A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing South Australia’s very own poet, teacher and creative, Amelia Walker.
So before we begin, for those of you unaware of Amelia’s success in the creative arts, let’s get to it!
She has performed at various festivals including the Transeuropa/ Arts 4 Human Rights festival in London and the World Poetry Festival in Kolkata.
Not only that, but she also completed her PhD in 2016 about the value of creative writing in contemporary higher education and research at the University of South Australia.
Amelia is also the author of three poetry collections, and three poetry teaching books in Macmillan’s ‘All You Need to Teach’ series.
She was also the 2015 Winner of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs Postgraduate Conference Paper Prize in the creative paper and critical paper fields.
You can listen to a brief snapshot of Amelia’s interview below.
[ME] What first sparked your interest in writing poetry?
[AMELIA] I was 14 years old and I actually hadn’t really gotten into poetry at all because growing up in school the kind of poetry I’d been exposed to was rhyming, it was about flowers, we were kinda forced to write it. I didn’t think it was my thing. But then my sister and I together actually discovered on our parent’s bookshelf, a book of poems that was an anthology by the Beat generation and it was completely different to anything we had seen before. These poems were kind of rude, political, they were written in a style that was like your friend talking to you over a cup of coffee, it wasn’t this high, fancy language. So, they were raw poems that spoke to me and made me think wow I want to read more poetry and eventually I want to do this too. I could write this.
[AMELIA] Both of those were written when I was down in Port Pirie, so this was almost ten years ago now and I was down there for an Artists in Regional Schools project run by Carclew Youth Arts Centre and the South Australian Youth Arts Board.
Port Pirie is an old town with a big lead smelter and there’s been a lot of stuff in the press about the effects of that on people’s health. There was a campaign to get the lead levels in people’s blood down to 10 micrograms per decilitre by the year 2010 and that actually failed in this campaign, so the poem is a reflection on that and a reflection on what mining and so forth has done to that town and done to a lot of people around Australia.
Now “Cyber Tourist” is not about Pirie but about Broken Hill. And that’s about anticipating a visit to Broken Hill for their annual poetry festival. And in that I was just looking on Google Maps at this place I was going to and had never been to before and it’s really interesting because all the streets in Broken Hill are named after different minerals that you can mine. So I was thinking about how the map of the city and how we name places tells a story but also at that time, it was also a sad story because if you go to Broken Hill, you see the memorial to the people who died in mining and you also see the ongoing effects on peoples lives. Around that time I was writing this poem, there was a huge lay off of people who were working in the mines and a lot of upsets in the town and a lot of struggle.
[ME] So what power do you believe poetry possesses?
[AMELIA] I believe it possesses all kinds of powers, good and evil. My email address is poetryisdangerous which people always think that’s a strange thing for a poet to say but I believe poetry is woven through every part of our lives. Poetry is not just that stuff we read in books or read at slam events and open mics, poetry is in advertising and on TV and sometimes that poetry is very, very dangerous because language is incredibly coercive, and language is the material in which we think. So I actually believe that by writing poetry, we become aware of the techniques that are used in advertising and propaganda: we can pull apart their mechanisms and become aware of how they try to get us thinking in particular ways. That means we can resist.
[ME] Do you feel a certain way when performing your poetry? Do you feel liberated when you perform?
[AMELIA] Yeah absolutely! It’s scary because often you are talking about very vulnerable things and particularly just standing up and public speaking on its own without it necessarily being personal on any level is known as one of those great phobias that people have. But I guess it is also like an extreme sport or jumping out of a plane, you get that adrenalin rush and sometimes really good things come up through it. And I’ve been on both sides of that. You know standing in the crowd, hearing someone read a poem and think wow that’s an experience I’ve also had and I’ve been scared to talk about and you’ve been brave enough to speak about. And then I’ve had people say that to me as well after performing.
[ME] How do you believe poetry has helped positively influence those who have experienced personal trauma and mental health issues?
[AMELIA] Well I guess I said before about how it can start conversations and make people aware that they’re not alone and things. So, I think the forming of communities through poetry is a really strong thing. And you know there’s a lot of theories about bibliotherapy and various techniques that psychologists use and writing for people to deal with their mental health.
I also know there is a flip side to that. I also know that writing can actually bring up a lot of difficult emotional stuff. If you don’t necessarily put adequate support and self-care in there, it can take you into places that are quite raw and dangerous without necessarily giving you an out. I want to say it’s both of those things. It can be really healing and amazing and form communities, but it can also be quite terrifying. You can’t just rely on poetry, you do need social support and you do need to have counselling or whatever works for you.
And if you are planning to write on something that could trigger you or you’re planning to read an event that could trigger others, think about where you are going to be after this? Am I going to be safe? If I’m reading this out I’ll give a trigger warning and adequate time for anyone in the room who doesn’t want to hear this material to exit.
[ME] Who are some of your personal favourite poets?
[AMELIA] So many. One of the first poets who really kinda grabbed me was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, he was one of the Beat generation. And other poets in the Beat generation also really grabbed me. I’ll make a special mention of Diane Di Prima and Denise Levertov because they are two female Beat poets who perhaps don’t get as much recognition as some of the male ones.
Another poet who inspired me a lot as I moved into my late teens and early twenties and I was dealing with body image issues as a lot of women do, is Grace Nichols who wrote this amazing collection called the “The Fat Black Woman’s Poems” and it’s all in the voice of this character who speaks back against ideals and norms of beauty and it was very raw about what a woman can look like and can be anything.
One other poet I’ll mention, who is not normally called a poet, is Janet Frame, a New Zealand author, who is best known for her novels but she also wrote amazing poetry.
[ME] Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[AMELIA] A little disclaimer, advertising possibly, Adelaide has an amazing poetry scene and we have an amazing little Facebook page called the Adelaide Poetry Gig Guide, so, anybody who is looking to get into poetry and come to events pop on that Adelaide Poetry Gig Guide, there are gigs every week and there are amazing people, its supportive, friendly and you know, come join us!
If you liked this interview or have any feedback for me, I would love to hear from you!