Episode 87      35 min 59 sec
The Fractaled Page: Poets on Poetry

Poets Kevin Brophy and Alex Skovron read from their works, and discuss poetry's power, inspiration and importance to human experience. With host Jennifer Cook.

"Duplication is built into nature and poetry plays with this tendency that's organic to us and is there available to us in language." - Prof Kevin Brophy




           



Prof Kevin Brophy
Prof Kevin Brophy

Professor Kevin Brophy is a poet and novelist. He has had eleven books published. From 1980 to 1994 he edited the small press literary journal Going Down Swinging. His poems and essays have been anthologised in Best Australian Poems 2004, 2006, 2007 and Best Australian Essays 2009 (Black Inc.), the MacQuarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (Allen & Unwin 2009) The Road South (Five islands, 2007), New Music: Contemporary Australian Poetry (Five Islands 2001), Family Ties: Australian Poems of the Family (Oxford 1999), My Secret Life (Melbourne Festival of Poetry 1999), Daughters and Fathers (UQP 1997) and other publications. His book, Creativity, was shortlisted for the NSW Premiers Nonfiction Literary Award in 1999. Kevin Brophy is a regular reviewer for Reading Time, the journal of the Children's Book Council of Australia, and has contributds Book Notes for the Council of Adult Education Reading Groups. He has been awarded Australia Council for the Arts grants in 1974, 1986 and 2005. He has been awarded Arts Victoria project grants in 1996 and 2003. His latest publication is Patterns of Creativity (Rodopi Press 2009).

Alex Skovron
Alex Skovron

Alex Skovron was born in Poland, lived briefly in Israel, and came to Australia aged nine. He is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Man and the Map (2003) and Autographs (prose-poems, 2008), as well as a prose novella, The Poet (2005). Awards for his poetry include the Wesley Michel Wright Prize, the John Shaw Neilson Award, the Australian Book Review Poetry Prize, and, for his first book, the Anne Elder and Mary Gilmore awards. His novella was joint winner of the FAW Christina Stead Award for fiction. He lives in Melbourne and works as a freelance book editor.

 

Credits

Host: Jennifer Cook
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Ben Loveridge
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink

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The Fractaled Page: Poets on Poetry

VOICEOVER
Welcome to Up Close, the research, opinion and analysis podcast from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

JENNIFER COOK
Hello, and welcome to Up Close.  I'm Jennifer Cook.

Kafka famously wrote that a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.  In today's episode we're going to ask the question that if this is the case then what kind of instrument could a poem possibly be.  Perhaps with its precise manipulation of language it could be described as a scalpel.

To explore this question today, I'm joined by two skilled practitioners of this powerful art, Melbourne-based poets Alex Skovron and Professor Kevin Brophy.  

Alex was born in Poland and lived briefly in Israel before settling in Australia in 1958.  He's a winner of the Anne Elder and Mary Gilmore awards and he's been described as both a scrupulous and inventive poet and a restless scientist of language, an inventor of beautiful new taxonomies and even a psychologist of violent impulses.  

Kevin Brophy, a poet and a novelist, grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.  He's published 11 books and teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne.  He was also the editor for the small-press literary journal Going Down Swinging between 1980 and 1994.  His poetry has been anthologised in Best Australia Poems and his work has been described as having wit and memorability, and outstaring the icy blasts of inner suburban Melbourne's cold.

Gentlemen, welcome to the program.  

KEVIN BROPHY
Thank you Jen.

ALEX SKOVRON
Thank you Jen.

JENNIFER COOK
Now Kevin, in your book Explorations in Creative Writing, I was fascinated with your description of poems as archives.  You described them as eclectic, anarchic, unpredictable repositories of the details of living, as - and this is what stayed with me - short giants.  

Can you tell us more about what you see as the power of poems?

KEVIN BROPHY
Yeah, and maybe I would start by saying something about where that description short giants comes from.  It comes from a child.  It's a found phrase.  I was travelling in the car with another Melbourne poet, Myron Lysenko, and his little daughter, his preschool daughter, Lucy, and we were discussing what she'd like for her birthday.  She said, Daddy, I'd like a short giant.  And that's the perfect gift, I guess, for a child.

That reminded me that I always dreamed of, and fantasised about, in my childhood, about having a friend in my pocket, and that seemed to me to be the perfection of life.  If you could have a friend you could pull out of your pocket every time you needed that friend and keep that friend nice and small and manageable.  

But coming back to poems and poetry and the power of poetry, I came across a phrase this morning in an essay I was dipping into, 'The Poetry of the Exterior', and it made me reflect on the fact that I think throughout my poetry-writing life I've been committed to the idea that the interior is there on the exterior.  That if we can see the details of life we can intuit the more mysterious, the more unseen parts of life.  

I suppose this also connects for me with that painter I've loved for a long time, Magritte.  He said something like: behind everything you see is something hidden.  

JENNIFER COOK
Yes, now let's go back to what got you actually started with poetry, what poems inspired you.   

Now Alex, you've bought along a poem today, which is a poem that made you think this is poetry, this moves me.  

ALEX SKOVRON
Well, I had a number of experiences like that throughout my early life.  In primary school I remember being very moved and delighted by The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge, and that showed me a lot about the sort of music and the hypnotic power of poetry.  Later on, when we started studying Shakespeare in high school I was carried away by Julius Caesar in particular.  

But a little bit further on, about the time I started writing poetry regularly, I came across Ozymandias by Shelley, and perhaps there's no better way of talking about the power of poetry than to read a poem.  So perhaps I'll read Ozymandias.

JENNIFER COOK
That would be a great pleasure.  

ALEX SKOVRON
['Ozymandias']
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.  Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I love that poem.  When I read it, and on every subsequent reading, it still communicates something close to poetic perfection for me.  It works on so many levels.  

That delicious irony of the pivotal line 'Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!', and the unintended ambiguity, unintended at the time, and the embedding of three voices in one poem.  It begins with the narrator, the poet, who has encountered somebody else who narrates this story, who then in turn quotes this marvellous inscription.  

It tells us a lot about the nature of time, about the passing of all things that perhaps in their time are considered great but which can crumble very easily.

JENNIFER COOK
This notion of time is something that cycles through your own work, doesn't it, Alex?

ALEX SKOVRON
It is, yeah.

JENNIFER COOK
So what I'm going to do now is ask you to make the leap from 'Ozymandias' to your own work, if you could perhaps read us a poem you've chosen today.  

ALEX SKOVRON
Okay, I'm going to read a poem that comes from my second book called Sleeve Notes, and this is 'Sisyphus'.  Sisyphus was a king of Corinth who was punished by the gods by having forever to roll a massive rock up an incline only to have it come back down again.  We all know that myth.  So I've just presented a slightly different take on it.  

['Sisyphus']
I choose my boulders carefully,
They are scattered like words across the white plain;
I scoop my syntax from the clouds’ dictionary –
The path to wisdom is difficult, rich and mundane.
I have my nostalgia, the soft exquisite aching
That lulls and lacerates; and I can dream
The dazzling city that drives upward to the horizon
Beyond the land where the rumbling boulders lean.
One evening soon, as the crescent overtakes me,
I’ll slip discreetly over the edge of the plain
And into the valley beyond, because I know
The song of terrible grace that summons me.
But the clouds are backing away; an exquisite pain
Is pleading for me to stay. How can I go?

JENNIFER COOK
Thank you Alex. You mentioned before this hypnotic power of poetry, and I've had the great pleasure of reading both your works in the middle of a Melbourne heat wave.  I was really marvelling at this altered state of consciousness that I found myself thrown into, just the way I started looking at things and the sound of the words and the music, and it washed over me.  

There's something about this distillation of language, this manipulation of it.  Is that what you're striving for?  Is that your boulder that you're pushing up the hill and it keeps rolling back down on the writer?

ALEX SKOVRON
Yeah, music and time and to communicate that kind of engagement that can be called hypnotic is a wonderful objective in poetry.  I see poetry as a kind of coded exchange.  It's an exchange with language, with yourself and with the reader.  So it's already working the moment you start writing a poem.  It's operating on a number of levels.  

The music is an inseparable part.  Music and poetry are kindred arts.  For me, for a poem to work, to flow and to function as an effective artefact, an expression, a piece of art, it needs to sing somehow.  It needs to sing and there has to be a rhythm and a melody almost.  One can't take the metaphor too far but I think there's a lot of truth in it.  Music and poetry cannot be separated.  

You need to hear.  Hearing - hearing what is on the page, what is on the line, hearing how the words and the syllables connect, hearing the silences between the lines, the gaps between the words.  

KEVIN BROPHY
I guess it's even possible that that's where language came from, hearing the music in the sounds you make…

ALEX SKOVRON
Absolutely.

JENNIFER COOK
…the vowel-like sounds and the consonants we make carry complex, emotional messages.  

ALEX SKOVRON
Complex messages, and the way we combine the letters and the sounds and the syllables, these are acts of building and architecture and design. And each design, each pattern, creates a unique communication that can only be expressed that way and the voice then adds the intonations, the accents, the nuances that in fact can transmute the same group of words and sounds into a different group of words and sounds because their meaning shifts.  

And that's where the music in poetry, the nuance, the subtle shifts in tonality make such a big difference to the way we read and the way we understand and the way poetry penetrates us.  

JENNIFER COOK
Like alchemy, isn't it?

ALEX SKOVRON
It is, it is.  It's magic.  

JENNIFER COOK
It is magic. It is magic.

ALEX SKOVRON
It's magic and it's mystery.  

KEVIN BROPHY
It's medieval.

JENNIFER COOK
Yes, and it's hard, hard work at the coal face, as you're doing it, perhaps, or sometimes you're just inspired and it flows.  

ALEX SKOVRON
It is hard work but, on the other hand, it can be remarkably easy sometimes, almost alarmingly so at the beginning.  So Kevin, I'm not sure about your experience but sometimes I can write my first draft very quickly and then, of course, it might take me anything from days to years to finish the poem, to be happy with it.  

KEVIN BROPHY
Oh yeah.  I remember an essay by Paul Fussell where he said that it's truly bad faith for a writer to complain about writing being hard work because nobody has forced any writer to do any writing, except those who do it for a living, and poets don’t, normally.  

ALEX SKOVRON
That's for sure.

KEVIN BROPHY
So I can't complain that poetry's hard work.  In my experience, when writing becomes hard work I flick on the document for the latest poem and start working on the latest poem.  That's what I'm drawn to writing, is reworking and working on that latest poem, trying to grow it.

ALEX SKOVRON
I'm like that too.  I write when I have the sense that something is ready, waiting to be written.  If I sit down with a sheet of paper and I think something's going to come, but after all it doesn't, then I would do as you do.  I might go to one of many, many poems that are waiting to be looked at again, revised, reworked.  

JENNIFER COOK
You're listening to Up Close and I'm talking with the poets Kevin Brophy and Alex Skovron.

Now Kevin, if we could turn to you now, and have you brought along a poem that has inspired you, made you think perhaps I'll be a poet?  

KEVIN BROPHY
Yes Jen. I was turned to poetry, like you Alex, by the Romantic poets, by Keats and Shelley and later by Gerard Manley Hopkins, those poets of the lushest language.  
But I'm not going to read one of theirs.  I'm going to read one that came to me later and it's a much sparer poem and a poem I think of some self-awareness and some wit.  It's called 'The Secret' by Denise Levertov, and it goes like this:

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was.  No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem.  I love them
for finding what
I can't find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.  

JENNIFER COOK
Now isn't that why you write?  That is superb.

KEVIN BROPHY
Yes, and I think that poem has its tradition in 'Ozymandias'.  They're both talking about similar questions.

JENNIFER COOK
Yes.

KEVIN BROPHY
Permanence and transience and the knowledge that can be passed on.  

JENNIFER COOK
But you mentioned the wit.  How important - what role do you think humour and wit plays in poetry?

KEVIN BROPHY
Do you want to go first, Alex?

ALEX SKOVRON
Well, every motion and every human habit and turn of expression has an important place in poetry.  Poetry expresses the whole human experience, and humour is one of the most important human experiences.  

JENNIFER COOK
And intoxicating when you see it on the page.

ALEX SKOVRON
In fact, yeah, it's indispensable.  So it all depends on the poem, it all depends on the intention, which way the poem's going and what the poem wants to communicate.  
But yeah, wit.  Wit is also in the way language is used in poetry.

JENNIFER COOK
Yes.

ALEX SKOVRON
The way language is pushed or turned around, the way we experiment with new modes of syntax or the way we coin words.  That can be very witty, even though it's not a laugh out-loud situation, but it can be extremely satisfying and, indeed, quite funny in the sense of, ah, I never thought of that before, the way this poet has created a new way of seeing the way words fit together here.

JENNIFER COOK
And it's an appreciation of the virtuosity of it, isn't it?

ALEX SKOVRON
That's right, and some coinages and deliberate subversions of language can actually be extremely funny on the page.  

KEVIN BROPHY
It came to me slowly that poetry can be fun, and a number of poets taught me that.  But I think also I was, I guess, suffering under the mindset that a lot of us suffer under, which is that literature is a serious business, and we approach literature with some, I don't know, reverence or a seriousness. And I can see it in my 17-year-old son as he approaches the reading of Hard Times, an hilarious novel but it's hard to get through to the hilarity when you approach it as high literature or important literature.

ALEX SKOVRON
Yes, and there again we need to mention irony, which is such a critical tool in poetry.  That's a different kind of humour again completely but it's so…

JENNIFER COOK
It has a particular satisfaction, doesn't it?  

ALEX SKOVRON
Yes.  A lot of poetry turns on irony and where would we be without irony?  

JENNIFER COOK
Where would we be without the misuse of irony in everyday life?  It just drives me to rage.

ALEX SKOVRON
Unconscious irony.  

JENNIFER COOK
Yes.

KEVIN BROPHY
It's that irony that requires a looser frame of mind from the reader.  The nicest way to receive irony is to read it at first in its literal sense and then to have that kickback hit you and say, oh, of course, the opposite is the case.  

JENNIFER COOK
So Kevin, read us some of your own work.  What you have got for us today?

KEVIN BROPHY
Let's start with the dead.  

JENNIFER COOK
Why not.

KEVIN BROPHY
Why not.  It seems to me that poetry is either about love or death, and this is called 'The Afterthis':

The dead are talking to each other,
they have lost interest in us and our opinion of them.
Their new adventure is now all-consuming
though they have arrived at it unprepared
and know it will have no end, unlike this place.
Its decay will be endless, its weather pointless.
To the dead we might as well be dead.
Yes, they have traffic problems, status anxiety,
hideous over-crowding in their cities
of filth and drift. There is too much of it, they say.
Who sends so many souls so quickly
to this oblivion without sleep?
Arrival, always arrival, always souls arriving
and no one leaves.
The new arrivals need to be shown the ropes, the maps,
they need to understand the housing problem,
the reason for the smell and the trick of waiting
forever until forever occupies an instant.

Cities of the dead spill across horizon after horizon.
(There is no end to them.)
Always the new arrivals must learn to speak again
and cannot at first grasp the magnitude of death,
the length of its freeways, the size of its shopping malls,
the way the air fills with kites on a rare uplifting day.
Wars fill suburb after suburb, and everywhere babies.

There are no earthly feathered angels,
only the kind that existed here before death came.
They’re the ragged, weary, egg-shell angels
we dead try not to tread upon.
No one understand their tongue,
taught to them, they say, in a Heaven
beyond this only death we can ever have.

When you arrive at last and settle in
you will ask the usual questions over drinks
with old friends and new neighbours—
What is it all for? What does it mean?
Is this all there is? What now?
until like the rest of us you tire of talk
and turn to your own insubstantial dreams,
secret, strange and death-pale.

JENNIFER COOK
Thank you so much.  
Alex?

ALEX SKOVRON
It's funny but it's so serious and so sad in many ways, a poem like that.  

KEVIN BROPHY
Yes, I could say I'm looking forward to death but I don't think I am.  

JENNIFER COOK
Does anyone ever come up to you after you've read a poem and grab you and say where did it come from?  Where did that come from, Kevin?

KEVIN BROPHY
I think the poet's probably the worst person to ask that question of.  A couple of things.  It comes from the tendency that the poet has to be literal and physical about the abstract.  So what if death was a town, where would we go with that idea?

The other place this poem comes from is Keats's poem 'La Belle Dame sans Merci', and that word 'death-pale', he uses that hyphenated word in his poem.  Again, he's one of those poets who turned me onto poetry, so there's a slight kind of autobiographical confession notation at the end of that poem.  And I wanted to aim toward that word 'death-pale' with that poem.

ALEX SKOVRON
I love that, the way a poem links up with the poetry tradition, with other poets, with the history of poetry, where other people have seen and expressed that particular idea.  The little links and hooks that it sends out.  

JENNIFER COOK
And it's so exciting when you find them, or you think you've found them.  

ALEX SKOVRON
Yes, yes, a part of the joy and part of the mystery is putting them in when you write, isn't it Kevin?

KEVIN BROPHY
Mmm, mmm.

ALEX SKOVRON
Putting them in and hoping maybe one in a million will find that hook.  And that can also send the reader on a whole new adventure.  

JENNIFER COOK
You're listening to Up Close and I'm talking with the poets Kevin Brophy and Alex Skovron.

Now earlier we mentioned landscape and markers and you're talking now, Alex, about the connections between poems to other poems.  Tell us a bit more about that.

ALEX SKOVRON
Well, I've always been fascinated with maps ever since I can remember.  When I saw my first atlas I spent hours and hours poring over it and looking at the outlines of the continents and the countries and the different colours.  I guess what that was, was having the whole world in front of me and feeling that there is a sort of a control here, a knowledge.  It was a knowledge.  This is all I need to know about the world at that particular level.  

If I want to see what any place looks like I can just turn to that page.  So maps always fascinated me.  I sort of see poems as a kind of a mapping, of course, a mapping of experience, a mapping of time.  Time and maps go together for me.  Time has been a very strong preoccupation in all my writing.  The notion of time, how it moves, how we perceive it, and memory, and memory edging into thinking about nostalgia, why we think about the past, what the past means, where is the past?  Is it there?  I mean sometimes I think the past actually is here somewhere.  We just have to access it.  
Perhaps I'll read a poem that actually addresses that very issue.  

JENNIFER COOK
I was just going to ask you to do that, Alex.  

ALEX SKOVRON
This is a prose poem from my book Autographs, which is a collection of 56 prose poems published in 2008.  It's called 'Supplication' and it was triggered by a simple thought: what if everything could go in reverse?  

['Supplication']

LET THE FILM turn before it touches the Moment. Let the motorcade stop, drift backward down the plaza. Let the jetliner freeze, metres short of the tower, flow back out of the frame like a toy wing at the sling’s limit. Let the black plumes billowing from the edifice be reinhaled to unmask the blue. Let the bullet thread with a thud back in the barrel crouching in the gateway, the victim clinch his scarf and vanish within. Let the high sniper crawl from his perch, crabble back down the fire-escape, the drunken messenger lift his stone boot from the pedal, his machine veer backward from the X. Let the siren’s wail diminish again, let the smoke be sucked back, the ovens clang open. Let the battalions pause on their relentless march, the battleships heave about, the bombs plunge upward. Let the tanks unroll, let the stormtroops halt, pummel grotesquely backward down the boulevard, let the proud man-children in camouflage watch their rifles fetched from their palms, the proud inflamed barefoot boy-children receive their stones flung back in their fists. Let fists unfurl. Let hearts. Let every prayer open with Amen, each breath be the ending of a prayer without words. Let words unravel, and all manner of thoughts, and things done and undone, let the Moment be immaculate and true, untouchable as a dream. And let the days unfold and fold back again, so that as we awaken and begin to forget the dream, we remember the Moment.

KEVIN BROPHY
Wonderful.  

ALEX SKOVRON
Thanks.

JENNIFER COOK
It seems impertinent to even speak after it doesn't it?  That was exquisitely moving, thank you Alex.

This makes me think of the actual structure and the discipline of the poem itself and the act of writing and trying to harness all those big feelings and somehow funnel them down into words onto a page and the different structures you know, the sonnet and the villanelle.   

The American poet Jill McDonough spoke of this discipline and how she really enjoyed making her poetry students master the sonnet and master all these forms because she said by the act of constraining them they found freedom.  

Can you talk a little on that, Kevin?  I know you teach creative writing here at the uni.  Do you take such pleasure as well, of constraining your students so that they be free?  But I'm interested more in your own writing.  

KEVIN BROPHY
When Alex was comparing poetry to music, music is of course as form that works by many structures. And part of the way that poetry has a relationship with music is through its structure.

I was in a class some years ago as students nearly everywhere always do, and they said why are you talking rhyming and metre?  We don’t do that any more so why are you talking about it, and why should we get involved and interested in it?

I didn't have a ready answer for it.  All I could say to them at that time was - which is what I still say to people now - was look at yourself, look at your left side and look at your right side.  Biologically, we are rhymed.  Two eyes, two arms, two legs, the left and the right, rhyme with each other.  They're not exact copies of each other but they're rhymes of each other, as rhymes are not exact copies but repetitions.  

Look through nature everywhere, every leaf on every tree, every half of every leaf on every tree is a rhyme of its other half.  Duplication is built into nature and poetry plays with this tendency that's organic to us and is there available to us in language.

So that's one reason we play with rhyme, which is one of the structures.  The other big reason I think that structure is important is it takes you out of your personal grooves, your commitment to a narrowly conceived self-expression.  It can bring the possibility of saying things you didn't expect to say, making connections you didn't expect to make, making things you didn't expect to make.  Which is what being creative, I think, is about intending to make something you don't quite know what the end result will be.   

I thought I'd read a poem called 'Tulips'.  This poem comes out of a period of time when our family were selling our house and we were trying to make the house look beautiful to possible buyers, so we had vases of tulips around the house during that season.  It also opportunistically takes up things like junk mail that were coming into my life at that time.  It's free verse, relatively unstructured.

JENNIFER COOK
After all that talk of structure.  

KEVIN BROPHY
Yeah.  It's in five very brief meditations.  

['Tulips']

1
The tulip does not know the theory of tulips
not even the basic concepts.
No tulip can find a way in to the cup of its own head,
to the six black fingers in its mind.
The history and anthropology of tulips
must be left to insects.

2
Of ten tulips in a blue vase,
each petal a new wounded pink,
each stem curved against the planet’s spin,
each thick science-fiction leaf curled
in chemic shadows back on itself,
—who is it first decided they must live
as if they are the world?

3
And if the theory is beyond the tulip
how is it still this thing dreaming,
this slow, slow candle burning
up from the water in a vase,
its head dipped in air,
its one tulip-shaped word unfolding?

4
Salvation is an urgent issue
the latest pamphlet in my mail box tells me
and as each tulip spells its name
by dropping flame by flame
its petals on the table
I am saved from seeking any other message.

5
The salvation of the tulip cannot be imagined.
If I could find the silence it has chosen,
take up its weight of dreaming shape and colour
and be loved like this for dying
I would lie beside you now and hold you
and it would not matter that no word is spoken.

ALEX SKOVRON
Mmm, terrific.  

JENNIFER COOK
Isn't it?

ALEX SKOVRON
Following up on what you said about rhyme and then about free verse, how free verse actually can be the most disciplined of all modes of writing because you don't have a template that you're working with.  You have to rely much more completely on every element of the poem, the sound, the line breaks, the flow, the stanza patterns. You always do that anyway, in any poem, whether it's formal or not, but in free verse you are cast adrift a lot more, in a sense.  People say, oh, free verse, that's easy.  It's not.  It's probably the hardest to achieve well.  

KEVIN BROPHY
Like you, I don’t see free verse as a contrast, I see it as a discipline. And its fundamental discipline, I guess, is the line ending, which strangely enough is something that occurs on the page rather than in the voice when you're reading free verse. But I think also, like you, I think free verse makes use of rhythms, it makes use of rhyme and alliteration and all the other aspects of language we exploit.

ALEX SKOVRON
On its own terms.  

KEVIN BROPHY
Yeah.

ALEX SKOVRON
And you do carry the line breaks in your vocal realisations of the poem.  They're carried, aren't they, by the way you stress the rhythms, by the way you pause and the cues you give to the listener.   The music, the music, it's all in the music.  

JENNIFER COOK
I'd like to bring this discussion to a close by ending with your own words again, and I've been quite mischievous and just chosen a poem of each of yours that I really enjoyed.  Alex, the first one is to you and it's called 'Faking It'.

KEVIN BROPHY
What a title.  

ALEX SKOVRON
That's very naughty of you, Jen.  

JENNIFER COOK
It is.  

ALEX SKOVRON
'Faking It'.  It's from Infinite City -- and speaking about form, my experiments with it,  this is a book of 100 poems that I call sonnetinas.  They are my, kind of, invention, I suppose, although that could be challenged by others.  But it's a 10 line sonnet, essentially, a miniaturised sonnet.  And this is one of them, it's 'Faking It'.

Art should inspire an erection in the soul,
Cocteau said somewhere. That declaration
Has a nice ring to it, but it raises a whole
Bedlam of questions as to, well, consummation.
What, for example, should we dare to expect
Hard on the heels of the newly erect –

Spasm, conception, just a fleeting sensation?
Can we practise safe art? If not, how do we treat it?
And let's not forget: sometimes, bad improvisation
Can be justified simply by being repeated …

JENNIFER COOK
Thank you, Alex.  Yes, reading poetry in a heat wave.  I'm not sure if it should be recommended but it was wonderful.  

KEVIN BROPHY
How many times have you read that out in public?

ALEX SKOVRON
Oh, a couple.

KEVIN BROPHY
That's very brave of you.

JENNIFER COOK
Now Kevin, I adored your 'Advice to Poets'.  It's from your Portrait in Skin.  

KEVIN BROPHY
Okay, so here's a selection of advice to poets…

JENNIFER COOK
Thank you Kevin.

KEVIN BROPHY
…or here is the complete 'Advice to Poets' that will set your career up.  

Advice to Poets 1: The Line
The line is your friend and enemy:
it is never as straight as it looks
and at its end you will find a hook
or that joke about fish you never got.

Advice to Poets 2: The Metaphor
A metaphor is an unjustified excursion
and that’s something you could get sacked for
particularly in a desk job like this.

Advice to Poets 3: Your Image
Remember  that if you have a sheet of paper
in your hand you will appear legitimate,
and better still if you have not slept in your clothes.

Advice to Poets 4: Finding a Title for a Poem
Not as important as you think,
though it’s a kind of magnet, a flag, your spruiker.
It should barely need the poem.
At three words preferably, writing it
can be at least a manageable task
when the rest has become too much.

Advice to Poets 5: The Adjective
The adjective is a real estate agent
and anywhere it goes its aim is to advertise itself
not your poem
though you will be paying for the space it occupies.
Love all your adjectives nevertheless, sleep with them
live with them until you know all their faults
and though you will find you cannot live without them
keep throwing them out of your home.

Advice to Poets 6: Other Poets

Show them nothing. They steal everything.
They are thugs and desperately
short of ideas, even words.
Keep your mouth in your pocket
and your ears folded over
whenever a poet stumbles up to you
after parachuting from his latest catastrophe.

JENNIFER COOK
Thank you very much Kevin.  
And Alex, it has been an absolute pleasure discussing this wonderful alchemy of words.

ALEX SKOVRON
We've enjoyed it.  Thanks for having us, Jen.

KEVIN BROPHY
Thank you Jen.

JENNIFER COOK
I'm Jennifer Cook and I've been speaking with the poets Alex Skovron and Kevin Brophy and you've been listening to Up Close, the research, opinion and analysis podcast from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Relevant links, a full transcript and more information on this episode can be found on our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.

You can leave a comment on any of the Up Close episodes by clicking at the link at the bottom of the page.  Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by Marketing and Communications at the University of Melbourne, Australia.  Up Close is created and produced by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param.  Our audio engineer is Ben Loveridge.

I'm Jennifer Cook.  Until next time, thank you for joining Up Close, goodbye.  

VOICEOVER
You've been listening to Up Close. For more information, visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Copyright 2010. The University of Melbourne.


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