Since 1971 Australian poet Pam Brown has published many books and chapbooks including Text thing (Little Esther Books, 2002), Dear Deliria and True Thoughts - both from Salt Publishing in 2003 and 2008 respectively. She has also written for film and theatre. She collaborated with Seattle-based Egyptian poet Maged Zaher on a collection of poems called farout library software published by Tinfish Press in 2007. Her next book Authentic Local is due from Papertiger Media in 2010. An e-book of poems, the meh of z z z z , was published by Ahadada Books in 2010 and is freely available here - http://www.ahadadabooks.com/content/view/199/43/
Pam Brown has earned a living variously and, until recently, spent many years thoroughly absorbed in the processes of classification and archiving at a sciences library at the University of Sydney.
For five years, from 1997 until 2002, she was the poetry editor of the Australian literary quarterly Overland and currently co-edits Jacket magazine. She is also associated with HOW2 and Fulcrum magazines. Born in Seymour Victoria, in her imagination Pam Brown lives in Hellbourg, La Réunion, in real life she is currently doing time in Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book was printed at night, clandestinely, on paper and card offcuts at an offset printery where a friend worked during the day. It was an after-hours ‘underground’ publication. It was 1971, in Melbourne. The book, ‘Sureblock’, was anti-copyright - ‘if anyone wants these poems use them’, said the flyleaf. And they were used - two films were made from poems about a couple of female outlaws and poems turned up in womens’ liberation newspapers and other magazines.
It changed my life in that publication meant that I met more artists, filmmakers, and other countercultural people than I already knew. I was also invited to read poems in public for the first time. So I suppose that was formative.
The poetry changes as the poet does. Some might call it ‘development’ or maybe you just become more practiced as the years roll on.
On reflection, and without trying to be, I’ve been a different person each decade of my life. I think that’s natural. So the poetry evolves alongside everything else.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I knew about poetry from my paternal great-uncle with whom I lived as a small child. He read Ralph Waldo Emerson. And from my maternal grandfather who owned an advertising agency and liked modernism. I was attracted to poetry at high school and then I began to read beyond the curriculum. I also liked song lyrics and wrote songs.
Most fiction seemed to me to require a huge self-interest on the writer’s part. It seemed mostly autobiographical. I couldn’t imagine sustaining that degree of self-involvement for the length of a novel. I did love Dylan’s Tarantula and great, huge books like Nicolai Ostrovsky's How the Steel Was Tempered - both autobiographical - and lots of other novels, especially the existentialists, but I knew I was a poet, not a novelist.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It’s a process of accretion and, yes, it starts with notes. Not copious notes, but notes nonetheless. I write much more slowly these days than I did at first, and even more slowly than I did a couple of decades ago.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
As I said, it begins in notes - on a scrap of paper, in a margin of a book or magazine I’m reading, on a computer file, in a notebook - and then continues. So far, I have not thought that I am writing a ‘book’ as I compile poems. I generally assemble a collection when I have a group of poems that seem ready for publication (every few years or so). I would like to do something more conceptual though - a long poem that is a ‘book’. I might yet do that.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings don’t inform my writing process. But I do see them as part of the life of a poet. I enjoy reading even though sometimes I have wondered what I’m doing there. You know, when the poem bounces off the back wall and heads right back to you. I don’t read frequently because there aren’t many public poetry readings in Sydney.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Yes I do. But my concerns are usually in flux (as is the world at large). The questions I pursue are probably about looking for ways to live, how to live ‘now’, how to continue. I’m not sure what the ‘current’ questions in poetry are. Though I do read poetics (and some philosophy).
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Hmmm. There’s a definite disconnection in Australia between writers as public figures (and the state-funded institutions that support that notion) and ‘writers’. As a poet I have my own scene or group of other poets, like-minded or not, but interested in the work, in ideas, in politics, in publication, in talking to each other and so on. I am entirely uncertain of how the poetry scene perceives its societal tasks.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The editors who have published my poetry have all been very good to me. That’s been fine.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’ve only done that once, back in the early 1980s. The resulting collection, Keep It Quiet, has been overlooked. I enjoyed writing prose, for about a year - my prose style was not very conventional. Lots of parataxis in there.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have a writing routine, although I do seem to spend a lot of time at the desk. I write when poetry occurs to me, when I have something to think about, otherwise I remain silent.
If I’m writing poetry it seems to slot in sometime towards the afternoon or evening.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
No particular poet, but I might spend time wandering through Walter Benjamin’s ‘Arcades’ or some essays on poetry or some philosophy.
13 - What do you really want?
I suppose I’d like to have my poetry work for readers. To have my intentions received and enjoyed even if that might involve some degree of puzzlement.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Yes, - especially art of all kinds, music, film, video, some science, philosophy, architecture.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There are too many to list.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
In poetry, as I hinted earlier, I think I’d like to write a long conceptual poem.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Poetry is a preoccupation, a compulsion. I’ve never earned money from it. My employment has been various yet, often steady. I suppose would have liked to have a trade - maybe as an electrician or perhaps have been involved in some kind of science.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It was something to pass the time when I was ill with the mumps aged 7 or 8. I’m certain it began then.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Claudia Rankine : Don’t Let Me Be Lonely - An American Lyric.
Samson & Delilah by the Australian indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A poem called ‘Spirulina’. I have just proofed my forthcoming book of poems Authentic Local (http://www.papertigermedia.com/). I am editing for Jacket magazine. (http://jacketmagazine.com/00/home.shtml). Writing short reviews of poetry books for Overland Literary Journal. (http://web.overland.org.au/) Trying to keep my blog going. (http://thedeletions.blogspot.com/) and collecting material for the electronic component of a forthcoming Trans-Tasman poetry symposium (http://thedeletions.blogspot.com/2010/02/trans-tasman-poetry.html) hosted by the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.