Interview with Anna Forsyth by Senaj Alijevski

It was a pleasure for our journals to get an opportunity to Interview Anne Forsyth. She’s a writer who is based in Newcastle and manages ‘Girls on key’. Girls on Key hosts events in Melbourne, Newcastle and Sydney. The events started as music in 2014 and changed to poetry in 2015. They feature female and non-binary poets and raise funds for different charities such as Writing through fences who work with asylum seeker and refugee writers.

Reading the ‘Girls on Key’ website I got the impression that you are passionate about women’s issues. Is that right?

I am a feminist, so amplifying women’s voices is something that I am passionate about, as they are often trivialised, marginalised and not taken seriously in our patriarchal society. It’s not exclusively a women’s issue. It’s about equality in general, which is why I continue to provide spaces for poets that are intersectional and inclusive of trans women and non-binary poets.

What inspired you to create ‘Girls on Key’? The focus is on placing an importance on women’s stories. Is this the main focus of the organisation?

I founded Girls on Key in 2014 to create the type of gigs for my female musician friends that I couldn’t find elsewhere. It is not a group or a club, but an open night in three different cities (currently), where people can come and hear stories and poetry from women. Feminism to me has always been about whose stories are being told and whose stories are being perpetuated and the voices that are being heard. So Girls on Key poetry readings provide a great space for that to happen. I try to create an atmosphere of safety, with a collegial atmosphere where women feel comfortable sharing their own stories, whatever they may be.

  1. Poetry is a difficult style of writing, what tips would you give to someone who isn’t confident in their work?

I don’t think poetry is more difficult than any other art form. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. There is definitely a craft with a beautiful history and there are so many in-roads that offer their own unique ways to create under the banner of poetry. For example, if you are performer, you can focus on the stage craft of slam. There are visual styles, such as concrete poetry and traditional forms for those who like to geek out. Confidence as a poet comes from finding your own place within that world and not letting others define the type of work that you want to create. It’s about challenging yourself to learn your art form and to grow and put in the effort to see what you envision come to life. There are lots of mentors around and many online resources if you want to up-skill yourself in one aspect of the poetry craft. The key is finding the resources that work for your own artistic vision, especially if you are starting out. It is better to throw the rule book out in the beginning and to test your own creative boundaries than to have someone else tell you how you should be writing. It is art after all. I would recommend starting with the topics and issues that make your heart sing and writing in response to those, then worrying about the honing and polishing later. Some people are not comfortable reading in public, but that’s not essential. You can find an audience online and through print and it is not necessary to be confident on a stage.

Are there any other writers/poets you admire and influenced your writing style?

I am definitely very influenced by New Zealand poets, as that’s where my whakapapa is (genealogy) is. I had my beginnings there, as a person and as a poet. I have a couple of mentors who I meet with when I’m there, such as Riemke Ensing, Genevieve Mclean, Janet Charman and Vivienne Plumb. They have all influenced me in different ways. Vivienne’s work in particular has influenced me as she also works between fiction, poetry and script writing. One of my key interests is in the praxis and intersections between these forms.

Are there any other artistic talents you have that make your style of writing more authentic?

I’m often told that my work is lyrical and so I think having a background in music definitely influences the way I write, as much as I try to escape it. Authenticity to me is about calling a spade a spade. I don’t always do that of course, I skirt around things and obscure their origins within my work at times, for fear of scrutiny. I don’t think that’s an uncommon practice. As I’ve grown older, I’ve naturally become more fearless in owning my identity as a bisexual, white woman from New Zealand who has a strong Christian faith. So I’m starting to touch on some of these themes more, as a way to really tell my own story my own way. I think that’s the key.

Do you plan to write other poems or novels that support the theme of women’s issues?

The short answer is no. I write from what sparks my interest. I don’t write about women’s issues at all. Only from the vantage of being a woman and that being all I’ve known. The focus of my work at the moment is on the intersections of the mundane and the divine in everyday experiences. I’ve been working on a project for quite some time that includes monologues of people who have experienced miracles. The project sparked the title of my next poetry collection, Beatific Toast.

Perhaps poetry is an overlooked style of writing why would you consider it as important? Does it help to improve our writing skills?

I’m probably biased, because I’m a poet, but I consider poetry to be a vital vehicle for the transmission of culture and shaping and framing our existence as humans. It is the soul of society really. It really can reconceptualise issues within society and it also uses emotions quite often as a gateway to create change on an individual and collective level. So it is deeply important; as is all art making. In answer to your second question, any type of sustained writing practice will lead to improvement if it is undertaken with a view to learning and allowing yourself to take constructive criticism. Yes, of course finding that perfect image, employing poetic devices and using constraints, these are all great skills for any writer’s toolkit, regardless of genre.

What was your favourite poem you have performed for an audience?

I wrote a piece called ‘The I’m So Sick of Jack Kerouac Blues’, which I love performing because I get to sing parts of it as well. It’s definitely my most performative and stage-oriented piece. The other piece is also part-sung and it’s called the Conductor. It’s a poem about grief and always receives a great response from the audience. I studied stage one conducting and its about the idea of channelling grief through music. Grief can often make a person feel out of control, so I like the idea of mindfulness and the way water and music flow through you.

Is Melbourne a good place to inspire poets to keep writing?

I’m based in Newcastle. When I was in Melbourne I found it to be an extremely collegial place for writers of all types. It is not just a City of Literature in name only, but has a very supportive community of writers. Organisations such as Melbourne Spoken Word have played a large part in creating a culture where anyone can have a go. There is not the same snobbery around being a writer that you get in some cities. It’s a very diverse and inclusive community with lots of great grassroots initiatives. I’ve never lived in a city with such a thriving poetry community. It really is a great place for it.

My book A Tender Moment Between Strangers is available from our Girls on Key bookshop, along with some other poetry books by great female poets:




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