I was mesmerised by Bronwyn Lovell from the first time I met her. I had never met a poet before and quite honestly wondered whether they still existed in today’s society outside of teenager’s bedrooms. Bronwyn showed me that poetry is very much alive and well and the messages within are as relevant today as ever.
Melbourne based writer and poet, Bronwyn Lovell was in Perth recently as the writer-in-residence at the KSP Writers Centre and I was lucky enough to meet her and enjoy her work first hand.
Bronwyn is back home with her loved ones for a brief spell before she returns to Perth this August for the WA Poetry Festival and other special guest appearances. In the meantime, find out more about Bronwyn and her work in this wonderfully intimate interview.
At what age did you begin writing poetry?
I started writing poems and stories at about seven years of age. Most of them were terrible of course!
When I was in my early twenties I took my first poetry writing class at university, but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I began to write seriously and tried to make a career of it. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
Was becoming a writer/poet/spoken word performer what you dreamed of becoming as a young girl?
I knew I wanted to make books. I used to say I wanted to be an author who illustrated as well. When I was little my grandmother helped me to type up my stories and bind them. I then drew the pictures.
My favourite show growing up in the ’80s was Tales from Fat Tulip’s Garden, so I knew the magic of oral storytelling. I also had a great uncle who was a natural storyteller, who used to tell me stories of giants that thrilled me to pieces. I always loved listening to words and the way they inspired my imagination.
I don’t think I knew what a spoken word performer was when I was little. I’ve only really been exposed to spoken word performance since I saw Poetry Idol at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in 2009 and later discovered the US slam poetry movement. You can read about my experiences with slam poetry here
Is poetry still as relevant and popular today as it was before the technological age?
Contemporary poetry is relevant because it addresses situations that are familiar to us. Older poetry is a little more foreign in its context, style and traditions, but at its core are the same human emotions and desires that will remain relevant as long as we are human.
My experience is that most people love poetry when they engage with it. I think people do value poetry, just not commercially.
Our society seems to have become increasingly commercial and poetry does not fit comfortably within that framework. We tend to reach for poetry at special occasions like weddings and funerals, but do not make it part of our everyday lives, or notice it.
Poetry books are poor sellers and poets are famously poor. I certainly think that poetry is terribly undervalued in contemporary society in this way.
Do you have a favourite poet and poem (they do not have to be related)?
I have a number of favourite poets. I enjoy the work of Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Tracy K. Smith and Stephen Dunn as well as Australian poets Mark Tredinnick, Kevin Brophy, Lisa Gorton, Alex Skovron, Lisa Jacobson and many, many others. There is just too much talent out there to mention.
My favourite poem changes. At the moment it’s Susquehanna by Liz Rosenberg, before that it was Dog’s Death by John Updike. Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy and Musee des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden are also firm favourites of mine.
Can you share one of your favourite poems penned by yourself with us?
This poem is called Astrophysics. It won the Adrien Abbott Poetry Prize last year, the theme of which was “light”.
Beside the telescope, I ask Dad if he ever tires of the same
old objects night after night, year after year. He says each
viewing has its own quality, just as the particles in any
breath of air are unique. He’s checking in on constant
friends as they rise and waltz across a ballroom sky
(ladies’ diamantes glittering, men’s dress shoes shining)
and that dazzle, for him, could never grow dim.
Hands snug in snow-jacket pockets, I ask if he believes
that the pull of planets affects humans, as astrologers
would claim. He says, Bullshit. It’s all too far away.
But what about the moon? I say. And the way blood
gushes from women in tides? Yes, he concedes, that is
amazing. I ask about UFOs. He says, if so, our aliens are likely
just humans from the future who found a way to fold
time—disciples of Einstein. Ah, so you believe in time travel
then? I smile. Look up, he says. You’re doing it now.
by Bronwyn Lovell
You have had poems published in many poetry books and won a cache of awards. What does it mean to you to be published and an award winner?
I find it validating and encouraging. Such accolades are also a great way to build one’s profile and to gain a reputation in the industry, which can lead to future opportunities.
However, although recognition is nice, it’s also pretty rare—most of the time poets have to keep believing in themselves and persevering without it. For this reason I try not to take rejections to heart, but to use them as further motivation to improve.
Do you enjoy the live performances of your poetry readings? Do you think that a live reading enhances the poignancy of your work?
If poetry on the page is two-dimensional; then poetry performed is 3D. I absolutely love reading my work at live performances and I believe that when a poem is read well it comes to life.
When I first started performing my work I would feel sick with nerves, because I felt obliged to memorize my work and there was always the chance I might forget my lines. These days I don’t put myself under that kind of pressure. I read from the page and savour every word. It is a privilege to have people gather to hear one’s words. I always feel deeply honoured by the experience.
Your Chrysalis collection of poems is about the life cycle of butterflies. What inspired the collection?
Chrysalis navigates themes of transience, transformation, vulnerability and resilience to imaginatively weave the complexity of the relatively short life cycle of the butterfly with larger ideas about what it is to be human.
This collection came about due to the Hannah Barry Memorial Award, which is awarded each year by the University of Melbourne Theatre Board, to assist a student to develop a creative work. The Award is named for Hannah Barry, who was a talented actress studying at the University in the school of Creative Arts when she was tragically killed in a motorbike accident in 2002. The award is now in its twelfth year, and Hannah has inspired a legacy of creative expression and performance, giving many students the chance to develop new work.
After I won the award in 2011, I received an email from Hannah’s mother. I told her I would like to honour Hannah’s memory by perhaps writing a poem about her as part of the show. Maxine was generous enough to send me a poem that Hannah had written in 1998, when she would have been just 21 years old. She wrote it as part of an assignment, and Maxine found it after Hannah had died. The poem was about transience, and those beautiful things that don’t last, like bubbles and butterflies—because it’s just not in their nature. When I read it, I was very moved, and I knew that this would form the basis for the entire show.
You recently stayed at the KSP Writers’ Centre in Greenmount, WA as their writer in residence. What were you working on during your month-long stay?
During my time at KSP, I commenced the manuscript for my science fiction verse novel Migration—a story about four astronauts leaving Earth to establish the first human colony on Mars, inspired by the real-life Mars One project, and told through poetry.
I am incredibly grateful for the gift of time and space the KSP residency provided, without which my shuttle to Mars may never have got off the ground.
PC: What are your impressions about the Perth Writing/Poetry scene? How do we shape up on the national and/or world stage?
I think that the scene in Perth has developed and exists largely in isolation from the Eastern states, and my experience is that it’s incredibly rich with its own unique themes, concerns and influences because of this. The writing I’ve witnessed in WA has been wonderful and absolutely world class.
Where can your WA fans see you perform when you come back to Perth in August and September 2014?
I will return for the KSP Speculative Fiction Mini-con on 10 August and the WA Poetry Festival 14 to 17 August, then I’ll be performing at Voicebox in Fremantle on 25 August, running a free workshop at Perth City Library as part of National Poetry Week on 1 September, and performing Chrysalis at a South Perth Library Words with Wine evening on 4 September. Please sign up to my mailing list or keep an eye on my website for more information on these events (www.bronwynlovell.com).