The Monthly speaks to writer and poet Shane Hollands from New Zealand Wordcore outfit, Freaky Meat – Part 1

Have you always been drawn to writing?

I have always had words and sentences pop into my brain as far back as I can remember but I really didn’t start writing until I was pushed into it by a famous New Zealand poet, Rosemary Menzies, who was my councillor at school.

New Zealand Poet – Rosemary Menzies

You were a troubled teenager?

I got into a lot of trouble at school, I was causing problems, and so they sent me to a councillor and she got me into writing poetry. She felt that it might help me with my anger if I could write about it. I was about 13 years old at the time.

Were you encouraged after that at school?

No, not really. I did very poorly at school, failed miserably at English, and so it wasn’t until I left school that I started to write more seriously and I also found out I had dyslexia which explained why I had so many problems at school.

You were Dyslexic?

One of the things about Dyslexia is that words will be replaced by other words that you have some connection with. I might say “my boots have no roots” but when I write that it might look like “my book has no roots” and I find that secret connection which takes place in your brain is extremely useful for writing.

One of my peers who was doing a lot if work with me, Miriam Barr, who is a psychologist, didn’t believe that I was dyslexic because of the quality of my writing. I found out later that there are many writers who were dyslexic; TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas for example

Did you go to university or college?

I was a dirty old street poet. I didn’t go to University, I had a love of writing and performing so instead I was drawn to events like Poetry Live which is probably the Auckland equivalent of The Bowery Bar in New York.  

I developed my style, I connected what I was writing with music and eventually after not being happy with the various terms to describe what I do, I invented the term Wordcore.

That took me a few years, maybe 5 years, to come up with that term. I always felt that Spoken Word Music was too clunky and didn’t really describe what I was doing.

How did you develop your work?

I started off writing and then I formed a duo with a guy who played the Cello and had a loop pedal. We were called the Beautiful Losers. We performed around the place and at one point we ended up getting an Auckland City Council gig at a Festival.

The Def Jam poets (American slam poetry group) had a touring group which was performing around New Zealand at the time and they saw us and thought we were pretty good so they gave us tickets to see their show.

Did that influence you?

I saw their show and I thought, “Okay – this is better than what we are doing – but it isn’t impossible for us to produce something as good as that if we put our minds to it.” I went on then to set up a poetry spoken word group called The Literatti.

How does that take shape?

The Literatti developed from poetry and spoken word, to adding music, then live musicians, film and finally producing theatre shows.

We played with the form as much as we could. We experimented with music and sounds, I think at the time I was interested in what Tom Waits was doing but the group as a whole didn’t necessarily have a clear direction. Really we just didn’t have any boundaries.

Did the Literati get any recognition?

We did travel around the country, we played Festivals and Theatre shows and we did what we could. I was really only in The Literatti for a couple of years, and we kept passing on the Creative Directorship to keep things fresh. We worked on the shows together but eventually it became quite difficult to keep everyone together.

Did you ever think about touring internationally?

The idea of travel is quite daunting for us. It is very expensive to travel from New Zealand and in order to do what we were doing everyone needed to have a proper job and so if you have a proper job it is quite hard to get away from 4 or 5 weeks in order to tour. That I think really wasn’t a viable option for us especially with 5 poets and 4 musicians. We really are a long way away from everywhere.

Part two of this interview is here

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