Tag Archives: interview

QPF Spotlight #8 – Bremen Town Musician

My QPF 2009 program is already suitably inked, with many sessions marked that I just cannot miss. One of those sessions features the blistering soundscape rock of Bremen Town Musician. Their 2008 album, No one is holding a gun to your head (Songs to Run to), is still stealing my breath and I am busting at the seams with excitement to see them stretch their sonic wings at the Judith Wright Centre when they take centre stage on Saturday August 22 in the session, A Canary In Our Throats alongside Brianna Carpenter. To help build the excitement, here’s a recent interview with founding member of Bremen Town Musician, Marisa Allen.


Bremen Town Musician


How does a song begin for you – an idea, an image, a phrase, a chord?

All of the above really. It seems to be a combination of these things backed up by a strong feeling. When there is a feeling associated with these then there is a kind of momentum that kicks in harnessing all the elements of bringing a song together. They may not all happen at the same time, it may a period of minutes or even years to piece it all together. I’m finding that there is strong visual element to my songs, that the music and the words combined (on a song that is really working) tend to stimulate a visual side when listened to and from this a story is begun.


What role does poetry play in your songwriting process?

It’s actually very important. I started out writing poetry independently of songwriting. Being an instrumentalist first, words and hence vocals took a back seat in the process for a very long time and were a separate thing to any music that I was making. Then after coming out of a period of illness and journaling a lot I decided I wanted to write songs with words and indirectly that meant adding vocals. So I just wrote.  And because I had always written poetry first, it was familiar to me, that’s what I started writing. I gave myself 3 years to work on the craft and then another period of time to get co-ordinated enough to sing and play at the same time. Every time I had a strong feeling I would write it, that was the only guide I really gave myself. It was a very gentle process and I just allowed myself to write without critiquing anything. It was also a very disciplined process because I kept aiming for something, so there was a focus, I didn’t know what I was aiming for but when I hit it I knew, if that makes any sense at all… Through this process I like to think that I’m now able to discern quite well between what is certainly a poem and what is a song, at least in my own work. Sometimes though the line between what I would consider should remain a poem and what should become a song isn’t so clear but when that happens it can become a really unusual song.


Who are your artistic beacons and how have they shaped your work?

Oh dear! Everyone and no one??? Such a hard thing to pin point. I’ll stick to contemporary artists. If I said one it would be Polly Jean Harvey. I’ve been listening to her work since I was 15 when I first heard Sheela Na Gig coming down through a crackly radio reception on 4ZZZ (how we even picked up 4ZZZ  2hours north of Brisbane I’ll never know!) and I was like who! the! fuck! is that, it was 7 in the morning and I was going to school but that weekend I was down at the only independent record shop in town facing up to the independent record store guy saying have you heard of this person..?? can you order it in..?? I don’t think he really knew what to make of me and could’ve easily just said no, but anyway he ordered it in and I got the album and that was that. Whoosh! .and I cannot explain what it is that resonates with me but it just does. Certainly Dirty Three also. But then there are also such obscure and strange things that are like a light for me such as landscapes and experimental musical instrument makers that shape the entire way I do things musically.


 Nick Cave once said that inspiration is a word used by people who aren’t really doing anything. What’s your take on this?

Hey I answered this question in Pascalle’s spoken word workshop in 2007! Inspiration is like an elusive mist that you can never actually capture, some people spend their time chasing the mist, but they are misguided. Inspiration actually comes out of working and is like a muscle or a cog that starts turning once you actually start doing something.


What are the words you live by?

“Say it in as few words as possible”


About Bremen Town Musician:

Bremen Town Musician are a three piece with Marisa Allen on violin/vocals, Arron Bool on guitar/bass and Dave Bell on drums/percussion playing a blend of experimental/blues/folk at times accompanied only by a single violin to create mesmerizing performances.

Formed in 2005 Marisa Allen emerged as a soloist with the name Bremen Town Musician releasing her first independent solo EP ‘Silent Arrows’ a lo fi exploration of the violin.  Performing as a street musician since 1995 in Australia the U.K and Iceland she was mentored by Geoff Adeney (ex Bullamakanka ‘79 -’81) and Cleis Pearce (DHA, Michael Luenig).

She has toured the United States with Icelandic/American country rock act The Foghorns and performed at Bad Taste Records (Iceland), the Adelaide Fringe Festival, Queensland Poetry Festival and Yeppoon Village Festival and was invited to collaborate with Icelandic improv/jazz/noise collective Spuni/Graupan for the Governor of Reykjavik, at Reykjavik City Hall, Iceland.

Bremen Town Musician offer audiences a unique show. In a live setting the band take one step further bringing an album of songs to life with instrumental improvisations and delivering the raw energy the band harnesses.

Watch Bremen Town Musician perform a solo set at SpeedPoets here.

Find out more: www.myspace.com/brementownmusic


Catch Bremen Town Musician at QPF 2009:

Saturday August 22 – 6:00pm – 7:00pm

A Canary In Our Throat: feat. Bremen Town Musician & Brianna Carpenter

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


1 Comment

Filed under interviews/artist profiles

QPF Spotlight #7 – Noelle Janaczewska

Today the spotlight is shining on Noëlle Janaczewska. Noëlle is an accomplished writer in a number of styles including poetry, plays, performance texts and radio scripts. I had the pleasure of talking to her about her influences, the role of spontaneity the importance of performance and the writing process. Here’s what she had to say: 




What is the role of spontaneity in your creative process?

It’s there, but to what degree, I’m not sure. What I can say is that all my work comes from some combination of interior activity and exterior influences, but the balance varies from one work to another, and from one day to another.


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 spent my early teens wanting to be Joseph Conrad, and my bookcase still has a ‘Conrad’ shelf—or 2. There’s also my battered Penguin copies of Children of Albion, Donne’s The Complete English Poems and Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc—horrible politics, funny verse. I’ve always relished inconsistency and contradiction. More recent influences are Czesław Miłosz, Caryl Churchill, Ira Gershwin, Laurie Anderson and Izumi Shikibu. Right now I’m reading Isaac Newton’s 1659 Notebook (research for a new work) and listening to Lester Young (probably my favourite tenor saxophonist) and Don Byron.

Why perform/read your poetry?

More and more of my writing is on the borderlines of performance and poetry. I have a theatre background with a strong interest in music and musical forms, so things like rhythm and refrain, timbre and tone have always been important. And spoken words pieces are obviously composed with voice in mind.

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 Noëlle Janaczewska do in preparation for writing?

A lot of thinking. A lot of walking—not only along the harbour foreshore, but also up and down supermarket aisles. A lot of what may seem like aimless wandering, both mental and physical, but it all helps create what I like to call a dreaming space for the work. I recently read Doris Lessing’s 2007 Nobel lecture, and posted this excerpt on my blog (http://outlier-nj.blogspot.com): ‘Writers are often asked, How do you write? With a wordprocessor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand? But the essential question is, “Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?” Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas—inspiration.’

Finally, where are you looking when you write?

Literally: a computer screen. Figuratively: the world in all its shambolic glory.


About Noëlle :

Noëlle Janaczewska’s performance texts, plays, libretti, lyrics, spoken word, poetry, essays, gallery and on-line explorations, and radio scripts across drama and non-fiction, have been performed, published and broadcast throughout Australia and overseas. 

Recurring themes in her work are the history and philosophy of science, colonialism and its legacies, narratives of migration, and the exploration of language. The recipient of 4 AWGIE Awards, her stage plays have won the 2002 Griffin Playwriting Award, the 2001 Playbox-Asialink Playwriting Competition (Songket), and the 2006 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award (Mrs Petrov’s Shoe). Recent productions include: Eyewitness Blues for the BBC, The Hannah First Collection, 1919-1949 for the Zendai Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai and There’s Something About Eels … for ABC Radio National. 

Alongside performance, Noëlle has published in anthologies, arts journals and on-line magazines. The poems she wrote for Kathryn Millard’s film Travelling Light feature on the soundtrack CD, and in 2006 The Wayzgoose Press published her long poem Dorothy Lamour’s Life as a Phrasebook. Find out more about Noëlle’s work at www.outlier-nj.blogspot.com and www.noellejanaczewska.com






Don’t be rushed to buy something when you see a sale,
Here there is always being a sale of some sort.
When you are standing in line keep your good distance
Or the person in front of you will be offended.
It’s quite normal to say ‘see you later’, even if you won’t.

Pink colour is here associated with girls, blue colour with boys,
Green, yellow, orange and grey colours are unisex.
Many people here are keeping animals inside their household;
You will cause upset if you don’t treat them like members of the family.

For your dishwasher use detergent specially designated for that,
Ordinary dish-cleaning soap makes too much foaming.
Pizzas are very popular for people of all ages and lifestyles;
You can get cheese pizza, vegetarian pizza or pizza with meats.
Additional servings are called ‘seconds’ and are offered once.

Keep in mind you can’t walk anywhere you like to,
If you walk at inappropriate place the police may give you a ticket.
In front of Australians you should avoid talk in your native language,
They don’t like it and are thinking you might be hiding something. 


Catch Noëlle at QPF 2009:


Saturday August 22 – 1:30pm – 2:30pm

Spine of Lost Voices: feat. Noëlle Janaczewska, Elizabeth Bachinsky & Jessika Tong 


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


Sunday August 23 – 12:15pm – 1:15pm

Venus Walked In: feat. Jane Williams, Zenobia Frost & Noëlle Janaczewska


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


Filed under interviews/artist profiles

QPF Spotlight #6 – Fiona Privitera

Spotlight #6 takes a look at local shining light, Fiona Privitera. Recently, I have had the pleasure of working with Fiona as part of my residency at Cosmopolitan Cafe and am mighty happy to announce that I will be publishing a chapbook of her work (alongside another local poet Jonathon Hadwen), so keep your eyes out for details about its release. For now, over to Fiona …


fe privitera


What is the role of spontaneity in your creative process?

Spontaneity is the result of many hours of reading, researching, talking, thinking, dreaming and writing. Also as important is the role of mistake in a work-  an example of this is a line which began as “the slipping sunlight…” in my notebook, but I typed it as “the slipping sun slight…” which worked better within the poem.


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?
Yesterday I finished reading Story of O by Pauline Réage. It might take a few more days to sink in. It is about a woman whose lover takes her to a house where she is whipped and made use of by all of the men there, and then she is given to another man by her lover and that other man becomes her ‘master’. The book refrains from becoming vulgar however, and has some really interesting things to say about desire and control, desire and possession, about submission, about how much one will do for the pleasure they receive in letting another take pleasure from them in whatever way they see fit.

O must be open all the time. She is to wear no underwear, never close her legs, always have her mouth slightly open. O’s body may be a possession of her master to use and lend as he sees fit, however, her free will is never compromised, as at any stage O is free to leave. I really see it as an extreme version of all erotic relationships; although in most relationships the ‘master/servant’ roles vary from moment to moment, day to day, and you could say the real master is always desire itself. I would recommend reading it.

I would say that I have been more influenced by particular books and poems than by whole bodies of work by any particular author. Novels would be Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and Silk by Allessandro Barrico, for their poetic, simple, concise use of language. I have just re-read My Lover’s Back by mtc cronin- what a great collection. The first poem, Lovers, I must have read 30 times over and each time it is just as brilliant. And I really like the stanza you wrote in On One Hand

Why do they do that?
Shut mad men in a dark place
where they will ripen

I have been influenced and inspired by poets I have met and ones I have seen perform- Rowan Donovan, Mel Dixon, Sean M Whelan -the list could go on and on.


Why perform/read your poetry?

I like the sound of it. Hopefully some other people do as well.


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 Fiona Privitera do in preparation for writing?

I find the actual physical act of writing somewhat contrary to my nature. I prefer to be active and social, while writing is sedentary and solitary. It also requires a certain degree of discipline which I lack. I read poems, stories, non-fiction, news articles, spend way too long on Wikipedia, visit my grandmother, do the dishes, walk to the shops, listen to music, sleep, take notes from books and conversations, steal quotes from friends, do the laundry, think, think some more and then finally I write some awful page of rubbish, which, if I am lucky has one line I use as stimulus for a piece or pieces. Exercise seems to stimulate my ‘writing brain’ so I always walk with a notebook. I usually end up writing decent poems about things which I have been thinking of and taking notes about for at least six months. I went through a big writing stage about a year ago, so lately I’ve really become more of an editor as opposed to a writer. 


Finally, where are you looking when you write?

Graham, I am looking at the notebook or the computer screen. ( is this a trick question?)





The red dye carmine, which is used
to colour many cosmetics and confectionaries
is processed by crushing dried female
cochineal insects.

She sucks on a watermelon flavoured
chili-coated lollipop and harvests
those insects from the cacti.



Her dress is fine threads of saffron fairy floss.
We lie on the white ground.
The morning is strangely warm and the snow
melts around our bodies.
Her dress melts beneath my hands and in my mouth.
I am full of sugar and we are lying in wet dirt.

Her dark eyes are accentuated by grey eyeliner
the cosmetic company titled Gunshot.
Her cupids bow mouth is sweet, Harlot red.
Her flushed cheeks, Peaches.

Her open palm holds the broken thread of her
beetle necklace; the soft bugs scattered in the earth
and the fire-ant trail of her hair.

She tells me:
Iam a pinata. You have cracked me open
found me full of candy.


Catch Fiona at QPF 2009:


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


Sunday August 23 – 12:15pm – 1:15pm

Basement of Grins: feat. Fiona Privitera, Janet Jackson & Jayne Fenton Keane


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

Leave a comment

Filed under interviews/artist profiles

A quick chat with Jeffrey Harpeng

Jeffrey Harpeng is one of Australia’s leading writers of haiku, haibun, tanka and tanka prose. He will read a selection of his work at the final Poetry on the Deck event at Riverbend Books on Tuesday June 23. I took the time to fire a few questions his way. Here’s what he had to say …


Jeffrey Harpeng


1. What intially drew you to poetry?

 The shallowness of the world, just didn’t feel credible. Poetry was found on a pilgrimage to metaphysics.

The things you hear when you start to listen with the third ear. Even when I found heaven vacant the wraith like words wouldn’t quit their spooky groaning.

These hallucinations could be little more than the steam rising off a fever, the result of some secondary infection.


 2. When is a poem ready to be published/performed?

Alfonso Reyes wrote “We only publish to stop revising.

Sometimes that is so, sometimes a poem arrives through the séance of reverie, and meaning and sound are already left and right hand vines tersely intertwined. These poems unravel when picked at with an editorial pen. That doesn’t mean that they are suitable for public exposure, only that the author is under their spell and is willing to bleat their praise like a bold little lamb. I must be talking about somebody else here.

Then there are poetic-sculptures that are chiseled from a marble lump of words, poems found like Michelangelo found his David. They might, could perhaps, would possibly take a further chisel clack or two. Performance can embarrass their faults into magnified obviousness, and publishing can be more frightening. How did no one notice that wart on its lip? Is that really meant to be there?

Or I might say, “Poems are part of an ongoing conversation, and you can stand there blank and dumb for only so long.”


3. Has publication changed the way you approach your writing?

Editors confirm both good and bad writing habits according to the private dementias of their tastes. Some of us, at times, need to be punctuated into good sense. A poem or three may thus become ghostlike, lifeless in the shackles of punctuation. So why not just omit those little tyrannies (& that can sometimes be a sin) to let the words catch their own breath, to weep, and laugh and cry unfettered by demanding scrawls. Oh, you could read your way into and out of these and other fetishes. Ultimately and intimately it is the silk yarn of themes that lead me on, and I live always with the hope that these may tangle and un-tidy the thinking of readers and listeners.


4. Why perform/read your poetry?

‘Language is a virus’, sang Laurie Anderson, infected with that idea by William S. Burroughs.

We are all Typhoid Mary’s of the word, or in my case an Bad Cold Jeffrey.

A poem may not be as sexually communicable as a song, but it’s a damn smart virus that can latch on to a laugh or a sigh, sink its velvety barbs into the lips of a smile. Oh I think I feel some purple verse coming on.

Sing, “Purple is the colour of my true love.”


5. What is the greatest challenge faced by poets/poetry today?

To get up and go to work five days a week. Oh is that just me? Does poetry have words for what it’s like to to swim, butterfly stroke, through a leech infested swamp? Oh, I’m still talking about work. Poetry’s biggest challenge is to be believed when it tries to find or convey truths by telling lies. I could excuse myself by saying that is just the way language works. It’s pictures have to look bigger than the real world to be seen.

But look, I see a little haiku weeping in the corner. Is that a frog it has got in its hand. Oh it’s a messenger toad with a coded message stuck on its back, a lick and stick metaphor. Phew it’s hard enough not to put my dictionary-seven-league-boots in my mouth. 

I should really talk about social responsibility, and of poetry’s ability to reconcile us with or at least help us recognize how much of us there is in the other. I should really talk about that but I gave up using delusions-of-grandeur aftershave years ago. 

Each of us has a unique life mission, though where that fits into the evolutionary idea I haven’t got the foggiest. I guess I’ll just tell you about my beard and the barnacle in my ear.


Join Jeffrey Harpeng on the Riverbend deck alongside Angel Kosch (Standing on the Road); winner of The Dream Ain’t Broken chapbook competition Nicola Scholes (Dear Rose); poetic adventurer and protector of apostrophes, Zenobia Frost (The Voyage) and experimental writer and musician, Marisa Allen (Fire in the Head).

Date: Tuesday 23 June
Location: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford St. Bulimba
Time: Doors open for the event at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $10 available through Riverbend Books and include sushi and complimentary wine. To purchase tickets, call Riverbend Books on (07) 3899 8555 or book online at http://www.riverbendbooks.com.au/Events/EventDetails.aspx?ID=2205


Filed under interviews/artist profiles

A quick chat with Marisa Allen (Bremen Town Musician)

Marisa Allen (Bremen Town Musician) is feature musician and poet and the next SpeedPoets event (2pm Sunday, June 7 @ The Alibi Room, 720 Brunswick St. New Farm) as well as one of the features at the final Riverbend Books, Poetry on the Deck event on Tuesday June 23 (click here for details).


marisa allen


We caught up recently and hade a quick chat…


What initially drew you to poetry?

I read constantly and writing was something that I had always done and I think the first thing I wrote was a poem when I was in year six and it just followed on from that. Later on I really started writing poetry as a means to explore song writing. I began writing poems as a stepping stone to that and just filtered out which ones were better as poems and which ones were better as songs. Poetry allows me to make sense of the world around me and to express myself.


When is a poem ready to be published/performed?

I don’t have a strict sense of readiness for a piece of writing, instinctively I know when a poem works or not. It’s ready when it’s ready and I don’t labour too much on it. Usually there is a strong voice or atmosphere to the words that let me know if a piece is suitable to be published or performed, but it’s such an unknown based on how I feel subjectively about a piece. I always say I have no ugly children, meaning I love them all equally and most I would like to put out into the public sphere. Obviously there are better poems than others, but I just write them, I don’t judge them!  Although I do like to let them sit for a while and go back to them after maybe a year and make small changes to phrases and really make sure what I’m wanting to express is clear.


Has publication changed the way you approach your writing?

Yes. In a way it makes me a little more self conscious but it also emboldens me to push a little harder. Poems that are published are usually chosen because they are ready to be published but once that happens you let them go, they no longer are yours and sometimes I find going back to them to be tiresome, as it’s like yes this was good then when it was written but how can I better it now, how can I move from it to something that is relevant to the experiences I am having now.


Why perform/read your poetry?

I have no idea! I think this is a complex question… I am acutely aware of poetry that works out loud or as a spoken performance piece and poetry that is meant to be read in silence in your mind. I’m really interested in this contrast. At this point I read my poetry because there is a voice in it that I can hear; it brings it to life and adds dimension to the words. But there are certainly poems that I don’t feel have the immediacy to be read out loud, that maybe are very complex in imagery and need a different approach, such as the quiet of reading alone, reading a phrase over and over to grasp the meaning.


What is the greatest challenge faced by poets/poetry today?

Well I think there is always a food shortage just round the corner in any poets life! I think it is the same for any artist, getting their work heard, published, viewed, getting feedback, support in the process which is the most murky area because usually a poet or artist is constantly in a  creative process. Also creating opportunities for poets to have some value in society outside the creative and subjective world of their own writing. I think this is immensely important, that an artist should be able to connect with the world that doesn’t always support their own vision but still values the poet anyway by creating opportunities to use their skills outside of purely creative pursuits. I think the competitiveness and nepotism of any creative area can be very off putting and it’s a challenge that is unnecessary for a creative person to have to face. I think we need a completely new approach to how selection and standardization across the arts is decided, judged on artistic sensibility and merit as opposed to bureaucratic or financial standards, unfortunately it does take time for people to take your work seriously and that in itself is a challenge on a day to day basis.



1 Comment

Filed under interviews/artist profiles

Chains of Flashing Images – an interview with Max Ryan (part II)

Like all good things part II of this interview has been a long time coming, but is well worth the wait…

I have been fortunate enough to see you perform live with Cleis now on several occasions, most recently at Queensland Poetry Festival 2008. That show is still resonating with me four months later. The performance transceded both genres (music and poetry) and drew the audience into the vortex of the moment. Just how much of a show is rehearsed and how much is intuition, interplay, instinct? And how does the live performance differ to the process of recording? 

Thank you for your full-hearted response. The angels were with us up in Brisbane: a finely attuned audience and a great sound engineer didn’t hurt either. There’s sometimes that sense I’m sure any artist gets that it’s all just coming through you and if there’s any reward for your labours, it’s probably this. I’m touched that you had that experience at QPF, I guess that’s what I’m reaching for with Cleis: something that’s more than the two parts. In some uncanny way, I feel that when we’re ‘on’ my voice becomes some sort of musical instrument weaving through Cleis’ strings. So the words transcend their semantic meaning and become more incantatory, mantric. Similarly, Cleis’ music is much more than an accompaniment; in a very dynamic way, she’s listening at a subliminal level, she’s making poetry too. The poet Rob Riel said when he launched our CD at the Australian Poetry Festival that Cleis must also be a poet.


Max Ryan and Cleis Pearce live at QPF 2008

Max Ryan and Cleis Pearce live at QPF 2008


We tend not to rehearse overmuch but there’s a definite musical structure and Cleis will know the poems fairly intimately. Both of us like to leave a lot of space for improvising and not be overly confined to any set pattern. It’s a bit of a game I play with myself; I don’t mull over the poems so that when we perform, I feel like I’m entering the poem for the first time. It’s a somewhat risky exercise but mostly it works I think. In Brisbane I lost my way for a moment in The Blind Singer but made a leap and came back into the poem through the back door.

Another example of how it works: I suddenly got the idea driving to the festival to make four years old more cyclical so instead of trailing off into the grown-up child driving the car round the corner, it comes back to the second stanza: 

The carousel goes up and down
to the strains of a wheezy waltz.           
I’ve learned every song the man plays –       
each second Sunday they’re part of the world    
I’ve made with chocolate ice creams and rides.        
This time around you catch my eye               
and I’m waving, right on time.

It was enough to just mention this to Cleis: I knew she’d turn it all around. In The Blind Singer that night there was a fair bit of improvisation between us, especially when the poem builds into the singer’s deep trance. I tended to repeat phrases or run them together in a different way. The Hexham Flood was more measured with us holding the edge of the child’s fear of an inner drowning.


Max Ryan live at QPF 2008

Max Ryan live at QPF 2008


There are certain patterns we tend to fall into: we’ve somehow made Gypsies our closing piece and by then I know we’re coming home, there’s lots of space with the music surging and drawing back towards the final unravelling. Here, images from the poem swirl together as the child’s imagination is set on a kind of internal combustion with his vision of the gypsies. It tends to go off at this point and I’ll tend to fall into some kind of declamatory mode and then just let Cleis rip. It always feels like everything just opens up and the audience can just go with the sparks climbing into the air from the gypsy fire.

Overall I’d say there’s a strong intuitive interplay within the defined structure of the words and music. Each performance can vary quite radically. I suspect this has a lot to do with the nature of the audience and how in touch it is. In Sanskrit there’s a term called ‘rasa’ which loosely means juice or sap, it’s the very essence of a work of art. The ‘rasakant’ is one who can taste that essence and importantly it is he/she who brings the art to life. Without the ‘taster’ there’s no juice. The QPF audience, I’d say, was a big part of the magic that night.

In recording of course, that’s just the part that’s missing and there can be something quite cold about a recording studio. We made White Cow not that long after we’d started working together; there are things I’d do differently next time but we tried to keep it fairly open and there’s quite a bit of spontaneity on the record. First track we recorded, Eagle, was us on one mike, just one take. The others were mostly recorded in two or three takes at the most, both of us with our own mike standing facing each other so we could bounce off each other as much as possible. For a fairly obsessive person, I’m pretty happy with the result. Overall though I’d say we’re a lot better now. Next time I’d like to capture us live.

I’m inspired by working with musicians but at the heart of it all I guess I’m still searching for the finished poem on the page. In Melbourne I’ve performed with the band Kid Sam; one piece we’ve done consists of loose phrases we weave together and build on but since then I’ve shaped it into a much more formal structure, a villanelle in fact. The performing and the writing run into each other and sometimes, in a musical context, I’m able to hear my own words in a much more charged way, hear just where they  work and where they don’t.

I hope to be able to keep working with musicians. One thing’s for sure: it’s lovely to have someone up there with you, writing poems is lonesome business enough.



Max Ryan live QPF 2008

Max Ryan live QPF 2008

Searching for the finished poem on the page is a life’s journey, so where are the footsteps of Max Ryan currently heading?

Ha! I could try talking about poetry…
Perhaps above all, I love reading poetry and I can envisage myself doing that till I drop. In a fairly direct way, the poems I write are nourished by the poetry I’m touched by. Not that there’s any stylistic resemblance necessarily but there’s some kind of direct energetic force that inspires my own attempts. There are some poems I read over and again, never tire of: Coleridge’s Frost At Midnight, Dejection: An Ode, Yeats’ Adam’s Curse, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, When You Are Old, Whitman’s Song Of Myself, Out Of The Cradle Endlessly Rocking, many of Emily Dickinson’s, Marina Tsvetaeva’s. In a great poem there’s always that sense of magic, some narrative leap or unforgettable turn of phrase that makes the heart beat a little stronger…

Harold Bloom called Coleridge the great poet of night. I still delight in those first few clear notes of Frost At Midnight as the poet summons us to his midnight vision:

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud— and hark, again! loud as before.

Coleridge then draws us into a mystical vision of the ‘stranger’, the still beating embers of the fire that presaged the arrival of some absent friend, which becomes a metaphor for the poet’s ‘abstruser musings’. The poem finishes with this wishful prophecy for his son Hartley, the infant sleeping by his side:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Definitely poetry from another age (the  capitalizing of Frost and Moon and the ornate diction for example) but there’s such a sustained lyrical vision of the harmony between man and nature. I love the way ‘fall’ just falls onto the line. The last lines have the power of great haiku.

There was a period where I felt quite deflated after Rainswayed came out… what now? I realised I’d pretty well written some sort of story-of-my-life, at least my life so far, and I didn’t want to go on just writing more of the same. What I’ve been discovering are poetic forms such as the pantoum, the villanelle etc which have allowed me to enter the poem in a less linear way, such styles seem to fit with the way I feel right now…

Of course these forms can have a highly defined structure and a deep inherent logic and perhaps by this token they provide a great vehicle for bringing what can seem fairly random images into a whole new dynamic. At a certain point, they start to work for you and certain phrases will be reiterated in sometimes surprising new ways. The pantoum form, for example, fits nicely into the fairly imagist style I tend to write in:

half-way home, the drifter turns around
still, even in the rain, we look for signs
before the storm, swallows skim the river
an ocean roar , a face in the crowd

Reading poetry has always been a huge source in my life. I’ve spent a fair bit of time travelling, often alone, and also spent periods of my life fairly laid-up with physical problems. So poetry, a book of poems, has never been far from my side. I left Australia for India in the late 70s with a hard copy of Yeats’ The Collected Poems in my haversack. Yeats has been a real companion to me, sometimes I feel I know him better than I do many of my friends.

Just now I’m enjoying Bronwyn Lea’s The Other Way Out; there’s such a fine sensibility (the only word I can conjure) in these poems and I’ve been delighting in many readings. This one, Ars Poetica, says it nicely:

I used to want
to say one thing

& have it turn

out to be another.
Now I only want

to say one thing.
As if the pleasure

now is in the voicing
not the trickery

but the soul making
itself heard

above the traffic.

As for plans: tanka and haiku, especially the latter, provide a real grounding and keep me rooted in the senses and the everyday occurrences around me and I trust they still will. Working with musicians is always there and I’d like to record with different players on separate pieces.

So I have no major ambitions for my poetry, just to keep on keeping on I guess and above all to enjoy it. I’ll take it wherever it leads me: I feel greatly privileged to be able to practice such an art and hopefully to share it with an audience. We’re all walking in the footsteps of many great bards. Dorothy Porter once said she’d be happy to leave a half dozen of Coleridge’s poems behind her. Well, it was a lovely way of honouring the masters. Mind you, as for the Coleridge poems, I’d be happy with one!


Filed under interviews/artist profiles

Poem or Song? – the words of Leonard Cohen

After being blown away by the power of Neil Young this week, I am now hotly anticipating the arrival of fellow Canadian, Leonard Cohen. He has not toured these shores since 1985 when this Lost Shark was just a pup and he has made no secret that this is the final international tour, so to put it bluntly, I am crawling out of my skin to see him.  


With so much talk on the site recently about poetry and song lyrics I thought it was a great time to post this interview with Cohen from 2006. With eight collections of poetry and eleven albums to his name, there is arguably no one better to talk about lyrics and poetry. Interestingly, Cohen has never really accepted the title of poet or singer:

“I had the title poet, and maybe I was one for a while. Also, the title singer was kindly accorded me, even though I could barely carry a tune.”

What cannot be doubted, is that his words have mesmerised more than four generations of fans and often defy genre. Here Cohen talks about the different tempo of poetry and song, the inescapable lousiness of growing old, autobiographical writing and claims himself to be ‘one of the fakes.’ As always he illumiates.

Read the interview here.

Then check out this ‘spoken word’ performance of A Thousand Kisses Deep from the recent tour.

Oh yes… I am crawling out of my skin!


Filed under interviews/artist profiles