Maddie Godfrey is a 21 year old poet from West Australia. She has performed at specky places all over the world including the Sydney Opera House, Amnesty International UK, and at TEDxWomen events in London.
In February 2016 she wrote and performed a seven night solo show at Fringe titled “If My Body Were a Poem”. It was hair raising, powerful and really good. I talked to her about it.
BEN YAXLEY: What led you to start writing and performing?
MADDIE GODFREY: I’ve written for as long as I can remember. Even as a young kid I always found comfort and familiarity in reading and storytelling, which I think was where the poetry came from. When I was growing up I definitely thought I was going to write novels, and then I thought I was going to be an academic writer. I really wanted to write about body theory, like kind of study body builders, female body builders especially. I was really interested in that, the manipulation. How we build our bodies.
Was there a long period of just writing for yourself, before performing for others?
I performed for the first time doing the Experimental Writing unit with Allan Boyd as part of my major. Part of the class was that you would get an extra mark if you performed or published during that time. So I decided to perform at The Moon at the Perth Poetry Club, which would have been … September 2014? That was just to get a better mark for my uni course. I went up and did it and I was shaking violently. I remember so many details, its a bit mad. I couldn’t tell you what I was wearing any other day of my life, but I can tell you what leggings I was wearing, what shoes I was wearing. I’d come from the gym or something. And I performed a poem called Toxicity from Warm (a zine I put out), and halfway through I had this feeling that this was what I was meant to be doing.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in poetry but have never immersed themselves in it?
I would say, find as much as you can. Find as much variety as you can. Find what clicks. There’s some poetry I read that I don’t like at all. Even poets I am told are great and renowned and even contemporary poets who are winning prizes, I’ll read it and be like, this? I feel nothing.
I think the measure of good poetry is something you feel in your gut. You read it and you’re like oh, that. That’s how I feel, that’s something I’ve never been able to express. I can see what the poet is describing, I can hear what they’re describing. I think poetry sometimes feels like colours, and when I read good poetry I can say its a certain colour? Which is a weird way to say it, but that’s just how I process it.
If you’re interested in poetry, do a google search, go to events, message poets in your local area, ask them what is on. Find poets you like, and not poets you’re told to like, but poets you actually feel resonate with you. There are so many poets, there are so many good poets in the world.
And you don’t need to be sitting at an empty desk or under a tree to start writing…
It’s usually not pretty! So many poems of mine have been written in the shower. I should keep a notebook in there. I don’t, but I should. I have this awkward thing where I stop showers halfway. I’ve stopped showers with shampoo in my hair because I’ve been like ‘this one’s a banger’ and just run to the other room in a towel, dripping on a chair. I’ve written so many poems like that. And these people hear them on a stage. You hear them on a stage and you don’t realise I wrote that in a towel, with crap in my hair and just in a weird state of… damp. That’s the reality of it.
We can’t all be Murakami.
No. No we can’t. I’m definitely not, in case you haven’t realised yet.
I remember my grandma; I think she taught poetry at UWA back in the 70s. And when I was studying I only knew of the stuff I was meant to like? You know, Wordsworth…things from classic Anthologies and stuff. I was asking something like, ‘why poetry?’. Not as a way of calling it irrelevant, but I wanted to see her perspective. And she said, “It’s just like any other form really. Movies, music, novels, anything. You’ll find a lot stuff that you don’t care about, but then something will strike you and you’ll be like, ‘Aw! this is life affirming! This is good.’”
I think one of the coolest things that has been sent to me recently is “why do we not teach contemporary poetry in schools? Why do we only teach old poetry when young voices should be heard by young students”. And I think that’s really powerful and really important in terms of what you’re talking about, of searching for poetry that meant something to you. Poetry that resonates. I was lucky enough to have my stuff published in a WACE exam last year, which was really cool. So a poem of mine was a close-reading text.
About gender, and about gender fluidity particularly. And all these kids had to write essays on it.
Did you get to see any of them?
No, I got some quotes, sneaky ones, but I didn’t get to see a full essay. Maybe one day.
I feel like that would be like, Okay, I’m finished, that’s the highlight of my career.
My old lit teacher, who I idolized, messaged me and was like, good job. That was surreal. I haven’t been out of school that long myself – it hasn’t been that long since I was doing that exam. Now suddenly I am worthy of being studied? Which just seems silly to me, but it is an honour, and I think it comes down to being able to maybe be someone’s realisation that not all poetry is about the trees, and the sky, and the ducks. Not all poetry is Wordsworth or Blake or Plath. I adore Plath, but not all poetry was written that long ago. There are poets like me who are young, who are still working stuff out, who are still learning how to cook, and clean, and do laundry and have healthy relationships. Who are also writing poetry that is valid in an educational and a formal way. And I think there is a lot of power in that.
Interview by Ben Yaxley
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 1 HEAT
If you want find out more and get further involved, Spoken Word Perth has a fortnightly open mic event at Paper Mountain on Wednesday nights. The Perth Poetry Club also have readings at the Moon from 2-4pm every Saturday.