Levin, when we first started discussing My Soul Cried the Spaceman our conversation filled with ideas stemming from esoteric systems, political thought, primal desires of man, spiritual matters and a range of other fields. I’d like to start here by asking about the concept of space drunkenness which I remember we spent quite a bit of time debating. What does it mean to be space drunk?
Category Archives: Interview
A while ago I was at this li’l festival where I met Jill Jones when we were on this panel about something. There weren’t really any readings going down that weekend, so we threw a guerilla poetry event with some like-minded sweethearts, including Michael Farrel, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Thuy Linh Nguyen, Kirk AC Marshall et al. All of whom are subversive and rebellious in their own way/right.
I remember it being cold that weekend in Melbourne.
At the guerilla gig Jill read from her collection Dark Bright Doors, which had just come out. In the meantime it’s been shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. She’s won that before…
Bleary-eyed at the airport, homeward bound, I ran into Jill in the ticketing queue. Then my flight to Perth was delayed. Then her flight to Adelaide was delayed. And for the record, getting stuck in a departure lounge for hours with Jill Jones is an awesome experience. We discussed Ron Silliman, we debated the motivation behind or the inability of some to be poetically risk-taking, we talked about Dark Bright Doors, we Talked.
Wanna know why Jill rules so much? ‘Cause she says things like “The I is in the flow. The river always shifts. I, too, I am, and am wherever.” And her wisdom flows deep.
This is us kickin’ it:
What are the most beautiful sounding words?
The words that sound are all beautiful, but that sonic is surrounded by all that depends. Context, how said, who said, why said, and the rest. So it may be ugly or terrible sounding words that are also beautiful.
Where do Dark Bright Doors open and close to? Where do they take us to? What are they made of? Who is wise/foolish enough to grasp their handles and pull?
The dark bright doors of that book open on through. As there’s more than one door, it’s not all opening only or closing solely. These dark bright doors are made of language, words, phrases, lines, sentences, letters, punctuation marks, spaces on a page. Not all doors have handles. If I was the fool as writer (fool in sense of motley or the vagabondage or precipitousness of the Tarot fool), then a reader is wise to fool around in the words, to ask more than the normal questions, to take the risk of the doors, to try things on. The fool’s journey is the journey.
When “I” shifts from the centre, whereto does the river flow?
When was I the centre? The I is in the flow. The river always shifts. I, too, I am, and am wherever.
Spelunking into the sensual, in what ways are written words viscerally experiential?
You see them, in dark, through tears, in brightness. You sound them in your mouth or head and that is part of breathing. You could even trace them with your finger. On some pages the type is raised ever so slightly. You could tear them from the page, and that makes sound as well as movement; then you could put them around you to make other words.
Have you ever accidentally quoted yourself or a line from one of your poems in conversation with someone?
I may have. If they are words that I like, undoubtedly. It would be the sound of them, individual syllables and the words formed into phrases, syntaxes, and to have them happen as part of a conversation not about poetry would be welcome. I should make sure I do it. No-one need know, or would know.
Oh, how to breathe fresh life into a sonnet form?
Be in love with the old ideas and break their heart. Breathe. Collaborate with the canon then turn it around. Be promiscuous. Keep talking line by line. Steal. Love your patterns and blow them off. Sing – sonet is a little song. Repetitions and echoes. Permutations. Obssess. Detach self from making, sing outside yourself.
What kind of poetry excites you that may get dismissed by conservative editors?
To move through some negatives first: I prefer poetry that is not in love with the need for metaphors or big booming symbols, poetry that is not over-willed (this includes a lot of so-called avant-garde works as well), poetry that is not self-expression. I’m excited by poetry that is imperfect and undetermined, poetry that plays in the world, ie. is porous, poetry that loves language enough to muck it around.
High-brow, low-brow or mono-brow?
Plucked. You get different sounds in mono, hi-fi and low-fi.
What are you trying to get better at or improve?
And also to sprawl more on the wide space of the page in open and fresh-made ways.
How to steal from myself, brazenly.
Whereto from here? What are you working on?
Always working, even if in the head or my dreams. I have a series of poems without titles, this is new for me. I am retrieving, re-forming and re-purposing my own work, and any other words I like the look and feel of – breaching, colliding, dissassembling. I’m not a project person so the above is as close as I come. I have several small and large collections (literally) on the go and am doing the constant jigsaw game of arrangements.
Thanks Jill, for your kindness, and for this poem:
While it seems crazy in the spider season
not possessed not forsaken
perhaps it starts with the ravens
To a dream of your old clothes
these afternoons that do not, that bring you pain
perhaps the boxes will fall only for you
Knots in night, trinkets leaning
get along, little dreams, get along
if it wasn’t for the rumours
You could be anywhere pushing or lugging
and leave, I can’t show you exactly
into the rain, I haven’t had that dream
the least of my preparations
I ate the song positions
as I go a slow coast doesn’t differentiate
With a stolen leather jacket
the air is noisy on the stones
light is not always its light
The forecast has showered me
and will be thankful to walk is to
remain confused but now is enough
The factories of the road continue
feeling foolish to be free
left out in the rain and no longer white
The house is full of waterfalls
falling like this forever
back east they’ve got thunder
Is living days a pale back
you should never talk about
the lightness of the light
(from Jill’s Ruby Street)
Hey, I got a mention in the 59th verse of Emily XYZ’s one-verse-per-day twitter poem.
59: who’s best / andy angela jeremy tiggy ross? graham pam johnpaul angel darkwing ken? ghostboy who reads bowie upstairs as baby sleeps?
Brisbane’s Scene Magazine did a lil article on the Queensland Poetry Festival and briefly chatted with me in their Festival in Preview article (scroll down).
Time Off Magazine did a longer feature, but they’ve taken it down already, so here it is:
A MAN OF HIS WORDS
By Helen Stringer
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.
Brazenly seductive, new online journal Verity La has been wooing us all with forward-thinking stories and poems by many of my favourite contemporary poets and authors here in Australia. Taking the time to get to know these literary cats is where Verity La really puts its ear to the virtual soil.
Co-editor Alec Patric is so punk rock he contumeliously published my dusty hinterland villanelle narrative Gather Darkness! and play your songs of heartache.
In Associations, Patric gets to the bottom of translating, filtering and decoding communication, so he only lets me answer his questions with quotes from others.
Using a quote from your favourite poet, tell me the secret to your soul.
the boy’s soul
makes its own little sun
a big drop in the ocean
hope is a transparent mirror
— Amber Fresh, excerpted from It’s the same thing again
Strange enough without shadows.
— Amanda Joy, Vasilissa’s Doll
I’m about a month and a half away from traipsing over to Brisbane for my song and dance at the Queensland Poetry Festival (QPF).
The good folk at QPF dropped in for a conversation recently and published an interview with me on their website. You’ll see chit-chat similar to:
QPF: To borrow a recent question posed by Emily XYZ – What is the purpose of your writing?
Me: On some days I want my writing to be for the last of the red hot lovers – as maps or walking sticks or a drink of water for them road-weary gypsies. These are songs to sing along to as however small a help to be unyielding to despair.
On other days my writing’s the broken music creeping out of the grinderman’s decrepit organ and I’m the little monkey in a tiny, filthy suit, chained to the organ, dancing and begging.
Read my interview at Queensland Poetry Festival > select 2010 Festival > Artist Interviews > Jeremy Balius.
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.