August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Chrissy Williams interviewed by Jasmine Wynter-Agard
1. What was the 1st poem you ever read? How did it affect you?
The first poem I can remember reading, although it had already been read to me before I read it myself, was from an Italian book of nursery rhymes called “Stella Stellina” (also the name of the poem). I’m half-Italian and grew up with lots of Italian nursery rhymes – very lyrical, lots of end rhymes and playful internal rhymes. I remember enjoying the sound of them and learning them off by heart automatically. They were fun to say aloud. I suspect that looking for the word patterns and the rhythms were also instrumental in helping me learn to read. After that, there were lots of English nursery rhymes and books of “Poems for Children” which built up into work aimed at older readers. We had to read and write poems in school quite often too. I don’t really remember experiencing “my first poem” as such, and I don’t have a “Wow – first poem – epiphany” moment. Poems were always there.
2. How long have you been writing poetry? Why and how did you start?
Aside from poetry writing in English classes at school (still have some copies of poems from when I was six or seven), the first poem I wrote because it felt like it had to be written, as something separate to school or obligations or lessons, because I needed to get the words onto paper, was when I was 16 or 17. Something had happened at a party at my friend’s house and it seemed that by writing the poem about it I was able to make better sense of it. It was 16 lines, in four verses of 4 lines each, and I still remember very clearly the central image that I wanted to build the poem around, trying to choose the right words to make it happen. I showed it to a friend afterwards who gave a non-commital “hmm” grunt, but I remember being really glad to have found a way to get the complicated thoughts out onto paper in a way that was communicable to someone else. I tend to get quite flustered when I speak, and speak too fast, so there was something compelling about the clarity that could come from colliding different thoughts on paper in a deliberate way. I suppose it was all to do with communication and trying to figure out how we do that.
3. How has your work changed or developed since you started writing?
I think it started off being concerned only with the way I decoded the world personally, very self-indulgent and teenage. After I grew out of that I started being more interested in the possibilities I could generate by juxtaposing different words and spaces between them. Trying to tell stories. Trying to create moments. Trying to use specific forms. This was all tied in with learning and reading more at uni. Then I got a bit stuck on this and wasn’t able to write anything personal at all, wavering back and forth for years, not really sure what I was writing for. Now I think, or I hope, I’m doing both though – trying to find the right arrangements for the right words, on subjects that are compelling to me personally. I think it’s making my writing more urgent. I feel more focused now, feel that I know what I want to say and how I want to structure the words on the page. But it’s all linked in to my own self-confidence as a person. I wouldn’t have been able to write in this way even just a couple years ago as I was still too insecure. Overcoming certain personal insecurities has fed directly into the development of my writing, quite separate from learning new techniques etc.
4. At what point do you decide that a given poem is finished?
When it’s finished. It’s like tidying a room. Sometimes you’re just rearranging the mess, trying to make the mess look neater, but you always know when you’ve really tidied a room, really put everything away so it’s right and finished and nothing more needs doing to it.
5. Does it irritate you when someone misinterprets your work?
Hmm. Yes, I suppose it did a bit when I used to do group workshops. Everyone’s trying to show off to the group and invent rules for writing, when I think there are really very few rules that can’t be broken, so long as you break them deliberately and well. That said, there’s usually a valid observation at the heart of every criticism and I always found it useful to write down everything that people were saying so I could go through it properly at home later. Workshops aren’t so much about close readings as gut reactions to things, and that’s always useful to hear.
6. Do you think strong emotion is needed to write a good poem?
No. I think it can often be a starting point, depending on the piece, perhaps what stirred the poet to write in the first place – but writing poems is about putting words on a page in the best arrangement. So, no. I don’t think strong emotion is needed to write a good poem. I think being good at writing poems is needed to write a good poem.
7. What was your inspiration for the poem ‘The Dream Master’s Answer’?
The two basic prompts for The Dream Master’s Answer were two emails I received at a similar time. One was from a friend who was travelling in Nepal the year after we graduated from uni. He didn’t seem to be doing much out there beyond getting drunk with Australians. The other email was from a friend forwarding a random round email showing George W. Bush’s view of the world, which was pretty much “There Be Dragons” everywhere other than America (all pre-9/11). These two things prompted thoughts about what people hope to get out of travelling, and the search for meaning, particularly in an unfamiliar world you have no control over. So, I think the Dream Master grew out of an interest in what meaning can be found when juxtaposing seemingly serious / seemingly frivoulous words and phrases.
8. Out of all the poems you have written, which would you say is your personal favorite and why?
The most recent poem I finish always seems to be my favourite piece. I wrote this weird thing about Angela Lansbury that I was obsessed with, that’s going to be published as both a pamphlet and a poetry broadsheet. Then I wrote a short poem about Moorhens that I thought was the best thing I’ve ever written. After that was a sequence about Murnau’s Faust that I think is even better. Now there’s this poem about kelp which I love and – well, so it goes on. With any luck I’ll write something next week which I’ll like even more. I hope to keep surprising myself. I suppose my favourites will keep changing naturally as I keep reading and learning more, and so (hopefully) improving my writing. Bring on the next poem! The next surprise!