Laurie Duggan is Poet of the Month

September 2020, no. 424

Laurie Duggan is Poet of the Month

September 2020, no. 424

Laurie Duggan (photograph by Angela Gardner)Laurie Duggan (photograph by Angela Gardner)

Laurie Duggan was born in Melbourne and was involved in the poetry worlds of that city and Sydney from the 1970s to the late 1990s. After six years in Brisbane he moved to England, living in Faversham, Kent until 2018 when he returned to Sydney. He has published some twenty books of poems together with Ghost Nation, a work about imagined space. His most recent books are Homer Street (Giramondo, 2020), Selected Poems 1971–2017 (Shearsman, 2018), and No Particular Place To Go (Shearsman, 2017).

Which poets have most influenced you?

Thomas Wyatt, Walter Raleigh, Lord Rochester, Alexander Pope, John Keats, Robert Browning, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Jean Follain, Francis Ponge, George Oppen, Louis MacNeice, Charles Olson, Gwen Harwood, Hilda Morley, Philip Whalen, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Gael Turnbull, Paul Blackburn, Edward Dorn, Jonathan Williams, Joanne Kyger, Lee Harwood, Alan Wearne, John Scott, Pam Brown, Ken Bolton, John Forbes, Gig Ryan. It goes on …


Are poems chiefly inspired or crafted?

Crafted definitely, though how they originate is another matter. Craft is essential. But it can be a subtle thing. I grew up in the shadow of poets who were fixated on forms like the pentameter. Despite their talk about regular forms, I found many of them to be clunky versifiers (there are of course exceptions, like, say, James Merrill). One young Australian poet wrote very ‘formal’ work that rattled and ‘informal’ work that just seemed shapeless. He was tone deaf. Inspiration? See below.


What prompts a new poem?

Often enough scattered jottings in a notebook where, at a certain point, I sense something is going on. These notes may also relate to pieces written much earlier so I will often go back over the notebook to find them. It is important not to get too precious about the process. It is never ‘now I’m going to write a poem’.


What circumstances are ideal for writing poetry?

Time, but not too much of it. New experiences, but nothing too novel.


Roughly how many drafts do you produce before ‘finishing’ a poem?

In an age of word processing, it has become impossible to tell since minor changes can be made (and are) at any time. At a guess I’d say that most of my work takes between one and seven drafts. More than that usually means it’s never going to work, while at the lesser end the poems are often the result of cogitations I’ve been not entirely aware of (in other words, these poems have already been ‘drafted’, albeit unconsciously).


Which poet would you most like to talk to – and why?

I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to a number of older poets, many of whom are no longer with us. I count myself fortunate to have met poets such as Carl Rakosi, Gael Turnbull, Ed Dorn, Jonathan Williams, Lee Harwood, and Tom Raworth. If I could use a time machine, I’d like to talk to William Carlos Williams, especially about the radical work he produced in the 1920s.


Do you have a favourite Australian poetry collection?

John Forbes’s Collected Poems (2001).


What do poets need most: solitude or a coterie?

Probably both. A coterie is great when you’re young, but you need to be able to escape it eventually. You will always need companions, but it’s good if their poetics differs from your own.


What have you learned from reviews of your work?

Some years back I would have said, as William Carlos Williams did, ‘There’s a lot of bastards out there.’ Reviews, good or bad, often miss the mark, but occasionally someone will say something that’s worth finding out.


If Plato allowed you to keep one poem or poetry collection in his Republic, what would it be?

Paul Blackburn’s In, On, or About the Premises (1968). But then, I wouldn’t want to be in Plato’s Republic. Unfortunately, I have to be in ScoMo’s Republic.


What is your favourite line of poetry (or couplet)?

‘A dazed disc jockey fingers an epaulette.’


Is poetry appreciated by the reading public?

Some of the time. And by the rest of the public on often unpredictable occasions. That’s my guess.

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