Friday, 11 June 2010

INTERVIEW: Scott-Patrick Mitchell

New Poet Scott-Patrick Mitchell says he’s always been theatrical at heart and that instinct is a poet’s greatest ally.

You recently took out the title for the 2010 Perth Poetry Slam. What prompted your interest in and practice of performance poetry?
I’ve always been theatrical at heart. Always. Ever since I was a kid I took out all the lead roles in primary school and all the lead villains in high school. I distinctly remember my mum making me practise my lines by standing at the top of the stairs in our house in England and orating so she could hear me from the kitchen or lounge room. The voice came from there.

Performance poetry became the easiest way to get my poetry heard. Soon after starting, back in 1998, I was approached by a new music composer called Sarah Collins to work together on a collaboration. We formed a duet called SpokenNewWordMusic. Very avant-garde. Quirky minimal baroque with Ginsberg spontaneity. We wrote two feature cabaret shows that we toured interstate.

Now I’m studying performance poetry at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. I feel like I’m coming full circle with the craft to be honest, which is exciting.

Your poetry is quite experimental. Describe your approach to punctuation, phrasing etc.
I’d say the punctuation and phrasing are an extension of my background in performance poetry. For me poetry is, by and large, about how it sounds to both the inner and outer ear, so the way it fragments and arranges itself is all an extension of that. I like the notion of subverting language, of making it play.

In particular though, the punctuated enjambment comes from placing a visual emphasis on the role and function of punctuation. By placing it at the beginning of the line instead of the end re-emphasises its importance. All too often you can forget about it when it appears at the end of the line, its appearance there typical. By placing it at the beginning of the line it reinvigorates its role, the way a comma is a half breath, a full stop a full breath. It places a greater emphasis on the musicality and purpose of punctuation and reminds the reader that something as simple as punctuation can change the way they read. And at its heart, that’s something poetry should attempt to do: change the way readers read.

The rest, however, is all instinct.

How do you see poetry, and how it is practised and published, changing? Especially in Perth?
I think publishing in general is changing, especially with the advent of the iPad and how it’ll revolutionise the e-book. As soon as the e-book format is perfected, I think books will change dramatically. It’ll be like downloading apps for a given book, which will act like the special features on a DVD. Imagine: writer’s narration, writer’s commentary, back stories, first drafts, journal entries. The future looks really exciting.

But here in Perth we’re currently experiencing a renaissance of poetry and poetry readings. Poetry as an event is back on the map, and it’s bringing people together. There’s certainly a whole new generation emerging, and it’s exciting to watch these people hit their stride in different capacities. The scene as a whole hasn’t completely galvanised but I believe it’s getting there. People need to have more faith in their ability: more chapbooks, more collaboration, more private readings, like the poetry parties they have in Melbourne. But it’s getting there.

Who else in Perth would you recommend poets look out for?
There’s a list! Gabrielle Everall is truly amazing, both her written work and her performativity. Amber Fresh is a literary gem worth seeking out. Jeremy Balius has a certain intellectual vigour I like, plus his publishing ventures are worth watching. I’m a lover of some of the older-school talents, like Kevin Gillam, Zan Ross and Allan Boyd. Rebecca Giggs is a charm of a talent, although she tends more toward fiction as well (there’s nothing wrong with that though). And then there’s Lily Chan, Sam Knee (aka Byron Bard), Ellen Broad and others, many others.

Tell us about your studies. What do you hope to gain from them?
I’m doing a Masters of Creative Arts in performance poetry at WAAPA. I’m a bit of the black sheep there, surrounded by dancers, classical musicians and directors. Normally I don’t think they’d know what to do with me, but my supervisor is amazing and has a background in literature. And dance.

There’s a bit of a gap in the literature for performance poetry. What I’m exploring is the process of writing and editing for the stage by starting on the page, and then vice versa: performing for the stage and then writing it on the page. The idea is to see how the two processes inform each other and vary. From that I’m exploring a blur between the biographical and the autobiographical, kind of a Rorschach of human experience, which is similar to what I touch on in the New Poets collection.

What do you most admire about the other two poets included in the selection?
James is a phenomenal poet with a bright future. I was aware of his work prior to this collection and was already a big fan: his chapbooks are very well written. His work has a sense of the iconic and he’s very deft at what he does. Definitely one to watch.

Emma’s work was, for me, the dark horse. I wasn’t familiar with her writing. However, I have to say I do envy her sense of landscape. She invokes an imagery that is incredibly accomplished, and her sense of rhythm is flawless. I am now a big fan of hers.

Together, I like the scope of their two collections and the images which recur in both and appear in mine as well: all up I think we capture the many facets of living in Western Australia.

What was it like to work with Tracy Ryan as editor?
Effortless. I really connected with Tracy and I found working with her to be a great experience. She really understood where I was coming from as a writer and was able to see right to the core of my material. It was easy for us to agree on what worked and what needed fixing. Fortunately the poem I included after the editing process really added to the overall collection, and I have Tracy to thank for that: her observations were brilliant.

You won a prize in 2009 for your chapbook. How has the process of writing and publishing New Poets differed from writing a chapbook?

To be honest they were both very similar. After months of rejection letters I figured that editors and journals probably weren’t getting the experimental notion of my work in singular hits. I figured collections would work better to capture my voice. From there it was a matter of faith really in making the right choices.

The PressPress Chapbook Award winner, songs for the ordinary mass, was a lot more contained. Very few changes were made. I think
New Poets was slightly more difficult, but only because it was a sense of having to create a more sustained voice.

What advice would you give other new and emerging poets?
Write. Read. Experiment. Have faith. Make leaps. More than anything strive to be unique, not modern, and the rest will fall into place. If it makes sense to you, then do it. Instincts are your greatest allies. Learn your own path, in your own way, but understand that things change, and that’s usually where the growth of form comes from, in the slightest of shifts.

Fremantle Poets 1: New Poets is available from Fremantle Press. Scott-Patrick Mitchell will perform at the launch of Fremantle Poetry Month on 8 July 2010.

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