Thursday, 17 June 2010


Q&A with Tracy Ryan, poet and author of Scar Revision, and editor of New Fremantle Poets 1: New Poets.

When did you start writing ?

I was born in Middle Swan, Western Australia, but spent most of my childhood in Kelmscott. I was writing stories as soon as I could write. My parents gave me a manual typewriter from Woolworths for my 14th birthday, and I loved it the best of any gift other than our piano! It seemed very high-tech at the time.

What made me start writing was that I loved reading, and my mother always talked as if I would be a writer. I read fairy tales, (I had a huge volume of Andersen and Grimm) and Bible stories, and anything I could get my hands on. It seemed natural to me that if you were a reader, you were also a writer. The two processes were not separate.

What was your first big break?

My first big break was winning the Mattara Poetry Prize (these days known as the Newcastle Poetry Prize) back in 1987, when I was 23. I was already writing a lot of poetry before that, but it brought me into contact with a literary community and widened my access to publication.

How do you write your poetry?

When writing poetry I will usually start to jot down words or phrases that are all jumbled, not necessarily in any order, just a sort of cloud of fragments, which I then begin to organise by rhythm and sense.

Language – odd turns of phrase, strange jargon, specialist terms, borrowed words – all these suggest ideas: so much is contained in the history of a word. Sometimes an idea will nag at the back of the mind for several days before I get to it. But once I have that cloud of fragments, it will eventually become a poem.

I know when I have enough for a collection when the energy that drives the poems feels more or less finished. Either I take a break, don’t feel like writing poems, or I start writing poems that are completely different in style or topic.

Tell us about your latest collection?

Scar Revision is quite a varied collection, though most of it has to do with relations between people and their bodies, how existence is shaped by our bodily experience. My favourite poem in the collection is the title poem, which looks at the different meanings and stories that lie behind the scars on my body.

This came about through a conversation with my brother-in-law who is a shearer and has a lot of scars. It got me thinking about the hidden, personal histories that are carried in people’s bodies. There’s also a sense of mortality and transience, which I think has been in all my books but grows stronger as I grow older, of course.

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