Tag Archives: the importance of voice

QPF Spotlight #17 – Barbara Temperton

QPF 2009 is just two days away and it is all systems go… so to help get you there, today’s spotlight is shining on Barbara Temperton, illuminating where she finds the words that sing that strange music we call poetry.

 

b temperton

 

 

Influences

I’ve soaked up a large variety of influences over the years: from growing up semi-feral in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, to finally moving south, spending eleven years on the south coast before my current detour to the Mid West coast.

I started to write as a child, encouraged by my teachers, but really didn’t really start seriously until 1983. When I moved to Perth in 1987 I was able to connect with other writers – teachers, fellow students, and members of the Perth writing community –  such as Marion Campbell, Philip Salom, Anne Brewster, Tom Shapcott, Elizabeth Jolley, Dennis Haskell, Tracy Ryan, John Kinsella, David Buchanan, Mark Reid, Morgan Yasbincek, Andrew Taylor, Glen Phillips, Marcella Polain, and many others. A residency at Varuna in 2000 under the tutelage of Dorothy Porter and in the company of Judy Johnston and Felicity Plunkett is a high point. Undertaking my MA at UWA under the supervision of Dennis Haskell is another.

 

The Writing Process

My writing process is painstakingly slow. Getting ideas is one thing … one can accommodate a workman-like approach to the construction of poems, but working in an inspired way incorporates an entirely different process. Inspiration to me is when I become totally involved – emotionally, physically, spiritually, whatever – I’m in there with it – that’s when the work really starts to breathe and occupy my life with an intensity that can last days, weeks, months… if I’m lucky.

My first collection “The Snow Queen takes lunch at the Station Café” in Shorelines came together over a period of about seven years when I was mainly focussed on writing prose. I spent the next seven years working on poems for Going Feral, and another seven plus on Southern Edge. There is always a quiet, anticipatory space for me after I’ve finished a writing project, where I wait patiently for my next obsession to materialise.

 

The Importance of Voice

I know I have a character and a poem when I can hear voice. The means by which that comes about is difficult to explain. Sometimes the voice comes from within, sometimes from without. I collect voices that I come across from day to day, write them down, save them up. Once, at a party, I overheard a friend say “I have found pleasure in skinning rabbits.” As soon as our eyes met she laughed and pointed at me (because she knows me well) and said “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded!” And went on to explain what she really meant. But it didn’t matter, I had already collected the words, the voice. By the time I got home that night I had created the character who was speaking. So, voice can be a narrative position, but can also take many other forms, like sound qualities or structural aspects – line lengths, for example – of a poem. The character I called Traveller in “Jetty Stories (from Southern Edge) had his point of origin outside Port Hedland in 1995. We were fishing on the banks of a tidal creek. My nephew William told me the local legend of a woman who had walked out onto the mud flats at low tide, and who was trapped and drowned when the tide came in. William’s story provided me with the situation, later work saw the development of the Traveller’s character, but the poem did not come alive for me until I had found its voice – not the voice of the character but the voice of the poem – and that didn’t come about until much later.

 

Recurring Themes

About a decade ago I came to the understanding that bereavement in its many forms has been a constant source of inspiration for me, as it continues to be. Wherever darkness exists it has lightness as its counterfoil. That’s the nature of binaries – where there is one there is the other. In poetry, as in drawing, you don’t create a form by drawing the form, you create it by drawing the shadows.

 

How have my feelings about poetry, the reading and writing of, changed since I first started writing?

I don’t think my passion for poetry has changed, I still love reading it and writing it as much as I ever did.

In recent times, due to the demands of work and study, I have had a lot less time in which to write and I really miss the sense of dwelling that came with having an active writing habit.

I love being the poetry advisor for Westerly magazine, reading submissions, making recommendations to the Editors. Back in the eighties, Westerly gave me my first real opportunities at getting my short stories and poems published, so it’s somewhat poetic that I’m in this position now.

 

About Barbara:

Barbara Temperton is an award-winning Western Australian writer. Her poems, song lyrics, short stories, reviews and articles have appeared in journals, newspapers, anthologies, have been performed live and broadcast on radio. Barbara lives in Geraldton, Western Australia, where she works as a librarian and editor, and moonlights as the poetry editor for Westerly. Barbara has also worked on community writing and theatre projects and as tutor in English and Creative Writing courses at the UWA – Albany Centre, Edith Cowan University and Curtin University in Perth. Her second collection of poetry, Going Feral, won the 2002 West Australian Premier’s Book Award for Poetry. Southern Edge her third book, published this year by Fremantle Press, was written for her MA at the University of Western Australia.

 

Poem:

 

From “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” (Southern Edge, Fremantle W.A.: Fremantle Press, 2009.)

I

Dawn.
There’s still a bit of south in the wind.
Waves have worried the beach in two.

The keeper’s wife collects driftwood, feathers.

 

There is something about the air,
the intensity of colour,
that awes her. This place
is an X
on her map of moments with God.

Whales exhale beyond the wave line,
flippers and tail flukes slow-arc from the sea.
At the high tide line: cuttlefish, shells, kelp,
and a dead shearwater half-cast in sand,
wings mocked by breeze, the memory of flight.

Another bird, feet at pointe, Degas’ ballet
framed by footprints of dogs and gulls.

Thereafter, another seven,
bills locked mid-cry.

Mist begins its skyward drift with the sun,
horses and fierce riders
thunder through the curtain into day.

Sea’s silver, molten,
the air
taking on something like substance,
as though she could reach out, touch something solid.

She has either left the world
or just stepped into it.

 

Catch Barbara at QPF 2009:
Saturday August 22 – 10:30 – 11:30am

Skies Early Stars: featuring Barbara Temperton, Neil Murray & Kent McCarter

 

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 – 3:15pm – 4:15pm

Nostalgic by Ambitious: featuring Barbara Temperton, Geoff Page & John Knight

 

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

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QPF Spotlight #15 – Adam Phillips

Adam Phillips is an emerging poet, harnessing his love of bush verse to address the stories and topics of our time. I shine the QPF Spotlight on this young storyteller to find out where he finds the words…

 

adam phillips

 

Influences

The works of Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson have always been my greatest influence. In recent years, Lawson’s red blooded poetry has been most inspirational. I’ve found myself drawn to the goodwill that is ever-present in his voice, despite his troubled life.

The early bush poet, Henry Kendall, paints some of the most beautiful scenes of the Australian bush I’ve ever read. I often turn to the American naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, when a dose of earth and sea is needed. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who served me well while travelling through India, has also impacted on my writing too.

Songwriters like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Paul Kelly are always thereabouts, along with many other balladeers with a story to tell.

 

The Writing Process

A poem can start in many ways but I never try to force the words or assign a time to write. Sometimes I just hear or read a word that appeals to me and I craft a phrase or line around that word. Other times, a certain experience or pang of passion triggers some form of poetic release.

I always store poems in my mind before writing them down. Only when I’m happy with the rhyme, structure and subject matter do I push the pen. I prefer to write poems in one sitting otherwise it feels as though you’re returning to a moment that’s had the life sucked out of it.

 

The Importance of Voice

I remember an introduction to a Henry Lawson anthology that described his poetry as having ‘axe marks’ all through it but such was the beauty of it. I took comfort in that and still do. It is important to write poetry. To put on the woodchoppers singlet, have a swing and tell the stories that need to be told. 

A dear friend of mine gave me this quote from an old Persian poet which read ‘the great religions are ships, the poets are the lifeboats – every person I know has leapt overboard’. I’m just a sidestroker to the lifeboats, only I’ve got a few things to say on the way.

 

Recurring Themes

The natural world is generally a feature in most of my poems. I have a real passion for the environment and my poetry tends to reflect this. Even if I’m writing a city based story, there seems to be this inherent longing for the landscape that always creeps in somehow. Being an avid bushwalker brings themes of space and distance into the fray.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last two or three years travelling so I’ve written quite a lot about travel experiences. But every foreign yarn is countered with a story about home or life in Australia. In fact, some of my favourite work comes from that outsider’s perspective, seeing my homeland from afar.

 

How have my feelings about poetry, the reading and writing of, changed since I first started writing?

The first poem I wrote was about playing mud football with my mates. My early poems were very simple and I haven’t veered too far away from that idea over the years. I’ve definitely become a more rounded person and had more life experiences than when I first started writing. Accordingly, the potential subject matter has become much broader but in saying that I happily wrote a sequel to that very first poem just recently. The reasons for writing haven’t changed.

I can appreciate different forms of poetry now but the blinkers are still on to a large degree. The vintage verse of the early Australian poets that got me into poetry is what reminds me to keep going.

 

About Adam:

Adam Phillips is a local Brisbane poet who competed in the 2008 Poetry Unearthed competition and had works published in the ‘Poem of the Week’ competition in 2008. He has performed at numerous functions around Brisbane and also recited his poems on radio.

With an eye to the natural world, Adam’s poetry calls upon his love of classic Australian bush verse to address the stories and the topics of our time.
 

A COOEE AND A CANNON SHOT
by Adam Phillips

A cooee from the cliff edge cuts the treeline with its pledge
Strips the bark and loosens leaves or so the wayward man believes
Through the mangroves and the mud carrying his strains of blood
He calls across such virgin space with misery to match the place
Then to the cliff a countered sound renews the dreaming on the ground
And chance lifts off a southern sea to dance a great corroboree
Fire breathes and smoke billows and the furthest skyline glows
With each flame as old as sand – the story of us and our land

A cannon shot towards the shore misses what it’s aiming for
The tall ship squints with just disdain, what little force for such terrain!
Along the wall of shoal and rock waves bunt in and spit with shock
At colonies and regiments, European sentiments
And now where council parks are found tributes touch the coastal ground
Children chirp and play at ease, families picnic with the breeze
A row of pine slowly grows and the furthest skyline shows
With each tree cast over sand – the story of us and our land

A cooee and a cannon shot is all a broken man has got
To bridge this distance and this time, so much harder in our prime
This northerly is chasing down to find you at the edge of town
And meet with all your sweet finesse, wrap you up in wilderness
And steer you on the secret path where distance in the aftermath
Reduces to our human touch, fingers never meant so much
Until the new wind duly blows and the furthest skyline knows
With each footprint swept from sand – the story of us and our land

 

Catch Adam 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 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm

The Singing of the Earth: featuring Adam Phillips, Geoff Goodfellow & Neil Murray

 

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

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Where do the Words Come From #8 – Sophia Nugent-Siegal

Sophia Nugent-Siegal is an exciting new voice, who released her debut collection ‘Oracle’ at the ripe old age of 16. She is one of the featured poets at the upcoming Riverbend Books: Poetry on the Deck event on Tuesday April 28, so let’s take a look at where Sophia finds her words.

 

sophia-nugent-siegal

 

Influences:

My biggest influences have been the dead—the great poets of the English language, particularly Shakespeare, the Metaphysicals and Modernist authors such as T.S. Elliot, and the characters that populate my historical calling (who wouldn’t be inspired to verse by the Muses of the Hellenes or the Holy Spirit of the Middle Ages).

 

The writing process:

My writing process mostly takes place in my head before pen has got within a mile of paper, so that when I finally do start writing, the poetry tends to come fairly easily and needing little revision. This process means that I write rarely but when I do I can be very productive – writing, for example, about thirty poems in four days and then not writing again for up to a year.

 

Voice:

My voice is somewhat impersonal, even when there is an “I” who can be seen to roughly correlate with me. I often take on dramatic masks such as mythological or fictional characters or write without any definition of self whatsoever. In another way, of course, my voice is startlingly personal, as I possess a distinctive style that represents my own unique interests and ideas, if not personality.

 

Themes:

History is probably my most consistently recurring theme—I have never written a poem that does not include time and the past as significant factors. It has also been mentioned to me that blood, red earth and birth make more than their fair share of appearances in my work.

 

Feelings/change:

I started writing poetry ten years ago, when I was seven years old, so obviously my feelings about an awful lot of things have changed since then. My poetry however seems to have undergone more of a process of evolution, and my analysis of it more an intellectual sharpening, than my feelings about the act and purpose of writing changed. I still aim for beauty and power, I still aim to fight against mortality, and I still write as much about a universe of the quick, haunted by their predecessors as much as I ever did.

 

The Flight into Egypt, Book of Hours (France, Paris, c.1440-c.1450)1

This refugee family treks into a strangely familiar Egypt
The baby wrapped up into a Canopic jar
His precious body and blood protected by golden swaddling bands

An angel follows with a small bag
And a heavenly sceptre
He walks a step behind the donkey

How tiresome for him who can run with the quick and the dead
Whose speed outpaces that of light
Who must be both a wave and a pulse
To walk a step behind this donkey who walks a step behind an old man
And carry a small bag
Joseph carries bigger, as does Mary’s donkey
So what does the celestial carry-bag contain?

Souls perhaps
Or merely hell
The future to the New Jerusalem
With a dead hand refilling with rivulets of flesh
And raising itself up
Or maybe the angel carries
The ultimate baggage
Sin and the fiery angel Death
The weeping Adam and Eve
Whose sweeping nakedness waits
For a double rebirth

Behind the family and their otherworldly servant
Lies what passes for the Nile
A rowing boat snails along it
A castle guards it
And a city lies poised upon its banks
Reflecting and refracting
Waiting for time to throw it downstream

This family is fleeing murder
This family is fleeing tyranny
This family is not going toward but away
Away from the red mouth of slaughter
And the more numerous red mouths of its work

So whether they carry sin or the apocalypse in their overnight bag
Behind them the farmer digs holes
Not looking or searching
Simply opening up

 

1 An illuminated manuscript from The Medieval Imagination, an exhibition at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, in 2008

 

About Sophia:

Sophia Nugent-Siegal is a young poet whose interest in mythology, art and history is woven into work with a contemporary focus and edge. Sophia has won many national young writers’ awards (she is a 3-time national award winner in the Taronga Foundation Poetry Prize, and has also won the FAW Young Poet of the Year and Mavis Thorpe Clark awards). Her first book, Oracle, provides a fresh, sharp and contemporary insight into the continuing resonance of the Classical world. Recent projects include a collection based on illuminated manuscripts of medieval texts from an exhibition at the Melbourne State Library in 2008.

 

Queensland Poetry Festival, QLD Writers Centre & Riverbend Books are proud to present the second Poetry on the Deck event for 2009. Join Sophia Nugent-Siegal (Oracle) on the Riverbend deck alongside Longreach poet, Helen Avery (Seduced by Sky), Rosanna Licari and Philip Neilsen (Without an Alibi).
 
Date: Tuesday 28 April
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=2199

The first event for the year was a huge success, with tickets selling out quickly, so book early to avoid disappointment!

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Where do the Words Come From – The Stress of Leisure

For as long as I can remember, I have pawed over album covers/liner notes and put my ears to the speakers to decipher song lyrics. A good lyric is something that never fails to captivate me. So, I thought I would ask Brisbane singer/songwriter The Stress of Leisure where he finds the words.

 

the-stress-of-leisure

 

Influences

Obviously, I’m influenced greatly by other musicians, mainly interesting lyricists. My list of influence is vast; from the Arcade Fire to Warren Zevon. I think that’s where the longevity is in the music game, being able to write a good lyric. Writing a catchy guitar riff or instinctive melody is one thing, for the long term you need to keep marrying it with a suitable lyric, or keep up the interesting lyrical ideas. It’s not often discussed, in fact I’ve read several artists I like dismissing the lyric as being unimportant to them. I don’t buy it however, because I do believe they pay particular attention to how the words sound first and foremost. And sooner or later they’ve usually contradicted their dismissive statement anyhow. So for myself, I’m constantly noting an artist’s skill in marrying great lyrics and at the same time I guess, deciding how I’d adapt it to myself.

Brisbane is a big influence on what I write too, in particular New Farm. It’s a place I know well. If you think filmic you can make any place look great, it’s all about what you capture in the frame. And there’s always that artistic license to change a few details. So everything I come across is as relevant as it would be if it were set in the East Village, New York. Why shouldn’t it be? This may not be revelatory for poets or filmmakers I guess, but I think it’s important to have an establishing shot for people to drift into. I really dig using the words; park, apartment, river, street.

 

The Writing Process

My musical output far outstrips my lyrical output. I wish there wasn’t such an imbalance. But I have a lot of songs sitting around that may have one verse or one chorus in terms of the lyric but are fully formed songs in all other respects. So really, I have this big block of musical spare parts, a lot of incomplete ideas. In rare cases I have fully formed ideas with melodies and they just happen to form as songs. I don’t like to attack things too hard, one out of laziness and two; I don’t want to scare off the idea. But mainly it’s laziness. Usually I don’t like to pursue a song because I feel contented that I have a great idea and that feels good in itself and spurs me on. If a song feels like a winner however, it appears in a kind of phonetic form within the melody and keeps pulling me back. I may then chance on a few key lyrics or phrases and try and form some direction from them. To this end, I’ve found the biggest help for me is deriving titles. Lately, I’ve been getting into the habit of thinking of a title a day and it has really helped me.  So if I have this chord progression and melody I like and then have a look at what titles I’ve generated it just may be all the process needs. In the last week I’ve generated two titles driving to band rehearsal which have subsequently become songs – ‘People in Plastic’ and ‘Death on the Magic Mile’. This doesn’t normally happen, so for the moment I believe in the process. I think people should give me titles as a form of a gift actually. I’d appreciate that.  

 

The importance of voice

Over time I’ve grown to appreciate my voice and what its capabilities are, and I realize that for people hearing me for the first time it’s the make or break factor. I’m really big on defining a character when I do vocals, and that it has a particular consistency. I know it sounds absurd, but I became fascinated a while back with the various characters Peter Cook could take on and how he would vary his tone and pitch to suit each one, and all the time stay in character (apart from some mirth). I was already fully aware of my own rock n roll stylings and phrasings, and the approaches of various singers, but this was something different. So I guess I started listening to my own voice by doing some spoken word stuff (In Derek and Clive mode) on my recording equipment at home, listening to the way I’d phrase different words. It’s completely barmy, but I gained a lot of confidence from this. In songwriting this is really important, listening to how it comes out. I’m pretty down on a few songs I did on my latest album phrasing wise, mainly because I’m so particular. I guess when you record you have the luxury of picking your best performances, but also the torment of wanting to get it right. And again, I guess you can over think these things. Anybody now wanting to listen to my music and pick out the Derek and Clive influence will be sorely disappointed though, I can assure you of that.

Lots of singers just do this instinctively though, the way they inhabit character. I’m not saying anything new. And they actually do it naturally, because you know, you’ve got your naturals and then you’ve got your peoples like myself who have to plant it cognitively. Nick Cave for instance, and I’m not sure what category he fits into, successfully portrays his characters. From reading about his recording process, it’s usually all captured in the first or second take and I’m sure most would testify he gets it right; it’s definitely not over thought.

 

Recurring Themes

An English friend of mine remarked on my first album – “one word that comes to mind is ennui”. Another friend noted “I think you need a girlfriend”. So I guess that’s a good starting point for my recordings thus far. I think however, a lot of my music has presented characters that believe “the grass is always greener”. There’s always something better. We’re surrounded by this stimuli – surely that shampoo you’re using isn’t as good for your hair?, look at this drink it’ll cure your loneliness, try this cereal you’ll be friendlier to your work colleagues, are you sure you don’t want to know what’s happening in the world?, naked people look this good but here’s some chocolate, I think you should shave like this, you’re pretty fat compared to me on this poster……..etc. Obviously, it’s not just advertising, it’s TV, Film and whole gamut of pop culture. I’m affected by it and I notice a lot of others are as well.

I’ve always been caught up in the idea of the weekend too. The time to cram in all your leisure pursuits, whatever’s your bag. So I love taking snapshots of people on the weekend, doing whatever. The days themselves have a different energy, especially in the area where I live. I’m not being judgmental when I say this, but some characters almost seem pious with their newspapers spread out in front of them at the local café. And well, you also have the flight of tropical birds in their dazzling array of lycra whizzing around the streets and cafés. It’s like a migration of the species! So yes, I love capturing the weekend and how it brings its various fruits to different peoples.

And as I stated before, I really dig using the words; park, apartment, river, street.

 

How have my feelings about lyrics changed since I started writing?

Listening to more and more musical artists and taking in more influences, be it a movie or a piece of art continues to broaden my approach and ideas to lyric writing. It has been interesting going to a lot of poetry readings as well in the past three years to note the different approaches to poetry. Somewhere along the line I assume all this information will appear somewhere in my work. I’ve always been conscious of a good lyric though, it’s just I started off really bad and now I feel I’m on the verge of being alright at it. Words have come a bit easier with practice and allowing myself a bit of time. Right now I have the luxury of time and I think it’s starting to reap its benefits in terms of I’m writing the sort of fruity stuff I like. You need time, but what a drag. I wish it all happened quickly for me lyrically and I could just move on to the next song. This is pretty much the way I felt when I first started too.

The Stress of Leisure plays Livespark at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Sunday, March 22 start time around 3pm. It’s a free event and all ages.

hour-to-hour

Find out more:

The Official Site: http://www.thestressofleisure.com/

Jennifer Sharp Film Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd184CMF4xc

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