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Poet of the Month with David Brooks

April 2024, no. 463

Poet of the Month with David Brooks

April 2024, no. 463

David Brooks (University of Queensland Press)David Brooks (University of Queensland Press)David Brooks, critic, novelist, short story writer, animal rights activist as well as poet, taught Australian Literature, ran a writing program, and co-edited Southerly at the University of Sydney. He has published six collections of poetry, the latest (The Peanut Vendor) included in his new and selected poems: The Other Side of Daylight (UQP, 2024). He lives in the Blue Mountains with rescued sheep and advocates for kangaroos. The Sydney Morning Herald called his The Balcony (UQP, 2007) ‘an electrical experience’.

Which poets have influenced you most?

Galway Kinnell, Czesław Miłosz, Ezra Pound, Li Po, Bruce Beaver.

Are poems chiefly inspired or crafted?

Most of my poems begin with inspiration, but then are crafted. It’s taken a lifetime to learn that craft. I’m still learning.

What prompts a new poem?

An event, a memory, a thought, an image, or some trigger in someone else’s poem. Often there’s a kind of inner signal, a feeling something is coming. Sometimes when I’d like to write a poem but don’t have anything in particular in mind, I ask myself, If I were going to write a poem, what might it be about? and, Bingo, I’m in.

What circumstances are ideal for writing poetry?

Silence, darkness, calm, a good sleep the night before, freedom from distraction.

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

In earlier years quite a few, dozens sometimes. But the internal editor gets better with time. I’m needing less and less, doing more drafting in my head before setting anything down. Some poems now come almost fully formed. I’m getting better at doing what the poem wants, rather than trying to get it to do what I want it to.

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

Some great poets can be spiky and defensive in person. I’d prefer someone who’s actually pleasant to talk with, and you can only be confident about that if you’ve already talked with them, so I’ll say Mark Strand, who was pleasant and generous and whom I still find myself talking to, occasionally, in my mind. Or Bruce Beaver. Or Jan Harry. Wise and generous beings.

Do you have a favourite Australian poetry collection?

Several, but I’ll name just five: Robert Adamson’s Where I Come From, Jenny Rankin’s Earth Hold, J.S. Harry’s A Dandelion for Van Gogh, Coral Hull’s Bestiary, Bruce Beaver’s Odes and Days.

What do poets need most: solitude or a coterie?

Solitude, though I’m conscious there are two or three living poets whose friendship is important to me, and that I converse with a coterie of dead poets much of the time. Amazing how poets continue to see, think, feel, and speak long after they’ve died.

Who are the poetry critics you most admire?

It’s probably impolitic to choose from the living. My sense overall is that the public discourse surrounding poetry is getting better and better and that some strong new voices are emerging. But in truth I’m no longer the person to ask. The bulk of my reading is now in and for animal advocacy. The poetics of that are very important. Were there more critics working in that area, or receptive to poets who are, I might be reading criticism more.

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

I’d once have said Strand and Charles Simic’s Another Republic anthology, or Pound’s Cathay. Now it’s Classical Chinese Poetry, translated and edited by David Hinton.

What is your favourite line of poetry?

Brag, sweet tenor bull,
descant on Rawthey’s madrigal…

from ‘Briggflatts’ by Basil Bunting.

How can we inspire greater regard for poetry among readers?

Thinking about them a bit more. Keeping it clear, simple, entertaining. Letting the images do the talking. Remembering the power of narrative. Leaving one’s cleverness at the door.

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