything.

Your residency had a profound effect on the Brisbane poetry community too and in many ways, set the bar for every other residency to come. You have also been a return visitor to QPF since your first visit in 2005, so what is it about the festival that keeps you coming back?

It was great to see such tangible and vibrant manifestations of poetic communities when I arrived in Brisbane the first time and it only seemed to get better and better every time I returned. If my residency did anything, it was to merely encourage what was happening in Brisbane and regional Queensland already and to just reinforce the idea that community is vital to creative practice. It was also really important to me to come back and launch my book Seven into Even since I had written much of it during my residency and that QPF accommodated that desire was completely thrilling to me. QPF is unlike any festival or poetic event because it combines an intimate community feel with the expansiveness of performance with huge but particularly attentive audiences. To be in the presence of so many people who are genuinely seeking a poetic experience is intoxicating and gratifying. I could feel the way that certain lines were landing in the room. And then to combine that with the multi-disciplinary aspect of the festival made the conversations around the main events, in the lobby and out for drinks after, incredibly nuanced. It is a unique experience that I keep subjecting to the forces of repetition for my own pleasure!

We are so glad you do Jacqueline! And again, there are many fine Canadians sharing the QPF stage with you. In fact, QPF has had a real love affair with Canadian poets since your residency. What creates that spark of connection between Canadian poets and our audiences?

I think it’s the similar but different kind of thing. We have shared concerns resulting from similar histories with aboriginal people and the land. Also cultural considerations in relation to the dominant American culture. We all bring varying perspectives on those kinds of concerns. Aesthetically we push in a myriad of ways too that seem to both connect and echo with and maybe sometimes even provoke QPF audiences. And those audiences are amazing! Every Canadian poet I’ve talked to about being on the QPF stage is wowed by the particular responses to their work, but also to the fact that poetry is so important to this city, this country. That spark also comes from the opportunity for conversations around the pleasure and practice of writing, as well as the development of some genuine friendships that exceed distance in the age of social media. I’d also be remiss without acknowledging the support of the Canada Council of the Arts which helps to fund travel to bring lucky Canadian poets to Brisbane over the years as well as the incredibly dedicated work of people at the QWC.

This visit, Australian audiences will get the opportunity to hear you read from The Ends of the Earth (ECW Press, 2013), which is really exciting. I am also keen to hear about any other new projects you are working on that QPF audiences may get a preview of.

I’m working on a new manuscript called Flourish because I’ve spent quite a lot of time on dealing with the ends of things so I thought it would be good to explore how language operates when things are going well. I like the idea of an exuberant text so I’m experimenting with letting the writing break open and burst forth. The rush is an element I’ve used formally in my writing — the rush of the long line prose poem — as well as the mode of compression where language is put under pressure in short imagistic stanzas, so I guess I want to see what’s between the extremes of concision and excess. An recent example would be the Presence piece I did for the Cordite chapbook you curated and I hope to keep working that vein for awhile. It feels exciting. I’m curious to see how those stellar QPF audiences will take it all in…

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Jacqueline-TurnerJacqueline Turner has published four books of poetry with ECW Press: The Ends of the Earth (2013), Seven into Even (2006), Careful (2003), and Into the Fold (2000). She reviews for the Georgia Straight and lectures at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She was the inaugural Arts Queensland Poet In Residence.

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In the Mind’s Ear: Talking with Lawrence English

The third interview in my QLD Poetry Festival series, sees me chatting with renowned composer and sonic explorer, Lawrence English. I have to say, I am excited beyond words about Lawrence’s involvement this year and this interview explains why…

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QPF is thrilled that you will be taking the stage as part of the Saturday night event, The Star Folder. This event sees you working with some of the poets on the program to produce a new body of work. What excites you most about a project like this?

Well I have to say I find the name a rather exciting proposition to start with. It’s part Arthur C Clarke, part tabloid – it could be some intergalactic compression or an aspirational dossier young Hollywood types hope to end up in!

In all seriousness though, this is a wonderful opportunity for myself and video artist scott morrison to trial a series of deconstructivist approaches to language, text and ultimately poetry. We’re both very interested in the transition of the macro (sentence, phrase etc) into the micro (phoneme) – and what the spectrum of possibility might be along that pathway. Once words or phrases become repeated they take on new capabilities as tools for both visual and auditory stimulus and we’re keen to test in just which ways that can be played out.

The poets we’ve been fortunate enough to work with have all kindly handed over their words and voices for us to transform, extend and explode.

I love that you are excited about the title of the event. The Star Folder is the title of a poem by MTC Cronin. Are you familiar with her work? And speaking of poets you are familiar with, who are the poets you love to read or who have had an influence on you over the years?

I’d confess to being aware of the reputation more than the work itself. Everything Holy is in fact the work that I first came in contact with her work. I’ve not had a chance to read any of the books for the past half decade or so.

I have to say it’s only very recently that I’ve found some poems that directly feed into my work – that’s not to say I don’t value the form – more just that the written word has not been a place I’ve sought inspiration for the kind of pieces I’ve been exploring. That changed fairly radically with the book ‘The Peregrine’ (which I honestly feel is a very long, free flowing poetry work…of sorts) and most recently I’ve been spending some time thinking on Gerontion – specifically the phrase ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’, which is in fact the title of a new solo LP I am working on presently. That collection of words I find profoundly provocative and insightful – somehow so very fitting of many of the challenges of the modern age.

Gerontion is right up there with my favourite poems by Eliot, so I can’t wait to hear how his words are helping to shape your new album. With your last album, The Peregrine, how did you discover J.A. Baker’s text of the same name? And I am really interested in what role the text took in the creation of the album.

I first discovered The Peregrine some years back whilst I was visiting with a friend, David Toop, in London. He’d just ordered a copy and it was sitting on his desk. Being an admirer of the bird, I picked it up and within a page, I’d decided I needed to order a copy for myself. What struck me first was the articulation of sound in his writing. To me, Baker seems able to create sound in the mind’s ear in a way very few authors can – truly stunning.

In terms of how the book shaped the recordings – often it was quite literal – taking Baker’s phases and descriptions of spaces and objects and using them as kind of compositional shaping tools. It was an interesting way to work and I’m not sure all texts lend themselves to this approach, but Baker’s work more than surely does.

Will you be transforming the poems of Jennifer Compton, Ian McBryde and Anna Fern in a similar way, or are you taking a completely different approach?

I’d say this will be an entirely different process – for the peregrine – it was taking those written materials and using them as a way to shape abstract musical concepts. For this work, myself and scott morrison are working with the poets – jennifer compton, ian mcbryde and anna fern – in very ‘concrete’ ways – using their voices and faces as material sources from which the sound and video world can be created. It’s an exciting process of discovery as we reduce the texts, gestures and voices into radical new forms.

I want to finish off with a grandiose kind of question… what do you think should be the relationship between an artist and the society they live in?

Well, that is a wide sweeper of a question.

Honestly, what keeps me involved in making works is a very simple proposition – ideas.

We have these quite amazing brains encased in our skulls and it sometime surprises me how much time, as a species, we spend trying not to use them.

Lets take something like TV as an example. Now not all TV is bad, but lets face it, a lot of it is there to ‘help me wind down’ or ‘turn my brain off’ – and lets be clear there’s nothing wrong with rest…but what other daily activity would you spend 3-5 hours doing consistently. People watch an awful lot of TV that does nothing but occupy time…if even a fraction of this time collectively was spent on other pursuits – writing a letter on a topic you feel important to your local politician, taking a moment to visit with people who might need company or assistance, tending some native trees in your yard that might provide food for other native mammals or birds – just a little bit of time spent thinking about ways to make this world somewhat better than what it is – to me, that sounds like a good plan…

So to summarise, I guess, my role I’d like to think is to share my excitement about ideas. About using these wonderful clumps of soft tissue that can make so many wonderful things happen. We’re faced with challenging times in this country – questions about who we are and ultimately who we want to become – a small bit of thought and the odd bit of action for all of us might just make a world of difference.

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Lawrence-EnglishLawrence English is a composer, media artist and curator based in Australia. Working across an eclectic array of aesthetic investigations, English’s work prompts questions of field, perception and memory. English utilises a variety of approaches including live performance and installation to create works that ponder subtle transformations of space and ask audiences to become aware of that which exists at the edge of perception.

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Delightfully Slant: Talking with Jon Paul Fiorentino

Here’s number #2 in my QLD Poetry Festival interview series… a chat with the delightfully slant Jon Paul Fiorentino, who is keeping his promise and making his way back across the Pacific to launch Needs Improvement at QPF 2013.

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2013 is your second visit to QPF. What is it about the festival that has drawn you back across the Pacific?

When I was asked to read in 2010, I was able to launch Indexical Elegies and read with Ken Babstock, Angela Rawlings and August Kleinzahler. It was like a dream. I was overwhelmed to discover this amazing community of poets and writers. The positivity and kindness of the people was infectious and reminded me very much of the arts community I grew up in in Winnipeg. Brisbane quickly became one of my favourite places in the world. I promised myself that when the next book was ready, I would do everything I could to launch it at the QPF. Thankfully, I was invited again and my publisher, Coach House Books, helped to make it happen.

I am really glad that you have been able to keep that promise! What can you tell us about the new book? Is there a poem that you would like to share here as a preview?

Needs Improvement has three sections. “Things-As-Facts” which is a series of alyrics; “Needs Improvement” which is a series of misreadings and appropriations of various pedagogical materials as well as some visual schematic poems; and “Moda” which is a series of villanelles linked to various geographic places. It’s a very strange book, but I am a very strange person. Sure. Here is a poem called “Gag”:

GAG

Entirely my idea not a great one but entirely mine
There was a bicycle and an objectivist poet sort of riding it. Not
red or blue. Entirely my idea all twig and spoke and gag

I gag often these days like as if it wouldn’t catch up
Never my bicycle always entirely my idea and I share
the poet with a post-mountain time scholar from out east
Grey. Not silver but entirely grey

How does it feel to share the QPF stage with another bunch of fine Canadian poets – Sachiko Murakami, Jacqueline Turner, Paul Vermeesch & Shane Rhodes? And are there any particular events/artists on the program that you are really excited about seeing?

When I heard the other Canadians who were coming, I was thrilled. I am a fan of all four. I know Sachiko very well from the time she lived in Montreal. We have worked together on various projects and I was pleased to recommend her first book, The Invisibility Exhibit, for publication. Last time, I discovered the works of Jennifer Compton, Andrew Burke, and Jeremy Balius. I hope to discover more new voices this time.

What is your earliest poetry memory?

My earliest poetry memory is a memory of my grandfather’s laughter, and feeling shag carpet on my skin and being without words but longing for them. My earliest true engagement with poetry happened when I listened to The Smiths and heard Morrissey’s lyrics. The song was “These Things Take Time.” It prompted me to go out and steal a book of Oscar Wilde’s collected poetry. I read “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” over and over again. Since then I’ve never looked back but I’ve often looked sideways.

The root of the word ‘poet’ is ‘maker’. You’ve made wonderful mention of sense memories such as your grandfather’s laughter and lyrical memories such as hearing The Smiths for the first time, so what are the things that are currently influencing the ‘making’ of your poems?

I’m influenced a great deal by critical theory. Barthes is still my go-to guy. I’m very much moved by collaborations / discussions / healthy arguments with other writers these days. Also, I find that if I skip a day of anti-depressants, I see the world in a delightfully slant way.

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Jon-Paul-FiorentinoJon Paul Fiorentino’s first novel is Stripmalling, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Hugh MacLennan Award for Fiction. His most recent book of poetry is Indexical Elegies which recently won the 2010 CBC Book Club Award for Best Book of Poetry.  He is the author of the poetry books The Theory of the Loser Class which was shortlisted for the 2006 A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and Hello Serotonin and the humor book Asthmatica. His new book of poetry is Needs Improvement (2013: Coach House Books). He lives in Montreal where he teaches creative writing at Concordia University, and edits Matrix magazine.

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Blissfully Losing My Mind: chatting with CJ Bowerbird

QLD Poetry Festival is fast approaching (August 23 – 25) and in the lead up to the event, I have been lucky enough to have been given the job of chatting to some of the festival artists. First up in my interview series, I chat with winner of the Australian Poetry Slam, CJ Bowerbird.

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You were the winner of last year’s Australian Poetry Slam. How has this experience changed your life?

Winning the Australian Poetry Slam threatens to ruin my life as it currently exists. I have always written creatively in my spare time, the little spare time that exists between having a family and a non-creative career. But it is only in recent years I have shared my work with live audiences. And I love it!

It is the performance aspect of spoken word that particularly appeals to me. Winning the Australian Poetry Slam has given me opportunities to break out of the strictures of slam poetry to develop longer, more theatrical pieces. These have been well received by audiences in Australia and China, encouraging me to write and perform more.

Writing creatively does not necessarily fit well with a balanced home life or a regular 9-to-5 job. Now I have been given a taste, though, I am hooked. Through exploring concepts and situations creatively, I am re-discovering things about myself and about others I did not realise I knew. I am trying to find ways to continue developing as a writer and performer without risking everything I already have.

And I believe I am slowly, blissfully losing my mind.

I know what you mean about balance. I have come to think it’s almost impossible… there’s always a sense of something toppling. But if the slow losing of the mind helps the process of discovery, then let the unraveling begin! I am really excited to hear you perform some of the longer works you have been working on. The opportunity to perform this type of work in China must have been incredibly exciting. What will stay with you from this trip?

Taking part in the Bookworm International Literary Festival in China was tremendously rewarding and satisfying. I performed my 45 minute piece ‘Meta’ four times, in three different cities. The audiences varied from diplomats and ex-pats to Chinese university students.

One of the strongest lessons I gained from this trip was the power of performance as a complete activity. While some of the attendees at my shows reacted to my words, others were strongly moved by my actions. This variety was reinforced by the fact English language ability varied through the audience. It was very gratifying to have the freedom to engage with people in different ways.

That said, it was the conversations I had which focussed on the words that were most satisfying. These conversations often led in unexpected directions, as others found things in my work I didn’t realise were there.

Is it that ‘sense of discovery’ that keeps you eager to hit the stage? And speaking of hitting the stage, what can audiences expect from you at QPF 2013?

It is the sense of discovery that keeps me writing. The more I write, the more I learn about myself. It is the thrill of connection that keeps me eager to perform, the feeling of shared experiences and common emotions.

These are the two constants I find in performance poetry – learning and sharing.

I will be doing two 15-minute performances for QPF. For one, I am planning a conventional set of poems. For the other, I will put together more of a themed performance, where the poems link together to offer a more complete narrative. I have a bit of a love and loss story arc I am working on that should be ready for the festival.

To finish up, what are you most looking forward to at QPF? Are there any sessions, or artists that have really peaked your interest?

To be vague and general: everything and everyone. Winning the Australian Poetry Slam has allowed me to attend several festivals this year and meeting other writers and performers has definitely been the highlight of every one of them.

More specifically, TT.0 is someone whose work I have followed for some time. I am looking forward to hearing the work of Canadians John Paul Fiorentino and Paul Vermeesch. I have recently started following them on Twitter (@stripmaller and @paulvermeesch) and their conversations have caught my attention.

I really want to meet Betsy Turcot, having seen a lot of her work online. Catching up with Kelly-lee Hickey, another Australian Poetry Slam winner, and seeing what she is doing now will be a highlight, as will seeing Scott Sandwich.

Bertie Blackman will be a standout. I get a thrill out of cross-genre/form collaboration and have had some good experiences hearing contrasting story telling in poetry and in song.

Finally, I am really looking forward to meeting you Graham, and catching up with friends on the QPF committee, Scotty Darkwing Dubs and Eleanor Jackson.

I can’t wait!

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Australian Poetry Slam-FinalsCJ Bowerbird is the 2013 Australian Poetry Slam Champion. He tells stories through verse and explores what it is to be human. CJ crafts poetry into paper planes of performance, taking audiences on flights through despair and salvation without ever losing his sense of humour.

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QPF 2012 Feature Artist: Tylea (part iii)

With only one day left until the official opening of QLD Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word, I catch up with Tylea to talk songwriters and find out about her closing night performance.

ALS: Last time we spoken, you mentioned Grant McLennan and Dave McCormack as two songwriters who are important to you. If you had to choose one song from each of these artists to listen to, which would it be and why?

Tylea: I could listen to Cattle and Cane all day by Grant.

I  grew up in Bundaberg and my family and forebearers had a long history with the Fairymead Mill.  Cattle and Cane is the kind of song you feel you have always known.  It just makes sense and works on many levels for me.

I also love David McCormack’s songwriting because of his sense of humour.  I wish I could roll with the punches as much as David.  He’s  a wonderful character.

ALS: And lastly, what are you most looking forward to about performing at QPF 2012?

Tylea: I have invited Pascalle Burton (Pas) to help me out with my set.  We have concocted a sound/guitarscape piece inspired by Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit.  I am not sure how my part will turn out, but I have enjoyed spending a bit of time with Pas and am looking forward to unleashing the uncertainty.  I hope it will be okay.

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QPF 2012 Feature Artist: Tylea (part ii)

ALS: QLD Poetry Festival has long been passionate about showcasing songwriters and their lyrics. Do you have any tried and true process for writing lyrics? Do they tend to inform the music or is it the other way around? And who are the songwriters in Brisbane that create a stir in your world?

Usually, I start writing on an instrument and some lyrical ideas will flow from there.  Each instrument can kind of dictate what type of mood the music/lyrics will have.  For example, if the music idea starts on piano, it will pretty much have a mellow, sadder feel for me.  And so melancholic lyrics will usually come soon after or simultaneously.

At this stage of the writing, I try not to interfere or judge too much as it creates blocks.  The most important thing is having that creative flow and to get a rough structure done with the words and music together – while you are feeling it.  You can always critque the piece  later on down the track, but at that precise moment of writing, I try really hard not to criticise or ask questions.  I guess it’s the only time in my life where I feel like I don’t judge myself.  That’s why I love it so much.

I think I prefer to write starting with music first as it tends to “open the door” on  possibilities to the lyrics. I can write vice versa but music first is the way I prefer.

The songwriters… Grant McLennan & David McCormack.

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QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversidge (part v)

It has been a real thrill talking with Ray Liversidge this past couple of weeks and I am now looking forward to seeing him step on to the QPF stage so that I can hear his ‘dead-poet-portraits’ come to life. Ray and I wrap up our conversation today, talking the art of collaboration and future projects.

Catch Ray Liversidge live at QPF 2012 in the following sessions:

Strands Upon The Pillow (Sat 25 Aug 1.30pm) and Unseen Strings Connecting (Sun 26 Aug, 2pm). Ray will also read as part of A Million Bright Things, along with every other artist on the program, on Saturday August 25 from 8pm.

ALS: As I have mentioned before, with No Suspicious Circumstances, you collaborated with artist, Kathryn Bowden. I would love to hear more about how you worked together to produce the book and how you found the experience.

RL: When I first set out on this adventure of writing about dead poets it was always my dream to have illustrations of the poets to complement the poems. I did think that the dream would remain just that as it is hard enough to get a book of poems published let alone have the luxury of it being illustrated. Well, the planets aligned when I found Littlefox Press which is the publishing arm of Alice & Co run by Christine Mathieu. They specialise in books which may not be suited to the commercial requirements of larger trade publishing houses.

Kathryn would consider herself more of an artist than an illustrator, however she accepted the challenge of producing the portraits of the poets. We sourced photos and images of the poets and Kathryn insisted on reading my poems and even undertook research to find out more about the poets. The best way to describe our working relationship is to say that we were on the same page from day one! I couldn’t be more happy with the illustrations, and working with Kathryn and Christine has been the most exciting, satisfying and enjoyable experience of my writing career.

ALS: Will you be incorporating Kathryn’s images into your live performance of the work?

RL: Yes. Unfortunately, the book will not be ready for the festival, but at least the audience will get to hear me read some of the poems and see the relevant illustrations projected on a screen.

ALS: With No Suspicious Circumstances due for release, what projects are you currently working on?

RL: I have recently finished a 400 line poem on an incident which took place in Oradour-sur-Glane, France, towards the end of WW2. I am currently doing reseach for a poem on a 4th century martyr. I’m experimenting with the long line… And so it goes!

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Ray and I both agreed it seemed most fitting to sign off with a poem and one of Kathryn’s images.

The path ends where the wood ends

Like Dylan, you died in your thirty-ninth year.
Like Dylan, born with the same name, the same
Urge to live the writer’s life, however austere.
Yet, to you, nature was no metaphor, feigned
Or fabled dingle; but dell, down, wind and rain
Of your beloved Hampshire. Robert Frost moved next door.
So did the war. More than a hundred poems came.
In one you stepped out … into an April morning, called
Into a dark and cloistered wood on your last Wordsworthian walk.

[Edward Thomas was born in 1878 in London to Welsh parents. Although a Georgian poet he wrote with a modern sensibility about the impact that time and war have on country life. Thomas enlisted in 1914 and was sent to France in early 1917. On the first day of the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917 he was killed by a bomb blast.]

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