[transient opening music]
Alec: Hi, welcome to the Tortured Artist podcast. I am Alec Westgarth-Taylor. This podcast is brought to you by Pelican Magazine and we hope to be conducting long-form interviews local, up-and-coming creatives here in Perth. We’ll be exploring their practice, their motivations, who they are, what they do, why they do it, and how they balance their creative life with the life of being a young person here in WA. Today’s guest was Maddie Godfrey. Maddie is a writer, poet, and theatre maker here in Perth. She’s been publishing poetry since 2015 and competed in poetry slams everywhere from London to the Sydney Opera House. She’s also got a book coming out called “How To Be Held”, and has recently embarked on a national tour about the book. So, in this conversation, someone, I apologise interrupted by technical difficulties to do with the lights and some wildlife. Here, we talked about a writing process and a role as a spoken word educator, as well as a number of other things. It was a really interesting conversation to have, I hope you enjoy.
A: Are you, I was reading on your bio thing, says you were Australian bred but the English accent as well.
Maddie: Yeah, so I came from Perth and lived here for 20 years, now I can hear it so bad… I lived here for 20 years and then I went to Oxford for a student exchange. So, I went and studied at Oxford Brookes for three months – it was meant to be just three months – and it ended up being two and a bit years of my life! So I studied at Oxford for three months and then I moved to London because my career kind of started going, and I was performing a lot and I was winning some poetry slams and stuff like that. So, then I moved to London and I kind of fell in love with the city and the momentum of the city and then I went to Brighton at the end just for a final three months stint of joy and love and a bit of queerness and politics.
A: Yeah, politics in Brighton.
M: Yeah, so Brighton is like the haven of, you know, LGBTQIA+ people and it’s also quite politically active, like you walk through the streets and you see slogans and graffiti and it’s all quite political, and I just felt very at home there.
M: And it’s less grey than London, people actually smile at you. Where in London it was a bit soulless after a while.
A: Yeah, I was going to say, was that like a big change coming from somewhere like Perth to then London, I can imagine it was quite full-on.
M: I didn’t notice it until I started coming back to visit my family and then I would come back and I would be the person walking the fastest on the street at all times, or I’d be angry at people for not getting out of my way, like in the city. I’d be walking and I’d be like ducking and diving, which is so unlike me, you know, I’m like a lazy person, I’m like a granny, generally. But, because I was used to the pace of London, the pace of Perth was just strange to me, and I had a really time adjusting when I came back.
A: Was that like the first time you’d been out of Australia, or overseas for more of an extended period, other than …
M: I lived at home when I left. So, I went from living at home, only child, with my parents who are incredibly doting and loving, to leaving the country. I didn’t just move out I left the country, and they’re like extremes. So yeah, it was pretty full on and from that point of view, I think I left the country before for little holidays and stuff, but I’ve always lived in the
house in like Doubleview near Ikea, so, it was quite a big transition that way. And then I ended up going to America by myself and travelling there in 2017 and 2016 as well, which was kind of that, like the living in London bit, but more terrifying because it was going somewhere I’d never been and yeah, just travelling by myself for a month each time. [Both Alec and Maddie lightly laugh].
A: Yeah, well that’s a big thing.
M: Yeah. I look back and I’m so impressed by how brave I was. You know I was a 21-year- old, I think I was 20 when I left. I’m 22 now, so I think I was 20 when I left, and how I brave I was to just and be in the world and not be scared despite all the absolute horrible things that happen, I guess.
A: Yeah, well, I was thinking 2016, 2017 was an interesting time to be travelling in America. M: Yeah, so I went there the first time, I think it was just after Donald Trump got elected. I can’t even say his name, he’s like He Who Must Not Be Named!
A: That’s alright, we’ll like bleep it out.
M: Yeah, please do, just make it like a vomiting noise like [gagging noise] like just really really visceral!
M: He had just been put in power when I went there in March… I think it was the first time. No, it was the second time. So, the first time I went, I went to Brooklyn and I went to perform, and it was less scary because I was going to a certain thing, and I was going to a certain Airbnb, like it was beautiful, like I had it all planned, because I was scared so I planned it well. I had a really good time, I ate a lot of food. I ate so much food and also just brokeup with people while I was there because I became so empowered, and I was like: ‘None of you can treat me like this! It’s over!’ While eating, literally while I was eating like baked goods at the time!
A [Laugh]: That’s what you want going through breakup, I think that’s well prepared.
M: Yeah, it was beautiful, it was so cliché and I loved it! Yeah. I was eating pizza by the slice in this living-room, it’s just like visceral memories [A laughs]. Visceral’s the word of the day, I think.
A: Well, it’s a good one.
M: Yeah, and the second time was like after the election and I went for a month and I went from performing in Dallis in Texas, to travelling to San Francisco and then to LA. And then I had a family wedding at the end of this crazy month of solo travelling where I got a bit reckless and it kind of changed my life, just travelling by yourself in such a strange place for a whole month.
M: Yeah, you know, and I meant some people who are like my friends forever and people who I message daily. Like, I messaged a guy this morning from San Fran, like he was like, ‘Hey, how ya doing!?’ Like, and they’re my, like people who I’m excited to know for the rest of my life, and um, yeah it was weird. But there was definitely tension in the air after the election. And it was a weird thing to see so much of about America on the news and I guess on social media, and in whatever political stream you subscribe to, and then to go there and for it to be a real thing, and for the atmosphere to be real, and to feel different, and for it to feel so different. I’d been a year previously, exactly a year, so March every year, um, and to feel that tangible heaviness in the air and like, maybe that was coming from the perspective of a queer person, or, you know, a fempresenting person in that atmosphere, and then, but
covering where all my privileges well, like, you know, as a white person as well and largely a middle class person as well, and coming from this background and working out where I sat in America at the time. I’m really feeling for a lot of friends who didn’t have the privileges I had to visit and leave.
M: The friends who can’t leave, because that’s their passport and that’s their home. Yeah.
A: Is that somewhere, would you see yourself going back?
M: I do see myself going back to San Fran, just because it’s the place I feel at home in the whole world, um, I love it there so much. I don’t know if I can live in America. I thought about it, and because I’m planning to do my PhD next year, the idea of possibly getting a scholarship in America is an idea. Well, I need to follow where the money is. So, I can’t afford to do a PhD without some university being my sugar daddy or sugar momma, basically. My academic sugar!
M: SO, I am kind of am waiting to see where I can go with that. And it might be America, which would mean America for three to five years, like the Stanford degrees are huge. Yeah, I looked at Stanford, it’s like the most egocentric thing! I had a peruse!
A: Nah, you gotta shoot high.
M: But, yeah, I mean I think I’d rather stay in Australia for a bit though. There’s something about being in the place you grew up in that is quite heartfelt and makes you kind of consider yourself from a new angle, especially when you make art and write stories. There’s something about being aware of your roots that I think brings out honesty in work.
A: So, is that then something that’s always come through for you, do you think?
A: In terms of your creative output, have you always had that sense of place in Perth?
M: No. Absolutely not. I think I did the typical thing of being like a young creative person being like, ‘I’m running away!’ I didn’t run to Melbourne, I ran to London, which is a little bit more extreme. But it’s still the same thing, the same generic. [Mockingly] ‘I’m leaving for Melbourne to pursue my career in art.’ Um, I had that, and I had this whole like, ‘Perth is boring’. I grew up kind of being like a city kid, and being very into local music and I was like that cliché emo kid, we’ve all met them. We’ve all been them, maybe.
M: And, so I think I grew up like that, and when I reached a certain age I just wanted to leave, like I was always so keen to go to London. It’s funny actually, growing up I had a London bedspread, I had London money boxes, I ahd like a London clock, I had a poster on my wall of like the red phone booth, the red phone box. I was obsessed, I was like obsessed with this idea of leaving and it became a really interesting thing while I was there, and there was such brilliant experiences in London and also such heart-breaking experiences and when this stereotype or this goal became real, how I navigated that, that almost incredibly, you know, manifestation of expectations. I manifested so many things that I thought London would be. It would be like all the movies I had seen, it would be like the Mary, Kate and Ashley film ‘New York Minute’, but like London version. I don’t know, that’s like always stuck with me. Yeah, it’s interesting. But… I’ve so gone on a tangent, haven’t I?
A: No, no, that’s good.
M: Oh no.
A: I’m interested though, like how would that, because if you had that obsession, then how would, not only being there, how would that change your view of London? But, then how would that change the way you related to back home?
M: Yeah, I think that it took me a long time to feel love for Perth again. A long time. It helped that, when I came back, there was always something new for me here. So, I came back and did my first theatre show, or I came back and fell in-love. Gross.
A: You know? Or I came back and made beautiful new friends, or I came back, and I ran a festival when I came back once. So, every time I came back it was very full on and there was always a lot happening. I never seemed to come back and have a holiday even though I often expected to. And I think that changed my relationship slowly, because every time I came back I was having these experiences that I didn’t want to leave. And then I decided to move back properly at the end of last year, mid-last year I guess. So I moved to Brighton and that was always going to be my last three months in the UK, and I knew that I would be moving back here in October. And I also took a, not really a contract, but a performance gig with PICA, so, I had, I knew that I had to be back for this week because that was the week that I was doing a queer performance work. Which was like walking. It was brilliant. But I also got to be a part of a lab, and it was just a really good learning experience for me at the time. So that was my deadline, I guess. Then I ended up coming back and making a goal that this year would be about stability and staying still, and not running away from anything, including myself and other people, and my houses.
A: Easy things to run away from.
M: Yeah, right! Yeah, so my goal for this year was to do my Honours, which has to be quite settled obviously, you can’t jet set and do, well you could, but I don’t know. I’m still doing it, aren’t I? I’m going on a tour next week. I’m still running!
M: But I just wanted to be stable and I think, in that stability, I’ve developed a really gentle relationship with Perth and it kind of feels like I am part of Perth again, rather than just a visitor, or like a, you know, just a tourist coming in and be like: ‘Hello everyone, I’m back!’ Being actually part of Perth has been really special, this time.
A: Oh, very cool.
A: But then, so would you say that, like artistic kind of pursuits and stuff like that, was that maybe coming from a place of ‘Oh my God this place is so boring, like I just need something to do or, just try and liven it up or do something that’s more on a broader scale’?
M: So, I think early on I had that energy, that energy to be like: ‘Let’s change this city, let’s make it more Melbourney.’ I hate that term, but I know it’s a term we’ve all kind of like, thought about a little about a little bit.
A: It makes sense.
M: Yeah, and I was really eager for that. But I feel like the last six months, I reached a point where I don’t want that. I kind of like that this is a place where slowness can happen, and where slowness is almost prioritized. Like, when you see that walking down Williams Street, although there is this contrast of the people who, you know, are wearing the suits and running to meetings and carrying three iPhone’s in one hand, you also see the people ambling about and looking at the sky, and I love that. I love that, like the… stillness. Yeah! And the slowness that Perth makes space for, and you don’t get to like bash people out the way on the sidewalk, which is what you do in other cities. But, Perth seems to be like OK
with it somehow, I love that. And I think I’ve realized that the projects I want to make are part of that, and aligned with that, so all the work I’ve kind of been producing has been related to slowness and self-care and self-preservation, and the ways that we look after ourselves. Not only as people, but as artists, and I guess as writers, and I guess also as people with bodies and people with illness, and this kind of thing. And also, I’ve found a lot of joy in having friendships rather than professional relationships in Perth this year.
M: Yeah. I had a big conversation about this last night, but I think previously I was really eager to have that artistic and professional career here, so I really pushed that and I, you know, wasn’t just having nights at home with friends or cooking dinner, and I think there’s some really important art in the act of making dinner for your friends. I think that’s an act of creativity and bonding and community, as much as me putting on an event or doing a theatrical interpretive dance piece in the middle of St. George’s is about, they’re about equal. [laughs].
A: Yeah. Well and it’s a different relationship that you have with people as well. Like, in the, the difference a friendship and, like artistic stuff, those networking things can be very like inspiring and really get you motivated and stuff like that but it’s not the same connection sometimes, you think?
M: Yeah, I was talking, because I had two friends over last night after a gig, and we were talking about how it’s important to have like the human moments beneath the art. So, we went out and two of us performed, me and Sish and Ash, Sisha, amazing. And we were talking about how, we went to the gag, we did our things, and back to my house, and I hate some curry. I ate some curry, not hate some curry. Hate some curry!
M: Ate some curry, and we just chatted and there it was important to have that distinction between like, now we’re at work, and now we’re at home. Because I think, when you’re in a creative industry, you often don’t get that. Because I work from home, a lot of the time, so I’ll be at home and do my emails and writing and submitting and doing essays and applications and, lately phone calls, a lot of phone interviews, which is interesting. But, I can be in bed for it, so. And then you try to get out of that, and you’re like, ‘Nah, I’m gonna watch Netflix for an hour’, and you’re still in that workspace, you’re still trying to do emails, because you don’t have a clear division in your life. And I’m learning that that’s the same with people in your life, you know, if I got out with a business meeting with someone, and then turn out to be a friend of mine, and then we go out for a drink after, like when does the work stop? When do we stop talking about me as a poet, and start talking about me as a mess, and, you know, my horrible love life and my inability to find my keys in the morning, you know. And I think there needs to be that line in order for us to stay healthy. Yeah, but I’m still learning that, I don’t know. Do you have that?
A: Yeah, I mean it can be a bit trickier I think in terms of if you’re, especially in those like scenes, say like you’re into music or something and you’re going to gigs, but you’re also trying to get gigs, and you’re like, there’s that thin veneer of like, ‘I’m being friendly and trying to meet people’ but also, this is me, trying to get in somewhere so I can be, like, putting myself on a stage. Yeah.
A: Which is like a tricky, a tricky line to walk. I think that distinction can be blurred.
M: Yeah. Like I love going to poetry gigs, but sometimes I’m at a poetry gig and I’m like, ‘Oh I need to edit that’, you know, I need to do this and do that and I just think too much about
everything, you know. Especially if I’m going like, with the book coming out, when I was trying to edit the book, I just didn’t go to poetry gigs, because I was just like I can’t have anymore in my life. You know, I’m reading this manuscript every night, every morning, I haven’t stopped thinking about it for six months, I don’t want to go to a poetry gig. I would rather sit in a dark, dark room, and eat hummus, for the rest of my life.
M: So that’s what I did!
M: That’s where I’ve been everyone!
A: If we had hummus we could almost… [inaudible] eating hummus in a basement.
M: That’s what I want!
A: Yeah, well. Cool! But then, so, you’re doing lots of different things by the sound of it. What was, how did you kind of first get into it, what was the first like medium?
M: How did I first get into poetry?
A: Would it be poetry?
M: I, so I’ve been thinking about this more lately, I had like a generic answer I was saying, and then I was like is it true? When I was young… When I was young! When I was younger, I was passionate about reading, I used to read everything I could get my hands on. I was that kid who came to school and had read all of these books, and according to the story, the teachers didn’t believe I had, until I gave them a synopsis of every single Roald Dahl book, obviously that was within my age limit. I wasn’t reading the sexy ones yet. They’re weird. There’s some weird times in there. But I, you know, had read all the Matildas, and the Fantastic Mr Foxes, and then I it got to the point where I got moved schools because I was just absorbing words so quickly, and I loved it so much. And then, it just became an ongoing thing, but I never thought it would turn into a career. Because I think people tell you, when you’re a teenager especially, like you can’t pursue creativity as a viable means to make income, you know. It’s great that you like it and it’s great that you’re good at it, but you need to find a backup, or you need to have a strong backup. For me, for a while, it was going to be forensic science!
A: Interesting backup!
M: Which is so far from anything that I could ever see my, like look, I’m like wearing a purple striped t-shirt as a dress, like you know, I’m absolutely…
A: There’s the goth girl on NCIS or whatever!
M: Abbey? Yeah, I’m aware. And like Bones, as well?
M: I don’t remember if you remember that TV show but she was like my idol. I once, I met someone once and they’re like, ‘you’re so, you’re sense of humour is distorted, you remind me of Terence Brenen’, who’s the character Bones. I was like, thank you! My teenage, like, thank you! My teenage back up plan is real.
A: No, so yeah, that was like, I pursued those sort of avenues, and then it got to year, would’ve been year eleven, and I started doing all the subjects you needed to do to go into science, so Human Bio and Chem. And I just hated them! I absolutely hated it. I dropped them. Just dropped it all! And was like, ‘screw you all, I’m gonna be a word person!’ And that’s about as far as I got in high-school at putting a career name on what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with words, I knew I loved public speaking. Crazy, right? I knew I
loved public speaking, I knew I loved writing and story-telling, but I had no idea how that would become any kind of income or career. Because, no one really gives you, like it was journalist or nothing, is kind of what I think I thought. My parents, although incredibly supportive, were eager to push me towards careers, I think. I think my Dad really wanted this forensic science thing, my Mum was kind of like, ‘do what makes you happy, darling’. You know, she’s amazing. She doesn’t sound like that, at all. But… and I graduated year twelve, and I walked out of my graduation with like my Lit teacher arm-in-arm with me, my Lit teacher was like, the teacher of the school. You know how you have those teachers, who like, everyone loves him, he’s the one. He like did meditation with us once in class. Like absolute fantastic teacher, and just popular because he was so smart. And he walked out with me and then, at the exit he said to me, ‘I can’t wait to have your first book on my shelf’. And that was the first that I was like, someone actually believes in this. Someone who I highly respect, believes in this. And then I went on to Curtin and did Literary and Culture Studies and Creative Writing. Still no idea where I was going with any of this, and decided I wanted to be an academic and a PhD scholar, and I was like, set on being this really young female PhD scholar. Didn’t happen, yet. It will happen soon. Give me three years! Or five on the Stanford.
M: But, and then in my second year at uni, I did a class called experimental writing, and you got a little bit extra mark if you performed or got published that semester. So, I performed, and then that was kind of the snowball that started rolling, and then it just really picked up momentum from there.
A: But the motivation for performance was just purely, give me grades?
M: Yeah, 10% extra.
M: Yeah, I was a, I’m a good student. I’m on that HD chase at all times. So, obviously I’d do it. I did it. And I really just, and the rest is just kind of a blur and snowballing and just performing more. Winning some things, eventually getting published. Got published by Pelican. One of my first, first publishing dates, pieces. My first publishing pieces, ‘Poems on Posters’ by Trove, which was a program they did a while ago, and I had a poem called ‘Wilted Morning’ published at the Octogon Dolphin Theatrey bit. Poster was big! It was bigger than me. And I was like, ‘oo look!’
A: Oh, so it’s just like a massive poster that they just stick up there?
M: Yeah, just of poetry.
M: And it was really strange because I’d never been a U Dub student, and yet, most people think I have because I was, you know, on that, and then I got published by Pelican, a poem called ‘Past Self’. It was published by them quite early, and I was doing that CWAP? C, W, A, P? Creative Writing And Poetry, like events for a bit. So yeah, UWA was like quite big to me in the development. Curtin started it, but they didn’t really bring me up with them.
A: Is there less of that community at Curtin, then, or?
M: It’s better now as far as I know. Going back, I think I’ve been a bit distant from it because I’m so, Honours is so full on, and I’m doing so much stuff that I’m not eager to get involved as much in the extra-curricular side of uni. Which is kind of, not a great thing to say, but it’s just where I’m at. It looks like there’s been more events, and more community, and there’s like slams now that Curtin has, so it’s definitely progressed. But, I felt like, when I was started studying, which would’ve been 2013-2014, it was definitely U Dub that was doing
the creative stuff, in a way that interested me and it also made me feel part of the community despite, you know, being a traitor! Yeah. And not knowing where to park, like ever.
A: That one takes time and training, I think.
M: It’s so silly. It’s awful.
A: It’s a skill. Yeah.
M: U Dub, pick it up.
A: If you take one thing away from this, UWA, if you’re listening.
M: Yeah. Change the, get rid of an oval! We don’t need sport!
A: Nope, what we need is cars
A: Cars on the road, yep.
M: I hate the environment. Quote that on me.
A: Good, good. But did you, so you started out getting things published, like written, and then move from that into slam, with the performance? Was that something you intended, or?
M: I don’t even remember what came first now. I think slams were happening, and people I knew were doing slams, and you know, it wasn’t peer pressure. But when people around you are doing a thing, you’re like, ‘Oo, I could do the thing’. And they’re two minutes here, like Australian slams are two minutes but like it’s a two minute and then you lose any mark for any time over it, so it’s a strict two minutes. So, you can, anyone can write a two-minute poem. Anyone can talk for two minutes. Still scary, maybe. But it’s less scary, because it’s two minutes, then you sit down. But it’s more scary because then strangers hold up numbers and score you on your poem. Not the best. So, I started entering… My first slam was cool at Spoken Word Perth, which is an event I later went on to host, which is kind of nice. But my first slam, I like rode my little bicycle there. It was quite a long ride. Just miming it for you. And then I performed poem which I had written that day, which was also quite intense for me, and I like printed it out on my parent’s printer. I remember vividly writing this poem at about 11am that day, and then I performed it that night just thinking it would be terrible and it was very fresh and very real for me. Then it won. I got 10s and stuff, which is the highest you can get. And I… yeah, I had a bit of a cry, I think. I don’t really remember. Had a cry, rode my bike home, typical. But that poem was called ‘Consent’, and it’s the poem that I went on to do then at the State Finals for the WA poetry slam. So, then I won my heat and then I ended up going to the Perth Final at the Rosemount, or the 459 I think it was. My parents came, and I think it was the one of the first time they’d ever seen me perform since that first uni one, and I performed ‘Consent’, and I won, and that sent me to Sydney Opera House. So, that was a pretty strange year for, of writing this thing, and then it winning like three slams and it being performed at Sydney Opera House. I did the same poem. And that was one of the moments where that snowballing, that momentum, kind of happened, because it was a little moment that became a bigger moment that became a very big moment in my life and my résumé, quite quickly. But I think that it was always interwoven with the publishing. I believe that I’ve always been, I don’t ever feel like I write for slam. I hate the idea of it. I don’t think any poem is a slam poem. I think we have poems, and we do them at slams, and then they become slam poems because we do them at a slam. You know, if you read a shopping list at a slam, it’s a slam poem. You know, if you read
your sonnet at a slam, it’s a slam poem. I’m really against this idea of poems being written specifically for a domain or specifically for an audience. I think they lose something then. They lose some sort of sincerity, or, even, you lose your authority as the writer and the author and the creator, if you’re writing specifically for an external thing. Yeah.
A: Like there should be some kind of internal self-support, or something there?
M: Yeah! Like I feel like you should feel like you support what you’re writing. Yeah, it’s like this idea of poetry for points. Slams are great, they’re like gimmicks. They bring a lot of people in. A lot of people get started through slam. Like I owe a lot of my career to slam. Like a lot of it. I cannot, you know, I can’t stamp down on slam in any way. But, I think we need to see it as a vehicle, and slam as a way to further our journey as writers or poets or performers, rather than being a slam poet being your ultimate destination. You know, I don’t want to be a slam poet. I don’t know if I ever was a slam poet. I was a poet who won a lot of slams, like internationally, it was a thing that I did. Sick, great. But I’d rather that be a reflection on my performance or my writing, rather than my ability to be in a niche or a genre. Make sense?
A: Yeah, yeah. But do you see a distinction, then, between those two aspects of the slam? Between the kind of written aspect and the performative?
M: I don’t know. I think the best poets are the poets who combine them – who are performance poets. There are some great poets who are put their stuff on a page, put it in the world, and I never see them speak, and I don’t care, because I’m like, ‘who cares?’ It’s great. And there are also some poets who perform some amazing things on microphones and I have never read their poems on a page, and I might want to, but I also don’t mind if I don’t, because I realize that their speaking is where they sit comfortably. I have friends, I have one particular friend who said to me that he, he’s very good at the performance, he doesn’t feel he’s so good at the writing. He’s a great poet. I feel like I’m almost the opposite sometimes. I feel like the writing is my strength and the writing is where I love, and I sit in. I feel more confident about my writing and sometimes the performance for me is the bit where I feel a little bit awkward or nervous. Like, I’m comfortable with what’s being created, but the sharing of it is maybe the bit where I feel weaker. So, there’s definitely, I think everyone has a strength and a weakness. It’s also interesting that a lot of people who see me perform think performing is my strength. And also, I’m always complimented on how confident I look on stage. I’m not. I’m always just like, shaking a little bit inside. But I learnt, when I was in London I was doing kind of weekly gigs, and a lot at somewhere called Sofar Sounds. They do living room gigs, and they do gigs in unconventional spaces. So, you go to a room, you don’t have a microphone, and you perform to this room of people and they have no idea who you are because they don’t get to know the run sheet before. So, there’s three acts. There was usually two bands and me. It was really a learning experience for me to be able to see everyone’s faces so close and to sit with them afterwards and before, and to have a really human experience. It’s all BYO. So, you’re just all like, bringing bottles and cans to this strange persons house in the middle of a suburb you’ve never been and can’t afford to live. Often, not always. There were some really nice houses! As you can imagine, right?
M: And I did a hostel as well! The hostel was so cool. And I learnt during that process that, if I got on stage and I said, ‘I’m actually feeling really nervous today, guys’, like, ‘I’m really excited to be here but I’m nervous about sharing this new poem, or I’m nervous about my face giving up because I’ve been, you know, singing a lot this weekend. Or, I’ve just come back from a festival yesterday and I’m feeling a little bit run down, but I’m really excited to
be here.’ I learnt that that honest moment was kind of important, and I learnt that that honest moment was something that made my performance better because I suddenly felt at home with those people. They felt like friends, not like an audience. So, when it comes to thinking about performance and writing, I think that they’re both learning processes, and a lot fo my learning has been feeling as confident with the performance as I do with the writing. So, knowing that maybe the writing is, maybe not my strength but maybe my comfort zone, and then realizing that I want the performance to be as comfortable, and finding strategies to make that happen. Yeah. I just saw a spider right next to your head.
A: Oh really? [gasping in surprise]
M: I don’t know! I like, saw it, and I was going to finish my sentence!
A: I think I might slightly move this way.
M: He’s like coming down, he’s coming to get you.
A: Yeah! Jesus. I’m not a spider person.
M: Yeah, I didn’t… I thought you wouldn’t be.
A: Thanks, thanks.
M: That’s alright.
A: But if it suddenly ended up in my head I would’ve maybe died.
M: Also, the feeling of them in the shaved head is hectic. Yeah, I’ve had it.
[shuffling around to get rid of spider]
M: Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it. Do you want me to do it? I can be Steve Irwin.
A: There we go, be free.
M: Be free! Be free! The red light’s not flashing, by the way. I will update you.
A: Okay! Good, good. We’re not on fire.
A: We’re not on fire.
M: I’m on fire. Speak for yourself.
A: But then, so the performance aspect, is there a lot of thought that has to go into the translating something from the page into speaking it? Or does it happen kind of fairly naturally, in the way that you see it being performed?
M: It feels pretty natural. If it feels unnatural, that means it’s not written properly. For me, not necessarily for anyone else or for other poets, but for me I know that if a poem is not coming out the right way, then there’s something wrong with the writing. Usually, when I write poems, I can hear them straight away. Or, I’ll be writing and speaking at the same time. It’s quite a, like for me writing, it’s quite an audible process. Kate Tempest has, at the beginning of I think most her books now, ‘this poem’s intended to be read aloud’, or ‘these poems’ or ‘this book is intended to be read aloud’. And I think about that a lot. That a book should be able to be read and I think oral storytelling has such a history and such an important history that they need to be interwoven. However, there are poems that I have had to go through and annotate to get them right. There’s a poem called “Ode To My Kneecaps”, which I love doing so much, but, each stanza has a different dramatic tone. So, when I was annotating that, I went through and just made a mess of it, really. At every single line I put a voice, or something to consider about it. There were things like poets who I loved, they were songs, they were, one of the lines was ‘Lorde, Melodrama’. You know? And that’s an album I love and it’s just like next to a line. This line reads in that voice. This
line is in Sarah Key’s voice, who I love as a poet. And this voice is in… I can’t even remember but they were all different inspirations for me. And then there was one that was just like, excited. So, I’ve gone and mapped that poem. Which I don’t do often, but I think I should probably consider more. Because now I know that poem so well, and it has so many beats that I’m happy with because I practiced it like hundreds of times in the mirror before I was ready to do it. Yeah, definitely benefited from that.
A: Yeah, it’s kind of like a – like almost – stage direction in a way, it sounds like. Like when you, say in scripts, and they have the little bracketed bits
M: Yeah, yeah. That’s what it felt like.
A: Cool, cool. But then when you’re… so when you’re in your writing process, then, that’s not necessarily what you’re imaging it being, as being spoken.
M: Mm, I think so. It was interesting putting this book together, actually, because I cut out a lot of my “crowd pleasers”, in terms of a lot of my, like ‘Consent’ is not in there, which is one my oldest and maybe most well-known poems. Because I don’t think it looks good on a page. I don’t think it reads well. I don’t love it on the page. There’s also another one called ‘If My Body Was A Poem’, which, you know, I was quite known for. It’s the name of my show. It’s the name of my theatre show that I did and also, it did quite well on the internet. It’s not in there! Because I didn’t like how it looked. So, I think there’s also this crossover of not only poems that sit on the page and then don’t work on stage, but there’s also the reverse of poems that I love performing and will continue to perform probably, that just didn’t work from a reading point of view. I think there’s something to be said for possibly reworking poems for the page. There’s a poem I do called, ‘I Love the Way You Take Up Space’, which is a letter to a strip club who told me to go away and tone up before they would hire me. Nice one. And, it felt like that should be in the book. It just didn’t look right. So, there’s a poem in there which is a rework of that poem, which was previously published by Out in Perth, and it’s called ‘Refusing to Exist Quietly’. And it takes maybe a stanza or two stanzas of the audible or the spoken poem, and then puts it on the page with different kind of phrasing. So, I kind of enjoyed doing that. In terms of trying to get this happy medium between spoken and written and work out how we blend the two in a way that makes sense, and also gives the reader something extra.
A: So, is that, then, sounds a bit like it’s something that the writing process just kind of happens, and then it’s about, ‘how am I going to make this work?’
M: Yeah. All my first bios, I call myself a word-spewer. That’s how it happens. All of the poems mostly come out fully formed, I don’t find myself writing bits and pieces. They just honestly spew out. It’s gross.
M: Just kidding. It’s actually really wonderful. A lot of writers said to me that, when I got older, it would stop happening like that. That I would, with age, lose that momentum, or that spur of inspiration, that energy. Hasn’t happened yet. Although, I’m learning now that I’m allowed to have periods of time where I don’t write, which I didn’t have before. I used to write every day, so much, so much stuff. I didn’t even do anything with most of it. But these days I kind, you know, I haven’t written in about a week now, and I’m not freaking out. Like, it will happen. I used to be so scared that, if I didn’t write for a week, I’d be over. I’d never write again. I’d lose the muscle. But no, it’s nice to give yourself some space to not write, and then when you come back to it there’s a new joy because you’re like, ‘Oh, I miss this! Look at me doing the words!’ Yeah.
A: Kind of makes it special in a way, that’s a bit more novel, I guess.
M: Yeah, it’s like when you have burritos every day, and you love it, and you think it’s you living your best life. But then, after a while, your stomach is perpetually bloated and you’re kind of not crying about the guac anymore, you’re just kind of, taking it for granted.
A: Something gets, ah, blocked.
M: Yeah, when I talk about writer’s block, it is a reference to burritos at all times.
M: It’s exactly right.
A: It’s a good analogy.
A: So, it’s kind of, it sounds like it’s something that almost bubbles over, in a way.
M: Yeah, I think it does. I wrote an essay for Westerly earlier this year, the edition that Katie edited. She did that?
M: Yeah, she did that. Flux. I wrote an essay called, ‘There’s a Poem on the Stove’, and that was kind of this idea that there’s a stovetop in the back of my brain at all times, and there are various pots and pans and something’s in the oven, something’s definitely burning and boiling over. I don’t know what it is, but I can smell it. And one of those pots is always a poem. Like, there’s always a poem on the stove, which is where the title comes from, is that there’s always a poem on the stove. And I do feel like my subconscious is always writing. Like, especially when I drive, lately. I’ve been driving and been like, ‘Oo, that’s a good one, Mads’. But I haven’t written them down, but I feel like I should be. But I also think there’s something beautiful in having those moments of inspiration, not writing them down. I don’t know. It’s a new thing.
A: Like coming and going?
M: Yeah, usually like I’m scared to lose them, but these last couple of weeks I’ve been, like, ‘Oo, that’s a good one!’ And just not writing it anywhere, and being like, it will come back if I need it. But yeah. The subconscious poem is always there. I don’t know what, I think the next one is about abandonment. I don’t know how. I just think it is. There’s a lot about… I can’t say that. There’s a lot about… [laughs] I was just going to cuss someone out. But…
A: It’s a podcast, you can say what you want.
M: There’s a lot about people who leave and come back in my life, and like what that means and the tangible locations. They’re living in North Perth now. I see people all the time who I thought I would never see again in my whole life. I recently saw my high-school boyfriend at my local Liquorland.
A: Always a great experience.
M: He works there, now. And that’s lined up with my, also I’m not drinking this month. I’m going completely sober. It just lines up. And that’s a poem, like that’s a poem that’s waiting to be written. Like, the month I turned sober found out that guy was working at Liquorland. Fun! See, I didn’t cuss anyone out. It’s fine!
A: That’s good.
M: It’s a fact, it’s a fact.
A: You skirted around it.
A: But so then is that, that’s always a poem that something’s boiling over? I just wonder if it’s the same for other forms?
M: Oh! That’s interesting. I don’t know. So, I write short stories as well, I am working on a theatre project that will be presented later this year, which I can’t announce yet. But it’s happening. Yeah, it’s interesting. Because I was running the other day… I started running, don’t get too impressed. Stopped drinking, started running. Honestly soon I will be the fittest poet I know. And I was running, and I was like doing my thing, and I just stopped in the middle of this oval, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what that’s about!’ I was working on a show for a long time, like almost a year now, and it’s been this show called ‘Bed Hair’ which is about mental health and comfort and isolation, and I was just running and I just stopped and I realized, suddenly, that this show is about completely different and I needed to go down a whole new pathway with it, and it’s a whole new research pathway, obviously, and it’s a whole new direction for the show. So, I feel like in some way my stovetop had that on it. This kind of development which needed an ‘Aha!’ moment, almost like a ‘Eureka!’ It all came out at once. I don’t think, I think it’s usually a poem of some sort though. I think my short stories don’t often come out that way. Originally, I had a short story that I wrote for like, six hours straight. I went to work and I wrote it at work, and then I went to Nando’s and wrote it at Nando’s. I just like, kept going for a whole evening until I felt the most exhausted, like my brain hurt. And it ended up being 6000 words or something like that. It was alright. But, I don’t feel like that was anything I had been working on. Just felt like adrenalin. Just felt like manic typing.
A: But it still happens in that kind of spewing forth?
M: Yeah. But unlike the poem, I felt like it happened been considered by my subconscious at all. Whereas the poems tend to come out and I’m like, ‘aw cool’, that’s you know, there’s the Liquorland thing coming into the story. Or, you know, there’s the conversation I had with my Mum last month has come in. They seem to be more well developed and considered and informed by my life, whereas short stories, or even theatre scripts I think, tend to come out in a more adrenalin fueled, like pre-recorded, I guess you could say.
A: That’s interesting though because usually, you know, if people think of the form, it’s poetry’s kind of most raw, just words on a page; whereas, stuff like stories or especially stuff like a script is seen as a bit more like crafted and precise.
M: Yeah. I think that when I write poems I… it’s like one of my worst habits to talk about. Interesting.
A: All good.
M: Yeah. It’s one of my worst habits to talk about, but I don’t edit very well. Not great at editing. I don’t do it. I also like work as an editor now, so it’s very ironic!
M: Yeah, it’s good. So I’m learning to edit better, because I’m editing other people’s work, and I also help friends and poets edit as well. So, I know how to edit. I just, a lot of my work comes out clean, and I worked with an editor recently and I sent her poems and short stories – mainly short stories – and she was like, ‘these are incredibly clean, there’s not much I can cut here.’ Which surprised me, because I’m quite a rambler in normal life. So, the fact that my work comes out quite clean is really interesting and often means that editing isn’t often a huge job for me. But, when it comes to short stories and theatre shows, there is so much editing. There is so much that needs to be done for me because I feel like, when I get into a longer form, I get lost along the way and I miss bits and I assume that I have written something, and I haven’t. Whether that’s a scene description or a location description or a very important plot point or character. Whereas, when there’s a poem, it’s so succinct, and it’s so concentrated that I feel like it doesn’t need it be edited as much
because I can be really in it when I’m writing it. Poems are very much moments for me. They’re very much moments in time. So, that’s good.
M: What’s happening?
A: I don’t know.
A: It’s still recording and everything, so that’s fine.
M: That’s good. Maybe the spider crawled into the light.
A: Aw, poor guy!
A: Yeah. Oh well.
M: That’s good.
A: Yep, yep. Well, we’ve completely gone off!
[phone text sound going off]
M: Shepherd me!
A: No, I’m… I don’t know. I think things should just go.
M: Oh okay, as long as I’m not rambling too much.
A: No, no! It’s good, it’s good. I mean, yeah, about like process in your work and stuff, which I think is interesting.
A: Where do you see it kind of going?
M: See what going, my life?
A: Yeah, is there a point…
M: Ah, married with kids! And I want a suburban house and a minivan!
A: Don’t we all.
M: Oh goodness, I’m just going to spew, I’m going to vomit everywhere.
A: A man with a van!
M: Like, my creative life?
A: Yeah, I guess.
M: I so don’t know. I had this… I got the book this week and I looked at it, and I was like, ‘what’s next?’ What do you do after you have a book at 22? Apart from cry and sing.
A: Hopefully with joy!
M: I don’t know. A big crier, I love crying. Go home and cry every once, it’s great. Crying’s just beautiful. I don’t… Yeah. It’s wonderful. And I don’t know what’s next, for the first time in a long time. I mean I got his book deal over a year ago, so this has always been… Most people are like, ‘what’s next for you, Maddie?’ I’ve always been like, ‘oh, it’s my book coming out in June 2018.’ And now I have the book, and I have this tour, and I have a book launch, and then I’m doing Perth poetry festival, and then I’m doing something which I can’t announce. And then I’m, my Honours is due – my Honours submission is due – at the end of this year, like Honours generally is. And then I don’t know [laughs]. So, wait, I do kind of have the rest of the year planned, I guess.
A: That does sound like a lot laid out.
M: But, I don’t know. I don’t… I never thought I’d be something who planned years in ahead. And, yet, oh like. I never thought I’d be someone who planned years in ahead and yet I have been and that’s so strange for me because I’m quite a messy kind of scrambled, organized, disorganized person. My Mum recently said that I’m the most disorganized organized
person she knows. Because my diary is laid out, scheduled, colour-coded – amazing. But, I’ve lost my house key, I don’t know where it is and I, you know, I lose my bank card about twice a week, like I learned now how to lock it. I just got charged about 600 bucks from Dropbox because I forgot to cancel my business plan.
A: Oh, Jesus.
M: I didn’t even know I had a business plan.
M: But like, they’re refunding it. It’s fine. But like, I’m so organized and yet so disorganized at the same time. I feel like that’s a reflection on my life, you know. I know what I’m doing with my Honours, and I know what I’m with this theatre show, and I know exactly everywhere I’m going on this silly tour – beautiful silly tour. But, I can’t really tell you where I’m going to be living at the end of the year, you know? I think what I want to do is I want to go and write longer pieces. I’m getting a lot of joy from writing prose and short stories. I’m getting a lot of joy from being in an educating role. That’s my… I think that’s my goal. That’s probably the answer for the rest of my life. I want to be a spoken word educator. So, rather than just be a performer or a write, I’m really passionate and I’m the happiest when I’m teaching poetry, or teaching story-telling, or using story-telling to educate. It makes me get out of bed. It makes me the happiest I can be to be alive. It’s that thing that makes me, you know, excited for the weeks ahead. So, I just finished an eight-week course with MSWA. So, I was teaching a small group of people and they were incredible and so generous and like a little family to me by the end, and we met up every week and did an hour of poetry and also speech pathology. I didn’t do the speech pathology, I just did the poetry bit. And that was the highlight of my week every week. And I tutor at Perth College now. I tutor those girls and that… that’s also partly an aspect of it, is watching how they learn and watching how they grow and like being able to help them mould their words into stuff that gets marks. But even next month I’m going to Melbourne and I’ve got some workshops lined up at the State Library of Victoria, which is huge for me. Really exciting! And now that’s the next thing I’m excited for, is those workshops. And I’m doing performances all over the country, but the thing I’m really keen on is these series of workshops with… teenagers? 14-16 I believe? Just with kids. I’m really keen for it. So yeah.
A: Oh, very cool.
M: I’d like to be doing more of that, and more educating, and being in high-schools next year teaching. Maybe tutoring at uni, one day, you know being a cultural studies tutor. Not a forensic science.
A: No, not forensic science! [laughs]
M: No, not anytime soon.
A: No, but that’s cool. Kind of give back in a way.
M: Yeah. Oh, I think it’s also selfish. I think it’s…
A: What, you’re mining them for inspiration?
M: Oh yeah! But like I realized recently that if I never wrote again, like if I just stopped writing, never performed again, you know, if after this tour I never performed ever again, and I was able to be in classrooms teaching poetry. And that is a form of performance, as I was recently told. It is. It is a form of performance when you’re in front of a group of school students and you have to be, ‘hello, children’ and you have to be energetic and perform for them. But, if that was all I did, I’d be so content. That’s my, what you call a vocation, I guess. When you grow up in a religious high-school. Like that would be the job I’d be completely fine never writing again. If I got to teach kids and elderly people and people with disabilities
as well, poetry and story-telling and writing. Like, that would be my goal. So, it is selfish because it’s like my happiest option I think.
A: Yeah. But if you’re like selfish thing lines up with something that gives, it’s beneficial I think.
M: I’m might not teach them well!
A: But yeah, that’s true. Well, I’m assuming that you are.
M: I might kick them down. That’s terrible. Sandra, how dare you write that poem? Yeah, I don’t know.
A: Yeah, you can keep like your place as performer.
M: Yeah, yeah!
M: You call this a sonnet?!
A: What’s that movie, Filth, with the guy who becomes a cop and he’s like ‘why’d you become a policeman’ and he’s like ‘oh, I just saw lots of you know police corruption, police brutality’. It’s like, ‘oh you wanted to stamp it up?’ and he’s like, ‘no, I wanted to be a part of it’.
M: Yeah! I’d sort of be the mean teacher. Just sort of sit at their desk, and just shouts out stop every two minutes just for no reason.
M: That’s where I’m at. Just so I can wear teacher outfits. I got a waistcoat. I’m wearing a watch today.
A: Cardigans, or is that too old-school?
M: So many cardigans. Like my car boot is filled with cardigans right now. Interesting sentence Maddie. Poetry prompt children. Your car boot is filled with: option A, cardigans; option B, coffee; option C, make it up.
A: Oh. But there is that like old-school, you know like old-fashioned teaching, where it’s like this is some… here is a T.S Eliot, memorise.
A: How do you, kind of… I would think that’s a lot of the way people think about how poetry is taught in school or something. When you say you’re a spoken-word educator, like how else do you tackle that to make it less of a, here is a fossil, dig it up.
M: I’m so passionate about the curriculum. It’s like one of those weird things where I’m like, ‘let me talk about it!’ In terms of… so we still study so many old, white dudes. Like we still do it. Like this is the poetry that I grew up with. And even when I, like this is so embarrassing, but even when I became a poet, my favourite poet was Bukowski. Like, Charles Bukowski. Misogynist, not that technical, like you know, women are objects for me to have sex with and alcohol is so cool, right kids? But that was me as someone who loved poetry and who maybe wasn’t identifying loudly as a feminist at that point, because I didn’t learn about the word. But, you know, who came from a background of really believing in women and believing in young women and believing in my Mum. And yet, someone like Charles Bukowski was my favourite poet. Which concerns me in hindsight, the fact that my exposure to poetry was so limited, that I had like maybe, the only woman I remember studying was Gwen Harwood, in school. And I didn’t really like her poetry. And I read it recently, and I was like, OK I can understand how inaccessible this was to me at sixteen. It’s nothing that I was feeling. Whereas Bukowski at least, I was like, ‘oh alcoholic’ I can feel that as a teenager, you know?
M: You’re right, it was. And it was the only colloquial poetry I think I had access to in terms of, it wasn’t highly stylized language. It was sentences I could see myself in, and it was writing I could see myself producing. So, my parents bought me all the Bukowski books, and that was my first exposure to poetry. And I hear that in my early poems. I hear that kind of displaced sentences. Sentences with extra line breaks that are bitter and cold and talk about all the way women who’ve left me.
M: They didn’t, but they do now.
M: Abandonment, we’re back! But I think that… so the term spoken-word educator comes from people I was mentored by in the UK. There’s a course at Goldsmiths University called Spoken Word Education. This is like my dream course, the course I always wanted to do, and I didn’t get to do it because I wasn’t considered an internal student, I was an international student, so fees would be humungous. And, also it wasn’t running in one of the years as well. So, there was a couple of issues. But I was so interested in doing it, that I contacted the guy who ran, Jacob Samlerose. And after a couple of meetings, and we crossed paths a bit and I applied for Barbican Young poets, which is a collective he helps run – or runs I should say – he kind of took me under his wing and started mentoring me with this goal of becoming an educator. I think he saw me working with some kids one day and he said… he came over, I remember this. I was sitting at my desk with sticky notes at the Barbican and talking to children and adults and getting them to respond to an artwork, basically. And he came over and said ‘Maddie, what are you doing with your life right now?’
M: And I was like [uncomfortable scream sound]. And I kind of like did this internal scream and just went completely blank and was like I have no idea. I have no idea. It’s not what I want to be doing. I was performing a lot, and I was really busy. I was in a relationship which was not healthy and everything was kind falling apart for me. I just, I just don’t know man! You know? Help me. And he was like, ‘we’re going to have a chat’. And that chat ended up being for hours, and it helped me guide the rest of my life. And I learnt things that I hold with me almost every day. Things like taking on too much work, things like remembering where you’re going and what your ultimate goal is. Anyway, so he runs a spoken-word education course, which is one of my goals that day. I said I want to be teaching. I want to be teaching kids poetry. And then I started, from his guidance, started meeting with all these people who’d done the course. So, these were people who I’d either performed with or cross paths with or had heard of, and I started organizing coffees with them around London. It was beautiful, and I learned so much and I started to realise that I wasn’t alone in this. That there are people doing the work I’d always dreamed of doing. They’re simply not really doing it in Australia. There are some people in Australia who are facilitating amazing workshops, people I admire and look up to. I just think it’s not as established as a career here. Whereas, these people in London and in England and Wales call themselves spoken- word educators. And this comes down from Peter Kahn, who comes from America, or is in America right now at least, and he brought spoken-word education courses to England and put them in schools, so every school had a spoken-word educator. Not every school, a group of school had spoken-word educators who would be there three days a week and then, so he’s like the grandfather of this. And then Jacob Lamlerose, my mentor, was mentored by Peter. So, I got to meet up with Peter for a coffee as well, and that was so weird and
beautiful to meet someone who kind of made this term possible. And there’s all this offspawn of these people doing it throughout the world now, who are a little bit older than me. And it was nice that they were so eager and so supportive of what I wanted to do. And they also thought that it was important. So, that’s kind of like a trajectory of family of spoken-word education. On a really tangible level, for me it means going into schools or rooms – let’s just rooms – going into rooms and making poetry come alive and making poetry something which is present and contemporary and very much alive. It isn’t reading from books, it isn’t highlighting a metaphor on the bottom of each page. It’s story-telling and it’s very much about your experiences and your life and your passion about what you want to say. I wrote an online article for Westerly last month, and it’s going up this week I think. But, there’s a line I quoted from a song by Lucy Dacus which says, ‘this is what I want to talk about’ and I think that’s something that I bring into spoken-word education. Like, ‘what do you want to talk about today? Where do you come from? What’s something that you want to share or preserve or get out?’ It’s an… and in the education way it’s led by, not only a focus on creative writing and creativity but also on things like… you can like, my big thing was spoken-word sex-ed is a course that I’m working on, which uses spoken-word to talk about body positivity, LGBTQIA+ issues, consent and respect for relationships and feminism of course, and intersexual feminism especially. So, using poetry to open up dialogue about those things, as a form of education particularly for teenage people, and largely teenage girls I think. Would be great. So, that’s like kind of an example of a course that uses spoken-word to educate. How was that?
A: Very good, very good!
M: Huge answer. I was like, this is my jam!
A: I see what you mean when you said I love to talk about it.
M: Yeah! Yeah! It’s like here you go, here’s a diagram I’ve prepared earlier in my backpack. A: Yeah, well that’s great. It sounds like you’re, I don’t know, making it much more of an active thing instead of the kind of passive receptivity you get in traditional school education. M: Yeah, and I think it should be. I think poetry is exciting and it is becoming mainstream really quick, which is awesome. But it also means that more kids are interested, and more kids want to do stuff. I got an email last week from a child from… I don’t even know where they! They’re in high-school and they’re like ‘hello! I’m writing this essay on you and your poem. Could you tell me what inspired you to write this specific poem?’ And I was like, what? Not only is this child – I say child, I don’t know how old she is. Teenager, kiddy, youth. A: The correct term I think is kiddy.
M: The youth. This youth person was writing, not only about is pretty exciting, but about poetry and about this 22-year-old poet. I think they’re in America too as well, so about a poet they’ve met and never encountered, except on the internet. The fact that that’s happening in high-school, that’s a reputable thing to be writing about, is so cool. When I was included in the WACE exam in 2016, a poem of mine. So, I was a baby at that point as well. I would’ve been 20 or 19. And it just struck me so sincerely that, you know, kids who I was a couple of years ago doing WACE and doing WACE Literature, were reading a poem not just by someone who was from their city but by someone who is young and not a man and also the poem was about gender and being gender non-conforming and growing up with my Dad at home. It talked about those kinds of issues. So, I got Facebook messages from trans kids who were like, ‘thank you so much, I saw myself in my exam’. I actually cried. Because I
think putting contemporary narratives in educational spaces is a revolutionary, because I think when you’re a queer kid you don’t get to see yourself ever and then if you saw yourself somewhere in somewhere like the WACE exam, dude! Like, that would make me want to write poetry. And I just, yeah, it’s an honour to be able to be that for any kid, or any teenager. And it kind of makes wish that I, I had that when I was younger. Like, what would I have done? I don’t know.
A: That would be great then that you can be part of making that happen and bring about that change.
M: I hope so. But I’d rather do that than be a performer, I guess. I love performing. I’m not like downtrodden on it. But, in terms of what makes me the happiest, I’d rather be able to help someone else tell their story than tell mine. I’d rather be a mentor than a touring artist forever. Although I’m excited for my tour, I’m not… yeah. You know what I mean.
A: Yeah, that’s interesting though. Do you, because you’ve had quite a bit of success on the internet, I think you’ve pointed out. Is that something you think contributes to that change in terms of the popularity of poetry and getting in different voices?
M: I think so. I think it’s good. It is becoming a little bit saturated sometimes. So, I was on Button Poetry at the end of last year, that’s got about 16000 views now. Like one six zero zero zero. I think that is. Because I always get confused by the decimal points. The idea that that many people saw me read my poem, which was called ‘Kissing’, and like, you know, was about a relationship that I never thought that many people would hear about, to be quite honest! It’s, you know, surreal and cool, and I’ve had poems go like viral before. I had a quote go viral by Lin, a parasite’s, who are one of those Facebook pages who share art and poetry and, you know those kinds of things. It went viral and people are still using as quotes under their profile pictures. Some porn sites are using it. Like you know the porn Facebook pages, where they have pictures of you know, scantily dressed women with very prominent boobs, breasts, and they have just have my quote. It’s like, ‘do not think about failure. Remember: even stars fall sometimes, and when they do, people wish on them.’ And there’s just a photo of this like pornographic image. Although, there was a notable one of like a man looking down at his abs, like shirtless. And I was like, where’s the failure? Like what is his failures here, or his success?
M: Like, how is this relevant, peeps? Like, people how is this happening?
[phone message alert sounds]
A: Not very professional, sorry.
M: No, that’s okay. That was just me getting a message about shirtless men. Just kidding, it wasn’t my phone. But yeah, like, and that’s strange to see yourself represented in ways that you never thought you’d be represented. And online hate is a thing, and harassment is a thing, and I think they’re everyone on the internet, but especially who aren’t men and people who talk about their bodies and aren’t men. And that was a learning curve, I think. When you start getting harassed and you start getting threatened, just for telling a story. It’s a big moment. And that was a moment where I was like, ‘oh! The Internet!’ But on a really positive level, having so many YouTube channels now. The American ones I think are still the most prominent. Things like Button Poetry, Write About Now, Slam Find – these kinds of American slam-based channels get millions of views, and poets have made their careers off them. I just got an email today about Neil Hilborn who is an American poet who had a poem go bonkers viral. Like, the most viral you can go. He’s like the most watched poet on the
Internet, ever. And he has made a career for himself now, and he tours, and I went to see him on tour. He just went to Australia and he’s touring the UK again. And I don’t super love his poetry, it’s not my favourite, but I am so in awe of the fact that because of YouTube, his career exists when it might not. I think it would exist otherwise, but I don’t think it would be as prominent or as… he wouldn’t be touring like he is. And it’s the same with other poets like… I have so much love for Olivia Gatwood, she’s one of my favourite poets in the whole world. Best ever. And I wouldn’t have found her work if not for YouTube. Like, I found her on YouTube and I ended up buying her book because of it. And it’s like, you know, her poems are so relevant to everything I’ve ever wanted to write or say, and I never would’ve found that without YouTube. So, as much as it’s great for people who aren’t in the culture, I guess, being someone who life’s saturated with poetry, it’s so nice to come up one night and listen to voices that you’d never get to hear otherwise, especially you know, being in Australia. And even the poetry scene is quite white-washed, and you still get a lot of men speaking quite loud and it’s… it’s exhausting. And I could go online and choose the voices and the people who stories I want to hear and there are some days where I just want to go online and listen to women of colour speak, you know, because I can’t often get that at a poetry event in Perth. Which sucks and is something that I hope changes. But that’s kind of the beauty of the Internet, is that you can choose the voices you want to amplify even if that amplification is just a click, or a like, or a view. It is a way of making some kind of change, I think. Maybe. Slowly, we can try. Don’t know.
A: Oh, you kind of, I don’t know, have faith in moving forward, I think. M: Yeah, faith, it’s hard, isn’t it?
M: Believing in things, like myself.
A: Very cynical 22-year olds
A: That’s what done it.
M: Women! He has a book called ‘Women’. Like, argh!
A: Argh. But do you then see that translating from online space into things like the Perth scene and stuff like that?
M: Oh, yeah. So, spoken-word Perth is an event. A fortnightly event on Wednesday nights and I see people there sometimes and I’m like, ‘you’ve come from the Internet, I know it.’ Or they even say, like talking to people, I’m like ‘aw, it’s nice to see you here!’ and you’re like, ‘aw yeah I’ve been watching poetry on the Internet and thought I would come check it out!’ One of my favourite and least favourite things simultaneously is if someone comes up to me and says, ‘I saw you on the Internet,’ and I want to run, but at the same time I want to hug them. Because I don’t know what poem they’ve seen. I have a very intense one about my Mum and about like sexual trauma and domestic violence and my Mum. And I have like happy ones about utopia and funny ones like ‘Kissing’. And if someone like ‘I’ve seen them on the Internet,’ I have this fear moment of being like, which one have you seen? How well do you know? Have you seen them all? Like, where are we starting from? I don’t even know your name yet and you know, you know, about everything. But that, like that tangible moment has happened quite a lot in the past year, which indicates to me that people are going online, and people are seeking poetry, and even better, people are seeking Perth
poetry. So, they aren’t just watching the American channels, they’re seeing things like Department of Poetry, which is like a DIY YouTube channel that we did in Perth a couple of years ago. Some of my videos have been taken down from it because they are so cringey. Cringey cringe. Cringe.
M: But like, that whole channel is still going and still beautiful and still exists. And people are finding them because they’re not only looking for poets now, they’re looking for poets that are where they are or poets that come from the same places they come from. So, I’m seeing that sort of local pride come through, I think. That’s why in my bios I generally have, you know, ‘Perth bred’ or ‘Australian bred’ at least. I say Perth bred, it feels like the UK Perth and Scotland as well, so I’m careful of that. But, I also see people a lot who are definitely influenced by the style of American slams. You get this a lot at local slams, you know, you like click on and you’re like, ‘that persons into a lot of Phil Kaye’, you know, ‘this person has listened to a lot of Sarah Kaye,’ and you can click onto voices they’ve heard. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think ultimately every poet should try and find their own voice. But if listening to a YouTube channel for five hours is what gets you writing and what gets you to a poetry gig, I don’t care. Just get to a poetry gig. You’ll find your voice eventually. That act of leaving the house and telling a story is so wonderful and I think it’s so inspired by the constant online presence of poetry at the moment. It seems like that. Does it seem like that to you? Am I just getting my echo chamber?
A: Well, I mean it’s definitely taken off more, especially with slam. Like, I remember back in high-school like five years ago, we had a Lit teacher who’s like, ‘hey there’s this thing called poetry slam’. And you’re kind of like, ‘what is that?’ And then just seeing it kind of develop and develop and develop.
M: Then 21 Jump Street happened and then everyone knew.
A: Yeah! And you have your TED Talks or whatever where it’s poetry slam people.
M: Mmm! Love them.
A: And having more of an awareness of that as a communal event, if that makes sense? I don’t know. Prior to that, it’s like, how does one be a poet and connect? It’s not something like music where there’s like clearly a performative aspect to it all the time, whereas it’s like, oh no, this can be like a performative art as well.
M: Yeah, definitely. I totally agree with that. Even when I started performing, there wasn’t as much, there wasn’t as much stuff. There was, you do this on this day and this on this day. And now, even in Perth, I’m miss events. Because I’m like, ‘Oh! There’s multiple things on?’ Which is beautiful. So, there’s definitely a tangible growth happening, even in the last three years like we can see in this city. Exciting!
A: Yeah! Nah, that’s very cool. Did you want to read something?
M: Yep. I’m going to cough first.
M: I’m ready.
A: Actually, before you do…
M: What’d you want?
A: So, this is the book.
M: Yeah this is my book.
A: ‘How to be Held,’ coming out first of July?
M: June 30th.
A: June 30th.
M: I think, I don’t know. There’s a couple of dates online because I don’t know the exact date. June 30th is the date!
A: And it’ll be in all good bookstores?
M: I don’t know about bookstores yet. Distribution is proving a hard beast to wrangle. What an awful thing to say! You shouldn’t wrangle beasts! I’m a vegetarian!
M: I’m going to note that. Goodness, Maddie.
A: Wrangle them for playful purposes.
M: Like love, or softly. Softly wrangle the animals that are a cat.
A: Yeah, like when you wrestle a baby.
M: Wow! Why do you wrestle babies?
A: For like, a play thing.
M: Wow. Baby wrestler.
A: Not like body slamming them!
M: ‘How was your weekend?’ ‘Yeah, body slammed some babies. How about you?’
M: So the book comes out June 30th with Burning Eye Books, who are my publisher who wrote, ‘amazing!’ The cover is beautiful. Do you want to touch it?
A: Sure, thank you.
M: I love it!
M: But it’s going to be in bookstores, I reckon. If not, I’ll just keep selling it through my own website. That’s where it’s selling write now. So, I’m doing preorders on howtobeheld.com. www.howtobeheld.com. I’m doing preorders for like 20 bucks including delivery and some little extra bits. It’ll be in bookstores. It’ll happen. Just can’t tell you which ones yet. It’s because I haven’t checked my email today.
A: I hear the Internet is the future anyway, so…
M: Yeah? Did you hear that from a great podcast?
M: But also it will be… I’ll be a launch… I’ll be a launch? There will be a launch at the Bird at the end of July. Exact date to be announced. And there’s looking to be another launch as well, which I can’t talk about yet. So many secrets today.
M: There’s going to be three launches.
M: Two of them will be in July, one will be later. Two are going to be in the CBD, one will be in the Hills.
A: And are they part of the tour?
M: They’re not on the poster. It just says ‘Perth: to be announced.’ Because at the time I needed to get this poster out and I don’t have the Perth dates locked in. They will be technically a part of the tour. The tour starts on Monday. It’s fine. Yep.
A: Around the country?
M: Brisbane… No, sorry. Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane. So, I didn’t get to check in Adelaide, which I’m a little bit sad about. Lots of love in Adelaide, I just couldn’t hook it up right. It’s a lot of effort putting together a tour. I didn’t know that. I mean I did deep down. But on the surface level, I was like: ‘It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine. I can do it by myself. Never done
it before, I can book gigs, I can make it work!’ But I’ve booked… I’ve got nine gigs, three workshops, over a space of three, three weeks-ish. Which is good.
A: So, is it kind of performances and readings from the book, and then a bit of workshop stuff?
M: Yeah, mostly performance. Just performing at random gigs that are already happening, which is nice. So, I’m not putting on any gigs, so that’s is good for me. I don’t have to worry about people turning up because it’s not my responsibility. Obviously, I do want people to turn up, that’d be great. But, yeah. It’s good. I feel like it’s exciting to perform in places I haven’t even visited. Like, I’ve never been to Canberra and I’m going there and performing like the second day I get there, then I’m performing again, and then I’m leaving. And I’m going… I love Melbourne, but I haven’t been in ages. And I’ve only been to Brisbane once to see a band, my favourite band in the whole word.
A: Which is the band?
M: La Dispute, my favourite.
M: Actually in my acknowledgements. Completely call out La Dispute. It’s great.
A [laughing]: Really?
M: Yeah, that’s how like passionate I am, there’s three acknowledgements. One is to La Dispute.
M: Yeah. I’ll have to send them a copy. But I went to see La Dispute at this venue and I’m performing at the same venue, apparently? What? What? Which is probably the coolest thing in the whole world. And I plan to have a few beers to celebrate. Sobriety doesn’t last on tour.
A: Nup, nup. You got to get through.
M: Yep, it’ll be fine. Sparkling water doesn’t hit the spot.
M: Do you want to read a poem?
A: Yeah, please do.
M: This poem’s called ‘Hoping Mechanisms’ because it’s a pun, and I’m witty. Get it? Hoping mechanisms?
A: Actually can you explain it, I don’t think I…
M: Like, like, coping mechanisms but hoping mechanisms.
A: Oh yep, yep.
M: Because we cope through hope!
M [shudders]: Oh, that was disgusting!
M: It’s been published in Westerly, the new edition that comes out soon.
M: And, but it’s a slightly edited version. They edited it a bit. This is the other version. Version two.
M [reading from book]:
The way underarm hair keeps growing when everything else shrinks.
How my Mother’s eyes are never the same shade, but always a traffic island between lanes of aggression and care.
How rain smells the same in every country I have fallen asleep inside.
How a partner is mostly a friend who knows where to look when you take your clothes off. And a best friend takes them off for you when your hands are hollow and heavy, like brick walls around empty apartments.
How the sky never blinks.
How the sky uses clouds like sunglasses in reverse, sharing spots of shade with the Earth. How the clouds are Tupperware containers filled with exhalations.
How memories are like energy and never truly die.
How everything that perishes inside of us is still blooming somewhere within another body or another room with unfamiliar paintwork.
How mugs of tea are generational heirlooms.
How rain smells the same whenever I feel like a stranger renting a life.
How the sky has seen me crumple into a soggy excuse for a lover and does not look away. How my friends peel off my shame like wet clothes on the worst days.
How my Mother waves at me while I write this.
How my hair is growing right now.
How rain never stops falling further into the earth.
How prayers are love letters written in slow motion.
This is the only way I know how to worship.
M: So that’s a poem.
A: Thank you.
M: Yeah. Is that alright?
A: Yeah, nah. Very good.
M: Do you want any more poems?
A: I mean, I would happily just sit here and be like, ‘read your book.’
M: Cover to cover!
A: That was the conversation I had earlier with Maddie. I hope you enjoyed listening. Thanks very much. You can find details about the book, ‘How To Be Held’, at www.howtobeheld.com. And there’s a book launch going on this Wednesday, the 8th of August, at the City of Perth Library. You can find that and other events, like workshops that are coming up, on Facebook. If you go to Maddie Godfrey – Poet. So be sure to get on there, maybe go down to one of these things, show your support for some local artists. This is a podcast brought to you by Pelican. Big shout out to one of the editors over there, Katie McAllister, for producing the show. Our art is brought to you by Matt Van der Chaiev, a talented local artist. Keep your eye out for anything he’s got in the works, like exhibits and such. And our music is brought to you by Sam Rocci. And Sam is actually going to be our next guest on the podcast, and we should have that coming to you very soon. So keep your eyes peeled. Now, I’m going to let Maddie have the final word and give us another reading from ‘How To Be Held’. So, thanks again guys. See you next time.
M: The days of my feminism does not include myself.
Say, “you deserve better” three times in the mirror. Repeat.
Dump them while the street drives past you.
If you think of a specific person, repeat it all the way to their doorstep.
Whisper sweet everythings into the crease of your elbow.
Know nobody else is there to catch them.
Validate your own voice for the spaces it leaks into.
Even the rooms you are still unable to name homes.
Watch a television series and fast forward any credits which slant like guilt.
Remember that production is a capitalist construct and rest is a form of revolution. Brew beverages that colour your cheeks the warmer shade.
Hold a hand that makes your earlobes blush.
Fall in love with the sky and never expect it to say it back.
Wear your pyjamas like a ball gown.
Sachet down the hallways of yesterday’s heaviness.
Even the Grand Canyon crumples sometimes.
Sections slipping away when nobody is watching.
I bet there are days when Beyoncé stays in bed.
I have heard her take a breath between the lyrics of her strongest anthems.
Even the writer’s we praise to perfection have made spelling mistakes in their own manifestos.
Regardless of what you haven’t yet conquered, you have finished every breath you’ve started.
Your heart has continued to beat a bass-line even during the quietest of Saturday nights. You have survived every bad decision. Every door slam. Every time your heart bruised instead of breaking the way you wanted it to.
You blinked while reading and didn’t even realise.
You do not realise how capable you are of growing into future versions of yourself.
You are already doing it, right now.
The hairs on your head are reaching for the Sun.
Towards something a little bit brigter.
You’ve always deserved better.
Transcribed by Jack Mulqueeney