An interview with Toby Fitch

May 2022, no. 442

An interview with Toby Fitch

May 2022, no. 442

Toby Fitch is poetry editor of Overland and a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Sydney. He is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently Sydney Spleen (Giramondo, 2021).


Which poets have influenced you most?

At school: Coleridge, Frost, Yeats, Shakespeare. In my twenties, to avoid the notion that poems are pure, untouchable things, I read loads in translation, and still do: Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Reverdy, Lorca, Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva, Tranströmer, Ritsos, Celan, Rilke, Radnóti, Césaire. There’s something freeing about reading the semblance of a poem. Most influential in English: Stein, Plath, Ashbery, O’Hara, Carson. More recently: Claudia Rankine, Kim Hyesoon, C.A. Conrad, Mary Ruefle. Mentors/colleagues who have had a big effect on me: Chris Edwards, Michael Farrell, Martin Harrison, A.J. Carruthers, Evelyn Araluen. My latest book Sydney Spleen was directly influenced by Baudelaire, Sean Bonney, Pam Brown, joanne burns, and John Forbes, among many others indirectly.


Are poems chiefly inspired or crafted?

For me, and in the spirit of such a dialectic, poems (i.e. ‘poiesis’) are constructed out of a need to make something make sense, or to make nonsense of something.


What prompts a new poem?

‘Ceding the initiative to words’, as the austere aesthete Stéphane Mallarmé once wrote. Sometimes it’s a political
platitude that sparks; other times, a complex of image and feeling that needs words.


What circumstances are ideal for writing poetry?

Being receptive to experience, particularly emotion, while having a critical awareness of the material conditions one is writing under/after/through/about. But also, moons and clouds and ghosts. And childcare. (And ‘no tsunami waves’, according to my eldest daughter.)


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

Sometimes one, usually dozens. I’d still like to tinker with my published poems but my family is grateful that a line is drawn. If I didn’t feel the need to keep tinkering with all those little meanings in search of some larger argument for existence, I think I’d probably stop writing and existing altogether.


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

Frank O’Hara, to prevent him from going to Fire Island.


Do you have a favourite Australian poetry collection?

A couple of books I pore/paw over are People of Earth by Chris Edwards and Pure and Applied by Gig Ryan. Perhaps the title of my next book should begin with P.


What do poets need most: solitude or a coterie?

Healthy isolation, surrounded by fierce friends and loved ones. No sycophants.


What have you learned from reviews of your work?

That my daughters (aged seven and five) are far more merciless than my critics.


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

Maldoror by Lautréamont, because that would really piss Plato off.


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

‘Long after the days and the seasons, the living and the lands, A flag of bloody flesh over silken seas and arctic flowers; (they don’t exist.)’

(‘Barbare’ by Arthur Rimbaud, my translation)


Is poetry appreciated by the reading public?

There are so many art forms competing for the reading public’s attention these days, but there’s still nothing like spending time with a poem that ignites the senses and your thoughts and feelings all at once.

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