1.David you are a poet and the host of Poets’ Corner podcast series which is an initiative of WestWords. Can you tell the readers what is WestWords and where is it situated?
WestWords is Western Sydney’s Literature Development Organisation and describes its mission as being about telling stories that represent and are of concern to the people of western Sydney. I think that is a modest description. It is one of those really impactful small arts organisations that punch way above their weight. It is well worth exploring both the organisation’s website at https://www.westwords.com.au and it’s you tube station at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDt8IEVT2kwW-7ayCvJ0Kgw to get a much better picture of the organisation and what it does than I can say in a few words. Its physical location is at 41 Hunter Street, Parramatta, but it also has a Writer’s Retreat at Wedderburn and a significant online presence.
2. How and why did the Poet’s Corner podcast start?
Before it was a podcast, Poets’ Corner was a live reading series. The live reading series began in February 2018 under the name “A Touch of Poetry”. At that stage it was held at Castle Hill Library with WestWords providing payment to the featured poets. When I first moved to Sydney in 2016, I lived in Castle Hill and discovered that there were no poetry readings in the area, so I thought I would initiate one. I wanted a poetry reading that offered poets and audiences more than the usual brief open mic encounters or short five or ten-minute featured poet readings. I wanted to create an opportunity for a deeper dive into a poet’s work with a particular focus on the poet’s poetic obsessions or preoccupations, which is why I invited poets to read poems and talk about them on a theme of their choice. After a year, the library’s programming moved in a different direction. WestWords offered to host the reading series in Parramatta, where it was renamed Poets’ Corner and continued as a live event until live events shut down due to covid. WestWords then facilitated the transitioning of the series to a podcast format, with the first podcast recorded in April 2020 with Peter Bakowski who had been scheduled to do a live event in Sydney. With permission, I borrowed the name Poets’ Corner from a long running series of the same name held at Christ Church – Wayville Uniting Church in Adelaide where once, many years ago, I was the featured poet, and which was the original inspiration for my reading series.
3. It must be very difficult picking who to interview as there are some great poets out there. How do you pick the guests? Do you put names in a hat?
It is almost as random as that! There are hundreds of great poets out there, and probably many more than I know. I started by inviting poets whose work I knew and loved. Then, I wanted to invite poets whose work I didn’t know but wanted to familiarise myself with! There are multiple considerations. I try to maintain a gender balance. I try to invite a mix of established and emerging poets, poets from around the country and sometimes Australian poets based overseas. I look to have diversity. I look to invite poets who have recently won poetry prizes or had new books published. I sometimes liaise with publishers who are looking to have their poets featured. There remains a degree of unpredictability because some poets I approach don’t respond or aren’t available and sometimes scheduled podcasts have to be rescheduled because of changes in the poet’s circumstances. Changes can happen at very short notice!
4. How often is the podcast and what is the format?
The podcast is monthly except for January. Unlike the live readings where I introduced the poets and then left them to read and talk, the format of the podcast is more of a conversation where I ask poets questions about their theme and about the poems they read. Each podcast begins with a few words about me as host of the podcast series, a brief mention of WestWords and the podcast series, an Acknowledgement of Country, and an introduction of the featured poet. Once the preliminaries are done, I welcome the poet, ask questions about the poet’s chosen theme, and then move on to having the poet read poems and talk about them with me. To maintain spontaneity, I don’t usually let the poets know in advance what questions I will be asking them. And I don’t always follow the questions I have prepared if the conversation veers off into other directions. Whilst I have prepared questions, I never know where the conversations will go, and they often surprise me.
5. Who did you last interview and do they have a particular area of interest?
The last podcast I did in 2022 was with Bronwyn Lovell on the theme of ecofeminism. Bronwyn read and talked about poems from her recently published collection “In Bed With Animals”. That podcast exemplified the willingness of poets to tackle themes that are confronting, difficult and uncomfortable, and to do so with great insight and wonderful openness. It is a great privilege for me to have the opportunity to elicit poets’ thoughts on their poems, to learn about the formative experiences behind the poems and to deepen the experience of the poems with context and background.
6. Does interviewing poets influence your writing?
If it does, I imagine it is usually a subtle thing. I did write one poem directly in response to something that Ouyang Yu said in his podcast that made me stop and think. My poetic practice is often responsive, and inspired by what people say or do, whether poets or otherwise. What interviewing poets does is open up possibilities of writing. Because the podcasts are oriented around themes of the poets’ choice, they introduce me to themes that I may not have explored in my own poetry and provide me, invariably, with fresh perspectives. And doing in-depth interviews allows me to see the range and depth of poets’ concerns, how no subject is out-of-bounds, and how poets tackle the big issues. It is instructive, not just in terms of poetics, but in its scrutiny of so many different aspects of our lives. It is very enriching for me. I think perhaps my thinking and my life have been influenced more immediately than my writing, but that such influences might percolate into my writing over time.
7. How do the podcasts compare to live readings?
What I love about live readings is the ambience and intimacy that can be created and the opportunity for audience interaction with poets, whether by questions and answers or broader conversations. Live events can be warm and moving and funny and inspirational. The drawback with live poetry readings is that they are nowhere near as well attended as they deserve to be. Apart from David Malouf’s Poets’ Corner event, which predictably was well attended, we would consider an audience of fifteen to be a runaway success. What we have discovered is that there is a huge appetite for the podcasts, whether audio or video. They are accessible at people’s leisure and will be available, we hope, in perpetuity. One has been viewed over 550 times and not just by Australian viewers but around the world. It is exciting to feel that we are creating something that will be an important archival resource, capturing a good slice of the thinking and poetry of poets at one moment in their careers. I have tried, as best I can, to conduct the podcasts in a conversational way that retains some of the warmth and intimacy of live readings.
8. Are you working on anything at the moment?
Nothing happens during the school holidays, so that is always a quiet period for my writing. My main focus currently is to try and get publishers interested in several manuscripts that I have floating around. There is so much wonderful poetry being written in Australia now that publishers, I think, are spoiled for choice. That’s exciting. So, I am working to toss my work into the mix!