Kickin’ it with Nathan Curnow

Nathan Curnow is a cat cooler than the other side of your pillow.

This guy goes out to all kinds of haunted sites across Australia, including the Old Adelaide Gaol and the Fremantle Arts Centre (which was once an asylum and is coincidentally – tho’ in my opinion serendipitously – down the street from me), stays the night locked in a cell or in a decrepit hearse or something equally grisly, writes The Ghost Poetry Project about the terrifying journey, has it published by Puncher & Wattman and picks up the 2010 Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize for his poem ‘endtime’ along the way.

See, this is about exhuming terrors from in-between the lines, both your own and your country’s.

This is experiental poetry and language to discover the intricacies between words that mortify and words that embolden.  This is about embarking on a journey, documenting it with a confessional and personal clarity, coping with loneliness while separated from wife and children, and conceptually enriching the Australian experience by bringing forward primal themes and historical situation into contemporary context.

Is Nathan Curnow one of the last of the red hot lovers?  Yes.

Here’s me kickin’ it with him:

In what ways is the The Ghost Poetry Project about the writing experience?
It started out as an exploration of fear, courage and the power of mystery and myth.  What use are words or poetry in the face of terror?  But the project also came to symbolise for me what it is writers do and how we live.  We open ourselves up alone to imagination.  We go to spaces, to rooms of potential which are sometimes darker than we ever expected.  Yet this is how we live, at the risk of what we might dredge up.  We choose to cloister ourselves, though at times we feel all too overwhelmed and trapped.

But not only did entering haunted sites symbolise something of the writing life.  Every time I shut that door behind me I was going to meet death, whatever form it might take.  But more specifically I was meeting mine.  It quickly became about the courage I would need to one day give in to the unknown, to accept that final breath as my last and die.

What thoughts contort a man’s mind when he spends the night in the Old Adelaide Gaol?
Ghosts and execution—the weight of story and suggestion.  The mystery of how space, time and the self connect, overlap and collapse.  How fear works.  How thinking about the contortion of the mind inevitably leads to the contortion of the mind.  Madness.  Escape.  How the hell to survive the night, and then the remaining eight haunted sites that were still to come.

In what ways has The Ghost Poetry Project changed you?
It’s made me a better writer.  I learnt so much in such a short space of time— about poetry, research and how I work as an artist.  The project was an intense, exhausting and high-pressure adventure, so it has forced me to think about how I look after myself long-term, for all concerned.  It’s woken me up to all sorts of limits.  Woken me up in a kick-to-the-groin-good-morning kind of way.

Can a writer be consumed by what he writes?
Yes, I think a writer can go too deep and lose their balance both personally and creatively.  But the act of writing is also how one keeps from being consumed.  By bashing at the keys of the keyboard a writer is putting the word-jigsaw together, trying to understand life through the strength and frailty of language.

I think the most common trap, perhaps the scariest and easiest thing for a writer to be consumed by, is the self—issues of ego, expectation, ambition, image, identity, recognition and exposure.

Is it better to haunt or be haunted?
Neither.  I think if you’re haunted for too long you probably do your own fair share of haunting sooner or later.

Photo by Allison Browning

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