Thursday, 21 July 2011

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Andrew Lansdown and Kevin Gillam

Can you tell us about the significance of the title of each of your collections, The Colour of Life and Songs Sul G?

AL: The title The Colour of Life has, to my mind, two implications, or applications. Generally, the colour of life is the range of moods and emotions arising from the range of situations and perceptions depicted in the poems in my collection. Specifically, the colour of life is the sense of aloneness and longing that surprises us, ambushes us, repeatedly throughout life. It is a form of grief – grief felt, often, without evident cause. It is not a denial of the loveliness and happiness of life, but an underlying sense that something is missing and/or amiss. Well, so much for attempts at definitions! In the end, the colour of life can only be truly expressed in poetry or prayer. I have attempted to capture and convey it in poems such as ‘Happiness’, ‘Human’, ‘Me’ and ‘The Colour of Life’.

KG: The term ‘sul G’ is an indication to a string player (violinist/violist/cellist) to play the melody exclusively on the G string. Technically, this is probably more difficult, but the tone produced is much richer and warmer. So Songs Sul G refers to a collection of verse with a degree of intensity.

Andrew, you often work in the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka. Why?

AL: I work in whatever poetic form will yield at the time of working. Often I do not know what form a poem will take when I begin writing it. The appropriate form becomes clear only as the poem progresses.

As evidenced in The Colour of Life, I work in rhyming couplets (eg, ‘Prayer Against Pain’), rhyming quatrains (eg, ‘Train to Wyong’), free verse (eg, ‘The Nemesia’ and ‘Boat’), unique syllabic structures (eg, ‘Menace’, with 8 couplets of 6- and 10-syllable lines, or ‘End of Day’, with 10 tercets of 7-, 5- and 7-syllable lines), sestina (eg, ‘Sestina on a Journey’), choka (eg, ‘Renewal’), and villanelle (eg, ‘Prayer’). However, the forms most represented inThe Colour of Life are haiku and tanka.

I have found over the years – and increasingly in recent years – that haiku and tanka often suit my poetic purposes. I love the compactness and balance of both these traditional Japanese forms. And I love the discipline of writing in objective forms that compel and enable me to distil setting/subject/theme/mood in just 17 or 31 syllables.

I have also found it rewarding to group haiku together under a common heading. Such groupings are called ‘gunsaku’. The haiku in a gunsaku have a common setting or subject or theme or mood, and yet they do not build on each other, like the stanzas of an English poem or the interdependent poems in a sequence. The haiku in a gunsaku are autonomous poems, poems in their own right: but gathered together they enrich each other and create an impression that is greater than they would/could achieve individually. (Tanka can also be gathered into gunsaku, although The Colour of Life does not contain any of these.)

Kevin, I have had the privilege on different occasions to hear you read or play or sing your poetry. As a musician, are words immediately aural to you as you write them?

KG: Yes. I like the feel/sound of words in the mouth and off the tongue. I have a slight obsession with counting syllables! I’m also constantly searching for opportunities to employ internal rhyme, which I believe to be more powerful and more subtle than end rhyme.

What is your writing space like? And how would you describe your writing habits?

KG: I don't have a dedicated writing area or room. I work in all spaces … car, lounge suite, kitchen table. My writing time is on walks or when doing water aerobics/walking. This is the head-space that I need in order to create.

AL: My writing habits are not as strict as I would like them to be. So many other things in life push in and push poetry out. I write mostly in my study, at my writing desk, in front of a large window that lets me see a birdbath, arrow bamboo, and an almond tree. Although I try to write every day, I do not always write poetry. Stories, novels and essays also have a claim on me.

Andrew, you have been publishing poetry for nearly four decades. What inspired you to write then? And what inspires you today?

AL: I was inspired to write at the age of sixteen when I heard a boy my own age read a poem he had written. I was astonished that someone like me could do such a thing and I desired to be able to do it, too.

Also, at the time, I was listening to traditional and contemporary folk music by artists such as James Taylor, Donovan Leach, Melanie Safka, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Steeleye Span. This type of music, of course, places great importance on the lyrics. I think this influenced me, too.

What inspires me to write poetry today is the sheer love of poetry. I love reading it. I love writing it. I find it to be the perfect literary form for the expression of grief and joy and every emotion in between.

Kevin, what writers inspire or influence your poetry?

KG: Elizabeth Jolley, as a practitioner and sharer of ideas/methodology, Dorothy Porter for her sheer economy/density of language and poetic technique, Seamus Heaney for his joy in diction, and Tim Winton for superb flow and extended metaphor.

Poet and critic Lisa Gorton notes that both of you ‘treat poetry as a work of intimacy, not performance.’ In the process of writing this book, have you learned anything from each other’s work?

AL: Kevin and I were not involved with each other when we wrote our poems and compiled our collections. It was, happily, Fremantle Press’s initiative to place our collections together under the Two Poets cover.

I am very pleased to share a book with Kevin. As readers will discover, Kevin and I write very different sorts of poetry. Yet I think our collections complement each other precisely because they are so different in style and sentiment.

As for learning from Kevin: I cannot point to anything specific. However, I am convinced that reading good poetry contributes to one’s understanding of poetry, which in turn contributes to one’s ability to write it. On that score, I presume Kevin’s poetry has influence me in subtle, if indefinable, ways.

I think Lisa Gorton is right to say that both Kevin and I ‘treat poetry as a work of intimacy, not performance.’ Implicit in her words are several truths about both of us as poets: we write with sincerity; we do not write to show off; and we write with craftsmanship and rigour.

KG: I really respect Andrew’s use of form, the discipline behind it. I also love the way he embraces the ‘now’, truly milking the moment of all its possibilities and truths.

What is the greatest challenge that poetry presents to you, and how do you overcome it?

KG: The next poem! I overcome it by not worrying about the rate at which it appears … some days it’s just a few words, other days large slabs will be completed. Each poem has its own time.

AL: My greatest challenge in writing poetry is overcoming the feeling, as I face a blank page, and as I begin to toy with images and ideas, that I can’t possibly write another poem. At the start I feel I can’t do it; and at the end I feel I can’t do it again. I overcome this by persevering with the poem at hand – and by remembering that I have had these feelings many times before and many times before they have proven wrong.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

KG: Working on a cello/spoken word performance piece for primary school aged children, tentatively titled ‘the story of C’.

AL: I am working on another collection of poetry, provisionally titled Gestures of Love. It will consist of poems written solely in the traditional Japanese forms of choka, tanka, haiku and gunsaku (haiku or tanka groupings).

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