2011 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets commended poet: Banjo James
Banjo James has only very recently, and loosely, taken up the mantle of ‘emerging writer’ (this is his first publication). Born in Adelaide, he studied at the University of Adelaide. Since then he has lived, worked and studied in Brisbane then Melbourne – where he now resides. Currently studying at the University of Melbourne he hopes to complete his extensive arts degree sometime next year. He writes under his given name.
Stobie Pole Bouquetout here for a fag the wind composes smoke the symphony better in stereo: a highway mixed fantastic for the inhale/exhale of cigs bridges the power lines’ hum & birds observe the traffic’s measured staccato – their siren song fails to move me. there’s sirens in the traffic but sit within nature don’t reflect on it proper listen to the top 40 stations & you appreciate no reason to fix a thing: Stobie pole & bouquets; elegy turned aria via the wireless on their way to work. it’s raining, perfect when you successive motorist parking under pressure finally feel out a space collectively i’ve stepped inside where rediscovering old gnarly cornflakes pop music happens organically. i listen to traffic report thru a scale heavy bathroom & into a zombie shower’s shotgun cure where this morning dummy can’t imagine bitumen’s timbre: her inflection as a hand through smoke nagging like wind & mum jumps the curb where every roadworthy word is a spray of decayed petals sudorific in the smoke/steam or cops clocking the Honda in a school zone – a routine practice speeding or drink driving gives us. & all that jazz beats an old pedestrian button’s syncopated thub dub.
Who are you reading now and why do they turn you on?
I’m always reading John Forbes, he turns me on big time – it’s an example of just how good Australian poetry can be. He manages to excite and relax simultaneously, which is what you want, really, when you’re getting turned on. He’s someone I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of. But more recently John West has been a great discovery. He’s someone very different to Forbes’ writing style, whose deadpan, sometimes confessional, poems surprise with their honesty – which is a hard thing given how unsurprising a tactic that is. He’s also very aware of the alcoholic sad-white-man tradition of self-pity which he plays out to great effect. I like that. More recent again, I’ve picked up a copy of Justin Clemens’ chapbook Me ‘n’ Me Trumpet, which has proved a great buy. And not only timely – that is, Clemens, unlike the above mentioned, is still alive. It’s exciting to be reading someone so good with so much left to publish.
How often do you write? Do you have a writing practice?
Like most writers, or writers I’ve read about in interviews, I try to write every day. However, due to uni, work and, mostly, a lack of inspiration I don’t. I do write down a lot of notes on my phone though; on my way to work seems to be quite productive. These notes range from one or two lines to a small paragraph or just a simile that takes my fancy, often coming about when I’m reading, or thinking about something I’ve read.
Once I finally do get to the business of writing proper, I use the lines I’ve written down, re-work them if need be, and let them suggest some more. It’s very difficult for me to write about something specific, initially anyway, but once the lines start to resemble something like a poem, it becomes easier to figure out what the things going to be like and wrangle it into something you’d like to read yourself.
When you think of Australian poetry, do you see an elephant in the room? If so, what is it?
It seems that Australian poetry, and its literature more generally, has a hard time getting comfortable with what ‘Australian’ literature, be it poetry or prose, even is. For me this has a lot to do with place/space or how the national project emphasises either bush or beach authenticity more readily than anything in between – I don’t think it’s the poets themselves doing this (very often), though. And when it is the poets in response to this ‘authentic’ place – country/city, rural/urban, Melbourne/Bunyah et cetera – and literary space, it’s very entertaining.
One of the most recent articles I’ve read is Les Murray’s ‘Revisiting the Wild Acres’, where Patrick White cops it for being a snob, or in Murray’s words ‘inverting ordinary snobbery and transposing it into mystical elation’. Another, in Overland 202, is Justin Clemens’ article ‘Being Caught Dead’ which, following on from Peter Porter’s ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Hesiod’, contains my personal favourite ever dig: ‘Take that Les Murray, you curdled Boeotian yahoo!’
All this without even mentioning the recent Australian Poetry Since 1788 anthology debate – I’m thinking here of Ali Alizadeh’s review and following blog discussion. So I suppose it’s a very political elephant if I’m thinking of one.