1. Shane, you are a very busy person, not only do you write poetry and are the publisher of Recent Work Press, but you also have been appointed as the Artistic Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival. So, let’s start with the festival. What events have you been involved with in the past and how is this experience going to influence QPF in 2022?
Well, I was assistant director and then director of Canberra’s Poetry on the Move festival from its inception in 2015 until 2020. It gave me great insight into not only how a poetry festival is formed and comes together, but how it evolves and changes over the years. It was a very exciting project to be involved with. I’ve also run things like conferences and been part of the That Poetry Thing committee which organises a weekly poetry reading in Canberra. I love bringing poets together and hearing not only their poetry, but their ideas and how poetry interacts with the world and our experiences of it. If I’m hoping to bring anything to QPF 2022, it’s that sense of excitement about poetry, that sense of discovering a new voice, or a new way of looking at the world, or even a new way of doing poetry.
2. Every Artistic Director has a particular take on a festival. What, for you, are the key considerations when planning a poetry festival?
Having a festival dedicated to poetry is a valuable and somewhat rare thing. For me it’s about how best to bring poetry and poets to the attention of a wider community. Everything else is guided by that basic principle. A festival should be not only be fun but also an appreciation of the art form and the many ways it engages with profound aspects of experience. If I can find a successful way of achieving this, then I’ll be happy. However, I can’t take all the credit for this year’s festival, as the program is being partly designed with the assistance of guest curator Busty Beatz, who is bringing her own special vibe.
3. Do you have a special passion for any area of poetry, for example, page or performance poetry, or do you have a more eclectic approach?
While I come from a page poetry background, I very much recognise, appreciate and celebrate the many ways that poetry gets done. Poetry, at its best, moves and challenges those who engage with it. The form in which that occurs ultimately doesn’t matter. I would add that while ‘poetry’ is used to describe many aspects of life, that there is something ‘poetic’ in all things, I’m talking about a narrower definition of poetry. For me, one of the things that makes a ‘poem’ is the intention that it should be one, that it seeks to participate in the art form.
4. What will that look like?
In relation to the festival, it’s about bracketing any consideration of form. I concentrate on the poets, are they able to ‘bring it’ to the festival – to speak to the audience, to present ideas and challenges, to offer their experience and voice. I don’t intend, for this iteration of the festival at least, to highlight any particular form, but rather welcome poets and the various ways they do poetry on an equal footing.
5. Many in the poetry community would say poetry is marginalised in this country. Is that why you started Recent Work Press?
I initially started Recent Work Press because I saw a vibrant and rich community of poetry in Canberra that was largely ignored by poetry presses located in the major capitals. I wanted, in a sense, to democratise the fact of a book being published and to perhaps put a little pressure onto what was seen as ‘good’ poetry in Australia. Over the years it’s become clear that there’s a need for this kind of venture on a national level.
6. When did you start the press?
I started it in 2015.
7. Are you funded by any particular body?
Yes, this body (ha!). No, we aren’t and never have been funded by any organisation. We’ve received support in various forms for various individual publications, but the press itself has been reasonably self-sufficient. Or self-sufficient enough to not want to lose its perceived value to the poetry community. This year, for the first time, we opened a patronage program through the Australian Cultural Fund which gave our supporters the opportunity to contribute to the survival of the press. I’m very humbled by the success of that program.
8. How does the press work? By that I mean how are poets selected for publication?
Initially, I selected poets I’d like to publish, or were recommended to me by those that I trusted. But in fielding more and more enquiries over the years, in 2020, we instituted an open submission period which, with the help of the editorial board, netted us some fantastic new voices. We’re going to do this again in June 2022. I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve published several debut collections over the years.
9. How are publications marketed and distributed?
Mostly through our website and social media. We have some good relationships with bookstores who appreciate poetry, like Paperchain here in Canberra, or Abbey’s in Sydney. Lately we’ve done some print advertising in ABR and Westerly. A lot of work is done by the poets themselves in speaking directly to their communities, which I’m very grateful for. I’ve tried to seek distribution more broadly, but poetry presses aren’t, I suspect, a viable option for most distributors. We soldier on.
10.How do you see yourself positioned in the Australian poetry publishing industry.
It’s always hard to know. I’m constantly surprised by the support for the press and where it comes from. Our books are beginning to be shortlisted for and winning significant poetry prizes. My intention was to offer something a little less precious into the poetry publishing world. I don’t know if that’s worked. ‘Energetic’ I think has been the best way we’ve been described
11. So, Shane, how do you juggle all this with your own writing? Are you one of these people who needs little sleep?
No, I’m one of those people who needs lots of sleep. With a head full of other people’s poetry, it can seem like a chore to do my own work. At the moment, my own writing comes less frequently, but I’m grateful when it does.
12. Where were you brought up and educated? What were your interests?
I was brought up in Ipswich in Queensland and educated there in the state education system. Later on, I went to the University of Queensland. My parents and grandparents were immigrants and that meant feeling a little like and outsider in the largely parochial and working-class environment of Ipswich. From my mid-teens my interest has always been in literature and writing. I can’t say why. There were no precedents for it in my family or the environment I grew up in. Whenever I told my Mum I was bored she’d say ‘go and read a book.’ Perhaps that sunk in over time. My various careers paths and studies have in one way or another been associated with the field of writing and books.
13. When did you realise you were into poetry?
I remember studying Michael Dransfield in high school English and that set something off about the freedom of the poetic voice. A bit later there was a TV show, GBH I think it was, starring Michael Palin and his character kept reciting fragments from TS Eliot’s ‘Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock’. I had to know where those lines came from and so I began to read poetry more seriously. At university I had the opportunity to study poetry more intensely. A particularly excellent teacher of Australian Poetry, Martin Duwell, really opened my eyes on how to read poetry deeply and without fear.
14. Who influenced your writing?
As a poet, my influences are a little more diverse. In a very practical sense, I’d have to say some of the poets I’ve worked closely with. Paul Hetherington and Paul Munden, for example, showed me what it was to be a poet, the time and investment in poetry required to make something work. I’ve learned a lot from engaging with poets in the poetry worlds I operate in. I’ve really appreciated the work of Carolyn Forche, Denise Riley, Claudia Rankine and Jill Jones most recently. Very different approaches to poetry, but all with a little something slant to offer.
15. How does a poem start for you?
With a few words, an image, an idea that I feel can be addressed through a poem. Often these come from a spark from somewhere else, a reaction to something or someone. Often, they lead nowhere.
16. What challenges you when you want to write, and how do you deal with it?
Sheer frustration in not being able to make the thing that’s in my head come to life on the page. It’s great when a poem exceeds your plans for it- that it finds its own logic and creates its own world. I deal with it by giving up usually, or perhaps recognising that the idea isn’t all that good in the first place. The poems I’m most proud of making are ones where I have worked and re-worked an idea until it did do what I wanted it to.
17. What are you working on at the moment?
Ah, I’m in a bit of a lull at the moment, I don’t have a good overarching idea that requires attention. Dribs and drabs are forming, but nothing that requires intense engagement. It’ll come though. Maybe more slowly than I’m used to. Besides there’s a lot of poetry work that needs doing right now that’s keeping me occupied.
The Queensland Poetry Festival EMERGE 3 – 5 June, 2022 website: https://www.qldpoetry.org/news
QPF program will be launched on 21 March.
Recent Work Press website: https://recentworkpress.com