Friday, July 1, 2016

The Poet

"My innermost dream is to keep on writing poetry and travelling"
The day I met Andrew was the day everything went wrong. From the little things like kids being kids, delaying the school run; to more important ones, like missing the right bus.  I was late for the interview – a first in my entire journalistic career. And to top it all, I left the hat of many dreams at home. Which defeated the purpose of making his portrait. Despite starting on a very wrong foot, he graciously gave me a second chance. And I am grateful that he did; I met a fascinating person, passionate about poetry and about life, generally.

His poems have been internationally published, making their way to Chile, Ireland, UK, USA and New Zealand. Yet Andrew is very modest when he talks about his work and about himself.

When I was 4, I wanted to get on a bus, sit down and go for a ride – from what my mum tells me, a ride anywhere; just get on and enjoy the ride.

I had two favourite stories as a child; one about a Yowie that was eating all the animals until they set fire to his cave and killed him.  The other was a story about Louis Pasteur discovering penicillin – I liked the way the story was told; there was a child involved – possibly his son and Pasteur was trying to find a cure. The germs were little monsters and the antibiotics were little soldiers. It certainly made for a good story.

Coming out of high school, I knew I was going to be a writer. I have always wanted to be a writer and the earliest I wrote a poem was probably in year 5. It was about a desk chasing and eating students.

My dream back then was to leave the Central Coast of New South Wales; to get out and explore. I applied to ANU but in the end I accepted an offer from the University of Newcastle - they had a beach. It was a great time, living in a college near the beach.
Between Years 10 and 11, I went to Brazil as an exchange student. I worked on my Portuguese, I traveled. This is one of my biggest dreams – to be able to travel and explore new and old places. I have been travelling around the world for a bit and I hope to travel more. My mother took me to the USA first and I liked it; I went back and I explored some of the places I always wanted to see: Texas, Chicago, Boston…

I always ask my sitters this question: “Who are you now?”
Andrew’s answer was very concise:
Me. I don’t like labels and clichés; I try to be me and do what I like. I love living in Canberra; I love writing; I am now doing poetry full time. I love travelling and discovering places – it inspires me in my personal quests as well as my writing. I would love to go back to Europe one day.

A typical day in Andrew’s life starts early: - I wake up around 4 am. I read the news, sometimes I watch documentaries – I have a few favourites I love to watch; some about New York City, some about the Civil War.
There are always pluses and minuses to one’s life; somedays are great and things go smooth. The days that are harder to get through, Andrew keeps on top by making lists of things to do.

My innermost dream is to keep on writing poetry and travelling.
I’d love to live in Ortigia, Sicily, Florence, Tuscany and Canberra; and eat baked ricotta, seafood, and go swimming.
The one thing that motivates me is the future.

For a while, I struggled with any sort of ideology and when I started reading Camus, I welcomed the idea of someone who wrote about things I myself thought about many times, such as accepting and understanding that when you are dead, you live through things you created.
I am unsure where I will be in 5 years’ time; which is unusual for me. I’d love to have another book out by then; I’d love to travel overseas with the book. In fact, I’d love to spend some more time abroad – I like Europe a lot; in my previous travels I enjoyed exploring the galleries and museums and studying the Roman and Greek history. I am also very interested in the Spanish Civil War and the Cold War.

My experience of having a residency in Catalonia was a great one; I’d like to do the same in Italy. My residency was in a small town outside Barcelona. I didn’t speak Catalan and very few people there speak English but I started to pick up on the language. I enjoyed exploring and discovering the place. There were not many cafes in El Bruc; I mostly went to the same place. I liked sampling the local food - there was a local traditional dish that was only made during a local annual festival re-enacting the two Battles of El Bruc.
If I was to get those 15 minute of fame, I’d like to make enough money to be comfortable.
Comfortable is a term that can easily be condensed or stretched, based on individual needs and life experience; therefore I was genuinely interested to find out what it means to Andrew.

 - To be able to live somewhere nice, not to have to worry about food, to be able to afford travelling. When it comes to my writing and travels, I have always been calculating how much time and how much money I need to make it happen. I have been working part time, and saved for the travels.

When it comes to working; I feel that everyone should work but maybe less hours; it is healthier and more benefic. It affords the time for pursuing arts, hobbies and it doesn’t burn one individual down. It is very frustrating and sad to hear the politicians talk about increasing the efficiency in the Public Service. Efficiency’ generally means getting more out of people for less investment in them.
I have always avoided role models; instead, there are fiction characters that I like. When I was little, I loved reading comics. I guess, in a way Judge Dredd was my first role model. I liked him for being authoritarian and for the direct nature of his acts. His rules are applied uniformly.
I also like Optimus Prime, because he is a true believer. I wouldn’t describe him as my role model but he has definitely been one alongside Judge Dredd.

Another question I ask my sitters is “What is your biggest regret”?
The many small ones; opportunities I haven’t noticed or times when  I misunderstood people – it can take a long time to understand a situation or a context; sometimes months or years and sometimes I find myself thinking I wish I understood it then.

So, what gets Andrew going; what is his creative flow process?
 -  Diligence. Writing takes lots of effort. I am constantly thinking about things. I love collecting images and documents. During my travels I gathered lots of postcards, books and documents you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. I find my inspiration in all these.

I write in very different ways: I have a few sets of exercises; I do Free Writing.  I can dwell on an idea or a concept until I am happy to write it and give it a finite shape. Commissions are the hardest, as I have to build my writing approach to the subject or theme commissioned. I am really enjoying my latest one, with the Red Room Company. It was very interesting recording with them. (Click here to read one of Andrew's poems, featured in the Red Room's "The Disappearing" project)

I like exploring things; digging around for words. I like experimenting and finding new things. Sometimes I feel like I am carrying things with me wherever I go. Often, on a location I find myself writing about Canberra, or about feelings within. One time, when I went to Brisbane last year, I ended up writing a poem about my father. This was something that I struggled with for a long time I am happy with how it turned out.

Poetry is very important to me. It’s the best place to explore your own imagination. Poetry can be very direct but can also be very layered. I like it more than prose or film.

I like visual arts, they can be layered too and I like writing about visual arts. Ekphrasis in the modern definition, when you write a narrative describing what you see, but also in the classical definition, where one usually takes a mythological reference and then starts a narrative with a critical or even political impression. I most recently worked on a commission for the Photography Room, writing about the photography of Michael Masters.

I think everyone should be encouraged to make art. Creation is important; it should be critical, actually. I tend to get away from the artistic hobby versus professional approach. Sometimes an artistic practice can lose touch, just like the politicians. Any profession can consume you and people get disconnected and forget what was important in the first place.

I see that sometimes art is labeled; I am trying not to categorise. With poetry – people embrace the idea of spoken words. I know that people categorise “Slam Poetry” now.  I just disagree with it, as the term can close an avenue for people to perform their poetry. When you are on that stage, anything you perform is a “slam poem”.

The people in my life are the most important to me. Poetry comes close. They are part of it too, because they wouldn’t be in my life without poetry. I can be very guarded; I can be very opened too. I get worried about being too honest sometimes, as I don’t want to offend people. When I write, I try to be as honest as possible.

I couldn’t help but asking Andrew why he likes Pablo Neruda.  
- Well, he was a poet. And a public servant too. He was part of resisting awful things in his country. He tried to make the world a better place and when he finally escaped Chile, the exile must have been such a horrible experience. I would feel guilt if I survived something like that and others didn’t.

And since we were into the realm of poetry, I asked Andrew to talk about his personal involvement, particularly from the perspective of being a co-founder of Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit! and a producer for the Noted Festival. - It’s all about creating a space to engage both new people and the existing artistic community; we want as many people as possible to take part. Not just as audience, but rather being participants. People come along to Bad!Slam! and as the event progresses through the night, they loosen up. Since 2009, we never had a night without new people coming up on the stage. And that is great.
I love it. I love being part of it and once I am on the stage, everything feels right.

I used to be a producer for “Noted”, now I am curating it.
With both events, I love being able to encourage other artists, to provide opportunities for other people who are emerging. It is important to provide a space for them – not just the location, but making sure that art is accessible to everyone, not cliquey not dominative or emphasizing. We take the middle line approach; everyone is equal. Bad!Slam! keeps it fair for everyone because everyone is treated the same, regardless their poetic journey.

How do people inspire me? Sometimes it’s more about generating ideas to write on, or about concepts kicking off. Sometimes, it could be the way people act, or dress – it might even be people that I don’t know but I might find something interesting in them. It’s all in the moment.

My best experience as an artist? Hard to choose just one; I had so many diverse opportunities. Having my first book accepted was amazing. Then the second followed and it was great; I enjoyed listening to the other people performing on the launching night. I am still very proud of being published in the “Best Australian Poems”. I loved getting a grant and focusing on my work. Another great experience was working with David Stavanger.

Andrew’s second book, “For all the Veronicas (The Dog Who Staid)” has been recently published by Bareknuckles Books.  His poems were celebrated with the participation of many artists on a special launch night at the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. Naturally, I wanted to know his feelings; how does one really feel, seeing his work coming to life?
“I feel proud. I have confidence in my book. Seeing that a lot of other people have confidence in it too, that feels really good.”

I wasn’t surprised to find out that he has a degree in classical literature but as a bookworm myself, I was curious what is Andrew’s favourite book. It is a question I ask all my sitters, as this gives me a better chance to get to know them through a common passion for reading. I loved the answer, because in a way, it continues a dystopian path, started from his teenage years, reading Judge Dredd.
- It changes from time to time. I really love “Crash” by J.G. Ballard because he is my favourite author.  I like a whole range of his writing; his autobiography is amazing.
My favourite book is Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”.

This was a 2-part sitting that involved a bit of preparation from my side, as I wasn’t very familiar with Andrew, or with his work. But I feel honoured for having met him and grateful for his participation in the project.
Before parting our ways and finishing the sitting, I asked Andrew to let me read his favourite poem, “The Sun Falls on Zero”. It is a great, visual piece and while his portraits are black and white, I took with me lots of colours, just from a first read.

Many thanks to Superfine Café for allowing us to have our photo shoot in their premises.


No comments:

Post a Comment