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Overland Emerging Poets Series: Banjo James

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 Bouquet

out 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.

 

Peter Minter is a leading Australian poet and scholar, and Overland’s poetry editor.

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