Images, art projects and interviews
I am accidentally captured in documentary footage as the rider in the blue jacket
Queensland Poetry Festival 2012
Artist interview: Marty Smith
Is this your first time at QPF? What are you most looking forward to?
Yes it is. It’s exactly thirty years since I made first contact with Australia: my husband wanted to go to Brisbane and I was sulking about going in the first place, then I fell straight in love with the city and the frangipani and the colour and light. So I’m looking forward to frangipani and bougainvillea, but mostly to meeting other poets and hearing their work and hanging out with them. Surprising serendipity can come out of random moments with other people. I really enjoy performing – and audiences seem to like the family poems. There’s sometimes humour in there with all the relationship tensions.
The Australians I love drove in vans all over Europe with us, and they remind me strongly of my father and his siblings: same irreverence, same strong sense of right and wrong and well willing to be subversive. Some of the Australian race callers and commentators are hilarious, brilliant exponents of all of the above.
Tell us about the poetry scene in New Zealand. What are some exciting things that are happening there?
I find the collaborations across genres particularly exciting. A while ago there was the project ‘Are Angels OK?’ which paired writers and physicists to create a discussion about some of the
strange and enchanting aspects of physics, and Helen Heath is working on a project that examines the intersection of people and technology.
There’s a really big move to combine poetry with music. Poet and teacher Chris Price and her husband Robbie were the backing band for Hinemoana Baker, poet, musician and songwriter for the Tuwhare concert, (lots of musicians performing Hone Tuwhare’s poems which they set to their own music.) Bill Manhire, who represented New Zealand at Poetry Parnassus, has two albums with Norman Meehan and Hannah Griffin, where he reads his poetry over their music.
Greg O’Brien, who is an artist himself, and his wife Jenny Bornholdt, a past poet laureate, have done collaborations with various artists. Greg collaborated with his brother Brendan and Australian artist Noel McKenna, and his poem about stallion Dylan Thomas was embroidered onto Dylan Thomas’ rug and shown at Noel McKenna’s exhibition in Sydney.
My favourite project is a collaboration between poet Kate Camp, graphic artist Sarah Maxey and Kris Sowersby, a typeface designer. Kate chose 20 phrases of two words and she split them, sending half to Sarah and half to Chris. They worked independently and only showed each other at the end of the project, but some surprising likenesses came by accident.
Your work is greatly influenced by your family and by growing up on a farm. Why do you think childhood is such a rich source of inspiration for so many writers?
I think a lot of writers are the watching child – a bit suspicious, interested in how all the relationships connect up, trying to see how the rules play out in real life, and the gap between what adults say and what they do. I guess we all learn social etiquette that way – listening and watching to make sense of how people are and where we fit in, absorbing the rules of what and how we’re allowed to do stuff– and testing how the rules work. Because clearly people don’t behave according to the absolute sets of rules we’re taught or they seem to be wrong somehow, and we all experience that, so there’s a wealth of material there.
My father and my uncles had rules based on their army experiences – like, they ignored stuff that wasn’t important and were very strict on honour and helping people and doing the right thing.
And I have good enough recall to remember what I was thinking about most things, and what I was looking at, so the perspective is actually just what I was thinking – nasty bits (mostly) filtered out, of course.
I think children observe and test and sort and file like little scientists.
One of your signature themes is horse racing. Do you race yourself?
I used to. I was small enough and keen enough to be a jockey, but at that time women were just forcing the issue over being allowed to have a licence. And it would have broken my father’s heart. He set a high store on education.
I used to ride track-work at local racecourses when I was at university and in my early teaching years. I rode for six months in a racing stable in Newmarket, in England. It’s true what they say at the track – racing gets in your blood and you can never leave it. My husband and I had broodmares and foals for a few years before we gave that up as a bad joke. Working with the foals is lovely, but time consuming and only one of them ever made it onto the racecourse – won a trial, started as favourite, injured its back and never raced again.
I watch the races on TV, and I find it’s the jockeys I’m watching. I find myself reading the race very closely and I’m usually riding in it too in my mind. I have this documentary from England which opens at Newmarket Heath, with a voiceover and a slow motion shot, for nearly a minute, of four horses galloping, music and all, and it’s the stable I rode for and I’m one of the riders. I showed it to my MA class, and it made me cry. Because I can never do it again.
Though I wouldn’t rule out doing a couple of rounds on a quiet horse when I have no major commitments on, just in case I fall off and break something.
Which poet(s) would you say have had the greatest influence on your work?
So many. I have had American tutors twice, and the course reading material was full of wonderful writers I had never met before. If I had to choose from them, D.A. Powell, Anne Carson and Dean Young for short and urgent, for a style that is often conversational and prosaic, mixed up with punch you in the face images. Canadian poet Christian Bök made me really pay attention to sound inside my poems. In New Zealand, the very important people are in my writing group: poets Hinemoana Baker, Kate Camp, Stefanie Lash, Kirsten McDougall and Maria McMiillan. We have very different styles, and if we were to show unnamed poems, we would all know who wrote what. It’s interesting how we’ve evolved to have such clearly different lining, imagery, syntax, even subject material. We’re currently responding to the same set of images for a Professor who is a translator, I think. It’ll be interesting to see how the poems come out.
Note: this poem turned out as Each Hour Divests Her of a Garment in Horse with Hat