In this interview, editor and poet, Rhiannon Hall talks with West Australian poet, Maree Dawes about her writing and its influences and about her verse novel, brb: be right back.
When did you develop an interest in poetry?
I used to write poetry as a child, continued through high school and early days of uni with a small group of friends – most of it very heartfelt and horrible. I did some poetry workshops, mentorships, residencies and uni studies in the nineties and had my first collection published in 2008.
Are you a communal writer? Is it important to you to workshop your writing with other poets?
I have been involved in a number of communal writing projects. one of my favourite projects was one where an artist Beth Kirkland and I had discussions about themes and topics and then did cafe performances where I wrote a page of stream of consciousness writing. Beth used a pencil to strike through most of my words leaving only a few words which she then highlighted with watercolour. Sounds complicated but the result was two stories, hers and mine.
I really value getting feedback about my work regarding what is or isn’t working, and I get this from the writing group I belong to. A workshopping process where more of the content comes from others is not something I’ve done, I guess unless it’s a shared project I like what appears in the final copy to be my own work.
Who are some of your favourite poets and what is it that has drawn you to their work?
Dorothy Hewett’s poetry – her work was so experimental and feminist – and her poems about the wheat–belt are special to me because we inhabited the same landscape in different generations.
Dorothy Porter – I have to make myself read her work slowly, especially the verse novels. I just want to gobble up those seductive words … but slow reading illustrates again and again how a few words can push out the sky and make whole worlds of experience appear. Robert Grey makes everything come alive, with his perfect word choices and his balance of natural and made environments. Jordie Albiston, because I can only watch in awe at what she does with form – and while I’m watching the form she trips up my heart. Barbara Temperton for her imagery, getting to the emotional centre of things and the perfect length of line. Alvin Pang, to remind me that the city is also a landscape and Caroline Caddy who reminds me that sight is not the only sense.
What an unfair question … this answer could go on all night. I’ve also enjoyed national collections like Australian Love Poems and The Best Australian Poems.
What do you see as the main feature of your writing?
I hope people have fun reading my work and that a few words and images take the reader on their own internal journey. I think point of view always plays an important part in my work, and there is always something going on emotionally, or perhaps an exploration of what it is to be human.
Is there a specific reason behind the form of your poetry?
I always start from the writing, the images and ideas and initial word choices and then see what form suits. The verse novel really suited this work because of its strong narrative. I used a wide range of forms within the verse novel because I wanted the characters to be real and different forms helped with that.
Do you have a strict writing practice?
I have a busy life, I write when I can. I’m really driven to write though which makes it easier and I do my best work at night.
Did you have to adapt your writing practice for brb: be right back, being mindful of plot and characters?
I wrote in a journal and then polished individual poems. There were some particular challenges with brb with continuity, because I changed the order of the pieces quite a lot. Another challenge was that the original draft was written ages ago but on a final rewriting I needed some additional works and I had to make some major changes – these had to keep to the whole feel of the rest of the work – the final poem was written in October.
Without giving too much away, how did you select the names for your character’s online aliases?
Most of the details for characters, including online aliases came from me summoning up – or perhaps strongly imagining my character and letting her have her say. Looking back at a distance on that time she feels like a fondly remembered friend.
In your first collection of poetry, Women of the Minotaur, and in this new verse novel, brb: be right back, you have explored what it is to be a woman in love and sex. What was your inspiration to delve into an exploration of womanhood through this lens?
Perhaps it was my years working with Family Planning! I don’t make a conscious choice to write in a particular way, but once I started writing about chat rooms it was very clear that love and sex were going to be central. Writing the sex scenes wasn’t easy, but there is so much implied sensuality and attraction they needed to be there.
How systematic is your writing? Do you write from experience, from life, or do you study theories and philosophies and write these ideas into your poetry?
Really, in the first instance, I just pick up a pen and write… but having a rich and varied life, listening to others, reading – particularly poetry and having a curiosity about people, science and ideas mean that these aspects appear in my work. When I get down to editing a piece I think more about structure and also themes, perspectives and attitudes.
What was your inspiration for setting brb in the world of Yahoo! Chat?
I found Yahoo! Chat irresistible myself – the perfect playground for a writer, where the whole world is words.
There is some rich imagery of place, the physical place of the Western Australian coast line, in your book. How important has place been to the construction of brb? Do you think the story would be the same if it was set in a different place, or if you were writing it from a different place?
I think this is where ‘write what you know’ comes in. It was easy for me to write about a protagonist learning to love this place with emotional honesty. Place is really important to me as a person and I like to see my current “place” starring in brb. Having experienced this place, I think it wouldn’t matter if I was physically located somewhere else to write it but it would be a different story if it was set elsewhere. There’s something about the mists and the moisture and space that provides a counter balance to the online aspect.
How do you feel about brb being published as an ebook? Do you feel that this medium complements the story and the form of your poetry?
I am so excited to see brb as an ebook. Usually I love the feel of a book but in the case of brb the digital medium really suits it. With the first person point of view and reading on a screen it almost feels like you are on chat watching the story unfold.
Maree Dawes is an Albany poet who has been published nationally and internationally. She studied writing at Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia. Maree also holds degrees in Psychology and Education. Maree’s first collection Women of the Minotaur explored the lives of mistresses in Picasso’s life. It was featured on Poetica in May 2009 and dramatized for the program launch for PIAF writers festival 2010. Her short story I am so sweet and truthful is in production for a short film. Maree has collaborated with artists, dancers and embroiderers.