Interview with Samuel Wagan Watson


Love Poems and Death ThreatsSamuel Wagan Watson set the literary world alight in 1999 with his David Unaipon award-winning collection of poems Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight. His next volume, Smoke Encrypted Whispers, won Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards over Tim Winton.

Here, Samuel connects with Ellen van Neerven, of black&write! to talk about Love Poems and Death Threats, which is extracted courtesy of University of Queensland Press.

For me, images of Brisbane crackle and spit on the page when I read this book. How would you describe your home city’s influence on you?

(That there is quite a nice description…) Brisbane has always had a certain current running through it, so I’ve tried to capture the energy as it presents itself, whether positive or negative…

And some of your other poems are, as you describe, postcards from places you have travelled to. Is it a different act writing about your home to the places you visit? And what about writing about country? How do you see the blend of the poetic and the political come together in your work? Do you consciously balance these agendas?

A poem usually presents itself like a jig-saw puzzle. Whether I’m writing in Colombia or at home a certain amount of checks and balances are tested before I start winding the draft down to a working ‘print’ in which will look like a ‘final’ for proofing.

The ‘poetic’ and the ‘political’ will appear here and there…BALANCE is probably the best way to explain my final draft. When the work reads and feels in a state of balance and no longer a state of flux I’m reading to send it to my editor or client.

You are known for your poignant love poems, those iconic poems about the Brisbane river, the new poems that carry so much political weight, and your words are permanently displayed around the city, from the Eleanor Schonell bridge at the University of Queensland, to the Boondall Wetlands.  What is the poem you would like to be remembered for, or haven’t you written it yet?

That’s a good point…If I have written such a poem I may not know it yet, or I could simply be on the cusp of such a piece but not be able to recognise it myself. I still have to write a definitive work like Malouf’s “Johnno” to capture the quicksilver and underbelly of the river city…

Ellen van Neerven

Author: Ellen van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh (south east Queensland) and Dutch heritage. They write fiction, poetry, plays and non-fiction. Ellen’s first book, Heat and Light, was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize. Ellen’s second book, a collection of poetry, Comfort Food, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize and highly commended for the 2016 Wesley Michel Wright Prize. Throat, Ellen’s highly anticipated second poetry collection, is out now.

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