Suri: So Sam, what have you been up to these days?
Sam: Well, the Vice show, ‘Sex With Sam’ so that took up quite a bit of time before Owen and I went to Wellington. We’re meant to be filming again this month, but no-ones hit me up, so I’m just going to wait for them to do that. There ends up being a lot of invisible labour around that stuff, like I don’t necessarily have a production credit, but they do expect me to go out and create content with them. That has to be negotiated with them.
Suri: What does the show centre around?
Sam: It’s just me talking to people about sex, so the title’s very self-explanatory. We’ve done three episodes; one at The Basement cruise Lounge. I was talking to Stu, he’s one of the owners, so just talking to him about what the BDSM culture’s like here and what goes on at a cruise lounge. Then we talked to a guy at the University of Auckland who’s looking at porn and porn addictions at a research level; I think his name’s Chris Taylor. Then we talked to Pierre who works at one of the Peaches and Cream [stores] down K Road, the one on the corner that I didn’t realize still has one of the cruise spaces out the back. I thought that once they’d been taken over and franchised, they would have shut those spaces down, but they’re still operating. We did not expect to find that when we went in. At the back of that, in the corner, there’s a porn cinema and you can pay twelve bucks and go out the back, watch some porn, fuck a stranger.
Suri: Did you watch anything there?
Sam: Yeah, we did. They cut that out for the episode, though. I was thinking while they were doing the interviews there, whether they were going to have to subtitle it, blur out the huge queef that was going on behind us, but they just cut it out altogether.
Suri: That’s a shame, that would have been cool to have in there.
Sam: Yes it would have been; very ambient.
Suri: You have your hand in so many different art mediums
Sam: That’s entirely accidental. I’ve just been chugging along, doing little freelance things; the hustle. The sex blog I did ages ago- that provided a bunch of opportunities once that became semi-popular. You know Le Roy by DDMMYY? Through the sex blogs, they were like ‘Woah this is rad, do you want to contribute?’ and I was like ‘sure!’ That was the first time anyone had asked me to write for them. I contributed to three issues and then he went and published the whole blog in a one-off called LR: Stories We Tell Ourselves which was rad. I’ve written for art shows. One of my short erotic sci-fi stories went to this art show with Dan Nash and Tim Webbie down in Christchurch. It was in the show rather than just being part of the publication. Also writing for publications alongside art shows, mostly for Artspace; then was in a an art show for Artspace last year. I’d never done anything in a visual medium before. I made a Lady Gaga sculpture with a black demon sitting in a pink coffin filled with dirt.
Sam: It was amazing, it’s sitting in my room now.
Suri: Do you have a photo? I’d love to see that.
Sam: Yeah I’ll take a photo and send one to you haha. The sculpture itself which is a giant black demon that’s got plastic vines and LED lights on it, is in one corner of my room, and I’ve taken the pink coffin; it obviously doesn’t have dirt in anymore; and used it as a bookshelf in the other corner of my room.
Sam: Yes, utilities.
Suri: I feel like Lady Gaga would love that
Sam: I know, I did call it Garden of Failure though, so I don’t know how she’d feel about that. But I love her and the whole idea was that the Artpop album, which was a commercial flop compared to Born This Way which was a huge album for her; after that her career got really weird, and it was almost like that failure gave her an opportunity to be more free. I had Lady Gaga and the album as a visual reference for the work, but then it was also like Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure. Gaga’s career trajectory definitely ties in with that.
Suri: What drew you to poetry?
Sam: I never actually wanted to write poetry and a lot of the readings that I’ve done have been like poetry nights and I’ve either read a piece of fiction or an essay. I don’t even really write poetry but there are aspects of my experimental prose that you could call poetic.
Suri: Are you reading any good poetry books at the moment or have you come across anything recently?
Sam: I’m mostly reading sci-fi at the moment. I’m reading this tome called Helliconia and it’s about this planet called Helliconia and one seasonal year on this planet is like 1800 earth years. There are aspects of it that are very Game of Thrones like the idea that there are long summers and long winters. It pre-dates Game of Thrones by about 20 years. I feel like George R Martin is definitely aware of Helliconia.
Suri: Have there been any poets in the past that you’ve loved or enjoyed?
Sam: The one poetic text where I was like ‘oh, that’s rad’ was The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. Really, really liked that. It’s very prosey but definitely counts as poetry. Also the classics, like The Odyssey, The Aenid. The Aenid’s the one with Dido, right? Dido’s like crying out for her dead lover on a cliff. Oh, I also loved Sylvia Plath in school. Sylvia speaks to the 14 year old in me.
Suri: Same, so moody
Sam: Yeah so fucking moody, oh my god.
Suri: I’m such a sucker for misanthropy, especially in poems
Sam: I’m there right now girl, after my 50 hour week.
Suri: We’ve also been talking to our poets about the irreverence in poetry nowadays. I found that with your last reading at All Tomorrow’s Poets, your ability to be clever and not take yourself so seriously, was really refreshing. Now you have people like Hera and Tayi who write about sex so audaciously.
Sam: I do like that. I love that. I do think poetry itself takes some of the formality of language and exposes its fluidity so it can really disassemble what we might take for granted as formal codes and liberate them. I guess it makes sense then, that in a contemporary form, poetry is a lot more open to talking things like sex and a modern pathos where everything is in flux and there’s a volatility to living in the times that we do right now where institutions that have stood as monoliths post-War are now kind of like dying.
Suri: Jamie (de Jong) wanted to ask our other poets about their writing process. Do you have any advice?
Sam: Muscle memory; I think a lot of writing boils down to muscle memory and getting used to sitting down and writing every day
Suri: Do you have any questions you’d like to ask our other poets?
Sam: If you were microdosing, what would you be microdosing with?
Sam will be performing at Time Out's All Tomorrow's Poets on National Poetry Day. Check out the event details here.
We decided to do things a little differently for the second in our interview series! Join us as poet Jamie de Jong takes the interviewer seat with Jenn and Suri. See the collaborative interview below:
Suri: We’ve decided to reverse the format a little bit- Jamie’s going to take the lead on the questions!
Jamie: What is it like to be a young poet in New Zealand?
Suri: Jamie you can probably answer this better than we can…
Jamie: We talked about this before and we kind of came to a consensus that it feels like an quite exclusive term at the moment. I don’t know many of my friends who I would say are poets; that would be comfortable to claim that they’re poets. For myself, I write poetry but I wouldn’t say I’m a poet. What about you? Because you write poetry as well Jenn.
Jenn: I don’t know. Being a poet is in line with being published as well, though. Writing poetry- it feels like anyone can do it. You don’t call yourself a poet because it’s a weird, exclusive term, but writing poetry- anyone can do it.
Suri: I always just wonder what part of that hesitance is, because I feel like people that write fiction, whether they’ve been published or not, will say they’re an author and a published author will say they’re a ‘published author’. I feel like that hesitance for people to call themselves poets quite interesting. I don’t know if that’s because most poets are multi-disciplinary and will do poetry and other types of writing, or whether it is like Jenn said, ‘Do I have to wait to be published?’
Jenn: I do have a question though- would you be more comfortable calling yourself a writer?
Jamie: Personally, if I said I was a poet, it would ask so many questions that I just can’t be bothered answering, like ‘What do you do on the side?’
Suri: Do you think you have to a particular focus on form when you’re writing poetry?
Jamie: Not personally. I think when I started writing poetry, it was pretty traditional, just pretty ‘boring’, but now I get a lot of inspiration from poetry that I’m reading and I try and ‘copy’- for lack of a better word, their format. I think anthologies are good for that because you can flick through and see a short one or a long one with awkward spacing and where you can use that in one of your poems.
Jamie: What excites you about the current poetry landscape?
Suri: I love seeing a lot more women being published and women of colour. I think poetry is such an interesting medium that really lends itself to telling these stories in quite a unique way.
Jenn: Exactly what Suri said, but also people getting out there and writing about the tiny things as well. They don’t have to write about these big, grand ideas like love and death. They can write about these really small things and connect it to this universal thing that we all feel, you know? I think that’s really cool.
Jamie: And maybe the shorter nature of poetry means it’s accessible to people who might not have read otherwise maybe? Like it’s accessible for everyone to get these viewpoints.
Suri: For sure, and for people like Tusiata Avia, being able to put in histographies and mythologies and traditions all into these small poems- just a few lines- being able to put all these ideas so eloquently and interestingly.
Jamie: With Spirit House, I felt honoured to be let into that book. It was a privilege.
Suri: I think there’s also something about the intimacy of poetry that I really like.
Jamie: Who are some of your favourite poets?
Suri: I love Tusiata Avia, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Hera Lindsay Bird, Courtney Sina Meredith, Tayi Tibble and Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle.
Jamie: I just read that book, ‘Autobiography of a Magueritte’
Suri: What did you think?
Jamie: I loved it, it was so good.
Suri: What about you Jamie? Who are some of your favourites?
Jamie: All the ones you mentioned before, definitely. I also love Ashleigh Young, Emily Berry (a British writer) Alice Oswald and Don Lee Choi. What about you Jenn?
Jenn: You guys have covered it all. I also love Gertrude Stein though. She’s so crazy funny and clever with her sounds.
Jamie: We should probably mention Lisa Samuels…
Suri: Oh, because you were both taught by Lisa Samuels, right?
Jamie: Yeah that’s a plug for a good grade!
Suri: What class does she take?
Jenn: She takes the Critical Modern Writing and Critical Thinking paper- it’s really cool!
Jamie: She’s really good, you should take her poetry paper!
Jamie: Poetry is always delegated to the bottom of the literary genres- do you think the resurgence of poetry, particularly the poetry of young women, has sparked a change in the way poetry has been received by the literary world? You had something interesting to say about this, in regards to Rupi Kaur.
Suri: I think, no matter how I feel about her poetry, her ability to touch on these quite universal but also personal ideas, the way women feel in their daily lives, obviously a lot of people really connected to that and I think it made poetry as a genre a lot more accessible. Even at the shop, I think a lot of people who would have never picked up poetry books came in for Rupi Kaur and then kept coming back for recommendations for other young female poets. That grew exponentially after her poetry books. So I think seeing more women write quite personally about their experiences has really evolved the poetry landscape. I love poetry that’s just observant about the things around you, but I think poetry’s shifted away from just being external observations to being really intimate and beautiful and witty and feminist.
Jenn: I read an essay recently where the author was like, when I started reading the books of people who were the same ethnicity as me, I realised that I existed as well, and that I was part of their existence. When you read poetry that’s just white guys, you’re like ‘Does my voice really exist? Can I really say things that I want to?’ And I think getting women’s voices out there, and women of colour, provides this representation and people think ‘Yeah I can say this! I’m contributing to the world as well’. I thought that was so cool, it really spoke to me. People feel like they’re not themselves, or they’re not part of a thing, just because they’re not being represented.
Jamie: I think going back to the first question, the term poet really has to catch up with this rising movement of women and women of colour especially, because the term’s so outdated. I think that’s part of why people are so uncomfortable using it.
Jamie: What drew you to poetry over other literary genres?
Jamie: I don’t discriminate one form over the other.
Jenn: Different forms fit different thoughts.
Jamie: Or even different days.
Jenn: It’s like a different colour.
Jamie: I guess different situations call for different forms. I think there was a good quote from a [University] paper, that the form informs the content. Sometimes I’ll start writing a poem- like I started writing a poem about mice in our house, and half-way through I realised that was an essay. There was so much else connected to it
Jamie will be performing at Time Out's All Tomorrow's Poets on National Poetry Day. Check out the event details here.
Time Out staff Surinam Reddy and Jenn Cheuk sat down with Janna Tay to talk shifting poetry landscapes and platforms for youth.
Janna studies law, politics, and philosophy at the University of Auckland. She is the author of a micro-chapbook Late Summer (Ghost City Press). Her poetry has appeared in Starling, Polyphony H.S., and -Ology Journal, and she won second prize in Landfall’s 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition. In her spare time, she runs Oscen Magazine, a platform aimed at uplifting marginalised voices (http://oscen.co)
Suri: So Janna, what is it like to be a young poet in New Zealand?
Janna: It’s strange because I don’t really think of myself as a poet. It’s like when you give a name to something, it suddenly becomes real. It’s just been this thing I’ve done in my spare time, like reading and writing. I think I have talked about this with friends; you feel a sense of being an impostor to call yourself a poet or a writer.
More and more, I’m thinking of it as a way of being, like an attitude- that to be a poet is to look at the world in a certain way. There was an interview that I was reading with Ocean Vuong looking at the meaning of the word poet and he was like “to remember is to be a poet” and it’s just the idea that the way you’re wired makes you a poet.
Jenn: How would you define being a poet?
Janna: It would definitely be an attitude and a way of seeing the world because I’ve really been thinking about the idea of wonder at the world and just what happens when you switch a perspective to start looking at and noticing certain details and certain things. It’s actually shifted my whole attitude towards life. I’m finding joy or beauty in really mundane things that you might not notice because you’re in your daily grind.
Suri: You have these really beautiful moments in your poetry and some of it feels like really interesting universal ideas or feelings but making them quite specific and intimate, like in all of those little descriptions. They’re just so good.
Janna: I’ve definitely been inspired by different writers, just learning how to pull that all together.
Suri: Who are some of your inspirations?
Janna: This came a bit later, but one of the most important ones to me is Michael Ondaatje. He writes poetry and prose as well, but I started out with his prose and he’s such a poetic prose writer but such a prosaic poet; it’s almost genre-less for him. The way he writes, he builds characters from memory and certain moments, like the way they’ll move or certain aspects of the character related to a piece of clothing and he’ll take that thing and take you all through their history and it comes full-circle through this collection of details. Someone’s called him a memory artist, which I really love.
Recently I went to the Writers Festival to see Durga Chew-Bose and she described herself, and I really resonate with this, as a writer of periphery, so she doesn’t care about plot and neither do I. If you’ve got a book and it’s got explorations of character- that’s my favourite kind. I struggle to follow plot and find the logical consistencies, I just don’t really care about it. She said that it’s less about the plot- if you’ve got someone putting on make-up on public transport, that is the plot.
Jenn: What excites you about the current poetry landscape?
Janna: I think the fact that it’s becoming more and more accessible and so many new ideas are coming in. The danger I think, when you only have a certain group of people writing poetry, is that they start bouncing ideas off each other and it just becomes very insular. What’s exciting to see is almost anyone pick up poetry and be like ‘Hey I’m bringing my perspective to it’ and it might be something we’ve never seen before. Like I would also get inspiration from a different point of view and it’s just a learning experience from a whole lot of different people.
Jenn: Do you think people are becoming more open-minded to poetry, because there is this stigma around it being elitist or pretentious, do you feel like that’s changed?
Janna: I think there definitely is, especially around slam poetry. People I would never have talked to about my poetry, or page poetry (the kind of thing you’d study at an English Literature class and people are like, ‘I don’t get it’) they’re going along to slam poetry events and they’re like ‘Oh this is actually resonating with me in a language I understand’. That’s exciting to see and I hope it boosts support for the arts.
Suri: There are a lot of young New Zealand poets who are writing really exciting poetry, and I wonder if that change in the landscape has made it more accessible?
Janna: Yeah, you’re starting to see it a lot more in general media rather than just the people you know who’d interact with it.
Jenn: It’s become ageless now; like it’s transcending. It’s cool to see that change.
Suri: I guess there’s more of an irreverence and playfulness in the way poetry is told too.
Suri: Are there any contemporary poets whose work you’ve been enjoying recently?
Janna: I’ve just been reading ‘Bright Dead Things’ by Ada Limon and that was amazing. The way she writes poetry is, I feel, very different from mine and I really admire the way she does it. It seems very descriptive and kind of casual, but by the end, she takes this starting image and flips it on its head and there’s a moment of clarity when the whole preceding part of the poem is shown in a different light. I think I write quite obscurely- I just move from image to image, whereas for her, it’s just so tightly bound up that you don’t feel it until the end, the amount of talent she has.
Suri: Do you find there’s things you can draw from people like that whose poetry is quite different from your own? Do you think it impacts the way you write your own poetry?
Janna: Definitely. Like I’ll try and see how I can bring it into my own and put my own take on it. Also just as a technique, as a way to push myself to write in a different way.
Suri: I remember a while ago, in reference to a poetry book that had become very popular, we had a big discussion around instagram poets and what makes poetry and what isn’t poetry. How would you define poetry?
Janna: I guess, in relation to the instagram poets, they feel a bit more like thoughts to me- thoughts you dash off quickly. That’s not to discount it for what value it does have.
For me, when I write poetry, it requires a lot more design. You write down your thoughts but you go back and you think about the line and the rhythm, and the way that you break the line and what that does to the meaning- how you convey what you want to express, rather than just dashing it down on a piece of paper. At the same time, it feels a bit arbitrary to say that you have to spend work and time on it in order for it to become poetry. It’s a little bit dangerous to put one definition on it.
Suri: What drew you to poetry over other writing forms?
Janna: At first it comes across as something that’s very visceral. I’ve talked about this with friends before- like the thing that draws us to poetry: you’ve got feelings and you’ve got to put them down somewhere and there’s not necessarily a story from it or you don’t have to devise characters for a novel. When I was little, I used to love writing stories because I used to love creating characters, but I’d never get further than characters because I just don’t care about plot apparently. I’ve never really cared about plot. To come to poetry- it was an easier form at first, but then you realise how hard it is to make it good and that became like a puzzle and I just kept writing.
Suri: Was it exciting to have your work published in Starling?
Janna: Yeah it was really exciting and Starling are amazing. Frances and Louise keep in touch in the sense that if they see you published anywhere, they’ll instantly repost it on social media. They’re really supporting the community that they’ve built, and I really appreciate that from them. I’ve recently with friends, started my own platform called Oscen and we’ve gotten young writers as well and Starling jumped on board and started promoting us too. I never even mentioned it to them so it’s amazing to see their support in the community.
Suri: It’s really cool to see young New Zealand women being the ones pushing the change in poetry.
Janna: The contrast from what we studied, which was dead white European guys, to see the landscape now is really exciting. It’s the stories that get told and published that get remembered, and we haven’t had the ability to remember in that way for so long.
Janna will be performing at Time Out's All Tomorrow's Poets on National Poetry Day. Check out the event details here.
This year, we held smaller All Tomorrow's Poets than usual, highlighting five female poets that we love.
Makanaka Tuwe read three pieces from her new book, Questionable Intimacy. An exploration of self discovery, self love and Black Girl Magic, her reading was deeply personal and intimate. Questionable Intimacy went home with many of our guests, and is available to order through our website.
Divyaa Kumar lead us through a workshop in writing our own poetry. We transformed the word 'Joy' into a prismatic sensory experience-- recalling freshly shaved legs, whispered giggles and an effervescent glass of Pimm's.
Carrie Rudzinski and Olivia Hall joined us through the atmospheric power of the 'iPhone in a Glass' sound system. Their piece Love Like a Girl celebrated fierce sisterly love and garnered hearty recognition from the crowd.
Evangeline Riddiford-Graham shared poems from her series Planet Cleopatra. Born from an obsession with Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, she presented a deft weaving of tabloid romance, Millionaire's Salad and the symmetry of Ngāuruahoe into a moving and relatable depiction of an enduring, if poisonous, on-again/off-again.