Tag Archives: Interview with Emily XYZ

Emily XYZ talks about her experience as Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence

Tomorrow night (Tuesday Sept. 21) is the launch of Emily XYZ’s legacy item and farewell party at The Edge, so whether you have RSVP’d or not, I recommend pulling on your disco boots and coming along. Full details of the event can be found here: EVP Launch

With Emily’s time in Australia sadly winding up, I asked her a few questions to get her thoughts on her time as Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence.

How has living in this beautiful city of ours influenced you and your writing over the past couple of months?

Australia generally is a more upbeat place than much of the US right now, especially SE Michigan, where I’ve been living lately. The housing crash, the Detroit auto industry implosion, and the financial crisis all hit the midwest particularly hard.  Australia is in a very different place economically than the US right now.  That alone is nice!  You don’t have the social rifts we are dealing with, either — all the terrible debris of the Bush years.  The US is so polarized right now that forward movement is impossible, and so things are at a standstill.

Being in Australia reminds me that there is hope for the world.  That may sound funny, but it is very encouraging to me the amount of consciousness, on a mundane level, for things like the environment — As a simple example, you have the half/full flush toilets everywhere, which do not exist in the US, I’m sorry to say.  There is also less poverty here, less desperation, and a LOT less gun violence.  It just seems like the place still has a soul, and still cares about doing the right thing.

So all that has a subtle but powerful effect on one’s state of mind.  You find yourself kind of “calming down” here.  I worry less.  Of course, I’m in a special situation as Poet in Residence — visiting artists are treated well — but even so, I find it a very pleasant, civilized place in so many ways.  In terms of Brisbane specifically, it’s an easy city to live in with many things that make daily life good.  Like the Riverwalk, which is maybe my favorite thing here.  It is so unique — I don’t know of any American town that has a walkway like that all along their waterfront!  And it’s so fun — to walk in the air, to see the beauty of the city and the river and the weather.  It just cheers me up every time I’m there.  Just a great thing to have.

So I guess to answer your question, I’m not sure how it’s influenced my WRITING yet — as that is a much bigger, slower-moving thing, an influence on one’s output — but I can say that being here has definitely improved my state of mind.  It’s given me hope.  I feel like maybe Australia is the next great standard-bearer of democracy.  It’s a “young” place in a way that the US is not right now.  You are not afraid to confront things and find answers, or at least take the questions seriously.

You have taken in plenty of poetry events during your residency, so how does the Brisbane scene stack up?

Very well.  There’s a very lively local poetry & writing scene, which I have really enjoyed getting better acquainted with.  There’s a lot to do and participate in if you are a writer, a poet, a spoken-word artist here.  And there’s room for more!  So people should definitely be starting new things, as well.  New readings, new workshops, new venues, new events, new approaches to presenting stuff.  You have to PUT IN to keep the thing growing.  Ask not what the poetry scene can do for you — Ask what you can do for the poetry scene.
 
You have been busy recording some of your new two-voice poems at the moment… what can we expect?

I recorded two new two-voice poems, “EVP” and “A Little Revolution” (which I wrote here) with no accompaniment, then asked two local guys, Darek Mudge (a producer & sound engineer who also plays in the band Disco Nap) and Matt O’Neill (a music journalist who also creates soundscapes; he works w/ a dance duo called Nostalgia) for remixes, which they very graciously did in a ridiculously short time.  I love the remixes, they are very different responses to the original poems but both very cool.  I think the poems are good, too.  “EVP” means “electronic voice phenomena” and is inspired by those recordings people make of background noise in haunted houses; sometimes you can hear hear strange, unexplained speech-like sounds and those are called EVPs.  Peripherally it’s also about confusion & loss. “A Little Revolution” is a fun song, I call it imaginary disco, partly inspired by the Commodores’ song “Brick House,” a funk classic.

Looking back on the residency what have been your highlights… What will you miss most?

The workshop, no question about it.  I’m pretty happy with the writing I’ve done here, but the workshop was the thing I most enjoyed.  It kept me sane and on track, and I will really miss that group of people.  The twitter poem, too — 90 DAYS IN BRISBANE  (@xyzpoem).  That’s been funny, coming up with a poem in 140 characters or less, every day since July 1, the day I got here!

I was also very happy with the performances Myers & I did, especially at QPF and at the Red Chamber during the Brisbane Writers Festival.  And the slam that night was also pretty wild — Been a long time since I was in a room that loud and lively!

Beyond that, I will miss you and Julie, and Pascalle and Ian.  And Ghostboy most of all.  You guys have all been so great. 

And the laksa at Wok Inn on Brunswick St., and the french fries at Burger Urge.  And caramel slices.  And murraya.  And Speedpoets.  And the walk from Story Bridge to the State Library.  And the Wednesday market at Queen Street.  And the roses in New Farm Park.

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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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