- Guest Poet -
Today I feature a poet of some note - Merlene Fawdry. Merlene Fawdry is an award winning writer and poet, author of The Little Mongrel - free to a good home, The Hidden Risks, and several books of poetry. With short stories and poetry published in literary magazines in Australia and overseas, she is a skilled writing group and workshop facilitator. She is a qualified editor and proofreader with ten years’ experience in providing professional services for writers, specialising in mentoring beginning and emerging writers and providing an editing, formatting & design and manuscript print preparation service for other writers.
In another incarnation Merlene was a qualified youth worker, advocating for marginalised young people and their families. She maintains a strong interest in social justice and is committed to giving a voice to the oppressed through her writing.
A keen environmentalist, she uses her writing and poetry to create awareness if issues and in 2008 was Writer in Residence at the iconic Cataract Gorge where she produced a body of work, Discourse with Walls, that centred on the gorge and its environs.
Welcome, Merlene ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR POETRY JOURNEY.
I was born in Tasmania and now live in a rural town in the state of Victoria in mainland Australia. I am a writer, poet, writing workshop facilitator, writing mentor and editor. My poetry journey has been one of many starts and interruptions – raising a large family and following a demanding career, times when I wrote in private for my own relaxation or pleasure. It took many years for me to find my place in poetry, a journey rich in experience that took me from those early days of writing doggerel, to writing memorial poems on demand, to denial and finally personal satisfaction.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A POET?
I became a poet the first time I heard Wordsworth in the classroom, falling in immediate and lasting love with the spoken word and I began writing poetry about 40 years ago although, in hindsight, it was pure doggerel. I had a sense of cadence and a vocabulary that allowed me to end rhyme without it sounding too forced, but my first intention was to entertain. I thought I was amusing, witty and smart. I was none of these things. I was just a fledgling poet who had fallen from the nest a few lessons short of flight. But this was the beginning of my life as a poet.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A POET?
I enjoy the portability of being a poet, of being able to carry my tools of trade wherever I go, whether that be the words forming in my mind or the first hasty scribbling in my ever present notebook – the poet’s sketchbook. I like to be able to tell a story with few words that resonates with the reader at some level, to speak of nature in Haiku or to illustrate social injustice through free verse.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT POETRY?
I guess for me the hardest thing about poetry is the absent muse, the blank page or the blank screen and the sense of isolation that comes with this, for poetry is a personal and therefore solitary action. One may have friends or acquaintances, who also write poetry, but their words can never become yours – you must find your own.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A POET?
In my past life/lives I have been many things but, aside from family, the two most significant have been the quarter of a century I spent as youth worker, working with disenfranchised young people and their families and the past decade working as a writing mentor and editor. I have also mentored many ‘Forgotten Australians’ in writing their stories as a way to healing and making sense of past injustices.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
This is a difficult one to answer as there are many facets to greatest achievements and one of these would have to be the first poem I had published – seeing my work in print became my personal smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. The achievement I am most proud of however, is having been poet in residence at the Gorge Cottage, Launceston, in 2008 and the collection of poetry, Discourse with Walls, reflections of the gorge and its environs produced during the residency.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
As a poet and writer, I usually have several projects going at the one time. I have been working on a family history for the past year, following the family line from two convicts to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1840s from their pre-colonial beginnings through to subsequent generations. In poetry, I am writing, gathering and selecting material for a collection of my own work for publication in 2014.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Feelings inspire me – anything that invokes emotion or passion about a subject, whether that is an eagle in the wild or a backyard sparrow. I am particularly inspired by social justice issues and the inequity of life – and much of my poetry reflects this.
WHAT SORT OF POETRY DO YOU WRITE?
I write mainly free verse, but will use other traditional forms if they are better suited to the work. I like to challenge myself by learning about and writing in different forms as I feel this adds to my poet’s skill kit while giving me a better understanding of poetry.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR ASPIRING POETS?
I suppose it’s the age old one of – just write, write for yourself primarily and be flexible in your understanding of what poetry is – or is not. I would also say don't be afraid to explore and learn about the craft, attend workshops or follow a study course, to read the work of other poets and if you don’t understand the meaning of a poem, read it again and again until you get a feel for it. By understanding the poetry of others we learn so much more about our own work and its influences.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
While I admit to the occasional missing muse, writer’s block is not a big issue for me. If I find myself staring for too long at a blank page I just start writing the first words to come into my head – often beginning with a question or two to myself. Why can’t I write? What is stopping me from writing? How do I get past this? Then I answer the questions I’ve posed. I find this exercise takes me away from the ‘block’ and most of the answers highlight any issues – subject or creativity related.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I write every day, breaking the day up into tasks. There is never a day that I don’t write or do something writing related.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
In my mind - wherever I happen to be.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
The act of writing, of transferring thoughts on to the page, is a joyous thing.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I tend not to have a favourite author or poet as I admire and enjoy the works of so many and this can change depending on my current area of interest. As a copy editor, often my favourite author is one yet to be published.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
‘I wish I’d written that.’
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
‘I’m confused.’ Although, worse than this is the dreaded ‘cone of silence’ that descends after reading a poem to a group when no comment is made at all, when you sit staring gormlessly at the words before you, acutely aware of the silence. This happened to me a few times in the early days, when the assembly sat in mute silence until some brave soul could stand it no longer and broke the impasse saying, ‘Well, that was interesting.’ If it happened these days I’d laugh and break the silence myself.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
I tend not to write about things that happen in my own life unless they’re from a long time ago – distance either heightens perspective or blurs it. On the other hand, everything we write has to be seeded from a time, an event or a person, so I guess there’s a little piece of me and/or my life experience in everything I write.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
The usual things, family, home and hearth; truth, justice and the Australian way.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
No, but I should have done, or at least had them proof read by a professional. Although I am a qualified editor and proof reader, it is always better to have someone else cast an eye over your own work as familiarity can cause blind spots in us all. I probably wold never have my poetry edited as all have been subject to a drafting or refining process and are as I want them to be.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
When inner peace meets ‘all is well’.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Hmm! Have to think further on this one, but probably Stephen Fry, because he’s intelligent, witty and a very fine poet.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Stop (what you’re going) Look (at the state of the world) Listen (to the voice of the people)
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Like a well-known paint brand - to keep on keeping on and to complete current projects.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO YOUR GRAVE?
I wouldn’t take any. I’d leave them behind for others to enjoy.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Not really although I suppose there's always a little bit of self in everything we write. On the other hand, I did write about myself in The Little Mongrel – free to a
good home, a
memoir about growing up as an adoptee and Forgotten Australian in the welfare
system of mid 20th century Australia. Available in various eBook
reading formats by clicking the title link.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
I’m not sure if frustrated is the word – most often I’m disappointed with the number of excellent commercial manuscripts swept aside in favour of lesser works from those with contacts in the industry. As copy editor, I’ve worked on great manuscripts that have been rejected by publishers, while bookshop and library shelves carry inferior work. I believe the industry is still in a state of flux as it struggles to find its place in the ever evolving world of epublishing.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
No. Even if I never had another thing published I would still write. It is what I do.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE POEM TO WRITE? WHY?
This is a difficult question. I would have to say my favourite poem to write, although far from my best, would be the poem I wrote that led me to taking myself more serious as a poet – a natural flow of words and sentiments that I felt quite proud of at the time. Other than that, my favourite poem to write would always be the last one I wrote.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Success to me is the satisfactory completion of a piece of work, whether this is a full length novel, a short story or a poem; of knowing you’ve met your goal. Acceptance for publication doesn’t define success for me – I see this as more the bonus for a job well done.
WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR POETRY KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I don’t say what or how they should feel just that I hope they feel something, that my words have invoked an emotional response. I would also hope my poetry challenges entrenched ideas and opinions and causes readers to think outside the box.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
The book cover requires a lot of thought if it is to be effective in reflecting the content – which is the whole purpose of the design. Poetry book covers usually have less subject matter but still require thought as to the intended target readership and what may appeal to them. If you know little about design and layout and the elements of book cover design I would suggest leaving it to the experts.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
My ultimate dream would be to leave something behind that will benefit others in the future, whether this is through recording truth in history or leaving a petal drift of beautiful words to cheer others, it doesn’t really matter.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you for the opportunity to appear on your blog. If your readers enjoyed this interview and would like to know more about me and my writing activities, or read samples of my poetry and the drafting process, please visit:
Clancy's comment: Thanks, Merlene. Not sure how you write poetry but I admire you for it. I can write bush poetry but the other stuff seems way too complicated. Well done.