Interview: Felicity Plunkett
Felicity Plunkett’s Vanishing Point won the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Prize and was short-listed for several other awards. She has a chapbook, Seastrands, in Vagabond Press’ Rare Objects series and is the editor of Thirty Australian Poets (UQP, 2011). Since 2010 she has been poetry editor with University of Queensland Press.
Catch Felicity @ QPF 2013 in Dancing In Abstract (Sat 24th August, 4pm)
Does being an editor of other people’s poetry get in the way of writing and redrafting your own? Tell me a little about your redrafting process.
Quite the opposite – I find it a privilege and inspiration to be an interlocutor to other writers during the phases of creative editing (which might include discussion of structure, assembly of a manuscript, ideas as well as closer work on particular lines and phrases). I learn from many of them about their own creativity, and ideally it generates and nurtures creative energy on both sides. It’s a joy for me to have the creative, engaged conversations I do with other writers. I have more typically experienced openness and generous hospitality from the writers I have worked with than the snarls and combat sometimes reported.
Because, I think, it’s often easier to see what other writers are doing with more clarity than one’s own writing, editing others work has improved my own drafting process. My drafting varies from poem to poem: each suggests its own. I find writing things out on paper helpful in seeing patterns more clearly. I like a technique suggested by Steve Kowit that involves focusing on a particular line or phrase, and working outwards from that. I find different poems invite different approaches and I discover new ways as I write.
What do you most enjoy about writing poetry?
I was chatting about this with poet and yoga teacher Richard James Allen, and he quoted Georg Feuerstein’s suggestion in The Deeper Dimensions of Yoga says that ‘Yoga practitioners…surrender their “usualness”.’ Writing poetry reminds me of yoga inversions, and the surrendering of usualness is just one of the delights of each practice.
Tell me about the first poem you had published.
I had a poem published in my school magazine when I was 8, about the moon. It had a very orderly rhyme scheme, starting with ‘balloon’. My first professional poem, ‘Oyster’, was published in Southerly under a pseudonym when I was a student. I must have been courting celebrity.
How has your poetry been influenced by the work of others?
It’s hard to disentangle and trace influence, admiration and the various impressions reading makes on writing, but I can say that I’ve been enriched by reading a lot over many years. The mysteries of the various hauntings and visitations that occur fascinate me. I love the lines in Czeslaw Milosz’ ‘Arts Poetica?’:
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
The first poet I read closely was Catullus, suggested by my Year 9 Latin teacher. As a PhD student, my focus included Modernism and confessional poetry, and much of my teaching in academia was in Australian poetry, so I’ve been fortunate.
Tell me something about a poet whose work you’ve been reading lately.
At the start of the year I read Sharon Olds’ Stag’s Leap and Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband (‘a fictional essay in 29 tangos’) within a few days, and loved the poets’ completely contrasting treatments of a common theme of radiance and resilience expressed by Carson in the lines:
A wound gives off its own light
If all the lamps in the house were turned out
you could dress this wound
by what shines from it.
And I have been re-reading Paul Celan, for his luminous work in similar terrain. I’ve also read several superb collections which UQP will be publishing soon – much to look forward to.
How would you describe your own poetry?
I find that a difficult question. Since various readers find different things in it, I tend to focus my awareness on the work as I write it, and to be open to allowing it to take its shape. So my own experience of my work is that it often surprises me! Again, Milosz puts this nicely:
In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.
What can we expect to hear from you at QPF?
I’m working on my second full collection and hope to have some of its poems ‘spring out’. It’s a joy to have the opportunity as part of such a creative weekend, and with an audience including people I’ve worked with in all the various collaborations of our community – as an editor, university colleagues, people I’ve taught, friends – and all the various combinations that develop between and amongst people open to others’ poetry.
Interview by Tiggy Johnson