Interview with Judith Beveridge.

Interviewer: Abby Claridge.

There is a reason Judith Beveridge is considered one of the most iconic contemporary Australian poets of today. Her style is refined and her development as writer has been showcased since her first publication 21 years ago.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I had only read a few of her poems before this interview opportunity arose. In saying that, I am forever grateful that it did. Like most people, the busy-nature of life prevents me from reading as much as I’d like.

Poetry requires effort and commitment from its readers—as so often what it is ‘telling’ the reading and what it is ‘saying’ can be quite different—and so many of us do not dedicate the time to it. Taking the time to read more of Beveridge’s work, as well as having the opportunity to pick her brain about the world of Australian poetry and storytelling, has truly reignited my love for the artform.

Your first book of poems was published in 1987 and your most recent book of poems was published this year. How do you feel your writing style has evolved over the years?

I have always been an image-based poet, but over the years I have tried to develop more musical qualities, such as assonance and rhythm. I hope that I have been able to bring more precision and clarity to my language. I feel I write longer poems more successfully now, the ability to take an idea and run with it, though I’d still like to push the work in new directions. I think every poet needs to constantly challenge themselves and not just keep doing the same things.

You’ve taught at both Newcastle and Sydney universities, what do you feel is the most important skill a writer can cultivate?

Imagination. If you develop your imagination you don’t have to constantly rely on your own experiences in order to create content, you can open up subject matter more easily. Also linguistic skill, you need to be able to use language to capture experiences in ways that will be convincing and memorable to the reader. You also need to be patient, success doesn’t happen overnight and you need to develop the art of paying attention to everything around you.

You have been a published poet for over thirty years, do you have any tricks to stay motivated with your writing?

No, no tricks. I just really like writing poetry and contributing to an art form I love. I remind myself how lucky I am to have a passion.

In a 2016 interview for the London Buddhist Centre, you mentioned an admiration for Pablo Neruda. What is your favourite of Neruda’s poems and why?

When I was about 17 or 18 I came across a poem of Neruda’s called ‘Brown and Agile Child’. I had only just started reading and writing poetry, so didn’t have a great depth of knowledge to draw on, but this poem struck me for its sensuality, its rhythm and the way that he conveyed the scene so effectively, simply and beautifully. I rarely read Neruda now, but that poem still remains one of my favourite poems.

How do you feel your spirituality has helped, or hindered, your writing style?

I have always felt that spirituality and creativity are intimately linked. For me spirituality is about how I engage imaginatively, emotionally and intellectually with the world. Someone once said the poet needs to be ‘holy in small things’. We need the poet’s eye to explore, celebrate, to make the familiar extraordinary and to make space for the inner life.The Anglo-Saxons had the idea that the poet or scop”was a shaper, someone who imparted form or ‘scape’ onto what they might find shapeless, whether it be the landscape, or the demands and vicissitudes of life. A scop was someone who “(spoke) their needs, (said) their thanks”. I often find that when I’m writing a poem, then my mind seems to fall into the object of attention, it vanishes into attentiveness itself. The “I”slips away and what is foregrounded the is the web of interconnections that the mind is able to make.

You’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with other Australian contemporary poets. Who was your favourite to work with?

I’ve enjoyed working with all the poets. The longest and most complex project was editing Contemporary Australian Poetry, published in 2016 by Puncher & Wattmann. My co-editors Martin Langford, Judy Johnson and David Musgrave were wonderful to work with. For such an involved and difficult project we had very few disagreements. I’m currently editing a volume of poetry of the late Robert Harris (1951-1993) which Alan Wearne will publish next year. This has been a most enjoyable project and we hope it will create some interest in Robert Harris as he was a brilliant poet.

I found your poem ‘Woman and Child’ quite emotional. How would you describe your process of capturing emotion through writing?

You have to use imagery to create emotion. Statements or abstract words won’t do it. You also have to make the emotion come alive through a dramatised scene. For example, what’s the more effective in describing a certain suspicious, evil-intentioned individual—as a treacherous hypocrite, or saying as Chaucer did ‘the smiler with the knife under the cloak?’

Outside of the literary community, and the classroom, poetry can sometimes be an unappreciated art form. Why do you think that is?

I’m sure there are many reasons. I don’t think Australia as a country cares enough about its artists, not compared to other places. It’s so much easier to ignore an artform that is challenging and asks a good deal of a reader, though a lot of poetry is entirely understandable. It’s often taught badly in schools and it doesn’t always adhere to expectations as prose does.

Many say that ‘to be a good writer, you must be a good reader’. Who is your favourite writer and why?

I have many favourite writers, impossible to name one. It’s certainly true you have to read a great deal if you want to be a writer. You need to develop critical standards and reading is the best way to do this. It also helps you know what the competition is like. If you think you are doing well by playing ‘Chopsticks’ on the piano, then you’d better go and listen to Mozart.

Poetry has been integral in narrating the Australian experience. What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career as a Poet?

It’s hard to have a career as a poet because it pays very little, you have to earn your living by other means. But if you find yourself passionately drawn to it, then you have to find the time to put the effort in to develop the necessary skills. When I decided that I really just wanted to write poetry, I only took part-time jobs so that I could have the time to write. Hard to do, and probably harder now considering the cost of living in Australia. It wasn’t quite as bad when I started out, but you can do it. Also read as much poetry as you can, find like-minded people and just go for it.






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